Tonight was the first home game for the New Jersey Devils after a five-game road trip that started just after the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline and ended on Tuesday. Those who attended, watched, or followed tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues were treated to a 4-2 win where the Devils actually played well and never fell behind in the game. The game also turned out to be night of firsts. In addition to the Devils playing their first game at the Rock in about a week and a half, the following other firsts stuck out:
- Jesper Bratt scored the first goal of the game after torching Colton Parayko and beating Jordan Binnington in the first period. The goal was Bratt’s 100th career NHL point in the regular season.
- Bratt’s absolutely sick goal was the first goal the Devils have scored on Binnington this season.
- Defenseman Dakota Mermis got away from Alex Pietrangelo in the Blues’ zone, turned, and floated a shot towards the net. The shot was absolutely perfect as it went past Kevin Rooney and Binnington to the top right corner (Mermis’ right) for his first NHL goal. It was a meaningful goal too as it put the Devils up 2-1 at the time.
- Mermis’ goal included another first. A scoring change after the second period added a secondary assist to the goal for goaltender Cory Schneider. The assist is Schneider’s first of the season (and so his first point) and first in years. Schneider had not registered an assist since the playoffs in 2018 and not since 2015 in the regular season. Schneider not only made 31 saves out of 33 shots in another great performance (yes, that’s four in a row now for him), he added his first point of the season on top of that.
- Late in the second period, Travis Zajac took a loose puck, went behind the net, and fed a pass to Fredrik Claesson at the left point. Claesson calmly sent a pass across to Connor Carrick. From the right point, Carrick fired a wrist shot - and it beat a double-screen of Joey Anderson and Marco Scandella as well as Binnington to the far post. The goal was Carrick’s first of the season, Claesson’s first assist (and point) with New Jersey, and gave the Devils their first two-goal lead of the game.
- With time in regulation running out, the Blues pulled Binnington for an extra skater. On a zone entry, P.K. Subban knocked Zach Sanford away from the puck. Mirco Mueller collected it by the right post, took it around the corner, and attempted a lead pass out of the zone. The pass was deflected by Parayko, but the puck was only slowed down and made it easier for Pavel Zacha to collect it over the blueline. Zacha sent a pass across to Anderson, who fired the puck into the empty net to make it 4-2. The goal is Anderson’s first empty netter of the season and the Devils’ first ENG since Miles Wood iced the win against Tampa Bay back on January 12.
- Cory Schneider picked up the win. It was his first home win since March 25, 2019 when the Devils beat Buffalo, 3-1.
- The Blues came into Newark with eight straight wins. This was their first loss since a 2-1 regulation defeat at Nashville on February 16.
- The biggest first of all is that tonight’s 4-2 win over the Blues is the Devils’ first win against St. Louis since January 21, 2014. Yes, the Devils ended a six-year plus losing streak to the Blues tonight. The previous win was a 7-1 blowout amid a winter storm that was hitting New Jersey hard. Since then, St. Louis has picked up twelve wins over New Jersey. That ended this evening.
Adding to these achievements is that the Devils legitimately played a good game this evening. Cory Schneider played well but the Devils were not really leaning on him for most of the game. The Devils were only out-attempted by six in 5-on-5 situations and nine in all situations. Shots were even at 24 each in 5-on-5 and New Jersey was only out-shot by one, 32-33, in total. Scoring chances had the Devils down by two to the Blues, 18-20 in 5-on-5 and down by one in all situations, 24-25. They more or less hung with the Blues even with the lead for much of the game. While the Devils had their usual woes on defense at times, they were able to keep the Blues from dominating large stretches of the game save for perhaps the final five minutes or so in regulation. Even that final stretch did not skew the numbers a lot. They took advantage of St. Louis’ miscues on the puck to extend some attacks, force a tough save by Binnington, and/or throw off their breakouts. The Devils built a lead going into the third and ultimately protected it. There was a lot of legitimately good things done by the Devils this evening and they did it against a hot team that currently leads the Western Conference. I find that to be impressive since just over a week ago, they looked remarkably sluggish against a lesser team in San Jose. I appreciated the performance by the Devils as much as I enjoyed the firsts they achieved this evening. I hope you did too.
