Photographic evidence that David Steckel had an offensive moment tonight. It didn't lead to much of anything, to the surprise of very few people. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
If this game could be summed up in a word, it would have to be dreary.
Going into tonight's game, I didn't expect a whole lot based on the rosters. The Devils had only a handful of players in the lineup that will stay in New Jersey after this Saturday. The lineup certainly didn't appear to feature a lot of offensive skill or much defensive prowess. It made sense in that this was the second of three straight games, and with the final preseason game on Saturday, resting the regulars would be a priority. The Islanders looked stronger if only because they had a few more actual NHL players active tonight than the Devils did. Still, I wasn't expecting much out of this contest.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at how sloppy the game was as a whole. Passes by the Devils went all kinds of astray, from being misfired to missing their mark to just bouncing off a stick to being picked off. The Devils put 20 shots on net, but had several misses and were blocked several times thanks to poor shot decisions. Their power plays ran the gamut to quite good (e.g. when David Clarkson scored) to quite bad (e.g. allowing Josh Bailey to rush the goalie and thankfully he missed the net). In their own end, the Devils players seemed to over-commit in their positioning followed by under-committing on a subsequent play - or vice versa. The general pace of the game was choppy.
Yet, despite all of this, I felt the Devils outplayed the Islanders. I'm still mystified that the Islanders managed to be that much worse than the Devils' 'B' team tonight. They were just as poor in their puck movement, and had some even worse moments. It took them almost 12 minutes into the game to get their first shot on net, an right-at-the-logo long distance shot that caused no trouble for Johan Hedberg. Even when they managed to find shooting lanes or get a great opportunity to score, they managed to botch it some way. One could argue that the Islanders should have tied this game up; but that wasn't going to happen tonight.
That's the short version. The Devils won 1-0 despite their sloppiness because the Islanders managed to do even worse. Nice that they got the win and held the Isles to 16 shots on net, but let's be thankful that most of tonight's roster will likely be in Albany next week. Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey has his opinion on the game from the Islander perspective over here. I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.The Stats: Yes, this game has stats at NHL.com: Game Summary, Event Summary, Play by Play
The Magic Number is Not 47: It's not, that would be 3. 47 represents the number of total penalty minutes assigned to the Islanders tonight. Michael Haley got dinged for 21 of them, which dwarfed his actual ice time of 7:43. The guy got tagged for an instigator, fighting, a game misconduct, hooking, and tripping. He was responsible for 3 of the Devils' 7 power plays tonight, including the second one where Clarkson scored the game's lone goal. Sure, some of the other power plays by New Jersey tonight were hard to watch, but they mostly ensured the Isles would do nothing (with two exceptions) for 2 minutes. The Isles' lack of discipline only served to shoot themselves in the foot; and this Haley led their shoot-yourself-in-the-foot brigade.
Welcome Rookie, You Now Have a Date with Brendan Shanahan: Boosting that team PIM total would be Ryan Strome. Yes, their first round draft pick in 2011 finished the night with 15 PIM. He ran Stephen Gionta along the boards from behind and knocked him out. Gionta was able to get up and be helped off the ice, but it was a nasty, nasty hit. Strome got a major for boarding and a game misconduct. Given that there was 3:14 left to play, the Devils enjoyed a power play to finish off the game. I wouldn't be surprised if the hit gets reviewed by the league and punishes him in some way. If so, I also wouldn't be surprised if the OHL upholds this suspension, provided he goes back to junior.
More Importantly than Strome, How is Gionta?: According to Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Gionta says he is OK. That is very good news.
Let's Talk About Those New Jersey Devils Who Will Stay New Jersey Devils: My main criticism of David Clarkson in general is that he tends to command and demand the puck too much and fires more shots than he should. Given the dearth of offensive players in tonight's lineup, this game was made for him to do that. Surprisingly, he didn't do much of the latter. Granted, a lot of that had to do with the general sloppiness of puck movement tonight. He only registered three shots on net and had two blocked. That's not bad, but strangely, I felt he could have done more. Of course, in true Clarkson fashion, he had some miscues - he managed to fall down at least 4 times tonight. Nevertheless, Clarkson had a good game and the shot he took on the power play was lovely.
I would say Clarkson was more noticeable than Mattias Tedenby. Tedenby had some good moments of his own. His moving screen on Rick DiPietro forced the goaltender to hesitate a little bit, which allowed Clarkson's shot to slide past his right leg. I nearly thought he was going to score when he delayed his shot and fired it through traffic in the second period, forcing DiPietro to make a diving save on a puck he didn't fully see. Yet, in a game like this, he managed only two shots on net. I would have liked to have seen more; but again, the sloppiness under cut him as it did for Clarkson. Still, I thought he was OK and like Clarkson, he stood out from the rest of the Devils if only because you knew he was going to stick around after this weekend.
