At the Rock, the New Jersey Devils organization honored and celebrated the team that won the 2000 Stanley Cup. This is their 20th anniversary and February 1 was a wholly appropriate day to celebrate that as the Devils were hosting the Dallas Stars, the opponents whom the Devils beat in 2000 for the greatest trophy in sports. Before getting to the game, in which the Devils lost 2-3 in overtime, I want to focus on the ceremonial part of the evening.
In the arena, most of the players and personnel were announced. Most of the coaching staff save for Viacheslav Fetisov appeared. Most of the players save for Ken Sutton, Brian Rafalski, Alexander Mogilny, Chris Terreri, and Jay Pandolfo appeared. Lou and Scott Gomez showed up. Larry Robinson and Jacques Caron came out onto the carpet on the rink. Jason Arnott and his sweet hair as well as Bobby Holik with hair at all appeared. The announcements even included a rather elaborate one for Steve Brule, which I did not expect. Patrik Elias, Scott Stevens, and Martin Brodeur got among the loudest reactions. Stevens was announced as the penultimate Devil and he came out with the Conn Smythe Trophy, which he earned in 2000. There was one Devil remaining and this would be the most special moment of the night.
Not all of the Devils were able to celebrate the Stanley Cup on June 11, 2000. Derian Hatcher took out Petr Sykora earlier in Game 6 and he was attended to at a local hospital. He was not at the arena when Arnott finished Elias’ brilliant pass in double overtime. He was not in the team photo with Lord Stanley’s Cup. That was why Elias wore Sykora’s jersey when he had the Cup in his hands. Sykora did not have his chance to celebrate the Cup on the rink with his team back in 2000. That was addressed this evening. Sykora came out and skated a full lap with the Stanley Cup over his head. A near 20-year gap was filled and it was a very touching moment. Sykora got a deservedly huge reaction from the crowd. He placed the Cup next to the Conn Smythe Trophy and the 2000 Cup-winning team took one photo together. It was a simple ceremony, but a great one.
Then the hockey game between the 2019-20 Devils and the 2019-20 Stars happened.
Both teams were defensively excellent and remarkably difficult to play against twenty years ago. In 2020, they were just plain sloppy through most of the night. Even though Dallas held an advantage in the run of play in the first two periods, they misfired on a lot of attempts, passes, and just straight up lost the puck at times. The Devils were just as loose, whether it was turning a great zone entry into nothing on offense, misreading where their teammates were for passes, or just getting enough force to move the puck in either end of the rink. There were some legitimately good offensive plays by both sides but they often came few and far between. Louis Domingue and Ben Bishop, tonight’s goalies for New Jersey and Dallas respectively, had to be sharp in a sense that the one mistake that does lead to the other team taking some kind of advantage could happen at any moment. Even if it often resulted in another mistake or a wide shot.
Fittingly, the game’s scoring came from mistakes being paid for in full. Here is a list of each of those goals.
- The Devils scored first when Blake Coleman doggedly battled on a forecheck to win the puck back during a penalty kill. The puck squirted from multiple Stars skaters and into a space that only Kevin Rooney could reach. Rooney hammered the puck with authority for a goal. Coleman did not and will not get credit for an assist on this goal. However, this post recognizes that the goal does not happen without Coleman’s efforts and the Stars just losing the puck into no man’s land as a result.
- The Stars would get a response late in the second period when the Devils were pinned back in their own end. Connor Carrick had a great chance to at least clear the puck. He made a weak clearing attempt, which made it easy for Stephen Johns to take the puck, fire it down low to Corey Perry, who found Jason Dickinson uncovered coming down the middle for a one-timer. Jack Hughes did not pick up Dickinson, and Pavel Zacha and Will Butcher were not even looking behind themselves to even see the man coming.
- The Stars went up 1-2 when a bad pass by P.K. Subban led to an odd man rush led by Jamie Oleksiak. Subban went down to try to block the pass, missed big-time, and so Joel Kiviranta got a shot off and buried his own rebound with nobody on him.
- The Devils would find an equalizer in the third period after Butcher denied a clearing attempt by Tyler Seguin. While Roman Polak was just standing next to Kyle Palmieri right in front of Bishop, the Devils moved the puck across, down to the right circle, and then back to the center point. Nico Hischier saw the screen, took a shot (did it hit Seguin?), and the puck found its way into the net.
In those four goals in regulation, either a bad zone exit attempt or a turnover led to the scoring play. I credit the Devils for finding a way to tie it up in the third period and trying to find the third goal in regulation. That did not happen, but they at least earned another point in forcing overtime. Unfortunately, the Devils found a familiar way to fail in overtime to make a very large Devils crowd at The Rock go home feeling disappointed: A lack of coverage.
