“Flash your winning smile tonight” - A glorious line among many from an elated Steve Cangialosi as Cory Schneider left his crease to celebrate with his teammates.
Cangialosi was selling the victory like a wrestling commentator after Nico Hischier put home a rebound past Devan Dubnyk in overtime. The New Jersey Devils rallied to come from behind to beat the Minnesota Wild, 5-4. Their three-game road trip ends with two points and a win credited to Cory Schneider.
Goalies do not win games, as I pointed out from the team’s last shootout loss to the Islanders. All they do is make saves. But I would be lying if this win . I was incredibly happy to see the Devils make the comeback with #35 in net, survive three minutes of bad overtime hockey, and see Hischier make Dubnyk pay for a big error. As a Devils fan, I’ve been told repeatedly how wins alone are a bad way to judge a goaltender’s performance. Yet, I’ve also been told how bad it was that Schneider had not won a regular season game since 2017 - and that playoff wins do not count, though not many would say that outloud. Now those people have to be quiet. Schneider got a ‘W.’ More appropriately, he earned the ‘W.’
Schneider came in relief of Keith Kinkaid, who was terrible tonight. After Mikael Granlund scored a stoppable goal on Kinkaid, the game was 1-4. The Devils were coming off a 2-5 loss in Chicago from the previous night. New Jersey were not as ghastly on defense as they were that night, but between Kinkaid being bad, the opposition showing up to play, and the offense providing little too late, it felt like the game was decided. Besides, the 2018-19 New Jersey Devils struggled with adversity in games all season long. Why would I think otherwise?
Fortunately, I was proven wrong and made to re-write a lot of a recap of what I thought would be a loss. Will Butcher provided a lifeline near the end of the second period. He pounced in the offensize zone and took a great shot from the slot to make it 2-4. It seemed like a consolation goal, but it would be a stepping stone for a comeback. In the third period, the Devils killed off a penalty, went on a power play for little gain, and then battled a bit to try to get into the game. The Wild were keeping the Devils a little honest, but struggled to find the target. A break would come when Jared Spurgeon high-sticked Kyle Palmieri while battling for a puck. The foul was called. Seven seconds after, Palmieri beat Dubnyk with a wrist shot from the right circle. Palmieri’s 25th of the season put the Devils within one. Hope started to increase. So did the Wild’s attempts to stop the comeback. They would attack a little more and Schneider even had to make some saves. The Devils did not relent (much). As time ticked on, one wondered if there would be an equalizer. There would be and it would come from an unlikely source: Ben Lovejoy.
Yes. With less than three minutes to play, Kenny Agostino found Ben Lovejoy open at the right point. That’s Dubnyk’s right, so Lovejoy was not in his usual spot. He was open since, hey, it’s Ben Lovejoy, you can leave him open. From 56 feet away, Lovejoy let loose with a slapshot that beat Dubnyk through the five-hole. Clean. Seriously. OK, maybe there was a screen but that was a real bad goal for Dubnyk to allow. It was costly as it tied up the game 4-4. If there was any more reason to complete the comeback, then it was to not waste Lovejoy’s fourth goal of the season. The Wild turned up their intensity to close out regulation and pinned the Devils back for over a minute. But Schneider stopped all eight third period shots and the game went into overtime.
Overtime favored Minnesota for most of it. The Devils barely had the puck for the first three minutes. In the few touches they had, Johansson conceded possession twice and a bad pass by Butcher did it later. The Wild roamed and controlled the pace for three minutes. Schneider made three important saves. From the way it was going, the Devils would need Minnesota to make a mistake to get something going in the three-on-three situation. They got that and more.
Zach Parise was pressured back into his own zone with the puck with Kyle Palmieri chasing him. Parise passed the puck to Dubnyk, which was a smart move to get the puck into space. Dubnyk botched it. He received the pass just fine, but he hesitated on passing it forward. He saw Palmieri heading towards him, so Dubnyk swept the puck back and tried to fire it around his net. Dubyk did not get a lot of force on the puck, so it bounced off the end boards and out to the right (Dubnyk’s right) post. That was big mistake #1 and the second-worst handling of a puck by a goalie this evening. Palmieri was in a good spot to chase it, so he beat Parise to the post and Palmieri tried to bank it in off the goalie. Dubnyk got over in time to stop the little shot. Meanwhile, Spurgeon went to the front of the net and forgot about Nico Hischier. Big mistake #2. Hischier crashed the net and batted in the rebound. Hischier’s 17th of the season was his third overtime goal of the season and it completed the comeback victory in Minnesota.
In total, Schneider made 15 saves. He had to maintain focus when the Wild struggled to get a shot on goal and he moved very well in net when the Wild were attacking like they did for much of the game. Within the last 100 seconds, Schneider had to make some significant stops to keep the 4-4 score and he did so. Minnesota controlled much of the play in overtime and any save in OT is an important one. It did not help that the Devils skaters mostly faltered, but Schneider made a victory possible. That’s what a goalie needs to do - make a victory possible. While the Devils were seemingly set for another defeat where we rationalize it with the t-word, Schneider made the stops he had to make to keep a victory possible. To that end, this win was well deserved for him.
In a lost season like this one, we fans have to find and appreciate the “little victories” that occur. That could be a milestone performance, seeing a favorite player have a great night, witnessing a highlight, or watching a win that means something. The Devils are still mortal locks for missing the playoffs and receiving a high draft pick in the first round. But this win surely means a lot to Schneider and the organization that stuck with him. No wonder Cangialosi was so exuberant.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Hockey Wilderness for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From Sportsnet on Youtube, here are highlights of tonight’s victory:
Goalposts Possibly Moving As I Write This: Now that Schneider was the goalie of record for this win, I fully expect the criticism to become “Well, Schneider has not won a start since 2017.” As if goalies decide who starts at all, much less starting both games in a back-to-back set. This may be a cynical take but I fear it may be proven right. It is what it is.