The Opposition Opinion: Justin03 at St. Louis Game Time has this recap of the Devils’ victory that snapped two St. Louis streaks.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Carrick’s Best Game So Far: Connor Carrick did more than just get his first goal of the season on what is usually a very low-percentage shot, a wrister from about 60 feet away. Carrick finished the game tied for the team lead in shots with five, and he finished with positive on-ice attempt (12-9), shot (10-6), and expected (.43 xGF to .26 xGA) goal differentials in 5-on-5. Few Devils can claim better rates this evening. The pairing of Carrick and Claesson was generally effective in their limited use. They clearly supported the offense. Carrick himself jumped up in the zone a few times early on and nearly cashed in early on a rebound try in an abbreviated 4-on-4 situation in the first period. Carrick has not played well this season. Between an extended injury and being the 7th defenseman, Carrick’s on-ice rates in 5-on-5 were only better than John Hayden’s outside of short call ups. Tonight, Carrick looked good, he made an impact on the scoresheet, his goal held up as the eventual game winner, and he played a legitimately solid game. I think tonight was his best game this season.
The Miles Wood First Line Experience: Prior to tonight’s game, it was revealed in practice that Miles Wood was skating as a left winger for Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri. Jack Hughes was moved down to play left wing with Anderson and Zajac. I feared that Wood plus Hischier and Palmieri would be a problem. I was wrong tonight. They were a net positive.
Wood certainly had no issue taking initiative as he tied Carrick for the team lead in shots tonight with five. When the Hischier line was on the ice, the Devils were usually on offense. Among all four lines, they were undoubtedly the most effective in 5-on-5 hockey given their high on-ice attempt, shot, and expected goal percentages. They did plenty right but unfortunately did not score.
If you were concerned about Wood not being able to go off on breakaways or force one-on-one rushes against the goalie with his new line, then tonight erased them. Wood was sprung or fought for at least four such attempts. As is typical for Wood this season, he did not finish any of them and even lost the puck on his last try in the third period. Still, I will take creating opportunities and not finishing them over not having them at all. Of course, because Wood did these rushes up ice and others looked for him to chase down long passes or dumped-in pucks, there were some shifts where Palmieri and Hischier just were not in a position to help him out. That concern that Wood may force the other two to play more of his style than the other way around, one that I share, is still present.
Regardless, it worked well enough this evening if only because the line did not get caved in. As for Hughes’ new line, they had a good game too. They were just below 50% in attempts, just above it in shots, put up a stronger expected goals percentage, and were even in scoring chances. Hughes continued to steal pucks, make some really impressive passes, and keep attacks going with his skates. I thought Zajac and Anderson did OK playing off of that but it did not yield a goal. Anderson had some issues, most notably getting beaten inside by Jaden Schwartz for a third period goal against, but he did get the ENG and otherwise handled his business well enough. We shall see if they can produce where Hughes, Hischier, and Palmieri did not.
A Surprising Stat: Kyle Palmieri had no shots on net this evening. That is a concern of its own. Perhaps it was an off night for him and he will be more right tomorrow at the World’s Most Overrated Arena.
Bratt’s Goal was Sick - and That Was It: The Devils’ fourth line struggled early on but did string some decent shifts and Kevin Rooney did get onto the scoresheet temporarily. However, the unit of Zacha, Bratt, and Nikita Gusev struggled in the run of play all night long. P.K. Subban made a super pass to Bratt that led to a score and Colton Parayko being lit up, so he has that. Zacha can point to being effective on the penalty kill and setting up a game-securing goal. Gusev - he did not do much. He was not good in his own end, which was more often than not this evening. He only managed to have one shot on net on offense. He looked very much like he was just having an off night as well. While the Blues did not flood the Devils with attempts and shots when that line was on the ice, they created even less than St. Louis - Bratt’s goal included. It was notably a step down from the Zajac and Hischier lines. Hopefully they have a stronger effort tomorrow.
