It wasn’t a pretty win, but the Devils deserve kudos for that comeback. They were completely out of their element and getting run over the ice in the first but managed to push their way through and get the win. Some thoughts…
True grit: I’m not gonna go too long on this one, because I don’t want to get into super cliche territory, but boy that was an impressive comeback by the Devils. They seemed completely overwhelmed and out of their zone midway through the first period, much like the Flyers did the last time the teams played. The difference between the two teams was evident about midway through the second period when play began to settle down from the high-wire act that was the first 30 minutes. Just as Pete DeBoer preaches, as long as the Devils stay within themselves and play their system, the chances will come and they will have opportunities to win hockey games, even the ones when they’re down 3-1 halfway through the first period and are getting run all over the ice. Of course, they’re lucky the Flyers hit a few posts and Martin Brodeur made a few saves because it could’ve easily been 4-1 or 5-1 and I don’t think the Devils were coming back then. Still, you have to like the way they bounced back and showed they’re not afraid of any deficit.
The straw: I tweeted at some point during the third period that Ilya Kovalchuk is officially “the straw that stirs the drink” for the Devils. He was in the middle of everything tonight on the offensive end. He was directly responsible for the first three goals and he did it a few different ways. On the Travis Zajac goal (finally), he sat back and waited while Alexei Ponikarovsky charged to the net in front of him and Zajac filled the open space behind him. Kovy then dropped a perfect pass right in the center of Zajac’s blade that No. 19 could immediately fire at the net. It looked like the three of them had been playing together for weeks the way they weaved and moved through the offensive zone with ease. The key, though, was Kovy’s ability to play puppet master, moving the defense with his hesitation and perfectly setting up Zajac. He was playmaker again on Poni’s goal after he fielded a beautiful saucer pass from Marty in traffic in the neutral zone, settled it down and found a streaking Ponikarovsky with a nifty little dish off the tip of his own blade that gave the new Devil more than enough time to fire off an excellent shot. However, it was his role in the Devils’ third goal, the one scored by Patrik Elias, that most impressed me. First, he used one hand to jilt the puck past a Flyer in neutral zone and allow Zajac to dump the puck in. Then, he and Zajac did what the Devils do best — Zajac pursued the puck and Kimmo Timmonen while Kovy provided support along the boards. Wanna guess what happened? Timmonen tried to dump the puck under pressure from Zajac, but Kovy was right there to pick him off and without thinking turned and found Elias cruising into the slot off the bench. Elias scored and the game was tied. Kovy is firing on all cylinders right now, literally and physically. His goal scoring prowess draws players to him and allows room for his linemates, who Kovy is all too capable of setting up with picture-perfect passes. He is what makes the Devils’ offense go and I expect big things from the top line now that Poni is in town and Zajac has gotten the monkey off his back.
Five-yard penalty, repeat first period: How many times are we going to have to go through this? The entire reason the Devils needed such a perfect night from Kovy to engineer a comeback was yet another slow start. DeBoer talked the other day about how the bad starts have started to creep back in after he thought they were solved, but I’m not buying they were ever solved. The bad starts are something they figured out for a brief stretch when they were playing their best hockey of the season, but surrounding that stretch have been some awful first periods that sometimes seeped into the second period, as well. The interesting thing tonight was the Devils came out with a ton of energy and were ready to go as opposed to Tuesday night when it took them until the third period to find any sort of emotion or physicality. Instead, the Devils were burned by uncharacteristically lazy defense, bad defensive zone coverage and awful giveaways both in their own zone and in the neutral zone. There should be no higher priority for DeBoer and the leaders in the locker room than figuring out how to come out with both more jump and more discipline — not one or the other.
Grand Larssony: How about that Adam Larsson kid? I can’t say enough good things about the game he played tonight. He was the Devils’ best defenseman on the ice and played a fantastic all-around game. He rarely panicked with the puck on his stick in the defensive end, even when he was getting beat up by a physical Flyers forecheck — and he really got hit hard a few times, particularly from the back. The play everyone will remember is how he fielded the puck off the glass before the David Clarkson goal. What amazed me about that play was not that he grabbed the puck out of mid-air or the fact that he adjusted after the puck lost some air underneath it and changed direction, or even the perfect low shot that he sent right to Clarkson’s stick and was ripe for a deflection. No, what most impressed me was how easy he made it look. He was so calm despite a Flyer charging him at the point and he effortlessly grabbed the puck, sat it down and settled it before firing off that perfect pass/shot. The kid is the real deal.
Notes: Mark Fayne didn’t have the best of games and was eventually demoted back to the third defensive pairing with Anton Volchenkov. I wouldn’t sweat it. The kid has a lot of potential and I doubt Marek Zidlicky will do enough to stick with Bryce Salvador permanently. … Marty got lucky when he rushed Wayne Simmonds when Simmonds had a mini breakaway. He caught Simmonds off-guard, like he did Rick Nash two weeks ago, but unlikely with Nash, Simmons gathered himself and tried to fire a bouncing puck but it went wide. …One of the big problems in the first period was the Devils spent most of the first period reacting to the Flyers’ hectic pace instead of setting their own deliberate pace. I’ll be interested to see if more teams try to get the Devils off their game in the future the same way. … What a debut for Poni, eh? Looked great on the first line, played the body, had instant chemistry with Kovy. He’ll fit in just fine. … Speaking of fitting in, I really like what I see from Bobby Butler. I know the top three lines are pretty much set, but boy I wish he could get more time with the team’s top offensive players. … Elias, finally the bride instead of the bridesemaid. … When DeBoer needs the Devils to settle into their own brand of play, he always starts off with the Gionta-Carter-Bernier line. He did it to start the third tonight and it always seems to get the Devils into a groove, even when that line doesn’t play that great like tonight. It just sends a message. … How many posts were hit tonight? I feel like Doc Emrick would’ve lost his voice by the second period.