Everyone knows and admits that the Devils are a work in progress. A young team, with many changes in personnel this season (on the ice and off), the skaters are still getting to know each other. Coordinating play at the start of the season has been a challenge, which resulted in an 0-3-0 start and the team seeking its first win last night. Although a win was not in the cards, a beautiful Devils’ power play goal in the third period threw the game into OT, and when that was scoreless, a SO loss got the team its first point.
That the Devils lost in a shootout by a score of 2-1 was disappointing, but the power play goal in the third period and the stellar netminding throughout that should give encouragement to those within the organization and to fans.
The game was an up and down affair for the Devils. San Jose’s strategy was to keep New Jersey to the perimeter and to close off every passing lane. For most of the game, the Sharks strategy was very successful, as New Jersey struggled to move the puck up the ice and then to set up plays when they got to the offensive zone.
The Sharks jumped out to an early 1-0 lead and did not allow a tying goal until several unforced errors in the third period resulted in penalties that came home to roost. It was Patrick Marleau who put San Jose ahead 1-0 at 2:01 of the first period. Although it was not a good beginning for new father Devils’ netminder Cory Schneider, the goal was the result of a defensive zone New Jersey turnover, and Schneider could do nothing about the shot fired by Marleau from the slot to the back of the net.
In fact, Schneider was the reason that the Devils had any chance to win this game–he stopped one scoring chance after another to stonewall the Sharks from Marleau’s goal in the first period through the rest of regulation (including a Marleau penalty shot at 13:42 of the second period). If the Sharks had continued to play good responsible hockey, the game might have ended there.
But as the Devils started to congeal and put pressure on San Jose’s D, that resulted in two delay of game penalties early in the third period and one bench minor for too many men on the ice late in the game. The delay of game and a holding the stick penalty gave the Devils two lengthy five-on-three power plays early on. Although San Jose killed those off, New Jersey’s five on four power play for the bench minor clicked at 16:22–defenseman Damon Severson shot the puck from the right point and Adam Henrique tipped it in.
The Henrique goal sent the game to a five minute three-on-three overtime period, which included another San Jose penalty but not a goal. The game then went to a shootout, with New Jersey missing on all three of its attempts and the Sharks’ Brent Burns scoring on one.
In thinking about the game, and as the Devils try to put the new pieces together, several things stood out last night. First, was the fact that the team’s faceoff win percentage was abysmal. New Jersey only won 22 out of 59 faceoffs all night. The 37 % win number has to rise significantly to allow for higher puck possession time, which almost always turns into higher goal totals.
Along with puck possession issues, to win, goal scorers have to finish. Veteran winger and Devils’ top goal scorer Mike Cammalleri not only completely missed the net on the Devils’ last shootout attempt, but Cammalleri also missed scoring on three nearly open net attempts during regulation last night. Hopefully, that is just an anomaly, but if not, the Devils will have to reconfigure their offense.
Finally, the defense, which on paper looks good, does not look as good on the ice. Mistake after mistake was made that Schneider had to compensate for last night. The pairing of John Moore and Jon Merrill was particularly ineffective. And Damon Severson, who has a very bright future with the team, may not be totally NHL ready yet. It is a challenge for the coaching staff, but just one of many as the team tries to become more competitive as the season continues.