Leftovers From Thursday Night

I got a lot of postgame info last night. Most of it I used in Postgame Thoughts, yet some spilled over into today.

Here are some leftovers from the Devils’ 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

For whatever reason, the arena seemed exceedingly quiet until Travis Zajac’s second-period goal.

Maybe the Pens were playing a perfect road game. Maybe the 16,122 were tense and sad about the Devils’ final home game. But whatever the reason, the crowd was very quiet.

Even as the Devils mounted their comeback it seemed quiet. I guess that’s what happens when you’re unaccustomed to missing the postseason.

Still, Devils coach Peter DeBoer credited the team’s supporters.

“Fans have been amazing,” DeBoer said. “I can’t thank them enough. I really feel badly that we’re not giving them playoff hockey this year.”

Pittsburgh’s much-heralded trade-deadline additions have been outstanding.

Jarome Iginla has nine points in 12 games. Jussi Jokinen scored on Thursday– his fifth goal in nine games as a Penguin– and Brenden Morrow’s assist last night gave him 12 points in 14 games.

I nearly tweeted during the second period Thursday that if the Penguins were going to play defense like they had been, and Sidney Crosby and James Neal return, no one would beat them.

Then Pittsburgh gagged a 2-0 lead and lost 3-2.

Pittsburgh has an embarrassment of riches offensively, and the Pens are pretty strong on ‘D’ as well. Marc-Andre Fleury is a Stanley Cup champion. Still, there’s something lingering I don’t like about this team.

Patrik Elias told reporters last night “They’re good at making plays, and they turn the puck over quite a bit to. You can get some opportunities. “

Teams like that don’t typically win the Stanley Cup these days.

After falling behind 2-0, against the east’s best team, the Devils could’ve packed up the tent but didn’t.

“We played well against them all year,” Devils goalie Johan Hedberg said. “I can’t say that we’ve had very many off-nights the whole season.”

The first two periods seemed like a microcosm of the Devils’ season: outplay and outshoot the competition but trail.

“We’ve outplayed teams, we’ve outshot teams, we’ve done everything right,” Devils forward David Clarkson said, “and we’ve had bounces go against us.”

Still, the Devils caught some breaks. The puck appeared to hop on Evgeni Malkin as he was all alone in front of Hedberg. That brief miscue allowed Ryan Carter to backcheck and deflect Malkin’s shot into the protective netting over the glass.

On Ilya Kovalchuk’s third-period game-winning goal, the Devils’ winger attempted a pass to Andrei Loktionov, which found Brandon’s Sutter’s stick instead. Pittsburgh’s forward redirected the pass into an open net, putting the Devils ahead.

Postgame Thoughts: Devils 3, Penguins 2 (4/25/13)

The Devils obviously will not be playing postseason hockey this year.

Yet, somehow they still managed to claim the season series from the Eastern Conference’s top team.

New Jersey came from 2-0 down to send its home crowd out with a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night at Prudential Center.

“We played well against them all year,” New Jersey’s starting goalie Johan Hedberg said. “I think tonight we got a couple of bounces … and it was enough.”

Ilya Kovalchuk recorded a goal and an assist, and Patrik Elias recorded two assists, as the Devils won for just the fifth time this year when they did not score first. New Jersey improved to 19-18-10 and 3-1 against the Penguins.

“When you play against the best players in the league, it always fires you up,” Kovalchuk said. “They have a few of them out there.”

New Jersey will close its regular season Saturday at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.

“This is a big rivalry,” Devils forward David Clarkson said. “We’re going to come out and play hard.”

Matt Cooke and Jussi Jokinen each scored for Pittsburgh, as the Penguins fell to 35-12-0.

Making his NHL debut on Thursday, Devils defenseman Eric Gelinas admitted he was nervous.

Gelinas was a minus-1 in 15:59. He started the game on defense along with Peter Harrold.

“I was surprised to be on the starting five,” Gelinas said. “That made me more nervous. After the first shift, I think I felt better out there and just realized it was another hockey game.”

Devils coach Peter DeBoer admitted he liked what he saw from the 21-year-old defenseman.

 

“He was solid,” DeBoer said. “He moved the puck well. He gave us an element that you can never have enough of: a big, solid puck-moving defenseman.”

Hedberg concurred.

“I thought he played very well,” the netminder said. “You couldn’t tell it was his first game … he looked great.”

DeBoer told the media Thursday morning he’d try to keep his young defender away from Pittsburgh’s superstar-forward Evgeni Malkin, though Gelinas did meet Malkin for a few shifts.

