Postgame Thoughts: Bruins 2, Devils 1, SO (1/29/13)
Moose taketh and Moose giveth away: First, let’s get something out of the way: Johan Hedberg was fantastic for 98 percent of tonight’s game. He was the only reason they were still in it after another slow start (getting tired of writing that) and he helped the Devils keep it close in the third period when the Bruins began to press — particularly on the 2-on-1 power-play rush. Hedberg also made some fantastic saves in the shootout and that poke check play was so vintage Moose and perfectly timed. All that said, he probably should’ve stopped the Bruins’ lone goal, despite the slight deflection off Henrik Tallinder’s stick. He definitely shouldn’t have allowed that shootout winner either. It looked like there was about five feet of space in his five hole on the shot. In the end, he had a great game with two mistakes, but those mistakes are what cost the Devils the win.
Ya too close, man!: Thought tonight was too close for comfort? Yeah, get used to that feeling. As long as Lou Lamoriello insists on not adding a top-six forward, the Devils will play in a lot of one-goal games this season. In fact, the only game so far determined by more than one goal was the Devils’ 3-0 win over the Flyers one week ago. In order to get by with this kind of play, the Devils need to shore up the poor starts, limit the giveaways while doing a better job picking up trailers (which was a big problem tonight) and get very good to excellent goaltending on a nightly basis. The other thing they have to do is practice their shootouts, which were the Devils’ bread and butter last season. However, this year, with a lack of impact skill players, the Devils’ top shootout guys will have to be consistently effective. I mean, when Marek Zidlicky is your No. 6 shootout guy, you’ve got some problems.
Special sauce: Pete DeBoer is right — the power play is improving on a nightly basis. They had consistent possession of the puck on several man advantages tonight, particularly in the second period. I’d still like to see them shoot the puck more, but it seems the Devils are slowly blending the system they’re used to from last year and the one they’re trying to implement this season. The fact that it’s coming along after only a week bodes well, especially considering the lack of off days. I’d expect the end product — at least for this season — to look like a mish mash of the two systems rather than a straight transition. In a short season it’ll be easier to get everyone on board in a short period of time by blending the two schemes. And while there’s no real depth on the Devils’ second PP unit, the top squad with Kovy, Zajac and Clarkson can do a lot of damage once the players feel comfortable.
The last dance?: If that was Stefan Matteau’s final game with the Devils this season, he picked a good way to go out. Although he only played about nine minutes, I thought he played very well overall. He made a good play in the first period where he fed a perfect pass to a streaking Zajac in the slot but Zajac had his stick lifted at the last second. He also did a very good job of getting back on a play later in the first to prevent a 2-on-1 and a likely scoring chance. I can see the reasoning for Matteau sticking on this team. They’re desperate for solid forwards and he fits the bill well enough to play 10 minutes and possibly up to 14 minutes a night assuming he develops during the season. That said, he’s unlikely to make much of an impact offensively and there are times he looks overwhelmed by the speed of the game. Is it worth burning one of year of his ELC just to fill out the bottom half of your forwards? I’m not sure that’s something Lou will buy into. Also, how much is 10 minutes a night with no special teams play going to help him fully develop? If you send him back to juniors, he’ll get major ice time and have the experience of an NHL training camp and five pro games to help him through training camp next year. I think in the end he gets sent back to juniors and the Devils fill his spot, for now, with a returning Adam Henrique or maybe Bobby Butler for a night if Henrique’s not ready in time for Thursday. Also, I’d like to point out I made it through this entire point without quoting Donna Summer. Boo-ya.
Looking ahead: Did you see the Islanders whoop up on the Penguins tonight? Probably not, but if you catch the highlights alone, it’s obvious this isn’t the same Isles team the Devils beat on opening night. They are an incredibly tough team to play against and John Tavares is a flat-out beast already. Travis Zajac completely eliminated him in the teams’ first meeting, but I’d expect he’ll make a little more noise Thursday night. One thing’s for sure, these are not the push-over Islanders of years past. This is a young, talented, tough, gritty team that plays you hard for 60 minutes and suddenly has reliable goaltending in Evgeni Nabokov. Thursday should be a very good matchup.