The New Jersey Devils are effectively on fire. They won their fourth game of the season and remain as the only team in the NHL that is undefeated. What’s more is that this was the third win out of four that was by decisive score. 5-2 over the McDavids in what was effectively a neutral site game. 6-0 over a tired from the last night & defending champion Caps team in the true home opener. 3-2 over a quality San Jose squad through a third-period comeback. Tonight, the Devils beat the Dallas Stars in another 60 minute effort with a 3-0 victory at the Rock. And the proverbial fire still burned up and down the roster.
Kyle Palmieri scored on a slapshot in the Ovechkin zone to convert an early power play for his fourth straight game with a goal and his seventh of the season. While tonight ended his streak of multi-goal games, Palmieri set a NHL record: being the first player ever to score the opening goal in four straight games to open up a season. Seriously, check this out from the NHL’s PR department:
It is a rather specific record but it’s still a record - and Palmieri’s stick remains hot to touch. He continued to fire away as he put up four shots out of nine attempts tonight. And the Stars kept fouling him. He was the victim of a hold by Benn that could have become a 5-on-3 if it wasn’t for Hall; he was held up by Honka for an interference penalty, and he was high-sticked by Roope Hintz after Dallas’ last dangerous chance of the game. Keep on, keeping on, Montvale man.
Goaltender Keith Kinkaid is arguably hotter right now. He had a shutout streak snapped on Sunday, which included a shutout win over Washington. He has another 80+ minute streak going now, which includes his second shutout win of the season. While the Stars played last night (and lost to Ottawa), they put up an actual effort to try and score and play the game of hockey - unlike Washington last Thursday. Kinkaid shut the door and ensured it would not open. He was quick in his reactions without being sloppy or anxious. He was often squared up with the shooter and did not show signs of wavering. Sure, there were some breaks. He and the team were bailed out of a bouncing puck that eluded Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza during Dallas’ first power play. And Dallas did hit the post in the third period. And Tyler Seguin missed big time in a one-on-one situation. But he was calm, collected, and controlling in the crease. 24 shots, 24 saves, and Kinkaid has long erased any concerns about the team’s need for him to start in net for this season. Right now, Cory Schneider’s condition is not a pressing concern because Kinkaid has it all under control as he demonstrated this evening. It is his net for the time being; there is no need to bring that issue up as it is not a pressing issue anyway. Just look at the shutout if you need a reminder to just appreciate his hotness right now.
Jean-Sebastian Dea has also heated up. Dea was a waiver-wire pick up and with Jesper Bratt’s injury, he was thrust into the lineup immediately. He has made the most of his fourth-line minutes so far and has chipped in some goals. Dea scored his third of the season on an absolutely great shot. Anton Khudobin was stickless and gestured several times to try to get a teammates attention that his stick was broken. After Dallas tried to breakout against a Brian Boyle forecheck, Brett Ritchie got in the way of a teammate (Gemel Smith? Jason Spezza?) and Ben Lovejoy collided with said teammate so the puck got loose. Dea picked it up off the line as he turned back into the zone (good job by Boyle to get onside!), skated towards the left circle and sniped the puck to the top right corner. A stick was not going to help Khudobin anyway. Dea made it 3-0 in the second period, which really helped make the game more comfortable for his teammates. He has done quite well in his role so far and has made Ray Shero look really smart for claiming him. Being hot will do that.
The penalty kill remains blazing with success. Since McDavid found Lucic in Sweden, the Devils have killed 13 straight shorthanded situations. Dallas is not lacking for offensive talent in man advantage situations. The team boasts Tyler Seguin (he played tonight, no, really), Spezza, Benn, John Klingberg, Alexander Radulov, among others for power play options. The Devils limited them to not only three power plays but also two shots on net. Yes, they hit a post; and, yes, their two first period power plays had them resemble a competitive hockey team for the first time tonight. But the Devils otherwise kept them at bay for their six minutes of attack time.
