John Moore did it again. Does he defend well? No. Does he truly belong on a penalty kill? Not really. But Moore has been a stud in one aspect of the game that has become valuable in recent years. He has been a great 3-on-3 player in overtime. Tonight, Moore scored his second overtime goal of this season (the first was in Ottawa on October 19) and his sixth overtime goal of his career. The play was beautiful. Taylor Hall drove in with the puck, tried to nutmeg a defender, still maintained possession, and moved the puck back to Moore on New Jersey’s blueline. As Hall went to change, Moore passed the puck up to Adam Henrique. As Henrique took the puck into space on the right side, Moore darted towards the left post. Henrique fired a killer lateral pass and Moore slammed the puck past Devan Dubnyk to make it a 4-3 win for the Devils. It was a lovely finish to a great play for all three Devils involved. It was a lovely finish to a rather ugly game.
Ugly is a good adjective for this one. The game was tight-checking and physical from the get-go. As time went on, so did the scrums, the shoves, the beefs, and the melees. It was as if the Wild took on the form of Philadelphia with all of their extracurriculars and shots away from the play. To be fair, the Devils were no less innocent. Among them, Miles Wood and Kyle Quincey went at it after Gustav Olofsson fired a shot on net after an offside whistle. That led to a 4-on-4 situation. During that situation, Eric Staal and Damon Severson were tied up and throwing shots at each other (Severson was more fierce) - they both sat for that too. During a penalty kill, Jared Spurgeon whacked at Cory Schneider’s pads hoping for a puck and as the whistle blew for a freeze, Henrique went bonkers at Spurgeon. Amazingly, he was not penalized for that (Mikael Granlund scored shortly thereafter, so, justice?). Later in the third, after an otherwise legal hit on Nino Niederreiter, Niederreiter took a shot at Henrique’s head which sparked a ten-man scrum. Niederreiter did sit for two for igniting that flame. I’m sure the Wild fans will point out how scummy the Devils were and the Devils fans would do the same. It was just ugly from that standpoint.
The start of this game was certainly ugly for the Devils. Not that the Devils were bleeding scoring chances all over the place, but the Devils struggled to get much of anything going on offense. It took over nine minutes for the Devils to put a shot on Dubnyk, which was officially scored from a cleared puck by Ben Lovejoy from his own end of the rink that Dubnyk touched during a penalty kill. The Devils finished the first period with a whopping three shots and twelve shooting attempts. Amazingly, they were up 1-0 as Henrique deflected in a puck that somehow got through a sprawled out Dubnyk. (Did a Wild player put it in himself?) It was difficult to watch the Devils come out so lame on offense after three 35+ shot performances in a row. And while the Wild didn’t appear to be so dominant, they took a heavy advantage in possession because they were actually doing something positive with the puck on a somewhat regular basis in the first period. The Devils didn’t have quantity or quality to start this game; but were up 1-0 somehow. Definitely not pretty.
The end of this game was also pretty ugly. The Devils took a 2-1 lead into the third period; thanks to a Steve Santini shot deflecting off a Wild player and into the net in the second period. The Devils did the right thing and attacked. They were rewarded when Henrique led a 3-on-2 rush and made a great saucer pass to an open Will Butcher. Butcher fired a great shot past Dubnyk to make it 3-1 that is about a million times better looking than the tap-in for his first NHL goal. On the next shift, Taylor Hall forced his way forward, wrapped around the net, and sent Kyle Palmieri a gift of a pass. Poor Palmieri, he hammered the iron instead of making it 4-1. No big deal, right? Well, the offense faded. Wood took a holding the stick call with his knees (really, ref?) and Granlund converted it to make it 3-2. While the Devils appeared to have calmed the game down - the power play thanks to Niederreiter sort of helped - Bruce Boudreau went aggressive. He pulled Dubnyk for an extra skater with well over two minutes to go. The Wild pinned the Devils back and a deflection out of play led to a defensive zone faceoff. A timeout later, Mikko Koivu won the faceoff back to Ryan Suter and the Wild proceeded to maintain possession. Eventually, Granlund fired a slapshot towards the net with big Brian Boyle parked right in front of Schneider. There was no way the goalie saw this shot - and so Granlund made it 3-3. The Devils took a lead into the third and it went up in smoke before the end of regulation. Seeing Boyle block out Schneider was ugly, the Devils unable to touch the puck on the play was ugly, and seeing what could have been 3-1, 4-1, or 3-2 go away was ugly.
However, ugly as it was, the Devils were still in a situation to make it a win. Adam Henrique to John Moore made it so. And it was glorious to witness.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Joe Bouley has this recap at Hockey Wilderness.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
The Player of the Game: John Moore was named as the first star. But Adam Henrique typified the more notable events of the Devils’ performance tonight. Henrique was knocked down to the fourth line and mostly at wing for this game. Henrique has not been playing well in recent weeks. While he serves multiple roles on the team, he was not producing or driving the play enough to make much of an impact. Oh, he got the message tonight. While his goal was a really odd one; his passes to Butcher and Moore for their goals were legitimate and laudable. He did “draw” that third period power play by taking a shot from Niederreiter. He amazingly did not get anything for shoving Spurgeon about five or six times as he sent him to the boards. Henrique was all kinds of physical and intense in addition to creating two goals.
Atypical to this game, Henrique was not destroyed in the run of play. In a game where most of the Devils were deep in the red in the run of play, the Devils were only out-attempted by two and out-shot by three in 5-on-5 play when Henrique was out there. That’s a nice tidbit that supports that he really did have more positives than negatives to his game. The question now for the coaches is whether to keep Henrique there since he did so well, or whether to move him back up the depth chart as a reward for this performance. We’ll find out soon enough as the Devils play on Wednesday.
