Stefan Noesen scored what could be one of the more important goals of the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils season. It put the Devils up 4-3 over the Carolina Hurricanes with 1:33 left to play in regulation. The Devils held on to complete a third-period comeback in dramatic fashion for a massive win. The goal may become one to remember, so let us take a step back and look at the play before looking at the whole game.
With less than two minutes in regulation in a 3-3 game, the unit of Andy Greene, Sami Vatanen, Michael Grabner, Pavel Zacha, and Noesen started in their own end of the rink with 1:59 to go. It was a defensive zone faceoff and Zacha lost it. But the Devils were able get a stop. Greene cleared out of the zone up the boards and it was tipped in by Noesen beyond the red line to negate any icing. With 1:39 to go, Grabner was chasing down Noah Hanifin for the dumped puck. Grabner missed but Hanifin lost the puck. With a second chance, Grabner knocked the puck past Noesen and the puck traveled around the corner and up the boards to Greene. The puck was moving slowly enough and nobody was really in Greene’s way. The captain wound up and one-timed the puck with a slapshot towards Scott Darling. Noesen was curling towards the net. He tried to tip it - I think he missed - and Darling made a save with his pads in a butterfly position. The puck rebounded right to Noesen and Darling had to move. With Darling still on his knees, the five-hole was open and Noesen slammed the puck in. 4-3 Devils with 93 massive seconds left.
The Rock erupted in joy when Noesen piled in the rebound. The fans knew this game was important and what that goal could mean. Florida won the night before and so the Devils were just one perilous point ahead of them in the standings for the final playoff spot in the East. The Devils needed to win this game. This is why there was frustration when the Devils started the first period really well, finished that period really poorly, and were losing 1-2. This is why when Kyle Palmieri converted a power play after a killer cross-ice pass from Taylor Hall in the second period to tie it up, the excitement was re-ignited. The Devils entered the third period tied 2-2 and went down 2-3 when the team was discombobulated in their own end and Hanifin put in Carolina’s third or fourth straight chance on that shift. The fans were in a state of unease as the Devils searched for an equalizer. They got it with another power play goal from Palmieri, a re-direction of a pass by Taylor Hall from the slot. The fans were excited again.
But it was still tense. A kind of nervousness that something could go wrong. A bounce. A deflection. A broken play. A penalty kill gone wrong. Something. After all, the Devils went into this pivotal third period tied 2-2 and gave up a score. As the clock ran down in regulation and the Devils kept attacking, the thought of post-regulation play grew. Thoughts started running in the mind. Rationalizations formed immediately; that it would be OK to get a point at least. It would be OK to get a shootout win if it comes to that. It would be OK to hand Carolina, who is only mathematically not eliminated from the playoffs, a point.
Noesen erased all that. Noesen’s goal screamed to the fans, “The Devils can now win this game. They can get the result. What needs to happen can happen!”
Reality roared back: “There’s 1:33 left. A lot can happen in 1:33 in this sport.”
I bellowed in person and on social media: “KILL THE NEXT 1:33”
And so the Hurricanes threw out six skaters as soon as they could. They did right after a zone entry from a post-goal faceoff win. The Devils battled along the boards, trying to win a puck. They got a win. They got a block. Kyle Palmieri was pushing the puck forward, hoping to get the empty netter. Grabner eventually had the puck and tried to will himself with the puck for an ENG through four Hurricanes. He almost succeeded. The Canes went offside. A net went off. A beef ensured. A timeout, Carolina’s, was called. 26.1 seconds left and thousands of Devils fans at the Rock and thousands elsewhere around the world were hoping to get through it. No chance deflections. No breakdowns in coverage. No rebounds. No seeing-eye shots. Take a penalty if needed. Just do it. Carolina got one (1) official shot on net from Jaccob Slavin. Keith Kinkaid stopped it. The Devils won the puck in front. As the buzzer sounded, the puck slid into the empty net. No goal but who cares - the Devils won. Noesen’s goal was the difference maker. The fans were joyous. They knew the Devils needed this win and they got it. The Devils are back to being three points above Florida in the standings. The Devils are a small step closer to the first wild card spot. They got the job done in what ended up being an action packed game.
