Tonight was a very tense game in Newark, New Jersey. After about ten minutes of the New Jersey Devils finding the target and the Dallas Stars apparently not, the offense started to pick up in flurries. The Dallas Stars would take advantage of some small errors to force plenty of rubber on Cory Schneider. The Devils would eventually respond by getting a stop and turning the puck up in the other direction to hit them back. Throw in some strong possession shifts and it was Kari Lehtonen forced to come up big. Michael Ryder was the only man to score tonight and thanks to Schneider and some fortunate bounces, it was enough for a win. The Devils ended their three game winless streak with a 1-0 victory over the Stars.
After a slow start to the action, it was the sort of game that can make one hold their breath every time a puck was fired. In the Stars' end, it was in hope of it getting past Lehtonen somehow. The Devils hit him from all over the place but only one shot got into the net. One or two may have gotten through but a teammate bailed him out. In the Devils end, it was in fear that Schneider would be done in by some weird deflection, a screen, or some kind of breakdown that ends up with one man all alone with a gaping net. In the end, there would have been a lot of blue faces if someone actually did that.
The one that did decide the game was appropriate given how the Devils attacked. During a good attacking shift, Eric Gelinas - who was having a lovely time on said shift - pinched into the right corner. He chipped it to Ryane Clowe, who moved it along to Travis Zajac behind the net. Zajac did what Jaromir Jagr would do: get his rump out, collect the puck, pivot, and look for a man. As it so happened, Michael Ryder quietly skated to the slot. Pass, shot, score. It all came from keeping the puck on Devils' sticks and good down low play.
It could have easily been more for the Devils. Ryder alone could have had a hat trick. Later in the second period, Ryder was gifted a puck by a Dallas defenseman and fired a powerful shot that forced a save by Lehtonen. During the Devils second and surprisingly dangerous power play, Ryder was all alone on the left wing and had a one-on-one with Lehtonen. With three other shots - six total - he was having a great time out there. Adam Henrique did rather well in both ends of the rink and nearly found the net himself with four shots. (And while I'm at it, let me say the line was good, I liked Clowe's game tonight as well.) Zajac's finishing may be was lamentable but he wasn't in great positions to shoot by accident, he really did quite a lot to get four good shots and a crossbar. Even the CBGBs made Lehtonen sweat at Stephen Gionta got five shots (that's why he got as much ice time as he did, double-minor aside) and Ryan Carter had three. Lastly and not leastly, Mike Sislo made the most of his eight shifts worth 3:58 by getting a breakaway - if he only he saw he had the five-hole. The lowest shooting team in the league put up 34 shots on net and out-shot the Stars in every period. They had an advantage in possession and didn't give it up. The offense had it all but the goals.
It could have easily been different for the Stars. Like the Devils against Philadelphia, an inch or two of a difference could have made one. The Stars tried shots through traffic, only to have them blocked. They tried open shots, only to have them either blocked or easily stopped. They crashed the net for multiple crease-battles for pucks, only to see the puck get away and out over and over. They got a four-minute power play late in the second that yielded only three (dangerous) shots. The Stars did have stretches where they would keep entering the zone after the Devils dump it away, leading to more time in the Devi's end - especially in the first half of the third period. But despite the looks and chances, they could not beat Schneider. He was where he needed to be, the defense scrambled to help him out (18 blocks per the Devils' scorer), and so all 26 shots were denied. Tyler Seguin, Dallas' top forward, threatened the most with six shots; six others had two-to-three shots; and a few others filled in the rest. Dallas was cold early but they rose up later to put up a fight. It just wasn't enough.
Ultimately, the good/bad luck didn't turn up for scores. Both goalies should leave this game held high as they were both great. Schneider can raise it a little higher, as he was great in a winning effort. This is his third good-to-awesome performance in a row. The only area he wasn't good at was with playing the puck - which isn't really news. In terms of stopping the puck, he was superb. I'm hoping he gets a bit hot to not only boost up his numbers but to get more games. Neither goalie shouldn't have to be fantastic and lucky to get a win but at this point of the season, whatever's needed is needed. Schneider brought it and so all of the Devils fans around the world are pleased except for the grumps who can never be pleased.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Defending Big D, Erin Bolen claims in her recap that the Stars have solved their defensive woes. That must be sarcasm or tounge-in-cheek given that the Stars conceded 34 shots to the lowest shooting team in the NHL.
The Game Highlights: One goal and a lot of saves. This is your highlight video from NHL.com:
Seven Defenders, Six Really Played: Eric Gelinas only played 11 shifts for 8:49. He was at his best in the second period when he put up two shots, five attempts, and helped create the play that . It was good to see The Truth live and in action. The problem was that his defensive work, well, wasn't good. He only played one shift in the third and for good reason. He collected a dumped-in puck, stayed on it too long, and then put it in a place that allowed Dallas to battle for it and attack. What should have been an easy clear turned into about a minute pinned back and hoping Dallas doesn't generate something to light a lamp. While it didn't turn out too bad, it's not what you want in a one-goal game in the third period - especially when six other defensemen can play in place.
