Marek Zidlicky had the most Marek Zidlicky night. For those who have not been following the New Jersey Devils closely to know what he's been about or those who don't know why he has caused so many Devils fans to shake their heads, tonight's game against the Florida Panthers was the best summation of his season.
In his 25:49 of ice time (23:03 at evens, 2:41 on the power play), those at the Rock and on TV got to witness plenty of events from Zidlicky. There were shots from distance that weren't bad; he had three total. There were good decisions at the point to keep pucks in. There were instances of his tendency to carry a puck in real deep, wrapping around the net, and turning it into nothing. There were important interventions on defense. There were failed attempts to go at pucks with one hand on his stick. There was lax coverage in front and on rushes, which led to Nick Bjugstad's goal in the second period. Zidlicky took a silly penalty as he hooked Jonathan huberdeau up to his armpit. He was on the ice for many attempts for and against. He (possibly accidentally) knocked a puck right to Sean Bergenheim in the slot with less than ten seconds left in regulation, forcing a big bailout save. After all of highs, lows, and annoyances from #2 on the ice, Marek Zidlicky managed to redeem himself for everything.
It was perfect. Travis Zajac won the faceoff perfectly. Jaromir Jagr touched it off perfectly. Zidlicky's slapshot was smooth, without hestiation, and inch-perfect. The set-play drawn up by Peter DeBoer - thanks to AlienDev for noticing it in the Gamethread - could not have gone any better. Tim Thomas not only did not stop it but I question whether he could. I question whether Dominik Hasek in his prime would have stopped that shot. In a game where both teams threw everything but the kitchen sink at the net, it was clear to me that perfection would be necessary for either New Jersey or Florida to get that crucial second goal. And it came from arguably one of New Jersey's most imperfect players. He gives you offense, defense, odd and bad decisions, and surprising and good decisions. And he got the Devils two points tonight.
The Opposition Opinion: Please visit Litter Box Cats, where I imagine they're still a bit in shock over what just happened.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a video filled with big save after big save among three goals:
The Big Aristotle: Shaq came out for a ceremonial puck drop before the game. He wore a 2012 playoff road Alexei Ponikarovsky jersey. Here's proof from SBNation's NHL hub. I'd like to believe he chose that one to represent all the hard working wingers who don't necessarily get the limelight. It was real cool.
Goalie Supremacy: As much as I've delved into Marek Zidlicky and his many ups and downs, the stars in tonight's game were both goaltenders. Florida's Tim Thomas was brilliant. His birthdate says April 16, 1974; but he played much younger than that from my standpoint. He was quick, he was effectively aggressive at loose pucks, and he managed to get in some kind of position to make a play. It wasn't a case of the Devils not being able to finish, it was a case of trying to figure out Thomas.
The same can be said for Cory Schneider. Schneider was given a tough situation right away when Jon Merrill's attempt at a lateral pass got picked off by Scottie Upshall for a breakaway. Schneider bailed him out and plenty of Devils' shifts. In between breakaways, loose pucks bouncing to Florida sticks, and rebounds, Schneider managed to get everything. It helped that his defense would mostly clean up any pucks too, but he was challenged quite a lot. It wasn't a case of the Panthers not being able to finish, it was a case of trying to figure out Schneider.
All three goals scored tonight were goals that would have beaten almost any goaltender. Ryane Clowe finding Michael Ryder in the slot for a one-timer; Bjugstad finishing a feed from Tomas Fleischmann right in front off a 3-on-2; and Zidlicky's last gasp slapshot were just about unstoppable unless the puck somehow went to the goalie's equipment. Both goalies managed to keep their cool amid the myriad of pucks by the crease ending up in a player's skate and not on their stick, long shots getting deflected, and open shots off the rush. As with the Dallas game, both Schneider and his opposing goalie were superb. And as with that one, Schneider can hold his head a little higher.
Back and Forth: Both goalies have to be lauded for their performances because each faced a lot of pressure in bursts. It felt like both teams kept trading off counter-attacks and strong shifts. If you go to Extra Skater for the game stats (and you should), then check out their Fenwick graph. After the Devils took the lead in attempts without blocks, they didn't let up but both teams kept having shifts where they get pinned back followed by effective attacking shifts. The neutral zone just acted as the middle of the ice as both teams were able to go forward on offense. The Devils led in shots 36-30 and in attempts 57-46 in all situations, 47-35 in 5-on-5 play. Leading is good and keeping up with a fast and feisty Florida team is also good, but that's a rather high-event game for both teams, who prefer to keep things close and somewhat in control.