Just look at the final numbers. Carolina boasts one of the stingiest defenses in hockey from a shots against perspective. New Jersey isn’t unfamiliar with not creating a lot of offense. The game ended with the Devils out-shooting Carolina 45-34. Attempts in all situations were 63-51 in favor of New Jersey. That’s a lot generated and allowed from both teams! Both teams weren’t so much defending to prevent offense; they were defending to try to limit it. And even that didn’t work out so well given how much Keith Kinkaid and Darling had to deal with. Carolina thrived when the Devils went over-aggressive on offense and turned the puck over on defense. The Devils, well, also thrived when the Canes were caught out on offense and the Canes turned the puck over on defense. Forechecking was everywhere. Penalty calls added to the tension. Seeing New Jersey come back from 1-2 only to go down 2-3 in the third period and then win it 4-3 within the same period is a massive swing. The importance of this game for New Jersey combined with how much happened made for one exciting contest. As with Noesen’s game winner, it could be one to remember - depending on what happens in the next six games. For now, it’s too big to ignore.
The Opposition Opinion: From Canes Country, Brett Finger has this recap of the Canes’ latest loss.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Noesen and the Great Line Adjustment: Noesen did more than just score an important goal. He played a rather good game with three shots on net out of five attempts in 13:45 of ice time tonight. He was especially good in the third period. Noesen started and played most of his 5-on-5 time with Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac. The unit was not bad, but the line was getting out-attempted and shots were only slightly in favor of the Devils. For the third period, John Hynes moved him with Pavel Zacha and Michael Grabner. I don’t know if it was their matchup or the teammates, but whatever it did, it absolutely clicked.
Check out the linemates section at Natural Stat Trick for this game. In about four and a half minutes together, Noesen with Zacha yielded 8 attempts and 7 shots by New Jersey with only 3 attempts and 1 shot by Carolina in 5-on-5 play. In 4:19, Noesen and Grabner together yielded 8 attempts and 8 shots by New Jersey with only 3 attempts and 1 shot by Carolina. In other words, they played excellent together those third-period shifts. And it led to production as they scored what would be the game winner.
It was not so much that the Devils were playing rather bad heading into the third period, but Hynes made an adjustment. I don’t know what it is that made Hynes make this switch. I’m glad he did because it paid off big time. This is a good lesson that not all changes in lines are bad ones to make.
Another Good Switch for Kyle Palmieri, Who Scored a Brace Tonight: Kyle Palmieri was also the recipient of such a switch. For the third period, he was slotted next to Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier. Perhaps this change drove Noesen being moved too. It was not that Jesper Bratt was that bad. He ended up with two shots at even strength and the Hall-Hischier-Bratt line was positive in the run of play. But as with Noesen, Palmieri with Zacha and Miles Wood wasn’t yielding a whole lot. Palmieri helped set up Zacha for a rebound goal, which started with a pass by Hall. Later in the second period, Hall set up Palmieri for a great looking power play goal. I would not blame the coaches for seeing both scoring plays and thinking, “Hm. Palmieri and Hall have something going on tonight. Maybe we should put these guys together again at even strength.” Maybe I’m wrong, but they made the switch all the same.
As with Noesen, the move worked out. While the line did not score in 5-on-5 play, the run of play showed success. Palmieri played about five minutes with Hall and Hischier. They were positive in attempts (Hall-Palmieri: Devils 8, Carolina 3; Hischier-Palmieri: Devils 5, Carolina 3) as well as shots (Hall-Palmieri: Devils 5, Carolina 2; Hischer-Palmieri: Devils 3, Carolina 2). While one of those shots was Hanifin scoring in the third period, they did not yield much at all. They weren’t as dominant as Grabner-Zacha-Noesen, but they pushed the play forward. Chalk up another coaching adjustment working out for Hynes. As much as I like Bratt here and there and that Hischier and Hall just did well in 5-on-5 for the most part all night long (one shift excepted), tonight showed what the first line should be for the time being: Hall-Hischier-Palmieri. Let it ride.
