For the first time since February 8, the New Jersey Devils took to the ice to play a regular season game in the National Hockey League. They hosted the Columbus Blue Jackets, a divisional opponent ahead of them in the standings. For the first time since the blowout in the Bronx, the Devils managed to score three or more goals in regulation. Only they did it within the first ten minutes of the game. For the first time since January 24, the game before said blowout, the Devils won a game in regulation. They did it by the comfortable looking score of 5-2.
Overall, I don't think there are many fans complaining about what happened. There were way too many positives for there to be much griping. The Devils scored first, converted their first two power plays, got a shorthanded goal to stem a Columbus comeback, and owned the third period from start to the end. The Devils are a strong possession team and they exercised that tonight. They out-attempted them throughout the game. The Devils do not shoot the puck a lot; but they managed to out-shoot the Blue Jackets every period. The final total was 35-19; the last one being an empty net goal. The Devils need wins, they need them in regulation, and they must get them against teams ahead of them in the standings. Check, check, and check.
This isn't to say the Devils played a perfect game. They didn't. They took some calls that could have been avoided. Cory Schneider probably wants the goal he conceded to Artem Anisimov back, as a sharp-angled backhander went off his stick and in. The team did get exposed quite a few times in the second period. Marian Gaborik was a stand out from my view point. Some times, he got stopped before he did any real damage. Such as when Bryce Salvador actually managed to get a clean stop on Marian Gaborik from behind after he got some open space. Yet, amid traffic, Ryane Clowe didn't know where Gaborik was as he batted down a puck from Ryan Johansen and popped in an easy shot to make it 3-2. When Zajac got tagged for hooking late in the period, there was real reason to be concerned that Columbus was going to go all Toronto and tie up the game despite being out-shot.
Thankfully, Jack Johnson made an error, Patrik Elias lofted the puck into space where only Adam Henrique could get it, and Henrique allowed the Devils faithful at the Rock and all around the world to breathe easier heading into the second intermission. This continued throughout a third period where Schneider only had to make three stops. Three crucial stops, mind you, but only three. When a team is down two goals, they needed more than that and the Devils skaters did a great job to deny them.
Basically, it's a job well done up and down the lineup and coaching staff tonight. They scored a bunch of goals, they got them in different situations, they made Sergei Bobrovsky work hard to make sure it wouldn't be even worse, and they got an important result. Will this be the start of something new? Hopefully. But there's no guarantee. Still, this is the sort of game that I think we - the collective Devils fanbase - all needed. Real life proof that this team can play well, get the breaks that lead to goals, defend it fairly well, and get the two points. I wasn't just pleased when I left the Rock. I felt refereshed. This team has plenty of fight left in them. Now they just have to keep finding ways to make it happen in March.
The Opposition Opinion: Jeff Little wrote that the Jackets disappeared in his recap over at The Cannon.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's tonight's video.
Actually, that shorthanded goal by Henrique deserves a separate video. If only for Elias' brilliant pass to spring him for a breakaway.
Special Teams Strong: The Devils went 2-for-3 on the power play, killed all their penalties, and got a shorthanded goal on the final PK. Jaromir Jagr curled in a loose puck just inside the post for his 699th goal. Thanks to Ryan Johansen hooking Henrique in New Jersey's end, the Devils got another PP and another conversion. Henrique tipped an Andy Greene shot. The two conversions were quick and just put Columbus in a deep hole they ultimately never rose from. The third power play they got to start the second was wasted but even that got one shot.
The penalty kill was quite good. The Blue Jackets got a total of two shots on net while the Devils got a total of two from their penalty killers. Henrique's shorthanded goal was definitely a turning point in the game. The Blue Jackets clawed their way back into the game, they get a late power play, and it blew up in their face. It gave the Devils more than just an extra goal to work with; it seemingly crushed the Blue Jackets. They still had about 90 seconds of a man advantage to start the third - a good time as any to still make it a game. They got no shots on net.
No Hats for Adam: Poor Henrique! Patrik Elias saw Henrique open in the middle of the ice for an empty netter. The fans chanted his last name in the hopes of wanting to throw a hat on the ice. Yet, James Wisniewski got in the way and re-directed it in. I'm sure he smashed his stick on the goal frame in frustration of denying Henrique a hat trick.
But it's all good. I'm not ever going to complain about who scored an ENG provided there was an ENG. Henrique had a fantastic game otherwise. The play largely went forward when he was out on the ice. He looked very good with Patrik Elias. He was very good on defense, particularly on the PK. He got five shots on net and scored on two of them. He was great, well deserving of first-star of the night honors.