Power Play Woes Continue: The referees, Rob Martell and Dan O'Halloran, let a lot go tonight. It was probably for the best as both team's power plays were pretty bad. They generated one dangerous shot each and conceded more shorthanded opportunities than that. Not that the shorthanded opportunities ended up on (or in) the net. That may not be surprising from a Panthers' team that has the worst conversion rate in the league. That the Devils struggled against one of the worst penalty killing teams in the league is further proof that the current system and usage needs to change.
Six Regular Defensemen and One Rare Seventh: Did you know that Eric Gelinas played tonight? With only seven shifts and 5:20 of ice time, it can be forgiven if you didn't know. Gelinas didn't get many opportunities to play, though he did make one key play in overtime. When Alexsander Barkov drove to the net early, his shot popped the puck up and was falling behind Schneider by the left post. Bergenheim followed the puck but Gelinas knocked it away to ensure that overtime would continues. Overall, I don't know what to think. I don't see the purpose of keeping him around for so few minutes. Especially since Jon Merrill struggled at times tonight (getting beat inside by Bjugstad hurt). I would have thought Gelinas could take a few of his shifts if only so the rookie can refocus. Alas, he kept getting out there.
It's questionable whether his offense is really needed. The Devils have topped thirty shots - they got 36 tonight - with him playing so little. He's not really adding much out there. I suspect a move's getting made soon but I didn't think Gelinas did anything that Andrei Loktionov, who was scratched for Gelinas for the second night in a row, could have done tonight outside of his overtime-saving play.
Newfoundline: Michael Ryder scored his fourth goal in four games tonight. He had a great first period with four shots on net, including that goal. It would have been great if he kept shooting. I would have liked to have seen him to do that on some occasion beyond the first twenty minutes. However, in his defense, he kept finding his linemates for plays. Ryder, Adam Henrique, and Ryane Clowe had a very good game tonight. They combined for nine shots, Henrique and Clowe each came close to scoring in regulation, and they kept Florida's top line of Brad Boyes, Bergenheim, and Barkov mostly quiet. They had both a high attempt differential and a high shot differential in 5-on-5 play. They didn't make many mistakes. The only standout error in my mind was, Henrique, I think, coughed up a puck that led to a shorthanded breakaway by Tomas Kopecky in the second. Other than that, I really liked what I saw. While the Travis Zajac, Jaromir Jagr, and Dainius Zubrus line continue to do what they do despite not scoring, it's refreshing to see one unit really help out. Let's hope Ryder stays hot and this trio can keep getting ahead in attempts, shots, and goals.
Another Milestone: Jaromir Jagr has not scored in nine games and just picked up his third assist in that timeframe. He's in a slump. It's not for a lack of trying as he's got five shots on net and helped Zajac get four of his own tonight. Maybe the assist will help him out? I hope. At least the point puts him officially ahead of Mario Lemieux on the all-time scoring list.
So Many Minutes, So Much Better Than This Other Panther Tonight: Brian Campbell impressed me tonight. He played 32:45 tonight and was rather good from what I saw. That he came out even in possession doesn't surprise me as he absorbed a lot while dishing a lot of it back out. He was the opposite of Erik Gudbranson, who got picked on tonight at evens, looked lost when Clowe fed Ryder for his goal, and took an unnecessary penalty when he gave Ryan Carter an extra shot while on the ice.
Demonstration: Drop a puck by your feet. Try and find it with a bunch of friends and foes trying to do as well. Welcome to battling for pucks in a scramble. Like against Philly and Dallas, the Devils had plenty of these situations and few of them came out right for them. If they keep at it, though, then surely it'll come out right. It would be nice if it happened to the CBGBs as they came close to doing so in the third multiple times.
What Was More Dramatic?: Jagr stealing the overtime in L.A. or Zidlicky scoring off a set-play with less than three seconds left in overtime? I think we may have a new "Most Dramatic Finish in 2013-14."
Your Take: While you ponder that question, please let me know what you thought about the game overall. What did you think of the pace and flow overall? How impressed were you by both goaltenders; who had more of a challenge tonight? What would you have liked to have seen differently from the Devils tonight? Was this not the most Marek Zidlicky game he played this season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in tonight's Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.