The power play has also kept its conversion streak alive. The Devils have registered one PPG in each of their four games. I was happy to see that the Devils went away from consistently and constantly making a long back or drop pass on their breakouts. Will Butcher, Sami Vatanen, and Taylor Hall made multiple attempts and successes at carrying the puck in themselves. The Stars’ PK is not as tight as the Sharks’ and so that likely contributed to more and easier-looking entries. It also forced Dallas to respect it the handful of times the Devils did do it. While the PP only provided one goal, they had several opportunities to attack and registered nine shots out of six situations. It was not all perfect; the Devils conceded five shorthanded shots on net and Hall stupidly put the puck into his bench on purpose during a delayed penalty in the Devils’ second power play, which turned a potential minute of a 5-on-3 into just a continuation of the remainder of the 5-on-4 without Hall. Still, I was pleased that the Devils made adjustments to their breakout and it meant for a more threatening power play. More importantly, the PP remained a net positive for the Devils.
Nico Hischier continued his run of getting wrecked for the team’s benefit. Per Natural Stat Trick (where stats like this are kept), Hischier is tied for the league lead penalties drawn in all situations with six. Tonight, he took a cross-check from Julius Honka and he was upended due a trip by Esa Lindell in what could have been a one-on-one situation with Khudobin. Hischier also lost an edge on an earlier one-on-one situation that found him slide into the net. Hischier shows little fear on the ice and repeatedly goes back to those “dirty” areas to make things happen. My theory as to why he keeps drawing fouls is a combination of his skill (you have to foul him sometimes to deny him from doing something), where he goes, and his size. While Hischier has put on muscle, he does not have a large frame. So I suspect that leads opposing players to think they can get one on him. Combined with what he can do on and off the puck, and opponents have further incentive to take him down or hold him back. Which gives the Devils a power play. They may not score on it, but it is two minutes (or so) where the opponent is not going to go on offense like they would want to. Hischier will continue to draw the calls so he remains hot in that regard. He was also very active tonight as he led the team with six shots on net. No points tonight but Hischier has been contributing even if it means he has to ice up after the game.
And the fans were hot tonight. By no means was this a sellout, but there were “JSD” chants after Dea scored. The crowd reacted big time when there was good play or a big hit or a near-miss on a chance, in addition to goals. The game ended with a loud “Un-def-eated” chant, which is certainly new. Unsurprising to no one, the crowds react better when the team is playing very well and accomplishing feats. But I definitely appreciate how the crowd responded with different and new reactions from before.
As noted by the NHL PR department, tonight’s win is the fourth time ever in franchise history where the Devils started the season with four straight wins. The other three times were all in the 90s and only once did the streak run beyond four games. And this streak has claimed some “name” teams already. Colorado is a tough opponent, but with the way things are going, I’m enjoying the heat from the proverbial fires. There is rarely a bad time for a hot streak. Tonight’s shutout win was further proof. Right now, it’s still lit.
The Opposition Opinion: Ann Atkinson has this recap at Defending Big D, wherein she notes that this was the end of Dallas’ road trip and it was a game to forget for the Stars. Hey, they played better than Washington did on October 11.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight’s highlights from the game:
Texas Sized Game from the Pickle Man: Blake Coleman had a great game. When he was on the ice, the Devils out-attempted the Stars 16-6 and out-shot them 10-3. Miles Wood and Travis Zajac did well, but Coleman was firing on all cylinders. On the forecheck, he was pushing forward and making the right moves. On the PK, he was effective as ever. He also scored his second of the season. He scored the team’s second goal on a great shot to finish what started off a Dallas turnover.
John Quenneville dumped the puck in and Khudobin played the puck along to rookie Miro Heiskanen. Marcus Johansson was coming from behind and Zajac came down the boards, partially blocking Heiskanen’s attempt to clear it up the boards. The puck dropped for Damon Severson to keep the puck in the zone at the right point. He made a pass to Coleman, who nearly lost the puck to Radulov. Coleman stretched to recover the puck before Seguin could have a go at it, corralled the puck in to get it on his forehand, and snapped a shot far post past Khudobin. It was a great finish. It was important as it put Dallas in a deeper hole. It was not something Coleman settled on either as he kept helping the play push forward. All that and his Pickle’s Pals community platform was announced earlier today. It was a great day for #20. I guess you could say he was a big dill today.
