Postgame thoughts: Hurricanes 4, Devils 2 (2/12/13)
That’s a frustrating way for the win streak to come to an end, but not all that surprising in hindsight. The Devils have no-showed the first period a few games in a row now and it was only a matter of time before they got burnt for it. Some thoughts…
Swing period: While the slow first period wasn’t ideal, it’s something the Devils have survived the past few games. The difference tonight was the second period. Each of the last few games, the Devils have come out on fire to start the second stanza, but tonight was the complete opposite. The Devils were manhandled from the drop of the puck in the second and if not for Marty Brodeur, they would have been down much worse than 2-1. As I wrote on Twitter, the Canes’ 20-14 shots advantage after two periods was deceptive in that it was not that close. It’s one thing to start slow, but to get a break and a chance to regroup and come out worse off is unacceptable. In today’s NHL, it’s hard enough to survive one bad period, let alone two. There were multiple culprits, starting with the fact that the Canes beat the Devils at their own game. They aggressively pushed the play up ice, forced a lot of turnovers and forechecked like mad. Carolina was all over Jersey’s zone for much of the first two periods. There also was a defined lack of energy from the Devils, which Pete DeBoer tried to counteract by switching up the forward lines at the end of the first period and for long stretches in the second. You got the sense that DeBoer knew he needed to find a way to spark his team early on, but unfortunately for the Devils, DeBoer didn’t find that spark until sometime during the second intermission.
They can’t all be winners: David Clarkson and Andy Greene, both of whom were big parts of the Devils’ five-game win streak each had off nights. It seemed like they each had multiple “brain farts” during the course of the game. That’s not to say they were dreadful. Clarkson did a fantastic job screening Cam Ward on Ilya Kovalchuk’s power play goal and also was robbed by Ward in the opening minute of the third period. Greene made a couple plays in his defensive zone and nearly helped facilitate a goal with his passing during one particular wild stretch in the third. However, both players committed lazy penalties late in the third period with the Devils down a goal and were both slightly off in their respective games. Greene was out of position a couple times in the defensive zone and had to reach for plays, while Clarkson, who is the engine that drives the Devils’ forecheck, had difficult getting into the zone and maintaining possession for much of the first two periods. This loss isn’t just on Greene and Clarkson, but it does go to show that the Devils are not deep enough to have their top players no-show for two periods or a full game.
Cam do: Pardon the awful pun, if you will, but as much as Greene, Clarkson and the Devils’ overall lack of energy doomed New Jersey — Cam Ward’s excellent play was on part with all of those things. Think about the two goals he got beat on tonight. First, Kovy’s rocket shot from the point that soared over his shoulder but dipped under the crossbar and was shot so hard that it rocketed out of the net quicker than it went in. How many goalies are stopping that shot? Two or three? Maybe? Probably not any when Kovy’s shot is that accurate. Then, on the second goal, his defenseman got pick-pocketed and left Ryan Carter all alone dead center in front of an off-guard Ward with large sections of the net to shoot at. Yeah, he was pretty good tonight, especially considering this was his fifth straight start, all on the road, and he started and played 60 minutes last night out on the Island. The two saves he made tonight that stood out to me were the point-blank robbery of Clarkson to start the third and the low glove save of a Kovy point shot later that period. They both showed different aspects of his game and also demonstrated his ability to make saves that only a handful of goalies can make. As much as Martin Brodeur kept the Devils in the game in the first two periods, Cam Ward kept the Devils out of it in the third.
Yeoman’s work: It’s not all bad news tonight for the Devils. If there’s one bright spot (non-Brodeur division), then it has to be the work of the third line tonight. Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta were the only line that consistently had their legs going from the start of the period. You can see why DeBoer loves to lead games with these guys. They are always working, but they’re not your typical grind line. There’s legitimate offensive talent in each of these guys, particularly Bernier and Carter, but this is a working man’s line and the players know it. It takes a real knack to be good at grinding, especially when you know that’s all your team wants out of you. Any offense from this line is usually treated as a bonus, but it usually comes as a result of a hard forecheck, good coverage in the defensive zone and forwards who seem to have a nose for when to take a chance on a puck. Carter’s goal tonight was a perfect example of everything this line does well. Steve Bernier’s pressure on the right side forced the Canes to keep the puck in and made Faulk try to skate the puck in front of the net. Little did he know, Carter was right there to do a quick stick lift, grab the puck and have all day it seemed to shoot out Ward. The goal was a direct result of Carter and Bernier working together to press the Canes into making a mistake with the puck in their own end. And all of that doesn’t even mention the “hooking” penalty Stephen Gionta drew on Eric Staal and the subsequent troll-so-hard push by Gionta at center ice.
Penalty problem: In today’s game preview, I was wary of how big a role special teams would play during this game and they certainly did. Although each side only scored once on the power play (1-of-5 for CAR; 1-of-4 for NJ), the Devils took untimely penalties and too often failed to get sustained pressure on their power plays. The penalties by Clarkson and Greene took four minutes of even-strength play off the final 7:17 of game clock while the Devils were down a goal. Both penalties were lazy penalties that could have and should have been avoided. In that 7:17, the Devils got only one real scoring a chance — a mad 30-second rush while they were still down a man in the final minute of the period. That’s not enough time for a Devils team that, in essence, only has one true goal scorer in its lineup. Yes, Kovy kills penalties and he made some strong plays on the PK (like when he dominated the puck for 40 seconds and basically did a loop around the Canes’ zone), but you’ve got to give him and guys like Elias, Clarkson and Henrique chances to play the puck at even strength for more than three minutes and change at the end of the game. Multiple penalties are something the Devils have struggled with throughout this early part of the season but they’ve been able to escape real trouble for the most part. Tonight, like the slow start did, the penalties came back to haunt them.
Notes: Despite all of that, the Devils were about four inches (combined) from scoring three different goals tonight. Adam Henrique just missed getting the tip of his stick on the puck during an early rush on Ward and both Kovy and Butler came within a split hair of putting the puck in the net during that late rush in the final minute. Butler looked stunned he couldn’t get to that cross-ice pass that would have given him an open net … Speaking of open nets, there wasn’t much much Greene could’ve done on the Jokinen goal. He blocked as much of the net as he could, but the Canes’ excellent, rapid-fire puck movement sequence put Jokinen in position to shoot at half of a wide-open net. Marty even admitted after the game that he never saw the puck go to Jokinen, which explains why he left so much of the net available. … Adam Larsson is the real F’n deal. He’s playing extremely well in his own zone and just wait until he develops the confidence to deploy his offensive game. … Maybe Marty should try out for the Mets after the season is over. Did you see that swatting save with his stick during the first period? … Boy, that first period felt awful similar to Sunday in Pittsburgh didn’t it? Almost like carbon copies. The Devils capitalized on one of their few scoring chances, but were nearly drowned by the opponent’s pressure in the Devils’ end. … Can’t say it enough: That’s an impressive win for a Carolina team at the end of a six-game road trip on the second half of back-to-back games. … The third period was aggressive, in-your-face, Devils hockey. The forecheck was working right off the bat and they put all sorts of pressure on Ward. Too bad it took then 40 minutes to find that energy. … The bounces did not go the Devils’ way tonight. At least two of the Canes’ goals, including the game-winner, were deflected and clearly changed direction on Marty. But as DeBoer loves to say, in this game, you make your own bounces.