As good as it was to have Peter DeBoer find a way to get Gelinas in the game in someway, a defender has to sit. I didn't think Jon Merrill was bad, so I don't think it'll be him. Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador were actually rather good tonight. Possession was constantly going one way when they were out there, and they did a lot of hard work from the dots and below tonight, especially on the double-minor penalty kill. So for all I know, it could be Gelinas. While he brought some offense, it wasn't constant enough for him to keep getting shifts to make up for the defense. I know he's young but 1-0 in a game you'd like to win is not the time to risk errors.
Eleven Forwards, Nine Really Played: Sislo and Reid Boucher didn't even play five minutes tonight. I think not having Andrei Loktionov hurt their cause. They weren't bad and Sislo must have impressed someone. Not just with getting a break away from everyone in the second period on a play, but actually getting a little penalty killing time when Gionta was in the box. That said, I can understand the decision to not keep playing young guys in the third in a one-goal game. The other nine forwards were putting in good work anyhow, so I for one didn't necessarily miss them. The team did out-shoot Dallas in each period, after all. I would like to see Loktionov draw back in for twelve forwards in the next game, though.
Ending Help: The Devils did keep the Stars very honest late in the game. I really enjoyed how the Zajac line was used within the final two minutes. Jagr, Zajac, and Zubrus maintained a forecheck and forced Dallas to waste time in their own end trying to breakout. They generated a shot - Zajac finding Lehtonen's left toe - and held Dallas back. They didn't pull the goalie until less than a minute left. After a Devils icing, Dallas called a timeout. Zajac won the faceoff, Salvador cleared it out, and a slightly fresher Jagr beat two Stars to the iced puck. That killed more time If he made a mistake, it was in not trying to pivot along the boards and just skating along them. It led to one last crazy rush, a Seguin shot, a net knocked off, and one more faceoff. Zajac won that one. So there was no set play, only one last ditch shot, and the Devils fended them off. Close, but crucial.
PK Praise: The Devils were so good on the first penalty kill, an early hook on Salvador, that the only problem I had was that the puck carrier on both shorthanded rushes should've shot it instead of forcing a pass. Since that's my only complaint, then that speaks to how well the PK did at their primary task on that one. The four minute double minor to Gionta was massive. The Stars were agonizingly close to banging in a garbage goal. But they found ways to tip off passes, battle for pucks, and get clearances. Salvador, Andy Greene, and Volchenkov were big on that one; almost as big as Schneider. With only three shots conceded on six minutes of shorthanded time, they were wonderful.
Super Stars: Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn carried a lot of the team's offense in 5-on-5 play. When they weren't on the ice, well, it was usually good for New Jersey. Their best players did what they could, which makes Schneider's shutout just a little bit sweeter.
A Note on a Non-Call: The refs let a lot go tonight. Seeing Sergei Gonchar stand up Gionta along the boards to deny him a chance to get a dumped-in puck was rather egregious. I know Gonchar's a veteran but come on, it was textbook interference.
I don't have much of a problem with the calls they did make. I think Gionta has to be really thankful to Schneider and the penalty killers for bailing out his reckless stick-foul. Maybe he didn't get full lumber, but there's no reason to go near Jamie Benn's head. Especially for someone as small as Gionta.
Tense & So Many TV Timeouts: Adding to the tension that comes with a 1-0 game was that it was a long one. It started at 7:08, which is normal, and ended at 9:38, which isn't. I've been to games that went to a full shootout that ended earlier than that. For a game with only one goal and four total penalties, there were a lot of breaks for TV and other such time. Thankfully I was at the Rock so I at least didn't have to see the same five or so commercials on the local MSG+ channel over and over. One can only hear J.B. Smoove lament that no one thinks he's a spice for so long.
A Hope: This is two games in a row where they passed the 30 shot plateau in regulation. If they keep shooting, then surely the goals will come. This isn't 2013 or 2010-11 where the team's shooting percentage was so low it might as well have been in a grave. Surely, right? Right?
Your Take: The Devils ended a winless streak, a goalie I think most of us want to be the #1 goalie took another step towards league-average numbers, and while they didn't score more than one, they did a whole lot in trying to do so. I think there are plenty of positives in this one. What about you? What do you think about this win? Are you more glad with the result or the performance? How great was Schneider? What did you think of the usage of seven defensemen tonight? Which one of the forwards impressed you the most? What should the Devils try to learn from this game going into their next one?
Thanks to all those who commented in the Gamethread and followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you and good night.