Postgame Thoughts: Devils 3, Flyers 0 (4/18/13)

Corey Griffin

Links: Pregame thread | Twitter | NHL.com recap

Did the Devils play an A-plus game? No. I’d argue they played a couple better overall games during the 10-game winless streak. But the important thing is the streak is over and the Devils are back in the win column thanks to a few superlative efforts. It likely won’t get the Devils back in the playoff chase, but a couple wins over the last 10 days would be important for their confidence heading into the offseason. Some thoughts…

It’s over: Everyone can breathe a big sign of relief. The winless streak is finally over and it didn’t even take Ilya Kovalchuk returning to finally stop it. Of course, like I said above, this wasn’t a perfect game. They struggled to put pucks on net in the first and had difficulty finishing in the second before Ryan Carter snapped one of Ilya Bryzgalov’s shoulder. But the important thing was the Devils kept working in two very important areas: the neutral zone and below the Flyers’ goal line. The Devils did a good job in long stretches of stopping the Flyers at the blue line and both of the Devils even-strength goals came as a result of their work in the neutral zone. As for the forecheck, it was strong almost all night long. The Devils generated a ton of chances off their pressure below the goal line and it eventually wore down Philly’s defense. While the Devils aren’t talented enough to out-skill teams, they are dedicated and strong enough to out-work them. It’s a long shot, but wins like this are the kind of victories that send a team to length winning streaks. The Devils worked their way past an inferior opponent to a streak-busting victory and were rewarded after several games in which they played well but didn’t win.

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Lineup Changes: Josefson In For Loktionov

The Devils might be out of the playoff chase, but that doesn’t mean Pete DeBoer is going to stop trying to find a combination that finally gets the Devils back into the win column. Tonight, he’ll be swapping out Andrei Loktionov for Jacob Josefson, something Loktionov says he deserved.

Via Tom Gulitti of Fire & Ice:

“I think two games I played good and the last game I played OK,” Loktionov said. “That’s not good for me. I have to try play always good. I can’t play like that – up and down, up and down. I have to (keep getting better).

“Sometimes it’s good to see how the team plays when you sit upstairs. Sometimes you have to see what you need to do to score or do something on the ice.”

Coaches often tell young players – and Loktionov is still 22 – that they want them to watch a game from above to pick up on what other players are doing, but Loktionov said no one had to tell him that.

“They didn’t say anything,” he said. “It was from me because I didn’t score six, seven games. No points too. I have to do something. I expect that decision from the coach. I have to work hard on the ice and off the ice because if they put me in next game I will be playing much better. I kind of slowed down the last five games. Maybe I was thinking everything was good. I scored. I got some points. It’s life. It’s tough.”

Corey Griffin

If it feels like DeBoer is grasping at straws, it’s because he is. Ten straight losses will do that to any coach, especially one who already likes to tinker like DeBoer does. Josefson had his shot earlier in the year but failed to contribute anything on the offensive end and was sent down tto Albany, where he was sidetracked by a concussion. Loktionov was impressive to start once he joined the Devils and seemed to develop immediate chemistry with fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk. Unfortunately, once Kovy went out of the lineup, Loktionov’s play dipped noticeably. I think he also hit a bit of the rookie wall while playing on a team that’s already struggling to score. The Devils are definitely high on Loktionov — you don’t play a rookie on the top line for most of the season if you’re not high on a player. But DeBoer has done this with several young players in hopes that it sends a message helps them relax and get their game back on track. I definitely think we’ll see Loktionov back in the lineup before the season is over, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he spends more than one game in the press box.

Point-Counterpoint: Will The Devils Make The Playoffs?

Ilya Kovalchuk hurt

The last time the Devils were in the midst of a lengthy losing streak, Pat Pickens and I got together and debated whether the Devils were in real trouble. Pat was a little more optimistic than me, although we both saw a chance for redemption. Then Ilya Kovalchuk got hurt and the Devils went off the rails. With eight games left, Pat and I faced a simple questions: Will the Devils make the playoffs? What follows is a quick answer to that question followed by a debate over why it happened, how to fix it and whether Pete DeBoer should be part of the solution or on the chopping block.

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Lineup Changes: Tallinder In For Larsson

Adam Larsson took a shot off his leg at practice Tuesday and won’t be in the lineup Wednesday night. He’ll be replaced by Henrik Tallinder, which is not the only change in Pete DeBoer’s lineup.

