On paper, this weekend on the road was going to be a tough one. On Saturday, the New Jersey Devils had to face the most offensively potent team in the NHL in the Tampa Bay Lightning. 51 shots against, 80 attempts, and 60 minutes of that ended with a 4-3 win with Eddie Lack playing out of his mind. In less than 24 hours from that game, the Devils visited the Carolina Hurricanes this evening. While not as prolific, the Canes were capable as anyone of picking on a fatigued opponent. They swarmed the Devils’ zone and made them suffer for their many, many failed zone exit attempts. Carolina put up 41 shots and 77 attempts in regulation and needed to force overtime late because Keith Kinkaid played out of his mind. But while the Devils were out-played, they had a player with another, higher level. Taylor Hall. With 25 seconds left in overtime, Hall put a shot on Cam Ward. One second later, Hall attempted to put in the rebound. Two seconds later, Hall was celebrating as the Devils won 3-2 over Carolina.
While it was annoying to hand a Metropolitan Division opponent a point, the results this weekend were ideal for the Devils. The Devils won twice. They won twice with ROWs. They further stabilized their position in the standings. They even claimed a statement win over Tampa Bay, being one of the few teams to beat them twice this season. Of course, a closer look at both games will show that the performances weren’t all that and a bag of chips. At least for the skaters.
I must say, Kinkaid had an awesome night. Carolina threw everything and the kitchen sink at the guy and he stopped nearly everything. New Jersey may have given him two leads to work with, but their offensive support was minimized as time went on. Kinkaid was excellent with his pads, his glove was good, and he maintained very good focus to just keep in front of plays. He wasn’t even fazed after taking a hard slapshot to the helmet. The two goals against were failures of defense as opposed to failures of goaltending. While Teuvo Tervainen’s goal in the second period looked soft, it was a re-direction of a leg that caused it to go in. Late in the game, Jeff Skinner jammed a puck in at the post - the end of a 75-second shift of awful Devils defense against six Canes skaters looking for what Skinner got. Since the Devils were out-shot by a 2:1 ratio in total and out-attempted 79-41 in all situations, the Devils needed Kinkaid to be massive tonight - and he was.
As for the Devils skaters, well, look at those attempt and shot differentials again. While they had some beautiful goals, the team went from 9 shots to 6 shots to 3 shots in successive periods in regulation. While they finally broke a power play goalless streak, the power play provided only additional shot on net other than the goal despite having three of them. While they ultimately won the game, if it wasn’t for Kinkaid and some puck luck, this could have easily been a regulation loss as Carolina sailed through them all night long. Exit attempts: denied. Coverage around the slot and net: often one step behind with all kinds of panicking. Passes: off the mark. Shots: almost half of their attempts didn’t even make it to Ward. If the Devils’ win over Carolina last Thursday was a good performance (and it was!), then this was a rather bad one.
My hope is that a lot of the performance is due to the short turnaround in games combined with Carolina being rested and really needing this win. As much as the Devils are in a playoff battle, the Canes are now winless in three and getting closer and closer to the outside of that bubble. The Devils won’t have much time to catch their breath as they’ll play the next three games on every other night for this week. The good news is that it’ll all be at home and will have a little time to re-coup and re-set. I’m pleased they got the wins. I’m pleased Hall extended his point streak with a dramatic game winner. Now the performances have to return to keep the good times rolling.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Brian LeBlanc at Canes Country has this recap, noting that the point earned is the Canes’ first since beating LA last Tuesday.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
The Glorious Power Play Goal: Will Butcher was scratched tonight partially because John Hynes said that the Canes do not take many penalties. Yes, the power play has been less than useless in the past few weeks. But the issues are more with Geoff Ward rather than Will Butcher, who has been doing very well as the third-pairing left defenseman. Anyway, Carolina took the first three penalties tonight. Again, the 1-3-1 provided a whole bunch of nothing. However, a stretch play gave the Devils something they haven’t done in their last sixteen or so opportunities: a goal. It’s a beauty from Sami Vatanen and Nico Hischier:
After Kinkaid settled the puck, Vatanen led the breakout and noticed that Hischier was all alone at the blueline. Trevor van Reimsdyk was away and Jaccob Slavin wasn’t really on the rookie. Vatanen hit Hischier with a pass. The pass wasn’t clean - of course, many of them weren’t tonight - but Hischier was able to kick the puck up to his stick. As he went past the right dot, he fired a laser to the top corner past Ward. Absolutely lovely. Even the NHL.com video title called it a “sweet PPG” in the video section.
