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Five observations from New Jersey vs Edmonton:
1. The Devils responded
They played 40 solid, respectable, minutes in Calgary on Tuesday night and followed it up with perhaps the worst period I've seen from any team all season. The offense completely stagnated and, defensively, there were way too many glaring mistakes to count. There's a reason the Flames out-scored the Devils by, uh, six and completely embarrassed them in the process.
The big question after that was how the Devils would respond in the latter half of a road back-to-back against a team still (kind of) playing for something. Would they hang their heads and allow the wheels to fall off again, or would they show up and dig their feet into the ground?
Very clearly the latter. The Devils came out with purpose and worked their asses off from start to finish. An early reward (Kenny Agostino) probably helped the cause but, even after conceding twice in short order to fall behind 2-1, they never sagged. The Devils continued to push and play as if a playoff spot was on the line, which didn't go unnoticed on Sportsnet's broadcast. They were very impressed by how hard the Devils worked and, honestly, that's the biggest reason they came out on top.
Now, that's not to say the Oilers didn't work hard. I hate the narrative that almost every loss is due to a lack of effort. That's not the case. The Oilers pushed very hard, especially down the stretch.
Me crediting hard work as the key factor in New Jersey winning is simply based off the fact they don't have much talent in their lineup right now. At all. They can't put forth a mediocre performance and win off a couple game-breaking skill plays because they're not going to get them. They have to work for everything or they'll get stomped, and they did that vs Edmonton.
2. Net-front defense was a strength
Tuesday night the Devils allowed seven goals(!) at 5v5 from the slot and in and the Flames were able to open up a shooting gallery in that area, particularly in the 3rd period. Against the Oilers, it was a much different story. They didn't get a ton of good looks around the net, and Cory Schneider was able to come up with saves when they did. As a result, the Devils gave up *zero* goals in tight at 5v5. I'd consider that a step in the right direction.
3. A marquee duo
In my preview, I wrote about how dominant Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have been together over the last couple of years. It was another duo that stole the show, though. I'm referring to Kevin Rooney and Kenny Agostino, of course. And, no, I'm not joking.
With them on the ice at 5v5, the Devils controlled 59% of the shot attempts and scored a pair of goals. Kenny Agostino was tenacious after the puck and generated some good chances, Kevin Rooney distributed it well (only Drew Stafford had more shot assists), and they just looked very in sync. Rooney was excellent on the PK, too.
No word of a lie, it made me uncomfortable seeing them play so well. We have high expectations for Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier, for example. If they played like that in a game, everyone would still be quite content with the performance. Hats off to K ².
4. Schneider sharp again
Cory Schneider probably wants Edmonton's opening goal back. Other than that, I have nothing but praise for his performance. Aided by plenty of power plays, the Oilers generated 39 shots on goal and 31 scoring chances (15 high-danger). That's a heavy, and difficult, workload. As has so often been the case of late, Schneider handled it admirably. He was composed, confident, and made a few remarkable post-to-post saves we saw so much of prior to last season. Schneider finished the night with a .923 save percentage, putting him at .933 over his last nine appearances.
5. Quick hits
I'm quick to get on Kurtis Gabriel after a bad performance, so it's only fair I give him credit for a good one. He assisted on a goal, posted a +4 shot attempt differential, and more than held his own in a fight against one of the league's toughest players in Milan Lucic.
Baemon Severson continues to get it done on a nightly basis. He led Devils blueliners in 5v5 shot contributions while posting a +10 shot (on goal) differential and +3 goal differential in that game state.
I'm running out of words to describe Blake Coleman's penalty killing. He has to be one of the NHL's best at it. Oh, and he's up to 21 goals now.
Still no production from Michael McLeod but he had a couple scoring chances and I thought his speed was more apparent than it has been. Baby steps, baby steps.
Drew Stafford led all Devils forwards in shot contributions with eight. I think that has to be a first.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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