ENG Hero: OK, there's no such thing as an empty net hero. But good on Elias to get it, even if he got some help from the opposition and didn't intend to score it. The goal made it a three-point night for the legendary Devils forward. Elias made the most of his ice time with plenty of offense, three shots out of five attempts, and making things happen with Henrique. That pass to him for the shorty was wonderful, but just a moment. His performance was very good. The team will need more of that going forward.
#699: I honestly thought #700 was going to come when Dainius Zubrus set him for a one-timer in the second period. Bobrovsky's right arm ensured that he would not become infamous in the history of Jagr. As usual, Jagr was very good. Four shots, a goal, positive possession, and a whole lot of schooling for Jack Johnson among others.
Shorthanded: Damien Brunner only played two shifts tonight and Bryce Salvador did not return after taking a shot to the chest in the third period. According to this post-game post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Brunner suffered a charley horse and Salvador's status is unknown. In some way, this makes tonight's result even more impressive since the Devils did it with eleven forwards and went to five defenders for the end. It helps explain why we saw some differing line combinations with various forms of success. As well as Andy Greene getting over 28 minutes of ice time. That certainly wasn't a problem because Greene was his usual bossy self tonight.
(P.S. We don't cheer for injuries here. I don't care how bad Salvador/Brunner is, it won't be tolerated.)
Young Guys Doing Things: Jon Merrill had a very good game on defense this evening. It wasn't an accident that he saw plenty of time after Salvador went down. It certainly wasn't a mistake when #34 was on the ice when the Blue Jackets pulled their goalie in the hopes of making up two goals quickly. He was very solid tonight.
Eric Gelinas also returned to action playing for New Jersey tonight. He unleashed The Truth, which led to the rebound that Jagr ultimately put home for the team's first power play goal and second of the night. Unfortunately, that was the only time he attempted a shot on net. He wasn't particularly bad on defense in my opinion. Though, he saw more action come against him than providing much offense. Still, he got a point. He was OK.
I liked what I saw from Andrei Loktionov in between Michael Ryder and Clowe. Loktionov was very active when he was out there. He did a lot of hard work to help Clowe get the game's first goal from a keep-in to getting in traffic to moving pucks about. He was definitely making a point of it to shoot, though only one of his five attempts ended up on net. He did get pinned back for some long shifts, notably on his few shifts in the third period. Of course, trying to pick up after Ryder's approach to defense is a challenge. (I wasn't a fan of Ryder tonight.) Still, I think if Loktionov plays like this more often and Henrique-Elias remains together, then we'll see him in this spot more often.
You Figure It Out: Stephen Gionta also had, well, a good game for him. He managed to get out-attempted pretty poorly at 5-8, but the fact that he was only present for 13 events at evens falls in line with the notion that his best asset/worst flaw is not much happens when he's out there. Mitigating that low Corsi% is the fact that he wasn't out-shot; they were 5-5 when out there. And he took four of those five shots. Take it plus good PK work and go with it, man.
Muted Threats: The Devils not only got good bounces in their favor, but some of Columbus' top players just had some awful games. Johansen was terrible. Nathan Horton was a non-factor. Boone Jenner was invisible. No one on their blueline got specifically wrecked over and over; they all shared the damage. Bobrovsky was good but he can do only so much. He probably wished he had the Jagr goal (he got sprawled out) and Henrique's second back, though. Up front, Columbus fans can say that Marian Gaborik played well in his first game back from injury, and they got good play from Brandon Dubinsky, Matt Calvert, and Cam Atkinson. That trio combined for nine of Columbus' 19 shots. In a way, that says it all about Columbus' performance. When only a handful of players are really trying make something happen and it doesn't, then the result isn't going to be pretty. Especially when the rest aren't able to slow down the Devils in the neutral zone or just concede pucks to the other team to give them more opportunities to shoot.
What Is Clamping Down?: Tonight's third period. Three shots on net, only a handful of long shifts in their end of the rink, and plenty of swarming to create more chances to score. It's so beautiful to watch when the Devils are that in control.
One Last Quibble: Zubrus, when you get an open look at an empty net from the blue line, then just take the shot. Ensure the win whenever possible.
Your Take: I think it went very well for the Devils tonight. Can they continue it? We shall see on Saturday afternoon. In the meantime, tell me what you thought about this game. Who do you think was the best Devil? Who do you think had a good game that may have gone unnoticed? Who could have done better tonight? How did you react when Henrique made that shorthanded breakaway count in the second period? Do you feel better about the team's chances after tonight? Was this game just what you needed as a fan? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed the sparse tweets of @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.