By the way, this combined with the fact the Devils have a game tomorrow means I am not too bothered about how Bratt only played 9:58 in 5-on-5 hockey tonight whereas Wood played 15:19. If it happens again tomorrow, then well, I will sigh and make a comment or a Tweet about it.
The Sick Goal That Was Not: Right after Carrick’s goal, Kevin Rooney did something astounding. He drove the puck to the net, got past Robert Bortuzzo, cut across the top of the crease, spun, and put home a backhanded shot through Binnington’s five-hole. It was amazing. It was stunning. It was not technically legal. St. Louis challenged the coolest looking goal Kevin Rooney will ever score in this league and won the challenge to wipe it away from the books.
They did not show the replay of the goal during the review. After the decision was made and the fans at the Rock booed the ref off the ice for it, they showed it and I (begrudingly) agree with the officials. While Bortuzzo did get a hand on Rooney’s back, the forward stretched out his left leg as he went across the crease. His skate caught the top of Binnington’s right pad and dragged it (and his leg) about a foot or two. This opened up the large five-hole that Rooney scored through just after that happened. It was truly incidental contact and so I understand why the goal was erased. At least we can remember it in this recap that it did occur even though it did not count.
By the way, Rooney in 5-on-5 tonight was not good but that goal would have made up for his usual 5-on-5 ineffectiveness. He did have two other chances to score. In the first period, while the Devils were changing members, Hischier hooked Rooney up at the crease with a great pass. Binnington quickly reacted to deny the bang-bang play. During a penalty kill in the third period, Zajac tossed a puck to Rooney at the right wing as they moved into the Blues’ zone. Rooney took a harmless looking backhand shot at a not so dangerous angle. It somehow handcuffed Binnington and the goalie turned on the shot thinking he had it. He did not. But Rooney could not pounce on the loose puck by his right pad and jam it in. Alas.
Special Teams: The Devils’ power play had two opportunities and did not do a whole lot with them. There was a shot or two that seemed rather dangerous, but the Devils struggled to gain the Blues’ zone, much less get set up for an attack. The Devils’ penalty kill was more active. They had four penalties to kill, including a body scissors by Rooney on Vince Dunn, a high-stick off an offensive zone faceoff by Wood, and two needless defensive zone calls on Damon Severson (hook) and Subban (trip). Only Severson’s hook ended up being costly as the Blues scored with a few seconds left on that kill. Tyler Bozak re-directed a shot on net, Schneider stopped it, Dunn buried the rebound off the iron and in. The Devils’ PK was doing OK before then. After the goal, they were OK as well. There some stretches where St. Louis was threatening but more often than not, the Devils kept them at bay. It could have been better. I would have like to have seen better discipline given the opponent and that the Devils were holding onto a lead at the time of each call. But it was not too costly or so abhorrent that it was an issue.
Video Game Night: The Devils’ has their Video Game Night with all kinds of graphical and musical call backs to many classic video games. Not a lot of recent ones, but I think the theme was more meant for the people who grew up on games and played them from childhood and some still play as an adult. Such as myself as I could recall most of the referenced songs and looks the team went with. To put it another way, I felt old. But the Devils were doing well against the Blues so I was pretty happy regardless.
One Final Thought: I hope the Devils have plenty left in the tank for tomorrow night. This was a very good team win. They have a game tomorrow. Our Hated Rivals await, somewhat rested for this one. The Devils ended multi-year losing streaks to Columbus and St. Louis within the last thirty days. Spoiling Our Hated Rivals would be a tantalizing achievement amid this lost season.
Your Take: The Devils beat the Blues, 4-2, and achieved plenty of firsts in the process. I was pleased with the win. Now I want to know your take. Who impressed you the most tonight? How do you think Wood looked on the first line? Do you think Bratt will keep Colton Parayko’s jock strap in a container for safekeeping? What do you want the Devils to learn from this game before they go face Our Hated Rivals tomorrow night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter during the game with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.