As of this moment, on Scott Niedermayer Night (December 16, 2011), no other Devil will wear #27. It's forever Niedermayer's. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Tonight was to be a big night for the New Jersey Devils organization. Tonight, they would honor and celebrate the career of Scott Niedermayer. From 1991 through 2004, he wore #27. During that time, he became an important part of the team, one of the best two-way defensemen of his era, and was crucial in the team's three Stanley Cup wins. He didn't ask for #27, but he made it his own. If anyone deserved their number retired, it was Niedermayer and so the team gave him gifts, allowed him to speak on his terms - which included a lot of thank yous, and finally a banner was raised to retire his number. It was a great ceremony put on by the Devils; the fans loudly chanted "Nie-der-may-er;" and the Devils legend and his family was clearly touched.
If you haven't seen the ceremony, MSG has it on video at their site. Thanks to FrankG929 for finding that for everyone's benefit. I got to witness this live and as great as the ceremony was, there was a feeling of inspiration in the night. Maybe it was in the atmosphere, as the sell-out crowd was energized (even without Tim Sestito playing). Maybe it was Dr. Mike Emrick appearing, who was the master of ceremonies. Maybe it was because the Devils won four out of their last five games (as Doc noted). Maybe it was all about #27. Maybe it was something entirely different. Would the Devils find it?
Eventually, they did. The Devils started off decently in terms of possession; but got ruined by an abysmal breakdown in their own end. Michael Ryder scored what could be one of the easiest goals of his career 8:40 into the game and the mood got quiet. It wasn't that the Devils didn't start well; just that, well, that shift went facepalmingly awry, for lack of a better term. Could it be that Dallas could take this game on Scott Niedermayer night? The ensuing minutes did nothing to cast away the doubt; and certainly not their second power play of the evening. Yet, at the end, the Devils seemingly came alive. They were storming the Stars down low, winning pucks, making moves, and suddenly, David Clarkson fires a low shot and it beats Richard Bachmann through the five-hole. At last, a reason to cheer.
It would stay 1-1; but it didn't take long for Dallas to re-sow the seeds of disappointment. Another breakdown in coverage found four Devils to the right of Johan Hedberg. Mike Ribiero found Brendan Morrow to his left for another easy score and it's 2-1 Dallas 1:38 into the second period. How did the Devils respond? Not in an ideal manner. Cam Janssen got tagged for interference less than two minutes later and Dallas had a chance to really put the screws to the Devils. Or at least, they would have if it wasn't for Zach Parise stripping
Nicklas Grossman Stephane Robidas of the puck and feeding Adam Henrique for a one-timer on an ensuing 2-on-1. Tie-game, but Dallas had that power play and they came agonizingly close to scoring. They beat Hedberg, but Bryce Salvador made a block on the goal line and legally flung it out with his hand. It was the game's crucial moment, as Dallas would not come that close to scoring again until much later in the third. A Dallas goal there really would have sapped the Devils' spirits, it would have enrgaged the fans, and who knows how this would have turned out.
Instead, the Devils got to work going forward. It wasn't always pretty in their own end; but the Stars weren't exactly tight in their own half of the rink. Past halfway through the second, the Devils broke through. Ilya Kovalchuk bombed a shot from distance on a 2-on-2 rush to make it 3-2. Late in the second, Ryan Carter got enough space to go to the corner and fired it on net. Cam Janssen fired a rebound attempt, the puck popped up and, Petr Sykora got his backhand on it to make it 4-2. Salvador denied them what should have been a go-ahead PPG; and the Devils roar out to secure a lead.
The Devils would not give up this lead. Oh, no, they actually added to it. Zach Parise re-directed a puck from the slot to make it 5-2 a minute before halfway through the second period. Dallas responded about 5 minutes later when Toby Petersen deflected a Sheldon Souray shot through traffic. As it would be a slight reward for all the shots on net they had, it would not be the small spark for a Dallas comeback. Patrik Elias scored 30 seconds later when an intended pass for Sykora in the slot got partially blocked by Trevor Daley. Blocked in that it didn't get to Sykora; and partially in that it re-direct the shot to the far post beating Bachmann for the Devils' sixth goal. The Devils did come close to making it seven, but there shouldn't be too many any complaints about a three-goal victory.