I’m not sorry. I’m moving on, though.
The Big Concern: During the Devils’ next-to-last power play, Roman Polak hit Butcher along the boards. Butcher’s body was turned such that it appeared his shoulder took the brunt of it against the boards. Butcher got up, skated to the bench, and would not return. Granted, the game was 3-0, it was well into the third period, and it made sense to keep him off the ice. The concern is what did he sustain, if anything, from the hit.
According to Chris Ryan of NJ.com, there was no update after the game. We will likely find out tomorrow whether he is injured or not and if he is, how long he may be out for. Butcher had a strong game too and picked up another power play assist on a Palmieri PPG. While kept on the third line in even strength hockey, he has been an important part of the team’s power play and very supportive with the other forward lines. He will be missed if he is out for an extended period of time. That is a big if and I’m hoping, however naively, he will not be out for long or at all.
Was it All Good?: Well, no. Which is not such a bad thing because it was not enough to derail the game or put anything in doubt. However, I noticed the following players had some performances that were far less than ideal.
Sami Vatanen and Mirco Mueller took the lion’s share of minutes tonight. They saw plenty of Seguin, Radulov, and Benn. Overall, in 5-on-5 play, they were not so bad. Yeah, there were some poor shifts but you’d expect the other team’s star-filled first line to make something work. The problem is that they had some nightmarish shifts against the likes of Blake Comeau, Radek Faksa, and Hintz. Vatanen had some real odd decisions about when and how to move the puck tonight that put the team in some awkward situations. Mueller was not as adventurous but he was overwhelmed a handful of times. The good news is that the damage was largely limited to a few real bad shifts and it did not cost the team on the scoreboard. Head coach John Hynes gave this pairing more and “tougher” minutes, which helped Andy Greene and Damon Severson have a very solid game as Ben Lovejoy, despite some real foibles on the puck in the first period, and Will Butcher did their usual thing as a third pairing.
This was not such a good game from Taylor Hall. He had his moments. Part of it has to do with Palmieri and Hischier just contributing much more meaningful events. Part of it has to do that he just only had two shots and five attempts on net. More is usually expected of #9. The first penalty he took was real dumb as it threw away an early opportunity to bury Dallas through a 5-on-3. The second was more of an accident. The good news is that others are hot right now so it is not yet a big deal that Hall is goalless so far. I think he’ll get back on track soon.
I was left unimpressed with Marcus Johansson and Stefan Noesen. While Johansson and Noesen were not as bad as they were on Sunday, they were not good today. Noesen hardly made an impact despite Boyle and Dea making big ones. Johansson seemingly overthought a lot of the times he had the puck on offense. He would defer or turn away from the net on a rebound or just not come up with the right play or shoot quickly enough to take advantage. At least Pavel Zacha was decent.
No, Bryce is Wrong: Reader MedicSBK quoted Bryce Salvador in the Gamethread tonight:
“What’s their Corsi? What’s their shot attempts? You know what? It doesn’t matter. They’re putting the puck in the net.” – Bryce Salvador talking about the 4th line.
It does matter. Note at Natural Stat Trick that the Devils led the whole entire game in it. This reflected the play on the ice; Dallas had some good shifts here and there but for the most part, NJ took control early and never lost it. It especially mattered tonight for Dea and Boyle. Yes, Dea had two goals coming into this game and scored a third tonight. Boyle registered no points tonight. But in their nine-ish minutes of 5-on-5 play tonight, the Devils were attacking. When Boyle was on the ice, the Devils out-attempted the Stars 9-4, out-chanced them 7-2, and out-shot them 5-3. When Dea was on the ice, the Devils out-attempted the Stars 8-4, out-chanced them 6-2, and out-shot them 3-1. While the goal was the big event for the two, these numbers indicate that the two had really good performances tonight.
