At the end of the night, all the fans really want is to have their favorite team give them something to smile about. Whether the New Jersey Devils truly have a shot - albeit a really long one - at the postseason or not, those who go to the Rock want to leave the Rock feeling like they saw something good. After a night where the offense was like squeezing blood from a stone, the Devils rebounded. While they didn't get many shots on net, they scored multiple goals, and had enough to win 3-2. It helped that they played the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Early on, the Devils notably attempted more long passes through the neutral zone than I can remember. It wasn't a change in system or design, but I can believe it was a tactical point advised to the Devils' skaters. The Maple Leafs were loose in the neutral zone early and still got caught out wide on changes and failed zone entries. So it wasn't your eyes playing a trick on you that you saw a lot of "home run" type passes. Likewise, several of them worked. Two of them set up the first two goals of the game and it easily could have been more. While I would have liked the Devils to have really put the Maple Leafs to the sword, going up 3-0 on their first ten shots understandably decreases the need. It was about then that Toronto tightened up their middle and the Devils' passes weren't always sneaking through. Still, plenty of one-on-ones with the goalie and open space for the puck carrier early and seemingly often.
It also helped that for the first time in seemingly a while, the Toronto goaltender did not have to try and steal the game. James Reimer looked awful on all three goals allowed. The third one, a blast off a loose puck by Jon Merrill, immediately sent him packing for Drew McIntyre. I understand Jonathan Bernier was unavailable and Reimer entirely deserved the hook. It doesn't make it any less of a bad sign that the coach had no hesitation to go right to the 30-year old goalie with exactly four NHL appearances in his career and none since 2011-12. McIntyre was more Leafs-like and stopped everything. While he didn't face a deluge of shots, he did come up fortunate on a number of shots: such as Ryane Clowe putting up a point-blank one-timer in the second period or a deflection McIntyre stopped with the shaft of his stick. Regardless, he did his job.
The score reflects a close game but it was only dramatic at the end. Toronto's first goal came on a second period power play. Morgan Reilly hit Tyler Bozak skating towards the slot with an absolutely perfect diagonal pass that Bozak re-directed past Cory Schneider. It was just about a perfect play. As the game went for the visitors, they needed a near-perfect to perfect play to get something up. Cory Schneider came up big. But with the net empty, Marek zidlicky missed on a puck up the boards which gave a one-on-one to Phil Kessel. Kessel caught Schneider on his heels (so to speak), put the puck in, and launched into the goal frame. The Leafs brought their best pressure in a resulting 6-on-5 and I, among many, were hoping one of those long range blasts didn't deflect in for a heartbreaking, Leafs-like result. The Devils escaped but based on how the game went overall, I'd say they deserved the win.
In the larger picture, this result may not ultimately matter to the Devils. It could very well matter to a woeful Toronto team that has now lost five in a row and could be in danger of falling out if they don't get their acts together soon. Tonight, all that matters is that the Devils played a good game, got a good result, and the fans have every reason to smile about it. I know I am.
The Opposition Opinion: Please visit Pension Plan Puppets for all your Toronto and potato-comparisons-to-GM needs.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, you can see video evidence of the Devils scoring three goals to chase James Reimer from the game:
Call Your Agent, Call Your Wife, and Call Your Mom: These three individuals can certainly cheer up Reimer after the terrible game he had tonight. They may be the only ones right now, short of some kind of super-fan who didn't see this game. All three goals he allowed were goals that most goalies would stop. Yes, he got bad situations but let's discuss it.
A two-on-one led by Adam Henrique and Damien Brunner thanks to a cutting pass by Marek Zidlicky is not favorable for a goalie. Conceding a shot by Brunner from the left circle - not a one-timer - because he was too slow to get over is on Reimer.
Early in the second, Jon Merrill found Patrik Elias as if the Devils all-time leading scorer parted the seas in a Moses-esque manuever. That's bad for any goalie. But Reimer bit on Elias' fake slapshot so hard, he was totally turned and out of the crease. After one simple cut back move for Elias and he finished the play to make it 2-0. A bad situation made worse by the goalie not holding position.
Shortly after that, Peter Harrold - yes, that Peter Harrold - magically and metaphorically broke Jofferey Lupul's ankles and moved the puck towards the left circle. He attempted to feed Ryane Clowe but the puck went off his stick and wobbled into space. Merrill stepped up and unloaded a slapshot right through Reimer. It was a good shot and a bit fortunate that the puck didn't sail anywhere. Just ask Travis Zajac for his apparent "Rolstoning" a one-on-one in the third about how a non-flat puck can do that. Yes, Reimer may not have seen all of the shot, but it went through his left arm and body. He got a piece of it. And if he got a piece of it, then he could have had all of it. That was the end of Reimer's night and ultimately cost the team.
On each of those three goals against, one can identify the big issues of Toronto's team from a defensive standpoint. Namely, they don't have much of one. This has been known all season, their Fenwick% is condemning evidence. But they haven't been totally steamrolled in each game because they've received great goaltending and found ways to score goals somehow. Tonight, Reimer didn't certainly provide the former and the skaters didn't provide enough of the latter due in part of Schneider, the Devils' defense (allowing 23 shots only is good), and some fortune (so many missed passes by Toronto).
