Tonight, the New Jersey Devils pulled ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and prevailed by a 5-2 score. The simplest way I can describe it was that it was a feel-good win. After pulling out a shootout victory to end a losing streak in Philly, the Devils won in regulation tonight. What’s more, it was against another team right by the Devils in the Metropolitan Division standings, Carolina. This regulation win matters. It was good to see the Devils score five goals, it was good to see the Devils extend a lead, and it was good to see the Devils lead at all. For the first time since February 6 at Ottawa, the Devils were leading in this game. And they didn’t blow it. There’s a lot to like about this game.
From my standpoint, it felt so good to watch as the Devils took on a well-structured and one of the best 5-on-5 teams in Carolina and went up well with them. The first fifteen minutes of the game was goalless, but the Devils were winning pucks, controlling the neutral zone, and giving Scott Darling plenty of work while leaving little for Keith Kinkaid. While there was a part of the second period where the two teams clamped down, ultimately the Devils got their attack going and it paid off. In the third period, the Devils didn’t really stop attacking until the game was out of doubt. Even then, the hustle was there and the neutral zone play frustrated Carolina. Sure, the Canes ultimately came out ahead in shots and attempts - but it wasn’t by much and the real change in the gameflow (see Natural Stat Trick) came after the Devils went up 5-2.
It was by no means a perfect game. The Devils got into trouble with some penalties in the first period with a goal against in between them. They allowed a second goal against that was pretty bad on New Jersey that came shortly after going up 2-1. There were some nightmare shifts where the team was pinned back. Like their penalty kill or a 2-minute shift in the second period featuring Jimmy Hayes or some minute-plus pin-backs early in the third period. In those situations, Carolina was almost just playing with the Devils getting everything but the scoring shot. But the Devils did a lot more good than bad. They had their fair share of offensive shifts which made Carolina sweat, they were able to get to the net more often than Carolina, and they were able to make Scott Darling suffer with five goals against. And these weren’t the best goals to give up either.
The stars of the game from my eyes were also the three stars of tonight’s game as chosen by tonight’s attending media: Damon Severson, Stefan Noesen, and Nico Hischier. All three contributed in the run of play. When all three were on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils matched or out-attempted the Canes and the Devils out-shot them. The pairing of John Moore and Damon Severson was the team’s best and Severson even drew a penalty; Noesen was a sparkplug alongside Miles Wood and Travis Zajac; and Nico Hischier had a wonderful night as he centered the team’s best forward line tonight. #28, #23, and #13 were all very good tonight.
Last and not least, all three scored the goals! After the team killed a Taylor Hall delay of game minor, Hischier won a puck battle that allowed Severson to skate it out. He went right down the wing. With Teuvo Teravainen failing at defending him, Severson took a wrister that Darling probably should have stopped and thankfully did not. That goal made it 1-1 with less than a minute in the period, salvaging a period that could have went all kinds of wrong. In the second period, Travis Zajac took a shot on net and Darling made a stop. Darling attempted to cover the loose puck on the ice with his glove - and missed. Noesen swooped in and put the puck in the net to make it 2-1. Later in the second, Hischier gets the puck behind the net, dodges Victor Rask & Hall, cut in before Justin Faulk could get involved, and wrapped around for a shot. Darling poked it away - and right to Kyle Palmieri, who put the puck under his glove to make it 3-2. In the third period, Hall got the puck away from Haydn Fleury and that sprung a 2-on-1 led by Hischier. Nico just ripped a shot past Darling for a beautiful goal to make it 4-2. Less than a minute later, Damon Severson kept a puck in at the blue line and sailed a wrister towards goal. Noesen deflected the puck down so hard, the puck took a big bounce off the ice and over Darling’s shoulder to make it 5-2. Five goals and they all involved these three players. The production is crucial and I’m glad that they brought it tonight. Nico, Noesen, and Severson shined tonight.
Ultimately, the message from this game should be “Well done, men.” Carolina were by no means pushovers. While the Devils won plenty of pucks and seemed to have a better handle in the neutral zone, the Canes were disciplined enough on defense to deny the Devils from having a go at goal even when there was a turnover or a clean zone entry. While the Canes had a couple of shifts where they just dominated the puck, the Devils defense generally did a good job of keeping those shifts from happening again and again. The Devils did well to keep the Canes mostly away from Kinkaid as well as not having Kinkaid get overloaded. While it wasn’t perfect and there are areas to improve, the Devils did more than enough to get a win tonight. Getting a 5-2 win over a well-structured team like Carolina is always good and it’s even better given the state of the standings.
The Opposition Opinion: Liam Goff at Canes Country has this recap, noting that the Devils snapped a winning streak for Carolina. Good!