Overtime in the NHL is a 3-on-3 affair. This situation emphasizes puck possession for the offensive team and picking up players off the puck for the defensive team. Shortly after Bishop froze the puck after denying Hischier on a breakaway, interim head coach sent out Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, and P.K. Subban for the offensive zone faceoff. The Devils lost this faceoff. Hughes forechecked to force a play from Esa Lindell This was fine. Lindell found Mattias Janmark and Janmark proceeded to get past Nikita Gusev. The Goose was caught on his heels. While this was happening, Joe Pavelski also heading up ice. This should have been Subban’s man in this situation. But Subban, who is a veteran of the game and has been in many 3-on-3 situations before, was not looking at Pavelski at this point. Subban was fixated on Janmark as he got past Gusev. Pavelski moved to the slot without anyone on him. Domingue stopped a shot by Janmark. The rebound was coming out to the middle and right to Pavelski. Subban realized his mistake and so he was off-balance as Pavelski buried the game winning goal.
All I could think of was that I have seen this so many times this season. A defensive miscue costing the team that really cannot be pinned on a coach or even a style of play. It was more about effort and awareness. And I did not see it from Subban in overtime just as I have not seen nearly enough of it from the Devils in their own end of the rink all season long. As much as an outsider viewpoint may point to goaltending or the offense as a weak link, the game deciding play and even Kiviranta’s goal were all examples of just defenders not picking up their men appropriately. Tonight it was Subban. (Who otherwise did not play that bad of a game. But these errors hurt and he really should know better.) On the other hand, The next game, it may be Damon Severson or Sami Vatanen with the costly error. Or even a forward, who is lax in helping out. It has been a constant story of the 2019-20 Devils and it became an old one to see again and again months ago.
The sad thing is that this familiar case happened on a night when the franchise recalled and highlighted the older tales that should be recalled and highlighted. The 2000 Cup team is arguably the best of the three championship-winning squads. They deserve the anniversaries and the recognition. It would have been great to put on display that the 2019-20 team could succeed for this evening’s affair. Once again: Nope. We got to see the same old story play out. Defensive mistake to goal against to another loss. To quote the ex-coach of the Devils, “It is what it is.”
The Opposition Opinion: Robert Tiffin wrote this recap of the win from Dallas’ perspective at Defending Big D.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
He Did Score a Goal and He is Supposedly Nice But...: Kevin Rooney is technically hot right now. He now has a three-game point streak as he scored a shorthanded goal tonight. Coleman did a lot of work to make it possible, but Rooney did slam that loose puck hard. He also came close to scoring a second goal in the game in the second period, but the shot hit the goal frame to make a loud noise and draw a reaction from the crowd. So this means Rooney played well tonight, yes?
Not really. Rooney and the fourth line were just not very good in the run of play. More often than not, they were pinned back on defense as both Rooney and Hayden often struggled to make clearances possible. All the while Miles Wood was on the ice being Miles Wood-like on defense. When Rooney was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils were out-attempted 5-11 and out-shot 2-6. Hayden was worse and Wood was close to being as bad as that. It was great to see Rooney get a goal. However, the run of play shows why that has been a rare event. The fourth line was rarely seen in the offensive zone making a positive contribution against Dallas.
The Mirco Switch Also Did Not Work: Carrick also struggled this evening. His failed clearance cost the Devils a goal late in the second period. When he was on the ice, the Stars shined as New Jersey was out-attempted 4-15 and out-shot 3-7 in 5-on-5 play. He was limited to just 11:39 of even strength ice time and it was wholly appropriate. It is sad to see because Mirco Mueller was awful against Nashville. This was a real opportunity for Carrick to earn some more minutes. He did not take advantage of the situation. I suspect we will see Mueller back in the lineup against Montreal to replace Carrick.
Ouch: Nico Hischier did not have the easiest time on the ice either. Most of his match-ups were against Dallas’ best line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov. It did not help that Jesper Bratt had an off-night on and off the puck. However, Hischier was shaken up in the first period when a hit saw him crumple up against the boards. He went right to the bench in pain. He would return a few shifts later, but one has to wonder if he sustained any additional pain. Hischier was limited to 13:51 in total ice time tonight. Perhaps it was for precautionary reasons after he missed some time due to that first period hit.
Additionally, Sami Vatanen took a real hard shot to the leg on a block. He did not play in the final two minutes of the third period or in overtime. He did try out skating a bit on that leg in overtime. Had it gone longer, maybe he would have taken a shift. It was a kind of rough night for Vatanen in general; I do not think he was particularly good in either end. His play on the power play was just not good and he was picked on in 5-on-5. All the same, I do not like seeing players get hurt. Hopefully, he will be fine for Tuesday’s game.
