Postgame Thoughts: Devils 3, Jets 2, SO (3/10/13)

Corey Griffin

Links: Pregame thread | Twitter | NHL.com recap

Wins don’t get much bigger than that. The Devils desperately needed a “W” before tonight’s game and it became even more crucial considering the sterling effort they got from Johan Hedberg. As bad as last night was, tonight was a strong, strong effort across the board. Some thoughts…

Moose call: Honestly, that game shouldn’t have even gone to overtime. While the Evander Kane goal (Holy shit, what a shot) was unavoidable and basically unstoppable, the Mark Stuart score only happened because Andy Greene had brain fart and tried to play a bouncing puck about a foot in front of Hedberg. If you look on the replay, Hedberg was in perfect position to stop Stuart’s shot and likely would have. Now, does that mean the Jets wouldn’t have scored another time and forced OT regardless? No, but I use it to point out that Hedberg was about as iron-clad as goalies get, especially backup goalies. Moose had probably his second-best game since taking over the full-time gig and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Devils needed this game in every sense of the word and their goalie delivered. Hedberg doesn’t need to play this well every night, but the Devils do need his play to be close to what they’ve gotten in two of the last three games. The most impressive thing I saw from Moose tonight was how he stayed calm and didn’t get overwhelmed or downtrodden after the Stuart goal. We’ve seen him in past games (Saturday night in particular) give up goals in bunches after the defense lets him down or a bad bounce leads to a goal. Tonight, however, he bounced right back and got better as the game went on. He was the absolute reason the game didn’t end before OT and he was the reason they won in a shootout. This was very much a goaltender duel and in the end, Hedberg made a couple more saves when it was necessary. Impressive, indeed. Necessary — absolutely. Now, let’s see if he can do it two games in a row.

Movin’ on up: If Hedberg was the best part about tonight’s game, the aggressive defense was easily No. 2. Whether it was Marek Zidlicky attacking the net and taking the puck deep or Anton Volchenkov trying to finish an odd-man rush, the Devils’ defensemen were constantly jumping up and getting involved in the offensive zone. It was truly a five-man attack for the Devils tonight, which is huge for a team that has to rely on secondary scoring and has to manufacture offense. This defensive corps is never going to be confused with an “offensive-minded unit,” but they can be a part of the secondary and tertiary scoring. As we saw tonight, when Zidlicky or Larsson or Volchenkov get up in the play, it helps the Devils get the puck deep. Once they have the puck deep, the Devils’ forwards take over and begin to grind out possessions and get pucks on net. It’s like a machine in the sense that one cog starts turning and that cog’s momentum turns the next cog, which turns the next cog and so on and so forth until you get periods like the first 20 minutes tonight. Again, I’m not saying this is something we should expect every night, but againt a team like the Jets, it’s a useful tool that can help the Devils gain an advantage.

Deep impact: When was the last time you saw the Devils forecheck like that? A month ago? I don’t know what Pete DeBoer and company said to the Devils’ forwards before the game tonight, but it was almost like watching a different team out there. From the very jump they were generating chance after chance after chance by just throwing the puck in deep and out-working the Jets behind the net and along the walls. It was an impressive and dedicated display, spear-headed by the Devils’ new third line of Ryan Carter, Travis Zajac and Steve Bernier. Easily the best line of the night, that trio scored the Devils’ first goal and also combined for eight shots on goal (although it felt like they had more). Even more impressive was the fact that Zajac was around the puck in an active sense more than I’ve seen him since the first week of the season. Although I still think he’s pressing a bit, he had several legitimate scoring chances and was all over the offensive zone for much of the game. If Bernier and Carter, who has been the Devils’ best offensive player since returning from a concussion, can get Zajac going, the Devils could rip off a few wins in a row here.

Two of three: If the Devils lost tonight, Thursday’s win would’ve been lumped into a lengthy losing streak. Instead, the Devils can now say they’ve won two of their last three and were tripped up in a game that got away from them during a sleepy second period Saturday night. What was most refreshing to me was to see the Devils play with urgency for basically the entire game, which is something I haven’t seen all season before tonight. The Devils knew they needed to win this game and they came out and ground out a strong all-round effort despite not getting any offense from their top weapons. And they did it after being completely run out of the building the night before in Carolina. And in their fifth game in the last seven days. And against a team that’s completely had their number this season. That, to me, is the sign of an excellent coaching staff. DeBoer was able to pick the team up despite a depressing loss last night and get them to play with energy and urgency for 65 minutes. That’s impressive and representative of one of the few advantages the Devils do have over other NHL teams. DeBoer is one of the best coaches in the league and the Devils are incredibly lucky to have him. Not many coaches could’ve gotten their team to do a complete 180 in less than 24 hours like he did tonight.

Notes: No matter how much crap we give Volchenkov about his slow feet or occasional ineptitude in his own end, that man is one tough S.O.B. He’s a shot-blocking machine and no matter how many pucks hit him, he’s usually right back out for his next shift. Tonight, he took a slap shot in the back (where there’s no padding) and then another off the foot, which necessitated X-rays that were thankfully negative. That’s one of the big reasons DeBoer prefers to have him in the lineup. … Look at how helpful scoring that first goal can be. While the Devils have had strong first periods in the past week, they’ve been undone by a bad goal or a breakdown within those 20 minutes. Tonight, they got the first goal, which created a wave of momentum, which led to the second goal, and by the time the Jets got their goal off a bad bounce, the Devils were still ahead and continued to press forward. … Speaking of that first goal, I know I said it above, but you gotta leave that puck alone Andy. Jeez. … I hope Dustin Byfuglien never leaves Winnipeg, if only so we can forever call him “The Jumbo Jet.” … Speaking of Byfuglien, what a terrible angle he took on that Stephen Gionta goal. He showed no respect for the little man’s speed and skating ability. Respect the little man! … Zajac may not be scoring, but he wins faceoffs like it’s his job. Oh, wait… … Chico Resch made a great point at the start of the second period. The Devils set the pace tonight and by setting the pace of the game, they didn’t allow the Jets to get their game going until late in the period. By then, the Devils had clearly established the momentum in their favor and allowed Hedberg to settle in. … Ondrej Pavelec played really well tonight, but was let down by a defensive corps that couldn’t handle the Devils’ forecheck. The stats say he only faced 27 shots, but there was a lot more pressure than that from New Jersey. … That pressure was one of the more impressive parts of tonight’s game. It seemed like every time the Devils got within three feet of Pavelec they were firing the puck on net. That’s a great way to manufacture goals. … Evander Kane, on the other hand, doesn’t need to manufacture anything. His goal — WOW. What an unbelievable talent he is. … Sick move by Elias on the SO winner. Not many goalies stop that one.