Possession Advantage? At 5-on-5, Sure. Overall? Uh...: Atypical of recent Devils-Leafs games, the Devils were actually out-attempted overall by Toronto, 40-42. That's not at all bad considering the Devils led the game by two goals for the majority of it. In 5-on-5 play, the Devils were ahead 35-28. That's quite good, especially considering the Devils led the game by two goals for the majority of it. The Leafs didn't really pour it on until the end, when they pretty much had to do so. For the most part, New Jersey was in control of the game.
PK Stars: The Devils got into some penalty trouble that threatened their big lead. Stephen Gionta's hook was poor one to take and one of the few bad things that happened when he was on the ice tonight. That was the power play that led to Bozak's unstoppable deflection. All things considered, if that's the only play that made the PK pay, then the PK did quite well. Overall, out of four situations, the Leafs got only four shots on net. Keep in mind, the Leafs had a long 5-on-3 situation with the Devils' best defensemen in the box and got only one shot on net. Good work overall by the PK.
That said, the penalties weren't good ones to take. Zidlicky held up Troy Bodie from advancing in the neutral zone in front of the ref. Gionta's hook really didn't do anything; if you're going to foul, then foul to win. I can justify Andy Greene tripping up Nazem Kadri because if he didn't, Kadri was just about to get past Greene and Mark Fayne cleanly and on through to Schneider. Fayne firing a puck over the glass during the PK for Greene's penalty was just bad. Still, the penalty kill plus Schneider made up for those mistakes. Devils just need to be careful in the future.
Your Best Pairing Tonight Was Actually These Two: Peter Harrold stepped in for an injured Anton Volchenkov and was paired with Merrill. This pairing did very well. They were on the ice for only three shots against out of five attempts, while present for at least 12 out of 18 attempts, according to Extra Skater. The pairing contributed to two goals, one directly as Merrill scored it. Harrold got some power play time and wasn't awful from the back. Merrill got some penalty killing time, including part of that 3-on-5 situation and handled himself very well. I wouldn't necessarily start demanding Harrold-Merrill be a pairing the rest of the way. I would say that fans need to recognize that both of them were very good tonight.
Speaking of Returns: I'll have more on Damien Brunner later today. Briefly, he did something of value, which is something he wasn't doing much of prior to his recent benching.
#22 At Wing: Jacob Josefson and Steve Bernier were out, Brunner and Eric Gelinas were in. Eric Gelinas was used sparingly but he did line up at wing tonight on a fourth line. He was, well, there really. He didn't make any huge errors but not a lot of offense happened when he was up front. Only two shooting attempts happened in 5-on-5 and only one of them was a shot. Gelinas was played into the zone by (I think) Ryan Carter and had a clear lane to the net. Gelinas decided to wind up for The Truth from about fifty feet out. Mcintyre left a big rebound that Carter nearly put back but Phil Kessel decided to play a little defense to deny the potential fourth goal for the Devils. Other than that, Gelinas provided little in 5-on-5 play. Considering the Devils' power play only got two shots tonight and he was on the ice (and didn't contribute) to one (Clowe's point-blank one-timer), it wasn't much of a night for the rookie. I don't think he'll actually stay at wing; it's not the end of the world if he gets another game there but nothing I saw made me think he could pull a Brent Burns and be an effective winger. We'll see. He didn't hurt the team so that's a positive for him at least. Plus, he just barely played more than Michael Ryder.
Sympathy: Who should get more? Clowe for having a perfect set-up from Tuomo Ruutu go off the heel of his stick in the third period? Jaromir Jagr dropping six out of nine attempts on net and setting up Travis Zajac for shots that didn't go in or on target? Schneider for facing some unnecessary pressure, particularly at the end? Maybe none?
Down: David Clarkson did indeed play tonight. He got some early boos but they stopped because he was largely ineffective tonight. He tried to start something with Dainius Zubrus after Brunner's goal, which didn't go anywhere. He fell down on his own a bunch of times. He put up a wraparound attempt. He was constantly picked on by the Devils in 5-on-5 play as Toronto got out-attempted 2-9 when he was out there. He played ten minutes. Enjoy him, Maple Leafs fans. He's got many more years of this left in him.
These Guys Also Played Tonight: Jay McClement, Nikolai Kulemin, and Dave Bolland were all out there. They were too busy chasing play to be a part of anything notable. Lupul was bad but we all knew he was in the game thanks to Harrold making him look silly. Kadri got tripped by Greene, which was the most favorable thing he did for his team tonight. Needless to say, Kessel, James van Reimsdyk, Bozak, and Dion Phaneuf had to put the team's offensive and possession efforts largely on their backs tonight.
One Last Thought: You want a fourth liner to complain about? Ask a Toronto fan about playing Colton Orr. Orr is basically their Barch, their Janssen, their Boulton. He played five shifts, took the game's first penalty, and did it while on offense. The Leafs were on a long stretch without a shot getting through to Schneider or missing the net and Orr helped extend that offense-less run until Toronto got a power play.
Your Take: The Devils won a game. How do you feel about it? Think this keeps their playoff hopes a little less faint? Are you past looking at the post season and just happy about the win? How do you think they played overall? Who do you think was the best Devil tonight? Please leave your answers and thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to those who participated in the Gamethread and continue to follow @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.