Brian Gibbons remains one of the biggest surprises amid a surprising 2017-18 New Jersey Devils campaign. He made the opening night roster, raising more than just a few eyebrows that he was picked instead of someone like, say, Joseph Blandisi. Gibbons has since earned his spot in the team’s bottom six and on the penalty kill. But the biggest asset has been the goal scoring. Gibbons has been the team’s leading goal scorer. Not Taylor Hall. Not Kyle Palmieri or Adam Henrique. Not one of the rookies. Brian Gibbons has been the one. Get hyped for Brian Gibbons. His shooting percentage has been over an astronomically high 30%. It will stay there for another night. Gibbons became the overtime hero of this evening. After losing an edge in the corner, he got up, picked off a pass from Nick Jensen, took it to the net, and beat Jimmy Howard through his legs for his eleventh of the season and the team’s fourteenth of the season. I popped for it as did every Devils fan around the world. Gibbons remains as one of the most unlikely Goal Scoring Leader in the league. The goal should put him tied for players in the top twenty goal scorers in the league. His production has justified the title for now.
While it was great that Gibbons struck gold again and that the Devils beat the Detroit Red Wings, 4-3, I cannot but help but feel some disappointment in the result. Yes, they won. However, that the Devils went into overtime at all is not all that good. The team took a 2-1 lead into the third period and extended it into a 3-1 lead. That goal was glorious. Shortly after a successful penalty kill, Taylor Hall won a turnover. While Detroit tried to force it out, Adam Henrique - fresh out of the box - kept it in play and moved the puck down to Hall. Hall saw Nico Hischier cutting to the net and hit him with a perfect pass. Hischier roofed it, the Little Caesar’s Arena was quieted, and the Devils led. Less than a minute later, it all fell apart.
Detroit had been threatening all game with odd man rushes. The Devils finally paid the price for it. First, John Moore was left back and tried to cover the puck carrier, Anthony Mantha, on a 2-on-1. Whether Moore screened Keith Kinkaid is up to you, but Mantha was able to pick the top corner to make it 3-2. Shortly after that, Detroit had a 3-on-2 going after the Devils and Andy Greene were caught in Detroit’s end. While Jesper Bratt hustled to take the third man, Greene wasn’t going to catch a trailing David Booth. Henrik Zetterberg manuevered the puck into space, Booth took it, and he beat Kinkaid to make it 3-3. The Devils were stunned. And after that goal, the Devils took only three shots on net at even strength and two on a not-so-hot power play opportunity. Detroit was pressing more. They had the proverbial momentum. The crowd came back alive after Mantha’s snipe. It was looking really possible that the Devils could fall behind. Thankfully, they did not and they got to overtime. But, once again, it took about a two-minute run of discombobulation to undo a lot of good work from the first two periods and the first six minutes of the third period. On another night, the Devils see this lead end or lose it in overtime.
And there was quite a bit of good work in this game. Despite an unfortunate series of deflections giving Booth a goal within the first minute of the game, the Devils rose above in the first period. Brian Boyle deflected down a sailing Steve Santini shot for an equalizer. On a power play, Hall just took a pass from Will Butcher and fired a hard shot through Petr Mrazek’s five hole. The goals put the Devils up and they were controlling the run of play in the first period. In the second period, the Devils started off strong. Detroit started playing to the score as time went on, but the Devils held themselves well and did not lose control. Not even when Miles Wood took a holding penalty with fifteen seconds left in the period. After that was killed, the Devils pushed the tempo a bit. After a call on Adam Henrique, Hischier’s goal happened. Plenty of good things to see in a road game. Then it all went awry. From that perspective, overtime was not exactly the desired result after going up 3-1 with less than fourteen minutes left in regulation.