I understand I went into great detail about how the game played out; it's necessary in that all six goals are worth mentioning. Six goals for one team is somewhat rare in general; and quite rare for this team. The impressive part about it happening tonight is that most of these six goals started with a defensive play of sorts. Parise straight up robbed
Grossman Robidas in the neutral zone during a penalty kill prior to Henrique's goal. Adam Larsson stretched his stick to stop a Dallas pass, which sent the puck up to Parise that started the rush up ice for Kovalchuk's goal. Anton Volchenkov chipped a puck into the neutral zone to prevent Dallas from entering the zone that Carter, which led to Sykora's goal. Mark Fayne won a battle along the boards for a puck, Bryce Salvador moved it around up to Sykora, who then passed it to Dainius Zubrus up-ice before dishing it to Elias - who then scored by accident. Plays that would otherwise seem ordinary or not all that notable were the starting points for several of the goals the Devils scored tonight.
On a night where Scott Niedermayer, a defenseman who had the skills and confidence to make plays at both ends of the rink throughout his career, was honored, I find this incredibly fitting that they scored this way. Likewise, that they got a lead and held on to it. It took some time, it was hairy at timers, but they picked up what the overall sentiment of the Niedermayer ceremony was putting down. They got that inspiration. They rode the emotions. They got a big win out of it.
As usual, I have a little more to say about this game after the jump. For the opposition's point of view, Cole Jones has this recap up at Defending Big D - praising the on-ice star of the night, Zach Parise.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlight Video: Nine goals! Some big stops! It's a highlight video of tonight's 6-3 win from NHL.com! Exclamation marks!
Zach Parise Superstar: Maybe Zach Parise isn't a superstar; but he definitely played like one tonight. As the Devils were a -7 in Corsi, Parise was a +3. Parise (and Henrique and Kovalchuk) saw a mix of the Stars' top two lines namely because Dallas didn't have too many answers for him. On a night like this, one really couldn't stop Parise; one can only hope to contain him. The Stars defintiely didn't. Parise put up six shots on net, got blocked once, set up three goals, two were direct assists, and scored one of his own in 18:21 of ice time tonight. The only thing that didn't go his way was when he took a stick to the mouth during the Devils' first power play. There was no call, and one his teeth was chipped per this post-game post by Tom Gulitti. That shouldn't fade the shine Parise had this evening. By the way, Parise's four points from this game gives him eight in his last three games. That is simply sensational. Keep it up, Zach!
While it's not on the scoresheet, Parise also schooled
Stephane Robidas in the sort of play you still talk about months from now. The way he just snatched it from him and threaded a pass to Henrique to hammer in the one-timer still astounds me in my half-asleep state. Of all four points, that play remains as my favorite.
Henrique Line Continues to Do Work: The Henrique line was the only group that was solidly positive in possession, which was good since Dallas did carry the play more often (no surprise there, they were losing for about 40% of the game). The Elias line just got above even; the Travis Zajac line got wrecked; and the fourth line was, well, the fourth line. Yes, Parise's huge night helped; but Kovalchuk and Henrique weren't slouches. Kovalchuk got 4 shots on net, 2 of the 3 power play shots for New Jersey, got an assist, and a goal. Henrique scored a shorthanded goal, got 2 shots on net, and went 9-for-16 on faceoffs. Henrique was a +3 in Corsi like Parise and Kovalchuk was a +2. Not great; but given the circumstances they stand out. Combined, the line took 12 out of the team's 31 shots - more than any other group. This unit is hot right now and should remain together.
By the way, Parise only played 18:21, Henrique only played 18:06, and Kovalchuk only played 20:27. No, they didn't do anything wrong. The Devils had a comfortable lead in the third, so Peter DeBoer gave some more minutes to the bottom six. Since the team will play in Montreal tomorrow, not riding or having to ride that line is a positive.
