Postgame Thoughts: Devils 3, Rangers 1 (2/5/13)
An impressive win by the Devils from almost start to finish against a division rival ripe for the picking, especially with the Rangers lacking two key players. There were three key factors to the win tonight, all of which I’ll get into below…
Son of Clark: Somebody’s about to get P.A.I.D. David Clarkson is an absolute beast this season and it’s got me wondering what he would have done in an 82-game season. Would he be so sharp right off the jump or would he have had slumps or bad stretches in between streaks of dominant play? No matter though, because he’s on pace for 37 goals and 64 points in a 48-game season. Seriously. Obviously those numbers won’t keep up, but he’s really taken his game to the next level this season, burying almost every chance he gets in front of the net in addition to being great along the boards and in all the dirty areas that Pete DeBoer loves so much. And he wouldn’t be doing it without his partner in crime, the ageless Patrik Elias, who picked up three more assists this season. The chemistry between the two is undeniable and I have to wonder if Adam Henrique is a “missing piece” of sorts on this line — someone that can finish plays set up by Elias and Clarkson’s hard work behind the net and also create plays for the others with his speed and skill. As long as this line stays together — and I see no reason why it wouldn’t for the foreseeable future — the Devils are going to be a bear to play against.
Record on repeat: I can’t imagine how I would describe watching Marty Brodeur play if I had covered the team for the past decade. He continues to astound despite playing nearly two decades as the Devils’ starting goalie. Tuesday night was vintage Brodeur, making acrobatic saves that had the Rangers scratching their heads one minute, and then being in perfect position on the Rangers’ next four chances. He was just absolutely fantastic and his glove save on Carl Hagelin’s deflection off a Rick Nash pass in the third period might have saved the game. At the time, the Rangers were down 3-1 and putting everything they had on Brodeur. Then, Nash took a breakaway pass in stride and instead of trying to force himself around the defenseman, he slowed and reached a pass around and right to a streaking Hagelin, who deflected it and seemed sure to get the Rangers within one — that is, until Marty stayed just upright enough to flash his glove and snare the puck out of mid-air while being doused in snow from Hagelin’s stop. If that wasn’t the point that sealed the game, it was the Devils’ work on the subsequent power play Hagelin drew from Marek Zidlicky on that rush. Speaking of which…
Extend the streak: That’s now 15 straight penalties the Devils have killed off and it’s no coincidence that it’s happening after the Isles’ power-play extravaganza last Thursday. After that game, every player seemed to make mention of their suddenly sloppy penalty kill and how they all knew they had to fix that. Well, mission accomplished thus far. There’s still a lot of work to be done — like not taking five penalties and one double-minor every night — but DeBoer and his staff have to be happy with how they’ve played a man down in the last three games. The Pens and Isles in particular have incredibly dangerous power-play units and the Rangers ice a ton of talent when they have the man advantage. The PK isn’t as dominant as it was last year, but tonight they did a great job of blocking shots, keeping their sticks active while the Rangers possessed the puck on the outside and taking aggressive chances even while short-handed so the Rangers couldn’t get comfortable. There was a stretch there in the first and second period where the Devils had better scoring chances short handed than the Rangers did on their power plays, which says all you need to know about tonight’s game.
Copy cats: Last season, the Rangers got the East’s best record based largely on their ability and willingness to block shots. This year? Entering play Tuesday night, the Rangers were in the bottom third of the league in that category while the Devils were in the top 10. During the game, MSG showed a stat that Bryce Salvador was leading the Devils with 25 blocked shots, only 10 less than the Rangers have as a team. Knowing John Tortorella, that’ll change eventually, but it’s noteworthy that the Devils, a team with limited offensive weapons, are playing a style that served the offensively-challenged Rangers so well last year. As long as Marty continues to turn back the clock and the Devils get timely scoring from their second and third lines, they could very well compete for the Atlantic Division title late into this season.
They’ll be back: Before the game, I wrote that the Devils would have to take advantage of this game against a Rangers club that still had yet to click. After watching them tonight, the Rangers strike me as a team still trying to put it together after a lot of offseason changes and no real training camp or preseason. But they’re also incredibly talent up front, on D and in net and that will eventually come to fruition. Meaning getting a win tonight, when the Devils were CLEARLY the better team, was so very important. They could have easily let this one slip away late when the Rangers laid it on thick in the final 10 minutes, but they stood tall, made solid plays getting the puck out of the zone and Marty was excellent when he needed to be. Make no mistake, right now, the Devils are the better team. That much is obvious, but the Rangers will figure it out and Rick Nash will start to bury those chances Marty stopped in the first and second period. Something tells me the second meeting between these two rivals will be much more like the third period than the first or second.