At least, the overtime period was exciting. Both teams had wide open chances. Keith Kinkaid nearly lost it all when he flopped on a pass to Travis Zajac; but thankfully a pass to Andreas Athanasiou led to a terribly missed shot. Kinkaid made up for it later when he denied Dylan Larkin on a partial breakaway with a Brodeur-esque poke-check. But Hall, Moore, Zajac, and other had some great looks at the net as both teams traded chances. There wasn’t a lot of downtime. Thankfully, Gibbons converted the last golden moment of the OT period. It salvaged a win that could have easily been a disappointing loss.
The Devils’ busy run of games will end on Monday. But this past week has to be seen as a success from a results standpoint. They ended a four-game road trip that saw a 3-1 lead go up in smoke with an OT win. Their one loss was after a really long shootout. They won in regulation last night and they won in overtime tonight. This is a results-oriented business and so the Devils should be happy with that. Their processes need work. Hopefully they can make some improvements before some positive aspects of their season go away. Such as Goal Scoring Leader Brian Gibbons shooting above 30%.
The Opposition Opinion: PeterWiiM has this recap at Winging it in Motown.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Kids and the Hall: You should read Alex’s post from earlier today about the connection with Hall and Jesper Bratt. I was critical in the past of the decision to keep Nico Hischier with Hall namely because the line of Hall, Hischier, and Drew Stafford was just getting steamrolled in 5-on-5 play. When Palmieri replaced Stafford, the line was better in the run of play. Bratt has been asked to replace Palmieri for the time being and when they get forward, it has been a delight. The three combined for nine of the Devils’ 32 shots on net. While Hischier and Bratt did not have a good night overall in attempt or shot differential, they were better with Hall than the few shifts without him. While all three were not together for either Hall’s goal (Bratt was on that power play unit) or Hischier’s goal (Henrique came out of the box), the trio has been a dangerous mix of speed and skill. With Hall making plenty of attempts to carry the puck in and Hischier and Bratt playing well off each other, this continues to be a solid offensive line.
Henrique is Still Doing Things: Adam Henrique did not score tonight but it was not for a lack of trying. The forward put up a four-shot performance while providing some solid help on defense. While his attempt differential was nothing to write home about, Henrique put in plenty of good work. The coaches have recognized this by starting him with Hall and Greene in overtime. Henrique won that opening draw and it led to a strong first attack by the Devils. His slump in past weeks is starting to become a thing of the past. I hope he continues going from strength to strength.
The Call That Really Wasn’t?: Henrique was also at the center of some controversy tonight. While it was not on the level of Dean Morton missing guys being hit in the head, Cameron Voss and/or Dan O’Rourke made a questionable call on Henrique. In the third period, Henrique went hard to the net - and plowed right into Mrazek. the puck was loose and Travis Zajac poked it in. But because of the contact, the goal was waved off and Henrique served two minutes for goaltender interference. However, prior to Henrique contacting Mrazek, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson appeared to shove Henrique. Normally, contact by a skater into a goalie that forced by a defender is not interference. The call could have been costly. Head coach John Hynes was unhappy about the call. Was Henrique really hosed on the call?
I’m going to be unpopular here and say not really. Yes, Ericsson contacted Henrique. However, Henrique was going towards the crease with such momentum that I do not think he could have stopped even if he was untouched. Further, the shove was to Henrique’s side. I also do not think the shove changed Henrique’s course of movement. Unless Ericsson was much more forceful than it looked on TV, Henrique was bound to hit Mrazek. Just because there was contact doesn’t mean Henrique had no choice. I can agree to disagree.
After the hit, Mrazek was down. The call was made and he remained in net. Shortly after Hischier scored, he went to the back to go through concussion protocol. According to Katie Strang of the Athletic Detroit here and here, he could not come out of the game until there was a stoppage. That was the goal. Mrazek was fine, per Strang, and Jimmy Howard replaced him. When Mrazek returned, Howard stayed in net - something I’m sure Mrazek liked. Good thing that Mrazek did not suffer a concussion. Still, it’s bad by the officials that they effectively allowed a potentially concussed player stay on the ice.