Of course, Palmieri got his brace on the power play tonight - which he helped create as he drew two penalties tonight. Palmieri also had four of the team’s nine power play shots on net (and four of his six total shots tonight). He put home a great cross-ice feed from Hall for the second period goal. His re-direction of Hall’s pass in the slot gave them a last-second PPG (literally, there was 0:01 on it) and the important third-period equalizer. Palmieri was a power player. He looked in form in the 1-3-1 formation tonight; he and Hall were big reasons why the power play was such an asset tonight.
A Successful Power Play: I’ve been critical of Geoff Ward a lot this season. I will praise him tonight. His schemes worked out. His 1-3-1 formation was functioning as intended and it created a good variety of shots. It also helped that the Devils scored two then-game-tying goals on two of them. But even the first power play effort featured a number of good shots on net. The players weren’t necessarily forcing cross-ice passes or passes to the middle-man. Will Butcher was quite good at the point. Even though it looked silly, the drop pass coming out of their zone on the breakout did lead to some very successful entries. Hall was especially good on the puck from the wing. The Devils only had one wasted power play. Still, three threatening power plays out of four opportunities is quite good. It helps a lot that two of them ended with scores. Good job, Ward and power play players.
A Successful Penalty Kill: My goodness, the penalty kill was doing more than killing clock and playing defense. They disrespected Carolina’s power play. They showed no mercy. The first kill was especially spirited. Perhaps it was because it was a dubious delay-of-game call on Sami Vatanen (puck appeared to ramp up off a Cane stick), but the Devils were just denying the Canes much of anything. But the other two kills were just as strong. In total, the Devils allowed two shots out of three penalty kills, they took two shots themselves, and they made Carolina spend a lot of time retrieving cleared pucks and taking extra steps against forecheckers. Blake Coleman was a forechecking machine tonight. Grabner, Brian Gibbons, and Travis Zajac were very good at knowing when to go forward and when to just move the puck to kill more time. Mirco Mueller (!) and Andy Greene were excellent in their own end and the John Moore-Damon Severson pairing weren’t shabby at all. The PK exerted themselves tonight and that went a long way to helping the Devils tonight. Not having to pay for a penalty is always good.
On Goalies: On one hand, you have to give Darling a lot of credit. Sure, he gave up four goals. He didn’t really have a chance on the first one and third one against was a deflection. The second one was a tough post-to-post move where Palmieri just beat him with the shot on his left side. He faced 45 shots out of 63 attempts. That’s a lot for a goalie to deal with. On the other hand, Darling was giving up some hefty rebounds and he paid for that twice with Zacha’s goal and Noesen’s game winner. The Devils freely shot from everywhere at Darling, knowing full well that he could give up some poor ones. Arguably, he did with less than two minutes in regulation in a tie-game.
In a way, I feel for Carolina. Assessing goalies is hard. Darling was looking great in Chicago, with a great 14-appearance run in 2014-15 leading to be Chicago’s #2 goalie in 2015-16 and 2016-17. He posted great numbers. At age 28, Darling was paid big-time by Carolina to be their top guy. They figured he could keep it up with more appearances. They kept Cam Ward to have a #1 and #1A situation in case he could not. To provide at least league-average goaltending is a fair expectation. And he has not done that this season with a sub-90% even strength save percentage in 40 appearances. While he was shelled tonight, once again, his vulnerabilities led to a less than ideal result. It’s easy to get fooled by a goalie having a great run and Carolina stuck with his deal.
For totally and completely unrelated reasons, let’s look to Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid did well. Not just because he got another ‘W’ in his record now. Goalies can have good games even when they lose. Just look at Kinkaid’s game in Carolina from earlier this month for an example. But Kinkaid did well when Carolina started bringing the fire from halfway through the first period to the later minutes of the second period. The Canes gave him shots from the points, shots from broken plays, and even some off-the-rush plays with two breakaways. Kinkaid’s desperate stick denial of Jeff Skinner, who had him beat on the rush, was one of the best of his whole career. Kinkaid made a great blocker stop on Brock McGinn when he broke through after both Moore and Severson pinched on a play. Kinkaid did quite well with a variety of shots.