Was it a set play from formation? No. Was it the right call? Totally. Vatanen saw a teammate open and Hischier finished it with glory. Always attempt to make that play when it’s there. So the PP goalless streak ended tonight, but it wasn’t because the team figured it out. It was just one very good play from two players.
Out of the Box: The Devils cut down from six shorthanded situations to three tonight. Carolina rang up 7 shots across all three (and all 7 were in the second period, where Carolina fired off a total of 15 shots). The first one was the contentious one, the other two weren’t as dangerous. But the big moment came after John Moore served a minor for holding up Brock McGinn. Derek Ryan attempted a pass to Justin Williams, but it was behind the veteran winger. As the puck sailed into space, Moore darted right after it. Suddenly, it’s a 3-on-1 with Moore, Kyle Palmieri, and Pavel Zacha. Palmieri went down the middle to draw Ryan’s attention. Moore sent a pass across the slot to Zacha and behind Ryan and Palmieri. Zacha roofed it on Ward’s right flank - no chance for the goalie.
This was an excellent heads-up play by Moore. It ended with a goal, which was great. It sort of redeems Moore’s penalty as he created the goal. It’s another example of what Bryce Salvador likes to point out in his analyses: a Devil going to the middle or the net to create a seam. While I wasn’t terribly pleased with the three minors the Devils took in the second period, it did not damage them like it did in Tampa Bay last night.
Overtiming: The Devils were dominated in the run of play during regulation. Overtime went much better for New Jersey. Carolina only attempted two shots and only one got to Kinkaid. The Devils did a good job retrieving loose pucks and won a few from Canes. The Devils attacked more than Carolina did. They didn’t have to carry the puck back to reset the play as much. I feel bad for Zacha, who won a puck from Ryan, broke away, and led a two-on-one with Zajac - only for Zacha to misplay the pass. On the overtime winner, I really liked how Palmieri made a point of it to keep the puck in the zone and moved to the corner of the zone. He drew two Canes and tossed the puck into a spot where only Hall could get it. It was a good move to bet on Hall against Noah Hanifin. Even if he lost it, the Canes weren’t in a position to rush back up ice either. Of course, betting on Hall these days often leads to wins - like that one. The larger point is that the Devils did well in 3-on-3 against Carolina and I’m happy they got the win there.
What Does Being Dominated Look Like? This: What I tend to do is watch the game, give occasional observations on Twitter and in the comments, keep those thoughts in mind by the end of the game, sit down, and look up the stats to see if those thoughts were justifiable. This was a game where one didn’t need to look up anything to know that the Devils were playing like they were skating uphill for the most part. The Canes were swarming it up as if Pete DeBoer was behind the bench and the Devils had little answer for them. They kept trying to make defensive zone passes to look for better exits. But as those passes faltered, it only led to more attack time for Carolina. Even when they did just try to chip pucks away, Carolina’s excellent blueline were more than capable to keep pucks in play to continue the offense. And, no, the Devils weren’t keeping it all to the outside. The Canes were going wherever they wanted and ran up a lot of attempts and shots in those dangerous parts of the ice.
The numbers justify that. Per Natural Stat Trick, in 5-on-5 alone, the Devils were out-attempted 60-27, out-shot 29-15, out-chanced 34-10, and even out-high-danger-chanced 17-6. The heatmap for the game at Natural Stat Trick has a big red blob right in front of the Devils’ net. That’s where many attempts took place - including both goals. The team numbers matched up with what I observed: Carolina bossed the Devils around.
