As the New Jersey Devils played (and lost) in Los Angeles last night, Cory Schneider was the appropriate choice to start tonight’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. Since his return to the New Jersey roster, Schneider has been great. It has been just two appearances but you cannot knock just three goals allowed in two games. Schneider was even better tonight. He was locked in from the get-go and stopped all 34 shots the Ducks placed on net. Schneider shut out Anaheim as the Devils end their games against California teams this season with a 3-0 victory.
Much of what has plagued Schneider earlier this season and in past seasons was not present tonight. He made no real mistakes handling the puck on his stick. He was not guessing very much in the crease. He did not try to overcompensate with a hard push to one side when a play went that way, with one notable exception in the third period. His glove was well placed. His rebound control was quite good. This was very much a vintage Schneider performance whereupon he demonstrated how good he could be. Outside of one opportunity, he was not going to be beaten tonight. And on that one opportunity, Jack Hughes denied Rickard Rakell an empty net attempt after Schneider slid out of the crease from a Getzlaf deke. But that was the only time Schneider was out of control. All other times, he was very much in control of the game.
Schneider also faced a variety of shots. As the game went on and the Ducks became more desperate, they tilted the ice more and more against the Devils. Unlike previous games last month (or all season), this was somewhat expected as opposed to a result of just inept play. Even so, Schneider came up big on several opportunities. A blocked shot yielded a breakaway for Ryan Getzlaf in the second period; Schneider tracked him and denied him on a shot deflected high. A one-on-one for Rakell after Damon Severson was picked at his blueline also in the second period led to Schneider following Rakell and forcing his shot wide. Just before Josh Jacobs was whistled for a high sticking penalty, Jakob Silfverberg set up Christian Djoos for a shot in traffic and Schneider robbed him with the glove. During said penalty kill, Schneider stayed calm and collected when chaos happened on his doorstep amid a rebound. Schneider stopped the routine shots, the open chances, and everything in between. He was sensational. I was pleased to see it.
I was also pleased with how the Devils carried themselves in this game. As opposed to previous efforts in the past few weeks where the goalie had to stand on his head because the skaters were not going to help him, the Devils skaters offered support. They battled Ducks for pucks many times and forced several turnovers. They never really stopped attacking until the final ten minutes or so, which helped lighten some of the pressure. While the on-ice attempt differentials for much of the Devils were not good by the end of regulation, there were fewer horrible miscues than usual. Their special teams really helped them out. They converted their first two power play goals; both from great zone entries and passes by Jesper Bratt to Pavel Zacha for the finish. They killed back-to-back penalties and even scored - Nico Hischier tipping in a Connor Carrick shot - right after the second one ended. This was not like previous games where the goalie stood on his head and the Devils got fortunate a few times to score. No, they played a competitive game and earned this win.
As I noted on Friday, the schedule is going to get much harder from here on out. To that end, I am happy the Devils were able to put in this kind of performance and support their goaltender for a decisive win.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Anaheim Calling for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Two Goals, Five Shots, Six Attempts, Less than 14 Minutes: Pavel Zacha finished two great passes for two power play goals this evening. He had a couple of opportunities for the hat trick, which would have been awesome for him. A Ducks turnover in their own zone led to Bratt setting up Zacha in the slot. Zacha sent the puck across to Gusev, who was robbed by John Gibson on the shot. Selfishly, I wanted Zacha to try his luck and fire at the goalie straight-up. Unselfishly, I respect that Zacha made the right call as setting up a one-timer to make the goalie move is generally a good play. Later in the second, he was found at the crease in close and Gibson had to scramble to deny him.
Unfortunately, it appears that Zacha was hurt at some point in the game. He only played three shifts for 1:50 in the third period according to the NHL’s time on ice report. When he left the ice with 8:55 left to play, that was his last shift. It is bad news as Zacha was having a very good game and it was continued evidence that Gusev, Bratt, and Zacha should be kept together. Even with the early exit, Zacha led the Devils in shots with five and attempts with six. That speaks to how well Zacha was performing this evening in Anaheim.
There is some good news. After the game, interim head coach Alain Nasreddine said Zacha had a minor injury as reported in this tweet by Corey Masisak. That should mean if he misses some time, then it would not be for long.
Consistency, Nasreddine, Consistency: Jesper Bratt’s two (primary) assists night means he now has four goals and three assists since his silly healthy scratch.
As far as other streaks, Nikita Gusev’s point streak is still alive too. He picked up the secondary on Zacha’s second power play goal, making it a six-game run of nine points now. The run of play was slightly against the Zacha line in 5-on-5, but they were not pinned back a lot. They did their damage in the first two periods and ended up slightly below 50%. It was a good night in 5-on-5 and they shined on the power play.
A Streak Breaker: Nico Hischier’s tip-in of Carrick’s shot ended a nine-game goalless drought for the center. It was his first since his injury from the Dallas game on February 1. It helped seal the game and it definitely drained the intensity of the Ducks after being denied on two straight power plays.
The combination of Kyle Palmieri, Jack Hughes, and Hischier has not worked out all that well. The line was forced to play a lot of defense tonight. Whatever few opportunities they created, they could not finish. Most memorably was a great pass by Hughes to Palmieri where Palmieri had Gibson beat on the backhand but he missed the net. Perhaps the goal will help Hischier get going. I suspect this line needs a change soon because while it may make sense in theory, it has not worked in reality over the past two weeks.
