Tonight’s game was only on television in Canada (TSN3) and those who would not be blacked out on NHL.tv. It is a shame because the New Jersey Devils clearly had their best game of their preseason. The Devils went into Winnipeg, played against a fairly strong Jets roster with most of their top talent playing, and won 5-3 in regulation. It is the first win of the preseason for New Jersey. That does not matter so much as how they did it.
Since the game was not available for me, I resorted to following Amanda Stein and @NJviDs on Twitter for updates and video clips, respectively. I also followed along through NHL.com and went to Natural Stat Trick for period-by-period numbers. There are a lot of positives to take away from the game other than that they won 5-3, they won in regulation, and they scored five goals on a really good goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck.
- The Devils scored two goals in the first period for their first lead in a preseason game since last Monday.
- Since taking a 2-1 lead in the first period, the Devils never lost the lead in their victory.
- After taking three penalties in short order in the first period, the Devils stayed out of the box until late in the third period.
- The Devils scored quickly in the second and third periods to add to their leads.
- After Winnipeg stepped it up in the second period by way of out-shooting the Devils 10-5 and forcing Keith Kinkaid to make some tough stops, the Devils responded with a big third period effort.
- The Devils kept a Jets roster featuring Patrick Laine, Mark Scheifele, Big Money Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Mathieu Perreault, Bryan Little, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers to just 24 shots on net and 42 shooting attempts.
- They technically did not give a power play goal.
- They did not give up a shorthanded goal - thanks largely to Damon Severson.
- Three of the five Devils’ goals were from defensemen: Andy Greene finishing a thread-the-needle pass across the slot by Jesper Bratt on the backdoor for the team’s first; Sami Vatanen slamming a puck off a killer cross-ice pass by Taylor Hall for the team’s third; and Damon Severson hammering a great set-up pass by Marcus Johansson with a one-timer for the team’s fifth.
- The five goals were created or scored by three different lines.
This is all just based on the game and event summaries plus a few of the clips. The game stats at Natural Stat Trick really drive the point that the Devils were the better team tonight. The Devils were superior in 5-on-5 play in the first and third periods. The Jets’ second period was not as strong in 5-on-5; the shot count being 5-10 was more of a case of inaccuracy than poor offense. Scoring chances, especially high-danger chances, were clearly in New Jersey’s favor. In total, the Devils out-attempted Winnipeg 51-34. Again, the Jets had a lot of great players on the ice tonight who have made New Jersey’s life (and other team’s) miserable in the past few seasons. This all suggests the Devils were truly the better team tonight and they put on a strong performance.
I personally do not think that playing well in the preseason will lead to a good regular season. For those who were a little worried about the Devils possibly heading to Switzerland 0-5 against NHL teams, tonight should help wipe some of them away. I do wish this game was more accessible to watch tonight. I understand that a New Jersey-Winnipeg preseason game in Winnipeg may not get the attention it deserves. It is unfortunate because what I have been able to find out all points to a game where the Devils looked rather good and earned their result - even if it will mean nothing by about 3:30 PM ET on Monday.
But it does not mean nothing now. As Gerard wrote this morning, the Devils have more cuts to make and this game may make or break a few player’s chances. Switzerland and opening night roster requirements await on Monday.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Arctic Ice Hockey for their take on this game.
Wait, There Were Five Goals, Can We Talk About Those in More Detail?: Sure. Clips are from @NJviDs, which I linked to in the Gamethread.
Goal #1: Andy Greene from Jesper Bratt and Marcus Johansson
The line Pavel Zacha, Bratt, and Johansson had themselves a good night in the run of play and productive night on the ice. They created two goals and combined for three shots. I suppose they could have made a better effort at getting rubber on net, but they out-attempted and out-shot their competition, which usually featured Perreault, Laine, and Little. Anyway, the goal. Johansson helps make a little space for Bratt in the corner. At the goal line, he sees a lane to the right post. Thanks to Zacha and Joe Morrow in front, the puck gets to Greene, who finished the backdoor pass. It was a great pass from Bratt.
