The New York Rangers looked like they had something to play for on Saturday afternoon.
The Devils did not.
New Jersey ended its disappointing campaign with a flat, uninspired effort in a 4-0 loss to New York at Madison Square Garden.
Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan each recorded a goal and an assist, Rick Nash scored twice, and Brad Richards had two assists as New York finished its regular season 26-18-4.
The Rangers locked up at least the No. 7 seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs and can finish sixth if the Ottawa Senators lose their remaining two games– or if Ottawa finishes 1-1.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 20 shots he faced.
Johan Hedberg stopped 17 shots. The Devils finished their lockout-shortened 48-game campaign with 48 points– a perfectly-mediocre 19-19-10.
While the whole team looked disinterested, the Devils defense looked downright egregious.
Peter Harrold and Andy Greene were the Devils’ only two Even ‘D’ and both took penalties.
Adam Larsson and Marek Zidlicky were both minus-2 — Larsson could’ve gotten a secondary assist on Nash’s first goal. Meanwhile, Zidlicky was caught flatfooted on several occasions and made a weak pass that Stepan easily stole and dished to Callahan on his shorthanded goal late in the first.
Zidlicky will be an unrestricted-free agent at season’s end, and I’d be stunned if he returns. He was minus-10 and was essentially the posterchild for New Jersey’s defensive woes this year.
Ilya Kovalchuk wasn’t much better, finishing a minus-2 and only earning two shots. Kovalchuk was caught watching on Nash’s second goal, failing to backcheck or do anything more than stare as Nash beat Hedberg.
Hedberg’s left pad was Nash’s top foil.
The dynamic winger could’ve had at least four goals– even five– but Hedberg’s pad stymied five of Nash’s game-high seven shots.
Hedberg’s left pad was good in New Jersey’s win Thursday, and he performed admirably in place of Martin Brodeur.
Still, Brodeur was still not immune from MSG ridicule. The Garden’s fans peppered him with “We want Marty” and “Mar-ty” song chants.
The NHL announced Thursday that Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov will be suspended four games for an elbow to the head of Bruins forward Brad Marchand roughly 15 minutes into the second period of Wednesday’s game. The full video from Brendan Shanahan is below:
The suspension means Volchenkov will half of the Devils’ remaining eight regular-season games.
It’s one game more than I thought he could get, but I’m not surprised the NHL went up to four after watching the video. Shanhan harped on a few things. One, Volchenkov extended his elbow to the point where it became “reckless elbow contact to the head” of Marchand. Two, Marchand tried to avoid the hit and turned his head, but it doesn’t change the fact that Volchenkov didn’t pursue the puck and turned what could’ve been a legal body check into an illegal elbow. Three, Volchenkov was in control of the play and in control of his body and clearly pursued the elbow to the head instead of playing the body. Shanahan also referenced Volchenkov’s prior suspension and Marchand’s injury (likely concussion) as factors, so at least the NHL admits a player’s injury status affects how they rule. When you watch the video, it’s hard to disagree with the four-game ban, which is often the case with Shanny’s home movies.
The key here for the Devils is being able to field six legit NHL-caliber defensemen over a CRUCIAL four-game stretch. The Devils will face two non-playoff teams (Flyers and Panthers) but that’s after playing the Senators on Friday and Maple Leafs on Monday. With Bryce Salvador banged up and currently owning a very bruised wrist, the Devils might be forced to go with Adam Larsson (which is fine) and Peter Harrold (which is probably not fine) against two good teams. It’s just another hurdle this team has to overcome when they’re already four points out of a playoff spot with two teams to jump to get to eighth place.
Anton Volchenkov will have a hearing with the NHL’s player safety committee at some point Thursday, according to Tom Gulitti of The Record. Volchenkov received a five-minute elbow major and a game misconduct for an elbow to the head of Bruins forward Brad Marchand during the second period of Wednesday’s 5-4 loss. There’s no time for the hearing and it’s not known whether it will be in person or via phone.
Volchenkov’s elbow clearly makes contact with Marchand’s head and it doesn’t look like the Devils defenseman made a single attempt to play the puck. However, Volchenkov doesn’t leave his feet and it’s a bit of a tricky situation since Volchenkov is 6-foot-1 while Marchand stands 5-foot-9. Volchenkov does appear to clearly lead with his elbow for long enough that you could argue intent. Also going against Volchenkov’s case was Marchand’s reaction and likely concussion. Oh, you say the NHL doesn’t account for injuries in suspensions? There isn’t enough bull feces in the world for me to properly respond to that ridiculous NHL rhetoric.
Volchenkov was previously suspended three games in February, 2009 for a hit on then-Hurricanes forward Zach Boychuk. While the “statute of limitations” have passed for Volchenkov to avoid “repeat offender” status, the NHL does take into account past incidents when considering punishment. Our guess is Volchenkov will get at least one game, although it wouldn’t surprise me if he landed a two- or three-game ban for the elbow.
