As tonight’s game between the New Jersey Devils and Vegas Golden Knights began to play out, it started to look like any other night in 2018 with Cory Schneider in net. The team was making mistakes, Schneider was letting goals in too easily, and the Devils found themselves well behind the proverbial 8-ball with a large chunk of game left to play. Tonight though, started out appearing even worse, as the reigning league MVP Taylor Hall would miss the game with a lower body injury. Somehow, someway, tonight just would not end the same...
The first period started out with a goal surrendered in under 2 minutes; to be fair, this wasn’t a softy, but it was a wrap-around goal that the Schneider of old probably would have been able to push over to and keep out. Still a goal this early and frequent is unacceptable and present day Schneider allowed Alex Tuch to score a lightning-fast wrap-around for 1-0 Golden Knights lead. A few minutes later, the Devils would attempt to even the score on the power play, and while it certainly looked better than it has in recent games, the first special teams situation would produce no equalizer.
Moments after the power play’s conclusion, the Knights would take the puck the other way, as Damon Severson attempted to get back from being deep in the zone on offense. Blake Coleman made a small error to attempt to pinch and keep the puck in, but Vegas would go the other way. Andy Greene didn’t block Jonathan Marchessault’s pass, and William Karlsson with a step on Severson would tap another stoppable shot past Cory.
If you didn’t watch the game, you may not want to read the next paragraph.
The single most egregious goalie error of the season came next, as William Carrier would shoot a long-distance wrister on Schneider; he would hit it with his glove, bobble it, and knock it into his own net for a 3-0 Vegas lead. He would last about 15 more seconds while Keith Kinkaid got ready and then relieved him. The fans would cheer as the Devils made this change.
Vegas would get a power play with 2:03 left in the first, as Travis Zajac had to foul Karlsson to prevent a breakaway. The Knights would not get much of a chance to put anything dangerous on net, and the first period bleeding would stop at 3-0; things already were looking grim.
The Devils would come out for the second with their skating legs leading to another power play with 17:32 left to go and Zajac would ruin Marc-Andre Fleury’s attempt at a shutout. He would attempt to finish a tic-tac-toe passing play, but a Knight would intercept the pass to Travis; he would hit the players stick (and allegedly the puck) to propel it past Fleury. Kyle Palmieri would give the Knights their second power play on the next sequence, and William Karlsson would net his second of the game to reestablish the three goal lead for Vegas. The Devils almost cashed in a second time when Coleman almost knocked in the rebound of a John Quenneville shot, but it would lead to power play number three as Blake got hooked. This time, Vegas made Jersey’s power play look silly bad; nothing to show again for the usually powerless play.
The Devils would find some even strength scoring in this period, and it would come courtesy of Miles Wood; Zajac and Coleman would work hard to get the puck toward the net, and some hard work from Miles would make it 4-2. A few more minutes of Devils pressure would lead to another power play opportunity with just under four minutes to play, and despite a good push in the latter half, the score would remain unchanged and would stay that way through the end of the second. The gap had been decreased, but time was running low with only 20 minutes left.
The third would start on a sour note with Andy Greene taking an early penalty, but thankfully the PK would get the job done. The Devils would push the pressure back towards Vegas’ end and a faceoff wrap-around from Palmieri would cut the deficit to a mere goal. Miles Wood would rewind time, and rediscover his speed getting a breakaway only to have Fleury deny him from tying the game. The Rock was rocking with belief that the Devils could salvage something from what appeared to be a lost game.
The clock would tick down towards five minutes remaining, and the Knights would give us an early holiday present: Brett Seney would drive the net and Nick Holden would bank the puck into the net off Karlsson’s skate to tie it at 4. The ensuing play would see the Devils draw another power play, but despite some great looks and chances, the score remained tied. Nevertheless, momentum stayed with New Jersey, as the comeback seemed to inspire the players. Regulation time would wind down, and the game would head to overtime; a lost game had yielded at least one point.
With an 0-6 record beyond regulation, the Devils would be searching for an answer and a different outcome; they would finally find it. Nico Hischier would be the hero, taking a pass for Marcus Johansson, make a nice move around Fleury, and tuck the puck in as he fell to the ice. The play would be reviewed for an offside violation, but there was no evidence to overturn the goal. The Devils had completed a much needed comeback for a much needed victory.
The Game Highlights: Head on over to NHL.com for highlights and more coverage. While there’s no highlight package video yet, they do have footage of Nico’s sweet game winner.
Welcome Back: John Quenneville made his return to the Devils’ lineup with Hall and Noesen unavailable. While he did not record a point, he had some great chances including almost picking up an assist on the play that led to Jersey’s third PP, and almost cashing in on the team’s final PP. If he stays with the big club while Noesen remains on IR, and keeps up this level of play, I could see him getting on the score sheet soon.
The End(?) of Cory Schneider: With the third goal allowed in the first period, I think it’s officially time to send Cory to the AHL to be Binghamton’s backup. Yes, in my opinion the goal was THAT bad and unforgivable; the team was already down two, and an NHL caliber goalie probably stops one of the first two as well.
From everything I’ve ever seen or heard, Cory Schneider is a great person; he was also a great Devil for a few seasons. He is at this point, unfortunately, not even capable of being an NHL backup due to the injuries he has dealt with. He had already lost a step (evidenced once again by the lack of push off to try and stop Tuch’s goal) but now he’s lost all confidence as well. At this point, I think the Devils have to try and send him down to find some semblance of his game...if he doesn’t, then this should be his last NHL game.
CZW! CZW!: Coleman, Zajac and Wood had an excellent night, pushing the play forward and contributing 4 points between them. This line needs to continue playing as they did tonight, driving the play forward and causing havoc for opposing teams, because when they do, they make the Devils a very difficult team to play.
No Taylor? No Problem!: Taylor Hall being out of the lineup was already bad; going down by three with over 50 minutes of hockey left to play made it seem as though the comeback wouldn’t be achievable. The Devils banded together and persevered, pulling out a win without their offensive dynamo. Still, let’s not take Hall for granted, nor even attempt to claim the team is better off without him; if he’s available for tomorrow night, get him right back in.
A Final Thought: While the first 10 minutes of the game were awful, the rest of it made this team’s talent apparent. Underachieving from this point forward should not be acceptable.
Your Take: The Devils start off the weekend back to back with a great comeback win as they head for Nashville tomorrow night. More impressively, they came back from a 3-0 defecit without their best player, Taylor Hall. Please leave any thoughts and/or comments that you had from this gutsy performance below.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview, to Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account, and all of those who commented in the gamethread. Thank you all for reading.