While the result of this game between the New Jersey Devils and the Vancouver Canucks is important, the result should not undercut the return of Brian Boyle. Less than two months ago, Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. Tonight, he made his debut with the New Jersey Devils organization. It is remarkable that he has fought this ailment. It is beyond remarkable that he has done so to the point where he could play in the greatest hockey league in the world, the National Hockey League. The night is a triumph for Brian Boyle.
The night was also a triumph for Cory Schneider. The ex-Canuck was sensational. 37 saves on 37 shots. He had some last-minute interventions help him out, sure, but #35 was #1 on the ice tonight. The Devils’ team performance was inferior and very sloppy in 5-on-5 play as Vancouver just rolled through them. The Sedins and Jake Virtanen doing so is one thing. But to see Sam Gagner, Thomas Vanek, and Alexander Burmistrov look like bosses while Derek Dorsett is doing is best Hartnell impression? It was hard to watch at times; especially for stretches of the second period. Amid all of the attempts, shots, and chances against, Schneider made stop after stop after stop. He was the reason why the Devils were in this game at all. Schneider fully earned this shutout win.
It was a tough going for the Devils from a skater perspective for a more unfortunate reason. Less than a minute into the game, Marcus Johansson lost his balance chasing the play on offense and fell awkardly and face-first into the boards. He was able to get up and skate, but he was helped to the locker room and would not return. This left the Devils with eleven forwards and a lot of lines being mixed. Boyle did not just make his Devils debut, he had to do it while also filling in situations he otherwise would not be in. I do not think the plan for him was to play over 15 minutes but he did. While Johansson is one player, it certainly did not help the larger cause. Vancouver preyed upon the makeshift lines, usually featuring Boyle, Jesper Bratt, Brian Gibbons, Adam Henrique, and so forth.
What did help the larger cause was some good fortune. In the second period, Taylor Hall - who had his hard-working skates on in Vancouver - charged up ice and fired a hard shot on Jakob Markstrom. Markstrom was having a good game himself. It became less good when his save rebounded to the left circle, Jimmy Hayes launched a slapshot from the top of the circle and outside of the dot, and was beaten by said shot.
It was a total surprise of a goal; that of all shots, that was the first to beat Markstrom this evening. It turned out to be the only one needed for the victory. Markstrom did play quite well, but Schneider was outstanding and the Canucks just could not finish their many, many, many dangerous offensive opportunities. At the end, Hall had a clearance blocked, collected his own loose puck, carried it out, and set up Drew Stafford for an empty net goal to secure the 2-0 win.
It was an ugly performance, arguably more ugly than the recent win over Arizona. In 5-on-5 play alone, the Devils were out-attempted 63 to 34. There were 5-on-5 shifts where the Canucks were effectively in a 1-3-1 formation as it was like a power play - because it looked like they were on a power play in the run of play. Yes, it was a win. Make no mistake, Schneider put the team on his back for this one. Hopefully the rest of the Devils can provide more and stronger support in the next two games on this road trip.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Nucks Misconduct for their take on tonight’s game.
The Thoughts: As this was a late-night game locally in New Jersey, here are some general thoughts about this game.
The Devils were significantly out-shot in general, 37-26. It was also telling where the shots were coming from. For most of October, the Devils were able to generate plenty of attempts right in front of the net game after game. Not tonight. Very few attempts were right around Markstrom’s crease. That was an ailment of how the Devils’ puck possession faltered on offense. Plenty of potentially good situations like a successful zone entry or a 3-on-2 would end due to a poor pass, a good stickcheck by a Canuck, or just losing the puck. In contrast, Vancouver has been all around the slot. Sure, plenty of Devils were collapsing into that area but that did not mean the Canucks could not (and did not) put up some big chances on Schneider.
Hall was the only Devil where the team was out-attempted when he was on the ice. He was not creamed from an attempt, a shot, or a scoring chance differential perspective. This speaks to how he pushed things forward and often took initiative to set up his teammates for plays. Whether it was on his shot that led to Hayes’ goal or the beginning of the third period when he charged the net after the opening faceoff, Hall was often involved in the Devils’ best offensive shifts. While Bratt led the team in shots with five, Hall was the catalyst for the brighter spots in this game.
In this comment by Bar Man in CJ’s post yesterday, it is noted that Steve Santini has been drowning this season. He is being used primarily in defensive situations but the numbers are dire. I do not know what is worse than drowning, but whatever you would call it, it happened in Vancouver. When Santini was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 9 to 34. That’s an attempt differential of -25, which is astonishingly in the red. It is so red, it is crimson. This is not to say that Santini was abysmal. He is too good of a skater and a puck handler to be on the Ben Lovejoy level. But there were just too many shifts where #16 was just pinned back on what seemed like a constant penalty kill. The point of good defense is to not just help the goalie not give up a goal but to help turn the play around - prevent the shot, the pass, etc. and have it go up ice. That aspect really has not happened much in Santini’s performance in Vancouver. I can agree that the support was pretty bad; the team did allow 37 shots and treated the neutral zone like it was free for Vancouver to tread. But these figures really speak to the defensive woes. For Santini’s numbers to improve, it must be more than just him that has to improve.
Speaking of penalty kills, the Devils had four of them in this game. These were not good calls to take. Two were delay of game calls, one each from Damon Severson and Will Butcher. Severson’s was more or less an accident but still a bad time to do it in a 1-0 game where the Devils were being caved in during the second period. Andy Greene took a tripping call away from the play in the first period, which is uncharacteristic of him and just not smart. Bratt took a hooking call during a forecheck, which was not smart either. The Devils limited Vancouver to only six power play shots on net over these eight minutes; their penalty killing efforts were good in the game. It was remarkable that they held so well in 4-on-5 situations given how the Canucks ran through them in 5-on-5. I wish I was smart enough to understand why and how; perhaps there is a clue in that as to how the Devils can improve on defense in 5-on-5 situations.
I would have liked to have seen more from Nico Hischier. He was not having such a bad game. Why he was limited to about twelve minutes, I do not know.
I think this was probably one of Mirco Mueller’s best games as a Devil. While the Devils were flattened in the run of play, Mueller made some smart decisions and was beaten the least among the blueliners. I think this performance will get him another game in the lineup.
As I started this with Boyle, I will end it with him. I was happy to see Boyle play. I reiterate that I do not think the plan was for him to play as much as he did. Johansson’s injury forced that to happen. That said, Boyle was quite rusty out there. That should surprise nobody as he did not have training camp or preseason to prepare on top of battling leukemia. It is going to take some time for him to get into form. The Canucks took advantage when he was on the ice quite often. Vancouver made sure to give Boyle plenty of Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Jake Virtanen on top of Alex Biega and Derrick Pouliot. Vancouver was smart to do so as Boyle and his teammates were overwhelemed by that five-some. But Boyle was not so actively bad; he did not take a penalty and he did not commit heinous turnovers every time he touched the puck. He was just overwhelmed along with most of the rest of the roster. I think we’ll see the true Boyle when he is able to play the rust off and I am happy he will get a chance to play the rust off. Three notable things about his performance: he was to start at wing but eventually moved to center in-game; he won six out of nine faceoffs; and he played only five seconds of shorthanded ice time.
Your Take: What did you make of the performance by the New Jersey Devils, presuming you stayed up to watch this or recorded it somewhere to watch it at a more reasonable hour? How amazing was Schneider? What do the Devils need to learn from this game to better prepare themselves for their next one in Edmonton? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented during the game in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.