As for Keith...: Keith Kinkaid conceded a whopping eight goals in St. Louis on Tuesday night. A number of those goals were bad breaks against him. That did not happen tonight. If anything, I thought he was worse tonight then he was on Tuesday. Kinkaid was guilty on four goals before he was replaced. For the first one, he did not get fully in front of Hunt’s shot and his own stick helped the shot get past him. The second one was a direct result of Kinkaid making another big mistake with the puck behind the net. He hesitated on moving it and ultimately lost it to Joel Eriksson Ek, who scored. That was the worst handling of the puck by a goaltender tonight. Dubnyk’s was costly in OT but at least he made a move. Kinkaid failed to do even that. The third one was a long shot by Nick Seeler that beat Kinkaid five-hole. I did not see a re-direction of the shot, which makes it even worse. The fourth one was a soft one to the far post by Mikael Granlund. Kinkaid was pulled for Schneider and fully deserved it. He was Awful with a capital ‘A,’ and a big reason why it seemed like Minnesota was going to win this game.
I don’t know if you know this, but Kinkaid has not been good at all for quite some time. He actually has the worst save percentages among Devils goaltenders in 2019 per NHL.com. There is a possibility where his percentages may end up being worse than Schneider’s by the end of this season. Given how abysmal Schneider was earlier this season, that’s a level of awful that is almost impressive in its own way.
Yes, The Roster is Depleted to a Degree, But...: Many have pointed how the Devils have a lot of AHL-quality players currently in the lineup, so is it any wonder they have been wrecked by opponents more often than not in the past few weeks. Tonight, I do not think they were the problem. Sure, Nick Lappin, Kurtis Gabriel, and Kevin Rooney contributed a whole lot of not much tonight. But the 5-on-5 numbers at Natural Stat Trick point to Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Johansson, Palmieri, and Severson taking the most damage in the run of play. When they were on the ice, the Wild were attacking more often than not. Not that I have enjoyed a lot of Greene this season and I know Severson is a lightning rod of criticism, but those are not five AHLers. Two of those five scored a goal, which was important; however, they could have been better in their match-ups. For the Devils to be more competitive, their better healthy players need to play well. I do not think they completely did that tonight.
Speaking of Johansson: Please, please, please, please be smarter with the puck in overtime. Throwing pucks away on passes that you did not have much of a chance to hit are a great way to lose those overtimes. It did not burn them tonight.
The Return of Wood: Miles Wood played tonight. The scoresheet states he had three shots on net and one attempt blocked. I could not tell you a thing about any of them. Wood was not actively bad, but he was easy to miss on the ice tonight.
Ditto Joey Anderson, who I just remembered when typing this up. He was also in the lineup.
Defensively A Bit Better: The Devils were not completely caught out multiple times for goals against. Sure, Mirco Mueller had some errors. I did not like Damon Severson taking two minor penalties from fouling Jason Zucker, who somehow got away with retalitation both times. The Greene-Severson pairing was heavily out-attempted. But I did appreciate Severson and Greene not making the massive errors that would cost the team goals. I did appreciate Butcher playing a bit more physically; he bodied out Eriksson Ek as to show the world that it is about effort and positioning than being particularly large. Eric Gryba was not a black hole on the blueline. The Devils as a whole kept the Wild to 28 shots and 53 attempts in 5-on-5 play and 29 shots in total in regulation. That’s definitely an improvement over the last two games, which could be best described as a dumpster fire. There’s room for more growth, but this was an improvement.
Special Teams: Ultimately, it was even in that the Wild and the Devils each scored a power play goal. But I think the Devils were the better team on special teams in regulation. They drew more calls. They threatened more on the power play. I noticed Johansson looking to distribute from behind the goal line, which is something I’d like to see the team continue to do rather than rely on the man on the half-wall to do it. They took more than one shot on net. They did not allow a shorthanded shot on net. As for the PK, Hunt’s goal was the only shot. So keeping the Wild shotless for a full power play to start a period was good.
Shut Your Mouth, Sherman Abrams: Mr. Abrams was unhappy about the win. Too bad. He should not be upset as the Devils are still in 30th place. There are also 24 games left. One comeback win in Minnesota is not very likely going to make a difference as to which lottery ball will give the Devils the most desired hockey prospect of the 2019 NHL Draft Class. There will be plenty of opportunities where the Devils will follow the teachings of Sherman Abrams more closely.
Sort of related to that, I did not think Minnesota played a particularly bad game tonight. Ryan Suter and Spurgeon did really well in the run of play. Granlund had a very good game. Nobody on among the Wild skaters were particularly bad; everyone contributed here and there. Just as the Devils were undercut by a really bad performance by Kinkaid, Dubnyk stunk it up that cost the Wild an important point. The playoff race in the Western Conference is really tight and the Wild have had some recent struggles at home. While the Devils will have plenty of chances to take more losses, the Wild may regret this result. If only Dubnyk did not give up that horrible goal to Lovejoy and make a mess from handling the puck in OT. If only.
One Last Thought: Last week, Dubnyk punched Hischier from behind in the third period. Tonight, Hischier punched in a rebound to beat Dubnyk in overtime. I’ll take that receipt instead of violence.
Your Take: Now that you’ve read what I thought of the game, I want to know what you thought of it. How did you react when you saw Hischier score in OT? How happy were you to see Schneider get the win? What was your favorite part of the comeback effort? Can the Devils learn something from this game and apply it to their next game against Buffalo on Sunday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the win in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview, Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account on Twitter, and those who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.