David Steckel was more or less nondescript tonight. He went 6-for-11 at the dot. He took a silly tripping penalty early in the second period. He drove to the net well enough, yet he didn't seem in sync in centering Steve Bernier and Vladimir Zharkov. He was OK on the penalty kill. I know that all seems wishy-washy, but Steckel wasn't notably bad or notably good. A few mistakes here, a few nice moves there, and it all evened out in a way. He's going to center a fourth line in the end, so I don't think that's so terrible.
Johan Hedberg put up a shutout and surprisingly received the first star of the game. True, he stopped all 16 shots, but it's not like they were the best shots in the world. There were some moments where he was bailed out, in fact. Alexander Urbom had to do that once in the third period; and Josh Bailey (who otherwise had a busy night of doing a lot with not much finish) curled around a sprawling Hedberg on a PK attempt in the second period and managed to miss the empty net. He was lucky there. That all said, I felt the Moose was good. I saw that he moved well going post-to-post. He didn't lose his focus when the Islanders struggled mightily just to get the puck past the Devils blueline. When forced to sprawl out and make a tough save on a close shot, he got the puck and swallowed it whole. Hedberg didn't struggle with rebounds. He did well. I just don't think he was the best player on the ice, that's all.
The Try Outs: If Steve Bernier was supposed to be competing for a job tonight, then I don't think he did enough to earn it. It's the same story with him in this preseason. It's not that he's been a nightmare on the ice, getting torched by the other team repeatedly and making bad decisions. Yet, he hasn't really been impressive either. He got quite a bit of ice time tonight with 18:06; and he even played in all situations. OK, it was odd to see him on the PK, but it's only for preseason so I'm not too concerned. But he did generate a 2-on-1 with Steckel, which didn't convert to anything but a save. He battled along the boards well, which was important since a lot of the game was broken down into broken plays. Yet, he didn't stand out all that much. I'm not really sure he makes the team unless Peter DeBoer saw something else in him.
Based on the stats, one could argue that Anton Stralman could make the team. With a mostly-AHL defense, Stralman led the blueline and the entire team in even strength ice time (15:24) and total ice time (25:40). Surely a defender getting that much ice time in any game should be in the mix for some decision, right? What I didn't tell you about his ice time is that he got no shifts on the penalty kill whatsoever. I understand he's meant to be an offensive defenseman; but one would expect a potential NHL defender to get some PK time over his AHL-bound teammates on defense. Even Steve Bernier got PK time tonight and he's not really good at it. To me, it speaks to his performances in his own end of the rink. Given the lineup, he got a lot of minutes; but he wasn't counted on when the team was down a man. It doesn't speak well of said performances.
Moreover, Stralman had some events that just left a sour taste in my mouth. His holding penalty came about when he was beaten by Blake Comeau - during a power play. Stralman managed to kill a penalty without any PK shifts. While he put up 3 shots on net tonight, he easily could have had more with some of the looks he had. Instead, he passed it along and given the Devils' puck movement tonight, it often didn't lead to much. Worst of all was his lollygagging back on defense when Bailey was rushing up ice during a later power play. Stralman didn't hustle so Bailey didn't have to do much to get past him in cutting to the middle. He should send Bailey a "thank you" card for missing the net because had Bailey scored, I would have been screaming all sorts of things at Stralman. I don't think he should be on New Jersey, and I'll be shocked if he gets a NHL contract.
Hey, What About Those Other Guys, Possibly On the Bubble: There's a whole lot of them, so let's run through them quickly.
Vladimir Zharkov - I really wished he got more action in preseason. He was quick, his forechecking was good, and brought good energy to a game that could have used a lot more of it. Of course, he had an awful miss. He got surprised by a rebound and the puck hit his skate. But he recovered the puck. DiPietro was still sliding to his right, so Zharkov had a small window to fire a shot. He had what looked like a great chance. He put too much power behind it and he fired it over the net. Sad. I still would rather have him in NJ than Albany, though. The cross-checking call was pretty weak, though. He should have known better than to get his stick up in a scrum.