The Return of Travis Zajac: Zajac came back tonight and played 15:22 total. He got some power play time, he got more penalty killing time, and 3 shots on net. Yet, I wouldn't say he did all that well. He only went 8-for-15 on draws. He earned -9 in Corsi; going up mostly against the Stars' second line of Steve Ott, Ribiero, and Morrow. It may have gotten to a point where DeBoer had to get him and his line away from that match-up. He also had a horrible shift in that first period. I'm still trying to figure out what he and the rest of the Devils were doing on the play that led to Ryder's goal. To be fair, David Clarkson and (especially) Matthias Tedenby aren't exactly defensive players; and it was Zajac's first game of hockey since April 2011. Zajac did have a few flashes of his old form. His best, I think, was when he hustled up to create a quasi-breakaway during a penalty kill. I don't think Zajac was horrendous, just rusty. In due time, he'll get the rust off and look much more solid in the future.
The Return of Anton Volchenkov: Volchenkov's night wasn't all that great. Like the Zajac line, he often saw the Ribiero line; but unlike them, he also saw quite a bit of their third line of Vernon Fiddler, Radek Dvorak, and Eric Nystrom. The result of these match-ups? A not-so-great -4 in Corsi. What stuck out to me in his performance was his lack of speed and his penalties. Volchenkov didn't do so well on his pinches, and his partner would have to hustle back to cover him. Tonight, this didn't present too much of a problem because said partner was successful in hustling back to make a play. On other nights, this may not happen. He needs to be a bit more cautious on when to move up and when to hang back.
The two penalties he took tonight were avoidable, silly calls. He didn't have to trip Dvorak in the first period. In the second period, he threw what would have been a legal block in football along the boards . Great block, but this is hockey and such a play is interference. Since the Devils were without Henrik Tallinder tonight, he took himself off the ice for four minutes and forced DeBoer's hand to play non-regulars on the PK in his place. They were successful, but if Volchenkov was a bit smarter with his physical game, then it would not have been necessary.
I Missed Henrik Tallinder Tonight: Tallinder did not play tonight due to back spasms, per this post-game post by Gulitti. That came as a surprise since all indications prior to the game was that he would play tonight. Yet, the spasms came during warm-ups and with a game in Montreal tomorrow, they decided to play it safe. That's OK by me; though it definitely had a negative enough effect on how tonight's game went.
The Dallas Stars were held to a mere 5 shots on net in the first period. They would rack up 31 over the next two periods. Granted, the Stars were losing for a good part of those final two periods, such as the entire third period. It should surprise no one that they put up more shots than the Devils. Yet, the defense was seriously exposed at times. Plus, DeBoer had to keep rotating pairings in order to not only find match-ups but to protect players to a point. Alexander Urbom definitely had his struggles; Kurtis Foster is still acclimating to being a Devil, much less playing on this blueline; and Volchenkov just returned from a minor injury and had to get back on track. That's why the defense seemed off at times.
Salvador's Big Night: The late decision for Tallinder led to Bryce Salvador logging heavy minutes. With him out, someone had to take on the toughs and the coaches went with him. They chose correctly. Salvador had a huge night, playing 26:20 in total ice time, with a mind-boggling 7:10 on the penalty kill (I'm sure Volchenkov's 4 PIM played a role in that). His biggest moment was that he saved a sure-fire goal. How did he do against the toughs? Fairly well as he was a +2 in Corsi. Put all together, I have to say that Salvador was the team's best defenseman tonight.
So Salvador Had the Save of the Night, Moose Had Some Good Stops of His Own: Johan Hedberg was presented an early challenge tonight. I noticed that the Stars often dumped in the puck, forcing Hedberg to come out and play it. Given that it's always an adventure when he leaves his crease, that was a pretty good strategy. It didn't work, thankfully. Hedberg was fairly solid in making passes all night long.
What wasn't so solid was his positioning in the net. When Dallas got him moving, I noticed Hedberg over-committed on a lot of shots early on. It certainly played a role in Dallas' first goal, and he was lucky that Dallas didn't score later in the game on a few other second chance opportunities. I will say he settled down as time went on and set himself better on other shots. Surely, the large workload of 36 shots on net helped him out there. So did the fact that a good number were right at him. This isn't to say that Moose was bad, per se. After all, he made his fair share of bail-out plays. Moose can't be faulted for the goals Morrow and Petersen scored: a shot off the flank and a deflection, respectively. Overall, we would say he had a very good night. I just wasn't all that impressed with him early on. No matter now.