The Liveliest Pads: Louis Domingue had an OK game. I do not think any of the three goals against were soft ones. A one-timer in the slot and two rebound attempts from a wide open player are hardly embarrassing situations to be scored on in. I did notice that the pucks were bouncing away from Domingue by a lot when he would make a save, especially with his pads. The rebounds that were costly were not the big ones I am referring to. Had Dallas been sharper tonight, they could have made life way more difficult for the Devils by getting to some of these rebounds. However, they faltered in taking advantage of pucks just ricocheting off the goalie.
It is worth noting that Domingue’s tendency to play the puck varied wildly. He made some bold and successful clearances. That was impressive, especially the one made during a Devils’ penalty kill in the second period. He made one awful one that amazingly did not become a goal for Dallas when a clearing attempt was picked off. That was lucky. Overall, this night was more of a reminder of who Domingue is as a goaltender, including his issues.
The Special Teams: The Devils’ penalty kill was not good in January. They got back to their usual dominance this evening. They kept the Stars to two shots on net over two shorthanded situations. They also scored a goal to make it a net positive for New Jersey. This was great as was the fact that they were only penalized twice - one by Subban and one by Greene.
The sad news was that the Devils’ power play was an utter waste of time. Seventeen seconds into the game, Johns trips Hayden (yes, the Devils started their fourth line). The Devils did nothing with that. Early in the second, Johns trips Wayne Simmonds (who indeed played tonight). The Devils did very little with that. Ditto after Andrew Cogliano tripped Vatanen in the third period. While the Devils put up four shots on Bishop, the Devils spent more time retrieving cleared pucks, chasing dump-ins on zone entries, and trying to make their breakout work. The Stars have had one of the more successful penalty kills in the NHL. However, the Devils often faltered on their own - they did not need the Stars to make them lackluster this evening. Three opportunities were lost. I suppose you could say the special teams were also the same old story.
The Good Line Was, Well, Good: The best line in the run of play was the team’s best line for the better part of two months now. Travis Zajac, Gusev, and Blake Coleman were much more active in pushing the play forward. They were easily New Jersey’s best line in 5-on-5 play and they combined for eight of the Devils’ 31 shots on net this evening. Zajac was the only regular center who won more faceoffs than he lost. Coleman was back to his normal self in driving to the net and looking to win pucks. Gusev was sometimes more clever than he could execute but he was otherwise good in regulation to make offensive plays happen. They took on the Seguin line more than Hischier’s line did and they won that match-up. They made Esa Lindell and John Klingberg (who played tonight, I assure you) play a lot of defense. Unfortunately, this line just did not have a goal. That was what was missing. Coleman came close when a poor decision by Bishop after a dump-in found a bouncing puck at the right post with Coleman unable to finish.
Enough About This Disappointing Loss in a Lost Season, Tell Me About the Ring: Before this season, it was announced that as part of the celebration of the 2000 Stanley Cup winning team, the first 9,000 fans to arrive would get a replica ring. Standard practice as with other giveaways by the Devils in this and past seasons. This was later expanded to all fans who arrive at the Rock on this night. Everyone received a box with a ring that looked like the ring given to the players for this championship.
Much to my surprise, this was an actual metal ring with actual heft to it. It is a large and heavy ring. Obviously, it does not have diamonds like the real thing. But the front does have the red logo and there is a lot of detailed work on the sides of the ring. I expected a plastic version. Not something super cheap but certainly not something as ornate as what I was given. I am impressed that the organization went to this length for this giveaway and then expanded to everyone. It certainly was not cheap and it was an awesome giveaway given the night. So the ring gets an ‘A.’
One Last Thought: Jack Hughes had a much better game tonight compared to his game in Nashville. I still think he needs different linemates. Simmonds remains a poor fit with him. Pavel Zacha did not build on anything from his productive Thursday night. The Big Deal still took four shots and he was the only one on overtime play that did his job appropriately.
Your Take: The Devils lost in OT, 2-3, to Dallas on a night that celebrated one of the franchise’s greatest squads. They lost it due to a defensive error, which has been a sadly common occurrence in this season. That is my take on tonight’s game. I want to know what yours is. Who did well in your eyes? Who did not? What could have the Devils done better on this evening? What can the Devils learn from this game before they host Montreal on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss to Dallas and/or the ceremony celebrating the 2000 Cup team in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for getting a preview up and Mike for running @AAtJerseyBlog during the game. Thanks to the people who came up to me at the Rock to talk hockey this evening. Thank you for reading.