Goal #2: Kyle Palmieri from Taylor Hall and Sami Vatanen
This one was like Greene’s goal in that it was a backdoor attempt at the right post. Unlike that one, this was a little more controversial. The pass hit off Palmieri’s body and just dropped into the net. The pass was started by Vatanen and touched off by Hall; another lucky break on this play that put the Devils up 2-1.
Goal #3: Vatanen from Hall and Palmieri
Palmieri helps Hall in the corner and Hall just rifled a cross-ice pass from the right corner to the left circle. Vatanen was all alone. Kyle Connor was the closest man and he was unaware. Just a great pass. Vatanen collected the puck perfectly and fired a snap shot that beat Hellebuyck clean.
Goal #4: Travis Zajac from Miles Wood and John Quenneville
I’m not sure if I buy this secondary assist from Quenneville but it appears he at least knocked a puck loose to Wood in the slot. Wood had himself a Wood-like night with four shots on net and playing with pace. He didn’t have a breakaway or fly ahead of a Jet for a chance. But he was active. Here, he put a great move on Myers and got a shot off before Morrow tried to deny him. The shot is saved and Zajac is the first to it. He tucked the puck in through a small hole by the left post to make it 4-2 very early in the third period. Morrow probably should have stuck with Zajac. It would have been nice for Winnipeg if Jack Rosolovic didn’t casually watch this either. What’s not nice for them is very nice for New Jersey.
Goal #5: Severson from Johansson and Will Butcher
The clip from @NJviDs does not show Butcher’s involvement. It and this second look here shows Johansson putting in the work. He protected the puck well in going around the net. He got enough separation from Trouba and slid a pass past Kristan Vesalainen to the high slot. Severson got onto it and slammed a one-timer through traffic. Note that Zacha got out of the way in time yet the shot torched Morrissey and Hellebuyck.
With the exception of Palmieri’s goal, the Devils really had their finishing sticks with them tonight. Four out of five were good shots. Five out of five featured a crucial pass or play that created the goal. After four preseason games where the offense did not quite click so much, it was refreshing and encouraging to see these kinds of goals and the plays that led to them tonight. Great clips by @NJviDs too. Give him a follow on Twitter.
Now Those Goals Against...: Fine.
Goal Against #1: Perreault from Wheeler and Scheifele
Mirco Mueller took a tripping penalty in the first period. During that penalty kill, Blake Coleman high-sticked Little. During that 3-on-5, Perreault was called for hooking Ben Lovejoy. Just after Coleman came out of the box, Severson had a clearance go over the glass for a delay of game. Just after Severson stepped out of the box, Perreault finished the drill behind all of the Devils’ penalty killers on Kinkaid’s doorstep. This goal against is a good example of how a penalty killer needs to keep their head on a swivel. All four had their eyes on Wheeler - they forgot about Perreault for long enough to have Wheeler make them pay.
Goal Against #2: Connor from Scheifele and Wheeler
There was going to be a penalty on this play. No matter, the play sort of breaks down after Wheeler goes down. Scheifele picked up a loose puck, tossed it to Connor, and he ripped it. I’m not sure if Severson was picking up the right guy and I’m even less sure of what Greene was even doing at all. Of course, if Palmieri doesn’t foul Wheeler, this doesn’t happen.
Goal Against #3: Skyler McKenzie from Morrow and Seth Griffith
This play does not look good for Severson behind the net as he is just beaten behind the net by Griffith. Severson returns to the slot and Griffith fires a pass to Morrow at the right point. With Bratt too far away, Morrow decides to have a go. Severson is behind McKenzie in the slot, but McKenzie was able to get a piece of the shot and he made it 4-3 in the third.
You Wrote that Severson Made Sure There Was No SHGA: Yep. The Devils had a power play in the second period that was nearly a disaster. It started with Johansson, who had a very good game, make a mistake by missing Severson wide on a lateral pass. The puck is in no man’s land so Kinkaid boldly comes out of his crease to try to clear it. Kinkaid turns a bad situation into a terrible one as Wheeler picked off the attempt. Wheeler fired it right towards the net - only to be saved by #28.