The individual numbers are even uglier. Only two Devils finished at 50% CF% or higher. Only with five Devils had the team out-shoot the Canes in 5-on-5 play; and in those cases, the Devils didn’t have more than 4 shots for each. Ten players finished below 30%, which matches up with how much they were in their own end. The following players saw only five to six attempts by the Devils and at least 12 attempts by Carolina: Hischier (other than the goal, it was a tough night), Drew Stafford, Nick Lappin (who took a lazy hooking call too), Blake Pietila (who didn’t really do anything Jimmy Hayes couldn’t have done), Palmieri, Jesper Bratt, and Zacha. Those are seven forwards across multiple lines. It wasn’t just Carolina dominating a fourth line or the bottom six. They pinned back almost everyone at some point or another. What’s shocking is that only Stafford in that group played more than ten minutes in 5-on-5 play. So Carolina didn’t need a ton of time to run up those attempt and shot differentials.
As far as the defense, yeah, the top four were overwhelmed. Moore and Vatanen can at least say they created goals, but they can’t say they played well in their own end tonight. Ditto for Andy Greene and Damon Severson.
Yes, Hischier and Zacha scored beautiful goals. Yes, Hall’s overtime winner was great. Yes, I’m happy they won. There are two points of these numbers. The first is that the Devils were real bad off the puck tonight, particularly in their own end of the rink. Not only did Carolina put up a lot of quantity but also a lot of quality. A sharper, perhaps more conservative effort would have saved them a lot of anguish tonight. The second point is that this goes to show how great Kinkaid had to be tonight. Fortunately for the Devils, he was great.
Can this continue in future games? No. Can the Devils be better? Yes. Will they be? I think so, teams may have bad games but unless they play in Brooklyn, it doesn’t just hit rock bottom and stay there.
But the Blown Lead...: When you’re being out-shot 13-3 in the final period of a one-goal game, an equalizer shouldn’t be a surprise. The Devils’ offense failed to keep Carolina honest and the Canes just kept coming at the Devils over and over. The Devils hurt themselves by failing to get exits and clearances to release some of the pressure provided by the home team. It would have been massive if the Devils held on at the end, but as that equalizing shift became 40 seconds, 50 seconds, 60 seconds, and longer, I increasingly knew it wasn’t going to end well. It didn’t. I’m not pleased about the equalizer, mostly because of how the Devils botched exit attempts prior to it. I don’t fault Kinkaid, certainly. Still, the Devils did not perform well enough at defending a lead in the third period.
Around the Division: The Flyers laid a smackdown on Our Hated Rivals. Therefore, the Devils’ win keeps them in a tie in points with the Orange and Black. Both teams are now three points behind idle Washington and four points behind first-place Pittsburgh. The Pens jumped the Caps with a 5-2 win over Columbus today. While it would have been nice for the Flyers and Pens to have lost, these results mean Our Hated Rivals (11 points) and the Jackets (7 points) are further back. The Canes got a point but are now six behind the Devils with New Jersey carrying a game in hand. Ultimately, the win plus other results in the division stabilized their playoff spot. Of course, this does not make Tuesday’s home game against Columbus any less important.
As another small victory, New Jersey now has 27 ROW. This is more than any of the four teams behind them in the division. This will help should tiebreakers eventually come. They’re still behind Philly in that department. Onwards and upwards for the Devils.
Streaks: Hischier has a four-game goal streak, Hall’s point streak is now 18 games long, the Devils won their last four, and Kinkaid has a secondary assist streak of two games now.
One Last Thought: If/when Hall is a finalist for the Hart Trophy, I hope they use the overtime winner from this game as part of the highlight reel.
Your Take: The Devils won 3-2 in overtime over Carolina to keep on winning. Hall was a star again with the game winner. Hischier and Zacha provided lovely looking goals. Kinkaid was fantastic in net tonight. A lot has to be better but they can work on that. What were your thoughts about this win? What do you think the Devils need to work on the most before their next game against Columbus? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.