Seven games into the season, and the New Jersey Devils finally figured out their strategy. Hold on until overtime, then we win.
Can you imagine doing that two seasons ago when the Devils could not win a shootout?
Somehow, some way, the Devils hung in there, surged late, and won in a shootout.
In reality, the biggest reason why the Devils hung around was one of the things that I tend to be most critical about in regards to this team — the goaltending. Sure, they gave up four goals, but looked sloppy for a lot of the night and Schneider came up big, especially on the heels of Gionta’s bone-headed spear. That five-minute major could have easily been the difference in the game. Instead, New Jersey escaped the five minutes (including 3:18 on fresh ice) giving up just one goal.
Here is the reality: The Devils got another win in the extra frame and still have a long way to go. But, I don’t want to entirely be a Negative Nancy here, so we’re going to look at this one performance evaluation style. Two positives, one opportunity.
Positive: Like I said earlier, Schneider really bailed the team out. Yeah, he gave up four goals, but the first was a clean breakaway, the second was a rebound that, by all accounts, should have been cleared by one of the three Devils surrounding Smith. The third came during the major for Gionta’s idiotic penalty, where the defense decided that they didn’t need to clear the crease in front of Schneider and let Chiasson essentially sit in his lap, while the fourth goal saw three Devils standing in a line, all three staring at the player with the puck while Neil skated in behind them, unaccounted. So, while you’d like to see Schneider make a couple of those saves, the fact is he did a darn good job skating behind a defense that didn’t really feel like playing responsibly.
Positive: Lee freaking Stempniak. There’s a good chance that he might be the Devils best player through these first seven games. (Thank your analytics!) Sure, I don’t think anyone thinks that he can keep up his current pace (six points in seven games) but this is really fun to watch right now. Not too shabby for a guy who had to earn his way onto the roster off of a tryout.
Opportunity: My Lord was the defense atrocious, especially the Turnover Machine, Eric Gelinas. He was pretty much directly responsible for the rushes on the first two goals that Ottawa scored and, at some point in the game, got stapled to the bench. Believe me when I say that this isn’t a good thing, because it leads to the top three defensemen all playing nearly 23+ minutes, with Larsson and Green each topping 25. The Devils didn’t do a great job at clearing the puck away from the front of the net. Didn’t control the front of the net and, by all accounts, all four of the goals that Ottawa scored can be placed directly on poor defensive coverage. But hey, the Devils are attacking, so that’s cool, right?
Positive: Overtime? Overtime. Hynes wants his team to be a more aggressive, attacking team, and that’s a good thing in a 3-on-3 overtime. Devils spent a good portion of the OT in the Ottawa zone, which meant that they spent a good portion of the OT not allowing players like Stone and Karlsson and Turris scoring opportunities.
Positive: Our offense came to life. Two power play markers, not to mention Stempniak’s clutch goal with 30-odd seconds left makes for a happy crowd. The offense certainly was not the reason they fell behind. Despite all the odds, New Jersey found a way to get the puck into the back of the net. Being able to do that will make everything else much easier for them going forward.
Opportunity: Discipline was sorely lacking. From Gionta’s spear to Borowiecki’s stick and pucks to O’Neill taking a run at Michalek, the Devils gave up way too many power plays. The penalty kill did a fantastic job, killing off four of the five (the one power play marker coming on the five minute major), but when a team is playing as poorly in their own zone, you have to stay out of the box.
Overall, it was a sloppy win, but a win is a win no matter how you look at it. It wasn’t perfect, but the Devils got our third win in a row, and that’s what matters. Besides, if it were perfect, practices wouldn’t be very exciting.
Sam Woo is currently the executive producer of Hockey Unfiltered with Todd Lewis and Hockey Primetime with Conor McKenna, which is heard on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and local stations across North America. You can reach him VIA Twitter: @AskSamWoo or by e-mail Sam@PrimetimeRadio.com