The forecheck was as strong as it had been all year.
Marek Zidlicky played his best game this season. The Devils outshot the Buffalo Sabres 39-22 and even scored a power-play goal.
Yet, all that still couldn’t translate into a win.
Such are the breaks for New Jersey these days. The Devils got a key point– No. 40– but fell to 0-6 in road shootouts in their 3-2 shootout loss to the Sabres at First Niagara Center.
Steve Sullivan and Mark Fayne each scored goals for New Jersey, which fell to 0-3-4 in its last seven games. Sullivan’s was his first as a Devil since Feb. 15, 1997. Fayne’s was his first of this season and his first since Feb. 21 of last year.
Still it wasn’t enough as Ryan Miller made 37 saves to lift the Sabres within four points of the East’s final-playoff spot. Miller stopped all three shootout chances– including a stellar pad save on Patrik Elias’ attempt– to drop New Jersey to 0-6 in road shootouts this year.
The Devils will probably say the same things they said after Thursday and Saturday’s losses. They played well enough to win but didn’t catch the breaks. I can’t disagree, but that and 12 cents doesn’t buy you much this time of the year.
Zidlicky was outstanding all night.
He finished with five shots– which was tied with David Clarkson for the team high. He pinched at the right time most of the night, helping the Devils forecheck and dominate possession in Buffalo’s end for large pockets of time.
Zidlicky finished as a minus-1, he was stuck covering for Anton Volchenkov on Steve Ott’s second-period marker.
Jacob Josefson, playing in his first game in more than a month, was very good too. He showed great legs and energy and won a team-high 64 percent (9 of 14) of his faceoffs.
Like the rest of the team, Josefson unluckily finished as a minus player. He was on the ice for Patrick Kaleta’s first-period goal, which dropped him to a team-worst minus-11.
On Kaleta’s goal, Andy Greene had a dreadful shift. First, his blind pass turned the puck over to Jochen Hecht at the top of the circles. Then, Greene was beaten to the net mouth by Kaleta, as he redirected Hecht’s shot past Brodeur, giving Buffalo the 1-0 lead just 4:22 in.
The Devils appeared listless until that goal but pushed back after it, dominating the rest of the first. The Devils’ forecheck drew a boarding minor on Kevin Porter, then Sullivan struck– on a neat feed from Steve Bernier– tying the game at 1 at 18:20.
Sullivan’s power-play goal was New Jersey’s first in six games. The Devils finished 1-for-5 with the man advantage.
With New Jersey’s playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Dainius Zubrus came up big.
The Devils were trailing 2-1 and were shorthanded with less than 15 minutes left. Zubrus took the puck, weaved through four Sabres, and found Fayne at the top of the circles with a stellar pass. Fayne beat Miller stick side to tie the game.
Fayne’s mark also allowed New Jersey to score more than one goal for the first time in three games. The Devils had scored two goals in their previous three contests.
Though he stopped 13 fewer shots than his counterpart, Martin Brodeur was good in some key spots.
Brodeur stoned Drew Stafford’s chance on a two-on-one break in overtime, and he also thwarted Christian Ehrhoff’s point shot earlier in the extra session.
Brodeur nearly stopped Ott’s second-period goal, sliding and kicking his pads in the air. The puck appeared to hit Brodeur’s pad and trickle across the goal line.
Miller was great too though. The American-born netminder made key save after key save– his best coming on Bernier midway through the second, when he stoned Bernier’s low shot with his blocker.
He also gloved Travis Zajac’s final attempt in the shootout, sealing Buffalo’s win.
The Devils are now two points behind the Rangers and Islanders for the East’s No. 8 spot.
New Jersey will now sit back and hope for some help this week as it awaits its next game, Wednesday at home against Boston.
The Rangers are in Toronto Monday. The Isles will host Philadelphia on Tuesday.
After six consecutive losses, something’s had to give.
Finally tonight something will.
Changes for Devs tonight; Larsson, Volchenkov in, Tallinder, Harrold out. Kostopoulos and Josefson in, Ponikarovsky, D'Agostini out.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) April 07, 2013
D’Agostini seems to be pressing, so it may not be a terrible idea to let him watch a game. DeBoer said he was looking for more bodies at the front of the net, and Josefson and Kostopoulos are likely the guys to score a “dirty goal” than Ponikarovsky or D’Agostini.
The defensive moves are not stunning either. Volchenkov and Larsson have been good, and in the second of back-to-back games, it seems like New Jersey needs some fresh legs in a must-win game.