However, unlike the last game against Carolina, Kinkaid did give up one bad goal. The wraparound goal by Warren Foegele was just bad. It was right through the legs. He didn’t appear to be prepared for it either. It definitely did not help that it also put Carolina up 1-2, completely erasing an amazing first ten minutes by the Devils. The other two were not as bad. He was beaten to the top corner by Phil Di Guiseppe after a neutral zone turnover led to a 2-on-1 against. It appeared that John Moore (sigh) screened Kinkaid on the shot, which was just about inch-perfect to pick the corner he scored at. The third goal allowed, I think, was really on the skaters as Kinkaid was just scrambling amid a lot of red jerseys standing around in confusion. Still, bad goals do happen and the important thing is that Kinkaid A) didn’t give up any more, B) he didn’t give them up when the Devils were up 4-3, and C) he was able to make plenty of routine stops without allowing a lot of rebounds. Overall, I liked how he played; I fully expect to see him on Thursday against Pittsburgh.
Keep Shooting, I Guess: Your leader in shots by the Devils was actually Sami Vatanen. I cannot really praise the defense a ton for how much was allowed, but I appreciate the initiative the Greene-Vatanen pairing took on offense. I liked a lot of Greene’s one on one defending, but the duo were able to get plenty of pucks and plenty of looks at the net. I wished Vatanen’s shots yielded more, and to be fair, the Devils should be trying for closer range shots than the point. But you have to take what’s been given, Vatanen did move up on a couple plays for some better shots, and results will come if he keeps on firing.
Hall the Assists: Taylor Hall picked up three legitimate assists to get to 52. He is within one his season-high of 53 tonight. There are six games to go and #9 is seemingly “feeling it” every game. He’s now tied for ninth in overall points in the whole NHL with 85. While it is a lot, he may be able to crack 90 points. Unlikely as it may be, I’m not going to bet against him at this rate.
The Return of Wood: Miles Wood returned to action tonight. He didn’t really do a whole lot. He did draw a tripping call. He didn’t register a shot on net. He chased a lot of plays for little gain. I hope he’ll make more of an impact on Thursday.
Around the Division: The good thing about writing long winded recaps late at night is that I can see the later scores. Unfortunately, the Devils continue to receive no real help. Yesterday, Florida walked all over the Isles to get right behind the Devils - which made winning this game so much more important. Tonight, losses by Philadelphia and Columbus would put a winning Devils team right behind them with a game in hand. Well, Edmonton blew a 3-0 lead to lose 7-3 to Columbus. Philly lost in overtime at Dallas. So the Devils are two points behind the Second Rate Rivals with a game in hand; but that is not much of a gain. Columbus is three points away, which looks like a mountain to climb with only five to six games left in the regular season.
Elsewhere in the Metropolitan, Detroit somehow beat Pittsburgh 5-2. With the other results, they’re just a point ahead of Columbus and two ahead of Philadelphia. The Pens are likely going to enter Thursday’s game with something important to play for: home ice. The Devils better be careful in what should be another Most Important Game of the Season of the Night. Meanwhile, the Isles won 4-3 (meh) and Washington beat Our Hated Rivals yesterday to take one step closer to locking up the division.
By the way, for tomorrow, you really, really, really want Toronto to win in regulation. It would also be cool if Colorado did too.
One Last Thought: With the Devils’ win, Our Hated Rivals are now officially eliminated from the NHL playoffs. Too bad, so sad, New York City.
Your Take: The Devils won an important game. It was filled with shots, events, great special teams play, a lot of saves, a lot of plays going in both directions, and one massive rebound goal by Stefan Noesen to complete a third period comeback for the win. Dramatic, yes. Crucial, yes. Victorious, yes. What did you think of the Devils performance? Who was the best Devil on the ice tonight? Who looked good and who did not? What do you want to see the Devils work on before their next game against Pittsburgh on Thursday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s win in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed @AAtJerseyBlog along on Twitter. Thank you for reading.