It was a close one (a close one) but we’ll take it! The New Jersey Devils (25-23-10) steal a crucial two points from the New York Islanders (26-21-10) in their first meeting this season. The two teams will meet again tomorrow in this back-to-back, home-and-home series. Tonight’s game had a playoff atmosphere feel as rivalry games usually do and it was energetic. Cory Schneider made 40 saves on 42 shots faced, including a penalty shot by John Tavares (I KNOW), posting a .952 save percentage. He had an excellent night all around and there were a few close calls (does Nick Leddy ringing a puck off the post with a wide open net during the Islanders’ power play at the end of the game sound familiar?) but he was able to keep the Devils in it all night long.
But what’s important is that Schneider had help in front of him, offensively and defensively. Devante Smith-Pelly, making his return to the Devils lineup tonight, got the scoring started with his third of the season at 7:10 in the first period and went five-hole on Thomas Greiss. Travis Zajac extended the lead to 2-0 on a slick pass from Adam Henrique at 8:49 in the second and it was a shorthanded goal. The Devils now have six SHGs on the season. Pavel Zacha scored the Devils third goal (a power play goal!) and the game-winning goal.
Special teams played a huge role tonight. The Devils scored a power play goal and a shorthanded goal, and they were able to kill all three Islanders power plays. Zacha now has eight goals on the season, five of them were on the man advantage. Zajac and Smith-Pelly led the team in shots on goal with three each. Zajac, especially, had a great game tonight (a goal and an assist, won 61.1% of faceoffs). Joseph Blandisi and Taylor Hall both had good scoring chances tonight and the goals will come eventually.
Schneider is now 9-5-3 in his last 18 games with a 2.17 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. He’s played tremendously and is giving the Devils a chance to win night in and night out. There were 18 blocked shots tonight, including a huge one from Kyle Palmieri towards the end of the game.
Another positive: the Devils were able to keep Tavares off of the scoresheet tonight. They started off very well and played about as well as they could have during the first period and then the second but the game didn’t stay pretty. The Devils did challenge for goaltender interference on the first New York goal but the ruling on the ice stood. The Islanders started to push back during the third and it showed; New Jersey gave up two goals and went on the penalty kill at the end of the game. The Devils were outshot 42-21 which won’t hold up tomorrow in Brooklyn.
We now look forward to tomorrow’s game. The playoff standings remain as tight as ever. Tomorrow’s game is going to be an important one. The Devils are two points behind New York in the standings, who are only one behind Toronto for the final wildcard spot in the East. If the Devils can build on tonight’s win and fix their mistakes, tomorrow night could be another step forward. Regardless, we’re in for another fun one.
The Devils will take on the Islanders for the second time in two days when they meet in Brooklyn tomorrow night; puck drops at 6PM.