So Who Had a Good Game?: Most of the Devils, really. I do not think any of the three goals against Kinkaid were his fault (and he owes Severson dinner for that shorthanded stop). Say what you want about the third goal against (or even the second), but Severson denied a SHGA and scored one himself. He was paired with Greene and the run of play with him went well. It was not a bad night for 28, at least not as I understand it. Speaking of well, the pairing of Mueller and Vatanen did well. Mueller was not an anchor, and Vatanen had a productive night with a goal, an assist, three shots, and over 20 minutes of even strength ice time. Vatanen stood out and it was good to see Mueller not have some heinous numbers. The top four did not get crushed, or so it would seem.
The top line of Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri struck again and crushed it in 5-on-5 play. While they did not shoot a lot themselves, the unit of Johansson, Zacha, and Bratt kept things going in the right direction. Miles Wood had four shots, did not take a penalty, and helped create Zajac’s goal in his preseason debut. He has some rust to sort out but for a first game, it seems he was good. Wood was on a line with Zajac and Quenneville and that unit did well in 5-on-5 too. They almost had a goal in the third period when Zajac stole a puck from Hellebuyck from behind the net. Alas, Scheifele may have denied the empty net for Quenneville and the puck went astray from a net-crashing Wood. Even a fourth line Kevin Rooney, Brett Seney, and Coleman showed no issues. Among the forwards, I think the best tonight were Hall, Johansson (PP goof-up aside), and Bratt.
Kinkaid looked alright. Some of the clips of the second period had some superb stops from Kinkaid. Like this one on Laine:
Yes, that’s Will Butcher getting deked out of his skates by Laine. By the numbers, Butcher may have had the worst game from a Devil. Even so, he was not drowning in attempts or shots against and he created a goal.
OK, But Final Cuts are Coming - How Does Tonight Impact That?: Cuts are coming so here are my thoughts. Honestly, the six defensemen tonight as a unit did well. Maybe there were some bad shifts or bad moments. Overall, they helped limit Winnipeg to just 24 shots on net and 42 attempts while contributing plenty of offense of their own plus three goals. The unit of Greene-Severson, Mueller-Vatanen, Butcher-Lovejoy may be the top six the Devils start with on October 6. Santini would be the seventh man. So tonight may have not been a good one for Ty Smith or Eric Gryba. The Devils could carry eight defenders, so maybe only one of those two go. If they do keep Smith, then I hope he plays because I do not see the purpose of keeping a very young guy who could be playing somewhere as a NHL scratch. Who he would play over, I don’t know.
As far as forwards go, Quenneville, Rooney, and Seney did not appear to be bad. Rooney received over two minutes of penalty killing time; that may be a tell that the coaches want him around. Quenneville had a secondary assist, nearly had a goal, and was playing with a debuting Wood and a veteran in Zajac. Did he do enough? Maybe? Seney was kept as a fourth liner; but given his energy and pace shown in other games, that may be where he starts (ends up?) in the NHL. He got two shots, which were two more than Quenneville and Rooney. Nothing on the stats pages really jump out for all three, but none of them did anything notably bad because of it. It does not look like tonight made any decisions any easier at forward. I do think there is even less of a reason to keep Drew Stafford around; but not playing at all tonight or on Monday may have secured his fate.
One Last Thought: I will say that tonight’s top three lines by New Jersey may be a good set going into the regular season. Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri is a known quantity. Zacha centering Johansson and Bratt appears to be functional. Wood was not kept on a fourth line with Zajac and would not be, so that solves that issue. Although a speedier winger (can Stefan Noesen keep up?) on the opposite side may be useful. Boyle, Coleman, and another player can be the fourth. Based on the clips, when it works, it can work well - and it did tonight against a ‘B+/A-’ Jets squad.
Your Take: Did you happen to see this game? If so, what did you observe that I could not outside of some highlight clips by a fan online plus stats and commentary? For everyone: Did most of the roster really play as well as it suggested to me? Who was the best and worst Devil in your opinion, and why? Who do you think will be cut? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this preseason win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Special thanks to Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) and @NJviDs for updates and video, respectively, during the game. Thank you for reading.