For Once, They Blew Up a Goalie: Going into tonight's game, Richard Bachman has started three games and allowed a mere three goals. Tonight, the Devils hung six on him. Feel free to smile, cackle, or whatever have some sort of positive response to that. He really should have stopped Clarkson's shot as it went through his legs. Maybe he would have liked to have Kovalchuk's goal back, and possibly the one Elias scored. I wouldn't fault the young goaltender for being torched by a Kovalchuk or victimized by a re-direction from his own defenseman, but your mileage may vary. I'm just happy the Devils lit up a goalie who came into this game hot.
Third Period Shots: While the Stars had the advantage in shots 36-31; it's actually a good thing the Devils got to 31 shots since they don't often get above 30 in regulation. A big reason for that was that Dallas defenseman Philip Larsen got hurt in the game early on. He only played 2:09, and so the Stars had only five defenders for the vast majority of this game. Another reason for that seems to be that Daley just isn't that good. He ended up a -4 in Corsi on a night where much of his team was positive.
What was most impressive about the shot count was that the Devils put up 11 of them in the third period. Sure, the Stars put up 17 of their own; but the 11 shots New Jersey earned are evidence that they weren't sitting back, leaning on their significant lead, and letting Dallas do as they wish. They were looking to extend their lead, and they succeeded. That's how teams win decisively and I hope to see the Devils do it more often in the future.
Cam Janssen Got An Assist?: Yes, he did. He tried to knock a puck off of Carter's sharp-angle try/pass and it sailed right to the spot where Sykora put it in. That sure was an assist. That's all I have to say about that.
Adam Larsson's Night: Larsson got stuck with Urbom for a good chunk of his time at even strength. He also spent nearly as much time alongside Fayne. Larsson got two assists, including a great read for Parise . He almost had a third when he hit Henrique for a long pass that could have been a breakaway. Yet, he came around the wrong side of the net, which led to Morrow being incredibly wide-open on Hedberg's left for a goal. Despite the time with Fayne, who had a +3 in Corsi, Larsson ended up a -8 in Corsi. Ott also made him look stupid in the neutral zone when he slid a puck through Larsson's legs and cleanly got around him. Yet, Larsson made some smart plays in his own end that didn't get a lot of notice. Did he have a good game or a bad game? The answer, my friend, is somewhere in the middle.
Actual Energy: The crowd at the Rock brought a lot of energy. They were fantastic during the number retirement ceremony. They were hot early. Dallas' goals cooled them off, but when the Devils got going, the crowd became more intense. The goals just lit them up and the rest of the second and third periods continued the energy. I appreciated how they cheered hard for Zajac's first shift. I appreciated their chants of players' names at times, usually after they scored a goal. During the stoppages in play, the Rockvision (the center ice screens) showed former and current Devils talking about Niedermayer. The crowd was mostly positive to everyone on screen. They cheered for John MacLean, Brian Rolston, Jay Pandolfo, Sergei Brylin, Claude Lemieux, Jacques Lemaire (I think he made have had the biggest), and Bobby Holik responses among others. I have to say mostly because they heavily booed Scott Gomez. Still, the sell-out crowd was great tonight, making a memorable night more, well, memorable.
Standard Special Teams Thoughts: Only 3 shots on 2 power plays? Eh. I felt the power play could have been better; I felt they missed quite a few shots, but I may be mistaken. The penalty kill almost got exposed twice but thankfully Salvador stopped that shot and Hedberg made a big kick-save on the second - assuming I have that right. Oh, the PK scored a shorthanded goal while holding Dallas to only 5 shots on 4 power plays. Still the best in the NHL.
Two Last Notes: The last time the Devils won a game in regulation at home was on November 8, 2011 in a 3-2 win over Carolina. The last time the Devils scored 6 goals in regulation was on January 9, 2011, a 6-3 win over Tampa Bay.
That's all I really have about tonight's game; so I want to know what your take was. What did you think of tonight's ceremony in retiring Scott Niedermayer's number? What did you think of the Devils' performance? Did you also miss Tallinder? What goal of the Devils' six tonight impressed you the most? How amazing was Zach Parise tonight? Can the Devils possibly sweep the week with a win tomorrow night after the night they just had? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who read & commented in the gamethread this evening, as well as those who follow @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.