Mark Fraser - He fought Matt Martin in the neutral zone in the second period. Normally when there is a fight, the play stops. When Fraser dropped the gloves, the Devils had the puck deep in the Isles' end and were setting up a shot on DiPietro. Yeah, I wasn't happy with the fight - especially since he's a defender and that took him out for 5 minutes. When he did play, he wasn't very good. He wasn't hitting well and he seemed to hestitate with the puck. Given that he's a physical defenseman, that means he didn't have a good night. I think the #7 spot on defense is still open on this roster, and Fraser did little to make his case for it.
Matt Corrente - His big moment also was a fight; he was instigated by Haley in the first period, so I'm not as dismissive of him sitting for 5 minutes because of it. Corrente was just sort of "there." He was better than Fraser, but he didn't really stand out. I didn't like that hook he had on Islander defenseman Aaron Ness. He got caught, though it did lead to the Isles amusingly control the puck for over a minute outside of the Devils' end of the rink; wasting time until they got a power play in a 1-0 game.
Adam Henrique - Henrique got the third star of tonight's game, but I'm not sure why. He was good on faceoffs by going 8 for 13. He had a few flashes of skill where he tore through the Isles defense with some nice stickhandling, and when he controlled the puck on the power play. Henrique also had the secondary assist on Clarkson's goal. Yet, he didn't register a single shot on net. Some of his passes were dire and killed attacks. Instead of meshing with Clarkson and Tedenby, there were some shifts where he just seemed to be "there." I think Henrique has a future in NJ, but I don't think tonight's game will make many think he's ready now.
A Pleasant Surprise: When I saw that Eric Boulton, Tim Sestito, and Cam Janssen would not only play tonight but be on the same line, I was worried. I was trying to mentally prepare for the lack of skill they would provide, how the Isles skaters would just beat on them on the few shifts they would get. Instead, I was wrong. The Isles didn't tear it up on offense when they were on the ice. All three avoided the penalty box. Janssen threw some Janssen-esque hits; Sestito wasn't a total drain; and Boulton kept things simple. They didn't do much, but by not making me wretch every time they got a shift, I see that as a positive. I don't want to see that in the NHL, though.
On the other hand, the Chad Wiseman-Steven Zalewski-Stephen Gionta unit was very hard to watch. Surely, they'd look much better in the AHL, right?
Timeout: As an aside, both coaches used their timeout. They were sensible given the context of when they were used. DeBoer used his to rest the Zalewski line after an icing during the third period. Jack Capuano used his to plan when the Isles should pull the goalie during their last PK. While they would be shorthanded, it was only 1-0 and so an attack was worth trying - risking a 2-0 loss is worth the same as a 1-0 loss, after all.
DiPietro Was Worse At Stickhandling than Hedberg Tonight: As an example of the Devils' new-found aggressiveness on their forecheck, they made a point of it to pressure the goalie when he left his net to play the puck. DiPietro kept going out of his net to make a play, and they compromised it several times. Good job.
It worked, though it helped that DiPietro was just horrible at playing the puck. Even without pressure, DiPietro's attempted passes didn't connect properly with his teammates - sometimes missing them entirely. He even committed the cardinal sin of clearing a puck up the middle during an Islanders PP. Gionta picked it off at the blueline, giving the Rock a quick moment of "I can't believe this, but there's an empty net - SHOOOOOOOOOOOT." DiPietro did slide back into the net and Gionta missed the long shot anyway; but that doesn't make it any less of an epic giveaway.
When it came to stopping the puck, DiPietro was OK. He was called on to make some tough saves and he made them. That is more important. Still, DiPietro managed to make Moose look comparatively good at handling the puck outside of the net tonight. How's that for a shock?
A Play to Summarize the Game: A Devil attempts a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone to start an attack. The puck bounces off the target's stick and trickles into the Islanders' zone. An Isle defender chips the puck up only a few feet, instead of collecting it. There is a brief battle for the puck, it trickles out, and the Devils collect it. They move it back to a defender, he moves it across the ice to his partner, and they do it again. It wasn't so much the Devils were conservative or planned this out. It just happened because the puck movement was so sloppy by both sides.
Tomorrow is the last preseason game of 2011 for the Devils. I want to know what you thought about this game first, though. Who do you think did well? Who do you think did poorly? Do you think Bernier or Stralman still has a shot at a contract after tonight? Do you think any of the non-veterans on the Devils helped their cause in making the team tonight? Were you as shocked as I was at how poorly the Islanders played, seemingly in response to the Devils' own sloppy play? Please leave your answers and other comments on tonight's game after the jump. Thanks to everyone who read and commented in the Gamethread; and thank you for reading.