The ugly Ottawa game surely opened Hynes’ eyes a bit, and he responded by somewhat shockingly scratching Cammalleri before the game.
Funny how things work - Cammalleri’s scratching, combined with a Sergey Kalinin trade, ended up paying dividends in this game.
The Devils opened with energy, and played harder than they were against Ottawa. The first real chance came from the Devils off a Taylor Hall breakaway chance which was barely stopped by Thomas Greiss.
Then, seven minutes in, the Devils got an important goal from a hero. He who they desperately needed. He who is.... Devante Smith-Pelly?
Jokes aside, Jon Merrill started this off with a well-timed block. Travis Zajac received the puck, and bounced a puck off the boards right at Smith-Pelly. Smith-Pelly did a wonderful job, switching to a backhand through Greiss’s five-hole and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
A minute after this, however, John Tavares was able to win a penalty-shot off a Travis Zajac penalty. With a player like John Tavares taking the shot, a Devils fan would surely mentally prepare themselves for a tie game, and then an Islanders domination....
Which just didn’t happen. Cory Schneider made the save, and the Devils seemed to gain further life off of this. Devante Smith-Pelly nearly scored again off a Joseph Blandisi pass, and Ryan Strome then took a penalty which led to a shot by PA Parenteau which banked off the post. The first period ended 9-8 with shots in favor of the Islanders, but most of those shots were harmless. The Devils were playing better than in Ottawa, and playing good in general.
The second period seemed to start off pretty badly. Nearly immediately after the period started, Andrew Ladd had an incredible scoring chance which was stonewalled by Schneider. The Devils tried fighting back, quite literally. Miles Wood, who used his energy to lay hits on Islanders, engaged in a fight with Scott Mayfield. Mayfield stands nearly three inches taller than Wood, so no one was really surprised when Mayfield bullied Wood down. However, the effort inspired the Devils, and the Devils played with renewed energy again. Taylor Hall took a two-minute roughing call, which seemed fair enough (more on fair calls later), although it can be argued that Leddy deserved a minor as well. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. Henrique nearly scored after stripping the puck off the Islanders defenseman, but barely missed the net. This proved to be a tease for what was to come, as Henrique was able to win the puck off Tavares, and was able to feed Zajac for a shorthanded goal. The Devils then held back, and it was evident that was the case. Jason Chimera took a simple looking shot, which rebounded off Schneider and towards Santini. Alan Quine outworked Santini, and was able to get off a shot which Schneider stopped. Ryan Strome then raced in, but was stopped by a wonderful defensive play by Joseph Blandisi. Steve Santini took a penalty which was killed by the Devils, and that was it for the second.
To start off the third, it was still pretty even in terms of play. The Devils were able to obtain a power-play off a hook by Anders Lee, and Blandisi hit the post. Zacha made sure the Devils would salvage this power play, sniping a wrist shot over Greiss’s shoulder to make it 3-0.
Unfortunately, this is the Devils, and when they’re in the lead they tend to hold back heavily.
The Islanders dominated play for the rest of the game, and every Devils fan watching this game was kept on their toes. The Islanders had sustained pressure, and Calvin De Haan maintained puck while cycling behind the net. He threw the puck in the front, and it ended up bouncing to Ladd who stuffed it into the net. The Devils challenged for goaltender interference, but there was actually none on that play, so it was a 3-1 game. A little less than five minutes later, the Islanders responded again off a Devils defensive breakdown. On a 1-on-3, Anthony Beauvillier took a shot similar to the chance by Alan Quine earlier. However, this time the guilty party was John Moore, and this time Beauvillier ended up scoring. It was a 3-2 game, and it seemed like the game was getting out of hand. Henrique then took a penalty for cross-checking, which drew the ire of Devils fans and commentators, as Tavares had cross-checked and slashed him prior to this call. Terrible refereeing on that play, but regardless the Devils would have to stop this. The Devils got lucky, with an Anders Lee pass getting sent to Nick Leddy with an open net. Luckily, Nick Leddy wasn’t Nick Leddy tonight, and pushed the shot off the post and away. The Devils held on for the rest of the game, with a huge Kyle Palmieri block to get the puck out of the zone and to maintain a 3-2 Devils win.
How the Devils Responded..: Before the game, the Devils opened two different spots in the lineup today with two very different moves. The first, and more noticeable move, was that Mike Cammalleri was scratched before the game. He has expressed his displeasure, but I fully believe the move was necessary. He hasn’t scored a goal in 19 games, which is unacceptable for a player being paid 5 million to score goals. He is a streaky scorer, but this is too much. It’s unknown what will occur of this, though I expect this is only a temporary scratching.