Corey Griffin

Once again Pete DeBoer is shuffling multiple bodies in and out of the lineup. It’s a trick he’s tried multiple times this season to varying effect. There’s been games where the “trick” has sparked the club or seen a player skate like his ass is on fire, but that’s usually just a one- or two-game fix. Mostly, it’s been a short-term, half-torn, blood-stained bandaid over a gaping wound. They Devils have been searching for a left wing on the first line all season. They’ve been trying to find six reliable defensemen (despite having eight on the roster) all season. They’ve looked for reliable third- and fourth-line wingers while trying to find anybody with a 20-goal scoring touch (Hello, Matt D’Agostini). None of it works. This is all very “deck chairs on the Titanic” rather than trying to find a combination that works. If there were one, DeBoer would’ve found it by now.

I understand health is an issue with Zubrus, Ponikarovsky and Kovalchuk missing large chunks of time this season. Yet only one of those players should actually be playing on the top line. The other two are basically duplicates, although I’d argue Zubrus is a better version of Ponikarovsky. Josefson, Tedenby and Butler never turned out the way the Devils hopes, while Clarkson and Zajac have taken offensive nosedives. When there’s no answers on the roster, it’s nearly impossible to find solutions — no matter how many times you shuffle the cards.

Postgame Thoughts: Sabres 3, Devils 2 S/O (4/7/13)

Pat Pickens

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.

Gameday: Devils at Sabres (4/7/13)

Who: New Jersey Devils at Buffalo Sabres
When: 7:30 p.m. ET; Pregame show at 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: First Niagara Center, Buffalo, N.Y.
Media: TV – NBC Sports Network (Channel listings); Radio - WFAN (660 AM or 101.9 FM)
Twitter: @Pat_Pickens

Stats & Notes (via Devils PR)

  •  New Jersey is looking to end a season-high (tie, 0-5-1, February 23-March 5) six game losing streak (0-3-3) tonight.
  • Each of the first two meetings between the Devils and Sabres this season have gone to the shootout, with the home team winning both times. New Jersey is 0-5 in the shootout on the road this year.
  • The Devils will close-out their ninth of ten sets of back-to-back games tonight. New Jersey is now 2-5-2 in first games and 3-4-1 in second games when playing on consecutive dates.
  • The Devils have out shot their opponent in 17 of the past 19 games.
  • Adam Henrique has scored a goal in each game vs. Buffalo this season. He has 2g-5a-7pts in seven games vs. the Sabres in his career.
  • Martin Brodeur (16 saves) took the loss last night and is 2-3-3 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .900 save-percentage since returning to the lineup on March 21 at Carolina.

Expected Lineup

Forwards
Elias-Zajac-Sullivan
Zubrus-Loktionov-Clarkson
Henrique-Josefson-Kostopoulos
Carter-Gionta-Bernier

Defense
Salvador-Zidlicky
Greene-Fayne
Larsson-Volchenkov

Goalie
Brodeur

Inactives: Tallinder, Barch, Harrold, D’Agostini, Ponikarovsky

“A Spark”: Four players who did not play Saturday will take the lineup on Sunday night. Peter DeBoer told the press corps earlier, “We need to change things up, we need a spark.”

Jacob Josefson’s been nursing an upper-body injury and hasn’t played since Feb. 24. He’s minus-10 in 16 games and has only registered one point. Tom Kostopoulos, who was shaken up Monday against the Isles, returns after missing the last two games. He’s netted one goal in 13 games in New Jersey.

Obviously, the Devils are looking for offense, and that is what precipitated the moves. But these moves seem a little desperate.

Miller Time: Ryan Miller’s been among the reasons why Buffalo has moved within six points of the eighth-playoff spot. The 32-year-old netminder has stopped 54 of his last 57 shots he’s faced in two Buffalo wins. The Sabres rank ninth in the East with 102 goals, but they’ve been without leading-scorer Thomas Vanek and just traded their fourth-leading scorer Jason Pominville to Minnesota. Miller will have to keep playing strong for Buffalo to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot.

Score First: We said it last night, but New Jersey is 12-1-4 when it scores the first goal. There is no way to overstate how important the first goal is, especially for a team that has had trouble potting goals. If the Devils score first, they can simplify their game, relax and play less tense than they did last night at home. Perhaps the road will suit New Jersey nicely.

NEWS: Devils Recall Jacob Josefson

With roster limits disappearing, the Devils will start recalling some of their prospects over the next couple weeks. It started Friday with center Jacob Josefson, who just returned from a concussion.

The Devils sent Josefson down to Albany earlier in the year. He’ll likely sit and learn and could crack the lineup if one of the Devils’ centers need a night off, but I don’t expect him to get a ton of playing time.