That they did so as a fourth line was a reason why the Devils beat on the Stars throughout the game. For a team to decisively beat an opponent, it is ideal that contributions come throughout the lineup. For all of the discussion about how players need to do the “little things” that do not show up and how “hard working, character” players get praised for this, Corsi and these kinds of differential stats actually point to those things actually leading to something. Boyle bossing a defender to win a puck and keep an attack going shows up here. Dea winning a race to a loose puck and charging ahead for an attempt shows up here. If you want to know how Dea was able to score, just look at Boyle forcing Klingberg to make a pass and not dilly-dallying to get onside after it is made and Dea quickly recognizing where the puck was after the Stars collided. Boyle and Dea winning their matchups allowed their other lines to get another breather without the coaches worrying much. Just as importantly, they forced the Stars to play more defense, face more pressure, and keep their guys on the ice when they may not want to.
Dea’s stick is hot right now and that he’s winning in attempt and shot differentials means that he’ll have more opportunities to shoot and, by extension, keep putting the puck in the net. And if/when that stops like it for Boyle after December 2017 and Brian Gibbons after the first two months of last season, these analytics will justify and support what the coaches should be noticing (or remind them what they did notice and forgot); and that they are worth keeping on the ice. How they did against Dallas in the run of play tonight may not have been a large victory in of itself, but they helped the Devils if only by keeping the Stars on their heels so they had no “lesser matchup” to get their acts together. Their smaller victories played a role tonight and will on other nights, especially when other lines are not getting many of those kinds of victories.
This has all been done to death here and on other sites and for years now, but quotes like this are a reminder that to dismiss Corsi, shot, and chance differentials and other stats that are not “basic” is to deny part of the full picture, which was a great one by Dea and Boyle tonight in addition to Dea’s awesome shot.
Sure, Whatever, Man: For reasons lost on me, Jamie Benn decided that fighting Miles Wood would be a good idea in the third period. I know they were losing 3-0, but when one of the team’s leading scorer figures he needs to throw hands, then it is likely a sign of frustration. True to Dallas’ performance tonight, Wood soundly beat Benn and Benn had to sit in a box for at least five minutes instead of trying to help his team get anything in this game. I’m sure the Devils did not mind that trade off.
It Could Have Been Worse: If there is another point of criticism, then it could be with the team’s finishing. This seems selfish as the Devils have scored at least three goals in all of their games so far. But Khudobin was giving up plenty of rebounds, he was often not set in his form, and he was caught scrambling where the puck got loose and he was fortunate a Devil did not jam one in. He was the opposite of Kinkaid tonight. It would have been nice for the Devils to have finished more plays against him because the opportunities were there. But they did more than they needed to win the game.
Coats!: The Devils’ Coat Drive is October 24 (vs. Nashville) and October 27 (vs. Florida). Bring a new or gently used and washed coat to those games if you are planning to attend. You will be able to help someone out who needs it. That is always worth doing.
One Last Thought: When Bratt returns, John Quenneville is likely to be the odd man out at this rate. Noesen has proven to be better before and was better in the first two games. Dea is hot and effective in the run of play so far. Quenneville has that dump in that kicked off Coleman’s goal and not much else. Maybe someone should tell him to do something significant soon, if only for his own sake.
Your Take: The Devils won their fourth in a row with a solid-as-solid-can-get shutout win over Dallas. This was a great win with the only long-term negative effect being Butcher’s status. We shall wait to find out what that is. In the meantime, what did you think of this game? Who was the best Devil tonight? Who or what about the team is the hottest right now? What can the Devils takeaway from this game to help them better prepare for Thursday’s game against Colorado? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s win in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account. Thanks to all of the readers who commented in the Gamethread and/or engaged with Mike on Twitter. Thank you for reading.