The other more minor news was the Sergey Kalinin trade. He had four points on the year, and after being sent down to the minors was traded for Toronto’s Viktor Loov. After a pretty good rookie season in the AHL, he has regressed every season since. He was able to obtain a brief NHL recall in 2015-2016, but he’s largely been expandable for Toronto now. He’s unlikely to make any substantial impact for this Devils team, and the move seems to be just to bolster the AHL team.
Blandisi and Smith-Pelly: Both players played well. Blandisi, as I mentioned in a previous post, was sorely missed in Ottawa. His constant get-under-the-opponents-skin behavior was seen in this game, and he made a solid defensive play to neutralize a Ryan Strome opportunity. More surprisingly to me, Smith-Pelly played very well tonight. Not only did he score a goal, but he played very hard and much like someone fighting for his NHL career. With 42 shots on goal, no Devil was going to have a good game according to Corsi, but from the eye-test he played wonderfully. He played physical, fought for the puck, and overall was effective for this team.
Hynes’ Interview: Some notes to take from the Hynes interview - Schneider may start tomorrow, but it will depend on how he feels. The Sergey Kalinin trade was meant to offer Kalinin a new environment, which basically means he didn’t fit on this team anymore. Hynes is very happy with Josefson’s play, and notes that his energy and speed have increased, and that he has also solidified a spot in this Devils lineup (which I am very happy with). Lastly, it is unknown if any changes are going to be made for tomorrow’s game, although Hynes did say that this could be dependent on if any injuries occur.
Quiet First Line: Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri were pretty quiet tonight, which was surprising. Most of the times, those forwards provide the only energy for the team. They didn’t make any glaring mistakes, and they looked like they wanted to make plays at least. However, they were neutralized effectively minus a Taylor Hall early breakaway, and the two were held to only three shots combined. Hall seemed a bit frustrated through the game, even getting a roughing call due to his frustration. Look for them to rebound, as this game is likely just an outlier on an overall solid stretch of game for the two top Devils forwards.
Quietly Good Devils: Josefson, although he didn’t get any points tonight, is definitely a different player from what we’ve seen in his earlier career. He goes hard for every puck he sees, and doesn’t quit on the play regardless of what it is. From what I saw, he would often try to outmuscle defenders trying to hold him back, and actually succeeded a good number of times. He would then poke the puck to one of his teammates, which would keep the play alive for the Devils. While he was talked about as a potential expansion-draft casualty, now the Devils have to determine whether to protect him or not. He’s never going to be a scoring forward, but what he brings to the Devils is important as well. His confidence is at an all-time high, and he has developed chemistry with Pavel Zacha and Stefan Noesen. The three have been lauded by Hynes, and it seems likely they’ll stick together for the near future.
Although he only played 9 minutes today, Miles Wood was very very scrappy. He got into a fight with Scott Mayfield, after throwing his body around against multiple Islanders. He charged the net, at one point even jamming the puck against Greiss for so long that he even kept going after the whistle, and shoved Greiss into the net (luckily there was no penalty on that play). Wood has speed unmatched by any other Devils players, and if he’s able to improve his shot and puck-handling, we could have uncovered another mid-round gem. If not, he’s still a 3rd or 4th liner player who can chip in the occasional goal.
Lastly, Jon Merrill has improved his game significantly. After one terrible game in December, where he displayed his rage after giving up an overtime goal, there has been a noticeable improvement in his play. Sadly (or happily?) for the Devils, this leaves yet another player they might be forced to protect for the expansion draft. It might not be as simple as a team taking Cammalleri or Moore anymore, as players like Merrill and Josefson have stepped up their game significantly. Merrill doesn’t offer much offensive value, but today he made an essential block which led to a Devils goal, and held his own against the Islanders offensive attack in the late third.
But Where Does Cammalleri Fit Now? Looking at this Devils roster, there don’t appear to be that many available spots for him now. Bennett had himself a quiet game, but he’s one of the best Devils forwards in terms of possession, and has been influential in Devils games before. Zacha-Josefson-Noesen shouldn’t be touched, as the three young players have found chemistry and confidence together. Smith-Pelly can’t (or rather shouldn’t) be taken out after a strong game, and Blandisi and Wood offer qualities no other Devils player has (aside from maybe each other). Meanwhile, the aging 34-year old Cammalleri might be better served for a trade at this point, but that’s just my opinion. Let me know what you guys think in the comments below.
So...: What did you guys think of this game? Was it well-deserved? Who did you enjoy the most? Another Islanders game tomorrow, so stay-tuned for that. Take care, and have a good night.