The Game Highlights: Yes, you want to see this. From NHL.com:
More Nico Praise: Hischier centered New Jersey’s top line with Hall and Palmieri. In addition to a three-point night, when Hischier was on the ice, the Devils put up ten shots (team had 22 tonight) on net in 5-on-5 play. Only Severson and Moore saw more and they’re defensemen. The only thing that Hischier didn’t do well tonight were faceoffs, where he won just five out of thirteen draws. But that’s a small point compared to how he kept battling and winning pucks, making plays, and finding ways to contribute. It’s remarkable how he’s only 19 and doing all of this in between Hall and Palmieri against tough matchups.
What was tonight’s matchups? Per Natural Stat Trick: the Hischier-led line took on Justin Faulk and won. They took on Jaccob Slavin and Haydn Fleury and won. They took on Jordan Staal, Sebastian Aho, and Teravainen and won. Faulk and Slavin are among Carolina’s top defensemen and Staal and Aho are among their top forwards. I’d love to see the Devils try to get those matchups again on Sunday. I would guess that Carolina will do what they can to avoid it.
Some Kinkaid Praise: Keith Kinkaid did pretty well tonight. He made a lot of good saves. His best was a diving stop off a rebound in the third period. Not just because he denied a good chance for Carolina to tie it up, but he was able to hold onto the puck to end a terribly long shift in New Jersey’s end. He kept his composure, he didn’t do anything weird with the stick, and he didn’t get out of position too much.
Of course, he is a goalie and we must also look at the goals against him. The first goal against was just out of his reach. Jeff Skinner was on his left flank and he kicked the puck forward - and got a touch on the puck just as it went past Kinkaid’s stretched out glove. I don’t think that was a bad goal to allow since Kinkaid had to react fast and stretch out all the way to the post. The second one wasn’t so good at first sight as Kinkaid was beaten shortside by Brett Pesce. It didn’t help that it happened seconds after Noesen put the Devils up 2-1. Upon looking at the replay, I’m more annoyed with the Devils skaters. Nobody really went to defend Pesce when he got the puck. When he cut in, nobody was did much to him. Miles Wood came over late. Stefan Noesen was too late. Travis Zajac was too busy being bodied up by Victor Rask. Kinkaid likely didn’t see Pesce clearly given the bodies in the way. It was a bad goal on the defense at least. But the good news is that Kinkaid didn’t play in such a way where you held your breath anytime someone attempted a shot on goal. He was better than he has been for most of this season. He was definitely much better than Darling.
Same Old Story for the Canes: For the better part of the last six or seven weeks, the Devils have slumped while the team’s shooting percentage and save percentage cratered. Some puck luck and more league-average goaltending would have been really helpful. Don’t complain about it to Carolina, who has seemingly suffered that for multiple seasons now. The team bet big on Darling being their proper starter. Someone to at least be better than Cam Ward. Someone to at least be around league average. While this was just one night, Darling is rocking a sub-90% save percentage at even strength now. It has not been a good season and you saw it tonight. That Severson goal is probably stopped by most other goalies. Noesen’s first goal doesn’t happen if Darling didn’t miss at covering the puck. Darling knocked the puck into danger and Palmieri made him pay the price. Darling was beaten cleaner than Clorox by Hischier on the 2-on-1 play. That was cool by the way, so let’s watch it again:
Beautiful. Back to Darling. It’s not like the Devils overloaded him with shots as he saw a total of 22. Sure, the Devils put more shots at close range on him than what Carolina did to Kinkaid. But at least two of those four goals I mentioned were bad ones for him to allow. It undercut a performance from Carolina that was solid after the first fifteen minutes of regulation. It’s got to be hard to be a Canes fan where you see the team do a lot of good things in 5-on-5 play and from the skaters in general - only for it to be fouled up by the goaltending. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy the Devils took advantage of some sub-standard goaltending tonight. My point is that Darling was a big reason why this was a comfortable 5-2 win where the Devils didn’t have to press super hard for the final ten minutes.
Leading On: The Devils used their speed early and often to give Carolina fits. And even when it looked like a struggle on defense, the Devils stuck to their plan of looking for outlet passes or changing the point of the breakout to look for space to counter-attack or move the puck. The Devils attempted a lot of leading passes for Miles Wood to get onto to try and catch the Canes by surprise. It didn’t really work too well in terms of getting Wood going. It did help in that it kept Carolina away and I credit Wood, Zajac, and Noesen for battling to keep pucks in deep after those passes went awry. But I wonder if Wood could have done more if some of those passes were right to his stick instead of having him chase so much. When it works, it’s a handful for opponents. Tonight, it didn’t work so well. Maybe we’ll see an adjustment this weekend?
The Run of Play: Carolina has been a strong 5-on-5 team this season. While they ultimately led in attempts, 41-37, and in shots, 24-22, the Devils did have an advantage in scoring chances 16-12. Plus, the attempts were mostly made up in the third period where the Canes out-did New Jersey 19-7. Given that the Devils went up by three goals in that period, that deficit is no big deal. It was when the Canes were stomping all over New Jersey early in the period, but after the two goals, it’s whatever. Kinkaid made the stops, the defense did make some clears, and move on.