While the Devils wait for Steve Sullivan to arrive, Pete DeBoer has been tasked with filling out the lineup card for tonight’s game in Boston. Does that mean the Devils are planning to put Tom Kostopolous back in despite getting knocked the EFF out on Monday? Or maybe Krys Barch returns? Eh, not so fast. DeBoer has something else in mind.
Looks like Devils will go with seven D with Volchenkov back in.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) April 04, 2013
As you’ll notice, Adam Larsson is unlikely to be one of those seven defensemen with Anton Volchenkov returning to the lineup. While it might seem a little odd, it actually makes a ton of sense. For one, Peter Harrold can play up front as well, which means he can easily eat up the seven minutes usually assigned to the fourth-line wingers. Also, Volchenkov’s shot blocking will be seriously needed against the Bruins tonight, particularly considering how much some of their defensemen love to fire the puck at the net. I also like the idea because the Devils have pretty much had one problem defenseman per game for most of the season. Rarely do they get all six D-men clicking and playing well both individually and as a unit. Dressing seven defensemen allows DeBoer to “go with the hot hand,” so to speak. For those of you worried about losing a forward for a team that already can’t score — it’s not like pulling Kostopolous or Barch were going to help New Jersey put goals in the net. DeBoer has also been known to bury those guys and shorten his bench in tight games, which tonight should be if the Devils have a chance to win in the third. With all things considered, I like the idea on a game-by-game basis.
The Devils scored just about every way possible on Friday night.
Yet, they still blew a two-goal lead and lost a very important point.
New Jersey scored a shorthanded goal, on its power-play, an even-strength goal and even on a penalty shot. Still, the Devils lost 5-4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a shootout on Friday at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Tom Kostopoulos scored his first goal as a Devil, and Matt D’Agostini registered two assists as the Devils still earned point No. 38, falling to 2-0-2 in their last four. Martin Brodeur stopped 21 shots, stoning Steven Stamkos five times. Brodeur lost for the first time since returning from injury, falling to 10-2-5 overall.
The Devils lost their eighth game in overtime or shootouts this year, dropping to 0-5 in road shootouts.
Stamkos scored twice for Tampa Bay, improving his league-leading goal total to 25. He also assisted on Alex Killorn’s game-tying goal with 15.1 seconds left in regulation. Killorn also added an assist on Stamkos’ second goal at 7:11 of the third.
The Lightning improved to 15-18-1, moving to within four points of the eighth-placed Rangers. Tampa Bay finishes 1-1-1 against the Devils this year.
Though Brodeur only made the 21 saves, and couldn’t make stop either of the two shootout tries, he kept the Devils in the game. many of them were high-quality stops.
You could pick any number of stops as Brodeur’s best. Corey Conacher was stoned on his second-period sharp-angle try after stoning Stamkos. Brodeur also robbed Benoit Pouliot in the first period.
Brodeur successfully masked tough games by Anton Volchenkov, Peter Harrold and an off night for Bryce Salvador. Salvador may have still been laboring with the injury he suffered Monday in Ottawa.
Meanwhile, Volchenkov was minus-2 and Harrold was a minus-3. The pairing got beat on Stamkos’ first goal, then neither moved his feet on Nate Thompson’s game-tying goal at 10:26 of the second.
With Adam Larsson sitting for Mark Fayne, we may see Harrold head back to the healthy-scratch list since he’s a minus-5 in his last five games.
SNew Jersey somehow killed Tampa Bay’s 4-on-3 power play in overtime after D’Agostini was whistled for holding Stamkos. New Jersey killed all three Lightning power plays and even scored a shorthanded goal in the third.
The Devils simply were too complacent defensively in the third period, and it bit them.
Two goals in 51 seconds helped the Devils build a 2-0 second-period lead.
D’Agostini earned his first point as a Devil– a sweet assist on Andrei Loktionov’s goal at 5:50 of the second. Kostopoulos scored 51 seconds later on a penalty shot he received when Eric Brewer slashed him on the hands on a breakaway.
D’Agostini also set up Andy Greene’s power-play goal at 13:58 of the second, a goal that broke a 2-2 tie. Greene also assisted on Loktionov’s goal.
Ryan Carter’s shorthanded goal, a relatively-weak goal allowed by Tampa Bay netminder Mathieu Garon, boosted that lead to 4-2 at 2:39.
Kostopoulos fell an assist short of a Gordie Howe hat trick… Marek Zidlicky led the Devils with 27:14, getting an assist on Greene’s goal… David Clarkson led New Jersey with five shots on goal, Stamkos led all skaters with seven… The Devils now are four points behind the fifth-placed Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference standings… Martin St. Louis recorded his 35th assist on Stamkos’ first goal… Brodeur will start against Saturday night in the Devils’ game in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers… Teddy Purcell and Victor Hedman each potted shootout goals. Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac were stoned by Garon.
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.