Oh, The Matchups...: I liked what I saw of Pavel Zacha going forward. I liked the effort from Travis Zajac and Jesper Bratt in spots. I think that was helped out by the fact that their offensive moments were really few and far between. This line was picked on by the Wild. Boudreau sent out his top players against them for multiple shifts: Granlund, Koivu, Suter, Spurgeon, Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, and Jason Zucker. Only Zucker did not dominate the puck in 5-on-5 play. Making matters worse was that Moore was their most common defenseman behind them and even with fewer minutes, Ben Lovejoy and Butcher were steamrolled as well. The result: Zajac and Zacha both had a CF% of below 30% and Bratt was just over 31%. That’s heinous even if they were present for a 5-on-5 goal: Santini’s sideboard shot going off a Wild player and in.
Also heinous was the other secondary line of Boyle, Drew Stafford, and Miles Wood. Again, the few offensive moments - like their one shift in the second period where Wood nearly scored twice and forced Dubnyk to do something in the game - were few and far between. That made it easier to remember them because there weren’t so many. The Wild’s depth players shined against them: Daniel Winnik, Luke Kunin, and Joel Eriksson Ek. So did Staal, Coyle, and Zucker - who shined against this unit. As with the Winnipeg game, the middle two lines suffered as the top line and fourth line put in work.
Defense Still Needs Work: With 36 shots allowed, no, the defensive effort left something to be desired. I can say the Devils did a better job in front of their net tonight. If there was a costly issue, it was with the screens on the two third-period goals. Koivu was in front of Schneider at the crease and Santini was trying to get in the way of Granlund’s shot. That helped the shot beat Schneider. The extra-skater equalizer was definitely helped by Boyle sticking his 6’7” frame in front of the goalie. Schneider had to make plenty of difficult saves as the Wild would extend attacks and push for additional shots from angles. I will say the Devils did a good job of preventing the Wild from pouncing on close to medium-length rebounds. But the defensemen and even the forwards struggled with making zone exits and forcing the puck away from the Wild. There were a lot of failed clearances and some attacks that went on because the Devils could not make a play. Butcher (sweet shot aside) and Lovejoy especially struggled as evidenced by both conceding at least a Moore-like ten shots on net in 5-on-5 play and over twenty attempts against.
That said, I did like what I saw out of Damon Severson and Andy Greene tonight. Greene did take a silly hooking penalty - it could have easily been called interference - after missing the puck on a pinch in the first period. But he was otherwise solid. Severson was actually one of the two Devils above 50% CF% (the other was super fourth liner Blake Coleman) and he rarely made a bad error. Well, aside from getting into it with Staal during a 4-on-4 situation. But the defense from #28 was just fine. I appreciate Butcher, Santini, and especially Moore scoring goals. I understand that the forward matchups were often in the Wild’s favor. But they are defensemen and the blueline as a whole could have been far better tonight.
Hall and Coleman: They play on different lines. But they played with a similar kind of intensity tonight. Hall is skilled and fast enough to make things happen. I feel bad for both Palmieri and Hall hit the iron on a great play Hall created himself. Still, Hall was undetered and his work in overtime made the game-winning goal possible. His four-shot, seven-attempt effort led the team. Right with him with seven attempts was Coleman. When Coleman was on the ice, the Devils managed to out-attempt the Wild and not get out-shot (shots were 8-8). Coleman had two shots on net out of seven attempts and played a role in that ugly first goal of the game. He did what he could on the PK, but in general, Coleman had another fine night that further secures his spot in the lineup.
Special Teams: They were not on the Devils’ side tonight. I actually did not mind how the power play looked. While the Wild were able to get a number of clears, the Devils were able to get set-up in their end with some regularity and create some good looks at the net. It would have been great if they scored. Going 0-for-2 was a lost opportunity to break the game even amid some struggling play by the Devils. As with the last few games, the process was far better than it was earlier in this season and I believe that it will yield goals.
After taking no penalties in Winnipeg, the Devils conceded four shorthanded opportunities tonight. It cost them dearly for two PPGs. The second PPG, I’ve already discussed at length. The first one was just an ugly one. Niederreiter was able to get behind everyone and Granlund made a great pass to him. (Aside: Granlund was the Wild’s best player. Six shots, two goals, one assist, and no Devil had a real answer for him.) Niederreiter curled around towards the net and the puck just trickled through. Similar to the first goal against Dubnyk, Schneider did not secure this loose puck and it just went in. Schneider played well tonight and cannot be faulted for the second or third goals against. This was a bad PPG to allow for Schneider. It was a bad shot for the penalty killing unit to allow. It was just not good. While the Devils killed the other two situations, this was not a night to remember for the penalty killers. In total, special teams hurt the Devils’ cause tonight.
Still in First: Moore’s overtime winner keeps the Devils in first place due to tiebreakers. Yes, the Devils could conceivably enter Thanksgiving in first place in the Metropolitan Division. Weird? Yes. But a very good weird.
One Last Thought: Ugly wins are still wins. They are way prettier than losses. Learn the lessons and move on.
Your Take: The Devils won 4-3 in OT thanks again to John Moore and Adam Henrique. The Devils end their road trip with a 2-1-1 record and will return home for the Thanksgiving holiday. No break for them, they have two games surrounding Thursday. In the meantime, what did you think of this performance by the Devils? Who did you like in this game? Who did you think struggled in this game? What should the Devils learn from this game ahead of their next game on Wednesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented and/or followed along in the Gamethread and/or on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.