Wrecked: One line did get owned in the run of play. The fourth line of Jimmy Hayes, Drew Stafford, and Blake Coleman. How bad was it? Hayes and Stafford were on the ice for one shooting attempt (a shot) by the Devils. Two for Coleman. The trio faced at least 7 shots and well over ten attempts by the Canes. Some of those nightmare shifts involved them. They were tonight’s fourth line, so it was only for about 10-12 minutes this went on. It was still not good as the Canes put the pressure on them over and over. Fortunately, it did not lead to any damage on the scoreboard and neither of the three took a call. One part of this game was more notably bad than this one.
Fire Geoff Ward: Here is what the Devils’ power play did with two opportunities that lasted a combined 3:06 tonight:
That’s right! NOTHING! Not a shot on net! Not a shot attempt on Darling! Not even possession in Carolina’s end for at least five seconds! It was a total waste of time! Whether it was Hall carrying it in at a defender after four neutral zone passes, the two-defensemen second unit, or even a dump-in, the Canes penalty kill had no issue totally neutralizing the Devils in a 5-on-4 situation. They even out-shot the Devils’ power play, 1-0. If that seems pathetic to you, then you’re right - it is.
What makes this more agonizing was that the Canes showed the Rock and the Devils how a 1-3-1 formation is supposed to work. While they did not score on their four shots, Carolina was excellent at maintaining possession and moving the puck to create shots. There weren’t a lot of attempted passes going from circle directly to the other circle. They utilized their point man well. There was even movement off the puck by the Canes. They spent most of their combined 5:06 of power play time in New Jersey’s end. (Aside: It would have been cool for Jesper Bratt, who was active with three shots tonight, to not take the two minors that he did.) Carolina showed Geoff Ward how it’s done. Will Geoff Ward understand it? I cannot be confident he will.
No Conspiracy: There was little drama from the referees tonight. Bratt’s penalties were legit, Hall’s clearance over the glass was obvious, and the Canes were appropriately tagged for two penalties. There were two reviews tonight and both were correct. Skinner did get a touch on the puck with his stick after kicking it. While I wish the call of no-goal on the ice stood, the video showed that it was legit. After Palmieri’s goal, Carolina decided to challenge for goaltender interference. Darling wasn’t impeded and the video showed that too. They correctly confirmed the call on the ice. Tonight was an example that, no, there isn’t a conspiracy against the Devils by the officials. It may feel that way sometimes, but it’s bad to attribute malice when simple misguidedness applies (e.g. calling a high-stick on a faker named Shayne who didn’t get touched by one).
Fun Fact: The Devils scored five goals tonight. A friend of the site, Jesse, asked me at the game when the last time this happened. The answer: December 18 against Anaheim (5-3) if you include empty netters. December 12 against Los Angeles (5-1) if you don’t.
Around the Division: Since the Devils beat Carolina, the Devils now have 25 ROW and have 66 points. This puts them in a tie with Philadelphia for third place. As both teams have the same number of games, the Flyers have an edge with 27 ROW. The impact of the four-point game is that the Devils are ahead of fifth-place Carolina by three points in addition to being right by Philadelphia.
The Devils only got some help, though. Washington and Pittsburgh both won in regulation. The Devils have two games in hand on Pittsburgh and they’re four points behind them. But the Pens have 31 ROW so tying them still would keep the Devils behind them. While idle tonight, Columbus lost 3-6 in regulation to Toronto yesterday. That keeps them down for a little while longer. The New York Islanders remain on the bubble with a big win over Our Hated Rivals. It could be argued that an Isles loss would have been better for the Devils as it would have kept the Isles down. That would require appreciating Our Hated Rivals actually winning and in most cases, I can’t go for that. The Isles are in seventh and four points behind with two extra games on the Devils. It’s not a bad thing that they blanked Our Hated Rivals.
One Last Thought: Hall got the primary assist and Kinkaid got the secondary assist on Hischier’s goal. Kinkaid’s assist is his first of the season. Hall’s assist means that he has at least one point in each his last 16 games. According to the NHL PR department, this ties a franchise record:
Taylor Hall collected an assist and has recorded at least one point in 16 consecutive appearances (11-13—24), the longest such run in @NJDevils franchise history. #NHLStats #CARvsNJD pic.twitter.com/SJAI9DsyS6— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 16, 2018
Hall was good tonight. May this streak continue into Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Your Take: The Devils won 5-2 over Carolina and it felt good to see them do it. What was your take on tonight’s game? Who do you think was the best Devil tonight? Who else did well other than the three players mentioned in this headling? What should the Devils focus on before their next game in Tampa Bay? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented in the gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.