Due to issues beyond my control, I am recapping last night’s game this evening. I apologize for the belatedness. But it needs to be written that the New Jersey Devils played a far better game against a playoff-bound St. Louis Blues team than they did against fellow bottom-feeders Detroit. Twenty-four hours after a performance that can be best described as tank-alicious, the Devils put in a far more competitive and watchable effort against the Blues. The Devils did not win. They lost 2-3 in overtime with three seconds left in the fourth period. The end - and overtime - was poor, but the Devils were far more respectable in their final game of the month.
It was also their final weekend home game of the season and their penultimate home game for 2018-19. The Devils smartly made this night Fan Appreciation Night instead of Monday’s game against Our Hated Rivals, which will likely have a significant number of people present who made a poor life choice when it comes to hockey. The Devils fanfare for it was mixed. It was sponsored by M&Ms but not many M&Ms were released. There were some more events. Someone won an ATV. Some fans received the jerseys off the players back, which may have been a little awkward given how the game ended. Cans of Pepsi Zero were given away and some took cases because, hey, they had pallets of soda so take what you can get. The highlight were their Real Fans of Jersey fake-commericals that brought to mind one of my favorite ad campaigns ever: the Bud Light Real Men of Genius. I loved what the Devils did; here is an example. Of course, as a fan, I wanted to see the Devils give me something to appreciate. I think they did so. As this is a belated recap, I’ll give you the highlights.
To start, St. Louis was absolutely terrible with the puck at times in the first ten minutes. Puck luck and a massive clearance in the crease by Vince Dunn kept the Devils from scoring off the Blues’ turnovers. The Devils were attacking early and often; making Jake Allen and the Blues sweat a lot more than they probably expected. After seeing Detroit keep the Devils to just five shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play in the first period, it was refreshing to see the Devils put up 18.
Even though the Blues struck first, the Devils did not wilt as a result. That first goal was when Robert Thomas got ahead of Connor Carrick, went around a tie-up between Will Butcher and Patrick Maroon, and slid a backhander past Cory Schneider. But Schneider continued to make plenty of great saves, including robbing David Perron on a post-to-post stop. The Devils still pressed forward and tried to push the play forward. The Devils managed to put up at least 16 shooting attempts and 7 shots on net in 5-on-5 in regulation. They put up 9 scoring chances in each of the first three periods and over half of them (16) were high-danger chances. The Devils more than hung with a more-talented Blues team.
The Devils eventually did match the Blues’ goals. During a second period power play, Pavel Zacha sent a puck to the crease, it hit off Allen, and Drew Stafford was in the right place at the right time to knock the puck into the net. It was a double-rare sight: a power play goal and a goal by Drew Stafford. While the Blues would go up 1-2 when Tyler Bozak sent a high shot past a screen by Maroon during a delayed penalty call, the Devils did not succumb to just losing. They provided a response. Again, it came from unlikely sources. Travis Zajac did well to maintain possession and sent it back to the center point where Steven Santini was waiting. Santini fired a shot, the shot was going to go wide, but Joey Anderson got a stick on it and re-directed it past Allen. The tip made it 2-2 and the run of play remained even until the end.
In the third period, the Devils eventually went from strength to strength. The line of Zajac, Miles Wood, and Anderson were very good all night long and they came close to breaking through in the third period. The unit of Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri, and Blake Coleman pushed the play forward and nearly had a breakthrough. Even the fourth line had some good shifts. The only real downside in the third period was when Santini was caught hooking down Bozak with 2:10 to go in regulation. It was the only penalty the Devils were whistled for - remember, Bozak’s goal came during a delayed call - and one wondered whether the Blues would break the Devils’ hearts here. Nope. The Devils’ PK was wonderful. The Devils put on the pressure in the third period, they had more high-danger chances (7-2), Schneider was locked in save for one awful giveaway from behind the net in the second period that Kevin Rooney and a crossbar denied, and they just shut down a Blues power play that featured Vladimir Tarasenko. I was excited going into overtime.
Alas, overtime was the one part of the game where the Devils were just out-classed. It has been a problem all season. While the Devils have won a couple games and forced a number of shootouts, there have been plenty of overtime periods where the Devils were just overwhelmed. This was one of them. Alex Pietrangelo, in particular, was dominant in the 3-on-3 play. Most of the action was in the Devils’ end as the Blues generated a whopping eight shooting attempts in overtime. In contrast, the Devils failed to get much going. They had two odd-man rushes on a counter attack. One of them yielded a save by Allen and one of them was a miss. The final minute was in control by St. Louis. Just as it seemed the Devils would survive and get into overtime, Vince Dunn received the puck, drove hard to the net, and slid one in with three seconds left for the win. If there was a time to foul a player or just get in their way, then that was it. It would have been better if the Devils of the the previous sixty minutes appeared for the 4:57 of overtime that took place. Alas.
But it is hard to complain all that much. Yes, the Devils lost. But they are an awful team coming off an awful loss with nothing to play for. They took a team with something to play for to a limit and likely would have won the game outright on another night. The Devils’ defense conceded only twenty shots in 5-on-5 play and seven high-danger chances. The two goals Schneider allowed in regulation were not soft ones and he made plenty of tough ones to keep the game alive for the Devils. The Devils drew three penalties and only took two with only one that was called. The Devils’ offense was more consistently effective. The power play provided a goal. The Hischier line rebounded after a terrible Friday night. This was one of Miles Wood’s best games in a while and arguably one of Anderson’s best in his short career. I saw a lot of positives in a game that I feared would be a repeat of what would happen the night before. I understand it seems silly to find praise in what was ultimately a loss. Consider the team’s situation. This game wrapped up a month where the Devils posted the second-worst record in the month at 4-9-2 and this is in a season where they could still finish in 30th out of 31 teams. I choose to find and highlight silver linings where they existed.
In short, I appreciated what I saw. Four games to go.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out St. Louis Game Time for all things Blues-related.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com
Your Take: Apologies again for the very belated game recap. But I felt it was necessary to document that the Devils played a respectable game against a superior opponent. Maybe this will lead to a better performance and a better result tomorrow. We can only hope. What did you think of the Devils’ performance against the Blues? Did you find it respectable? Did you appreciate it? Who performed the best? Who could have been better? What can the Devils learn from this game ahead of their last home game of the season tomorrow? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the overtime loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview, thanks to Mike for taking care of @AAtJerseyBlog during the game, and thank you for reading.