An Under-the-Radar Comeback: Joey Anderson had a bad game in Los Angeles. He had a very good game in Anaheim. The line of Anderson, Travis Zajac, and Miles Wood was New Jersey’s best from the perspective of on-ice attempt differential and expected goals differential. The Devils were behind the Ducks in attempts, 54-66, and expected goals, 2.39 to 2.98 in 5-on-5 play. But when Zajac’s line hit the ice, they were constantly going forward. Anderson had the best line; the Devils out-attempted the Ducks 19-7 and out-shot them 12-3 when he was on the ice. Anderson himself had four shots, including two scoring chances in the third period. He was not far from scoring himself but John Gibson denied him. On special teams, Anderson put in some good work on the penalty kill including a very important stick-check during the Kevin Rooney minor penalty. After an invisible night in L.A., Anderson did rather well in the O.C.
The Season Debut: Josh Jacobs was called up earlier in this trip and he was dressed tonight. Fredrik Claesson was ruled out as he was banged up. Jacobs made his season debut with New Jersey and he had an active one. His mobility was apparent as a replacement of Claesson. He was paired with Carrick, which made for a pairing of two right-handed shots. Jacobs showed no resistence to pinching in down low as he did so a number of times this evening. He was OK in his own end and when he was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted just 21-24 and the Devils out-shot the Ducks 12-9. By no means was he or the pairing with Carrick a detriment to the Devils’ cause this evening. He made no memorably bad errors in judgment (you may correct me on this). In terms of the scoresheet, Jacobs registered two shots, one missed shot, and a high-sticking penalty on Andrew Agozzino as Schneider made that sweet glove save on Djoos. I would not go as far as to say that Jacobs should stay in the lineup for very long. However, I would say I prefer him over Claesson and I thought he did well enough in his debut.
You Wish You Were Carey Price: Late in the second period, Kevin Rooney was chasing a dumped in puck as John Gibson was behind the net to play it. Gibson moved the puck and then pretty much dropped Rooney with a hit. As Rooney was on the ice, Gibson gave him another shot as two more Ducks went in to vent their disagreement. Gibson was appropriately given an interference penalty as he did literally deny Rooney a chance to go after the puck legally. I thought he should have been given more for that additional and unnecessary shot. At least he was not trying to punch him in the head multiple times like The Puglist, Carey Price.
Alas, out of the three power plays tonight, this was the one where the Devils did the least. They registered no shots on net, much less a goal to punish the goaltender for his crime. Still, I have little to complain about with the power play tonight. They did go 2-for-3 on their situations and 2-for-2 on shots. You cannot ask for much better in terms of performance. Given how slick Bratt’s passes to Zacha were, you cannot ask for much better in terms of aesthetics either.
Why?: Prior to this game, the Devils announced they called up Jesper Boqvist from Binghamton. Boqvist did not play. I get that traveling cross-country on short notice is difficult and tiring. But if he was not meant to play, then why not call him up on an off-day? Would he not have been more useful playing in a big game in Binghamton today instead? Between this and Jacobs being called up to be a scratch before tonight, I believe the Devils used two of their four non-emergency call-ups. I do not get it unless there are more players hurt than they are letting on. Even so, wait until there is someone out and then the Devils could use an emergency call up instead of burning of one of their four call ups. In the bigger scheme of things, this may not mean much. It certainly had no impact on tonight’s game. It is still something that irked me prior to the puck dropping tonight.
Turnover, Turnover, Turnover: The Devils helped themselves quite a bit by forcing plenty of turnovers from the Ducks. While the Devils were certainly guilty of those, the Ducks were as loose with possession if not moreso. This meant a lot of opportunities for Hughes to steal pucks, Devils defensemen to keep attacking movements alive at the blueline, and find some surprising spaces for fast skaters like Bratt and Wood. Having both the Devils and Ducks scramble for pucks in the corners even in their own end was a benefit for the Devils as it meant they were not just teeing up great shot after shot on Schneider. Gibson played fairly well as the guys in front of him were not that cool under pressure at points. I would have like the Devils to have kept that pressure going more in the third period, but it was what it was.
Follow Jeff & Binghamton: Binghamton had a huge weekend. Earlier today, the recently acquired Zane McIntyre shut out Bridgeport and the recently acquired Janne Kuokkanen scored the game’s only goal. Check out Jeff’s recap of the game here. You can view all of the Binghamton-specific coverage on our site here. New Jersey does not have anything to really play for. Binghamton does. Plus, it is serendipitous that both the New Jersey and Binghamton teams won with shutouts today.
One Last Thought: The last time Schneider had a shutout was on February 21, 2019 against Ottawa. Another year-plus long drought was broken for Schneider. Thankfully, no one on New Jersey tried to score on him unlike the last time in Anaheim. Although an accidental deflection by Severson in front did happen, Schneider swallowed that up and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Your Take: The Devils won 3-0 against Anaheim and did not play poorly. Schneider was great. Zacha had a very strong game prior to his exit. Bratt made a big impact again as a part of the power play. The penalty kill was solid again. The Devils should feel good about this one.
Now that you know my take on this evening’s win, I want to know yours. What is your take about this win? Who do you think played the best among the skaters today? How well do you think Jacobs did this evening? What should the Devils learn from this game before they play their last game of this road trip on Tuesday in Las Vegas? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.