The Call That Really Wasn’t Pt. 2: In the third period, Larkin raised his stick and came an inch or two away from walloping Miles Wood in the face. Wood did not really sell the motion as if he was hit. However, the refs assessed a two minute penalty for high sticking. It was a dangerous motion and contact from that kind of swing would have possibly given Larkin a suspension. Odd that the refs erred on caution there but not with getting Mrazek out of the game. The Devils did not do a whole lot with that power play, by the way.
Results over Process: Hall’s shot on the power play goal was great as it was a bad one for Mrazek to allow. It’s good to see the power play contribute. Yet, the process of the power play has waned in recent games. With three opportunities, they generated only four shots on net and conceded two shots against. From my standpoint, it appears that the Devils have struggled with their decision making on the puck when they do get set up. Attempts at cross-ice passes or feeds to the middle have led to some really easy clears from Detroit. The Devils need some tweaking here to keep their power play as some kind of productive.
Defensive Notes: The Devils were caught up quite a bit on offense, which led to many counter-attack odd-man rushes by Detroit this period. The first period was full of 2-on-1s, 3-on-2s, and the occasional 4-on-2. This continued in spots in the second period and the third period, where it became costly on the scoreboard. The Devils defenders paid for their aggression and the forwards were unable to keep pucks in to avoid those fates. If only the Devils held back more after going up 3-1.
I will say, though, that I did like how Damon Severson performed tonight. He was very good at getting the puck forward, he took no penalties, and he even saved a shorthanded 2-on-0 when he leveled Athanasiou to deny him a chance at a loose puck. Moore was not so bad either except when he had to deal with the 2-on-1 that led to Mantha’s goal. He was good in OT, although he did not score.
Follow Ups: Pavel Zacha was held shotless, but that was not due to a lack of effort. I really liked how he came back to support on defense. He also helped the offense go forward; he was not at all a drain on the run of play. I suspect that 0 in the SOG column will not look good; but I don’t think he was a passenger tonight.
Like Zacha, Stefan Noesen was held shotless as well. Unlike Zacha, Noesen did not do so hot in the attempt or shot differential departments. The fourth line in general did not have a super-positive night until Gibbons scored at the end and Blake Coleman hit the post on a rebound try in the first period. As with Zacha, I do not think he was just a guy out there. But it isn’t a good look. It remains to be seen whether both players will suit up again in Florida.
I Liked This: While I did not like his holding penalty, I thought Miles Wood played a fairly smart game tonight. I liked how he was moving the puck around instead of having tunnel vision for the net. He kept his cool even after the minor penalty. Wood even helped out on defense here and there. It would have been great had he scored on a one-on-one with Mrazek in the second period (during a power play! great pass by Severson to spring him). Still, for Wood’s NHL career to be more than just “speedy guy who occasionally scores,” these other aspects have to be there. He is showing that he can have them. I liked that.
Fun Fact: Detroit technically had no shots on net in overtime. Athanasiou missed and Kinkaid denied a shot from Larkin at all. The Devils, in contrast, had four attempts and three shots. Possession matters there.
Congrats: During the second period, Ken Daneyko brought up a list of scoring chance leaders, surprised that Blake Coleman was among them on the team. He first shouted out Todd Cordell for that list. Later, he corrected himself stating that the list was from Natural Stat Trick. Still, it’s very cool to see those online get some respect on the broadcasts.
One Last Thought: The broadcasters also noted that this game was a sell-out. Sure. There was just hundreds, if not thousands, of people dressed up as red seats in the lower bowl.
Your Take: The Devils won 4-3 in overtime in Detroit. They move up to first in the division for the time being. With a day in between games, let’s take some time to discuss this victory. Who did you think played well tonight? Who do you think did not play well tonight? What lessons should the Devils take from this game before their next game against Florida on Monday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.