“[Devils defense coach] Scotty [Stevens] believes on throwing them into the fire,” DeBoer said. “He did a good job.”

New Jersey’s defense as a whole was great, limiting Pittsburgh to just 18 shots on goal.

“This is a team that’s averaging 30-plus [shots] per night,” DeBoer said.

Hedberg, making his first start since March 19, stopped 16 shots to earn his first win since March 13.

“It was nice,” Hedberg said. “You want to finish strong, you want to finish with a strong feeling to walk away with … that was good for us.”

Hedberg’s best save came early on the second period when he stoned Pittsburgh’s Jarome Iginla with his left pad. Hedberg also stopped Kris Letang’s point shot with about four minutes left on what was Pittsburgh’s last real chance.

“He played unbelievable,” Kovalchuk said of Hedberg.

Clarkson was happy the 40-year-old backup could earn a victory in what likely was his final start of 2013.

“Moose is one of the best teammates you’ll play with,” Clarkson said. “It was great to get that win for him.”

Kovalchuk’s goal at 13:50 of the third turned out to be the game winner.

Kovalchuk received a pass from Steve Sullivan and cruised in on right wing. He sent a pass towards Andrei Loktionov that hit a Pittsburgh’s Brandon Sutter and beat Marc-Andre Fleury, breaking a 2-2 tie.

Kovalchuk admitted he was trying to pass but caught some luck.

“I was passing,” he said. “[Loktionov] was wide open. It doesn’t really matter.”

Kovalchuk also admitted that he and Loktionov would join Team Russia in the upcoming IIHF World Championships in Sweden and Finland.

“We’ll play together there,” Kovalchuk said. “It’s an honor to play there for your home country … they’re the reason why I am where I am right now.”

Kovalchuk also admitted how difficult 2013 has been on him. The superstar winger missed 12 games with a shoulder injury and has registered just 11 goals and 20 assists in 36 games.

“I think, overall with the injuries, this was the worst season of my career,” Kovalchuk said. “It’s not easy.”

Prorate Kovalchuk’s stats for a full season– including the 12 missed games– and he’d have 60 points, which would be a career low.

With his two assists, Elias boosted his team-high point total to 36.

Elias, who will be an unrestricted-free agent at season’s end, received chants of “Pat-ty” from the crowd throughout the night, including at the end when he was being interviewed by MSG’s Deb Placey.

“It’s great,” he said. “They showed their appreciation. I was trying to do my best job out there, and the fans recognized that out there. It feels great.”

The Devils were happy to send their fans out with a win in the team’s final home game.

New Jersey posted 18 sellouts in 24 home games this year. Thursday night’s attendance was 16,122.

“We owe it to our fans,” Clarkson said. “Our fans have been fantastic. They’ve been supportive, so we came out and we played hard there tonight.”

DeBoer admitted the team’s last home game was “bittersweet.”

 

Postgame Thoughts: Maple Leafs 2, Devils 1

Pat Pickens

The Devils’ frustration level is rising.

On a night when the Jets, Rangers, Islanders and Capitals all won, New Jersey could only muster one goal in a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at Prudential Center.

“There’s some frustration in not winning,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “We have to find a way to win games … that’s where the frustration lies.”

David Clarkson potted New Jersey’s lone goal, and Martin Brodeur stopped 16 shots, but the Devils lost their sixth-straight game, falling into three points behind eighth-placed Islanders with just 10 games left.

“It’s a big mountain to climb when you can’t score,” Brodeur said. “We’re not playing bad … it’s tough when you have chances and can’t come through.”

The Devils had five power-play opportunities, including a first-period two-man advantage for 1:04, but could not find a way to beat Toronto goalie James Reimer.

“We’ve got to cash in on the power play tonight,” DeBoer said. “You’ve got to make hay this time of year when that opportunity comes.”

Reimer stopped 27 of 28, earning his 14th win of the season.

Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov each scored goals for Toronto. Bozak’s goal, the game winner, came on a breakaway at 8:02 of the third.

“He had a breakaway and shot it,” Brodeur said. “It just popped up, and I just missed it.”

Steve Sullivan, playing in his first game back in New Jersey, had a glorious first-period opportunity but was robbed by Reimer at the top of the crease.

“I think that’s one of those where nine out of 10 you’ll take the time needed to corral the puck and put it in the space it can go to,” Sullivan said. “I think … I was hoping more than just putting it in, especially being the first period of your first game back.”

Sullivan played 17:21 and was a minus-1 in his first game back in New Jersey.

“It was an adjustment,” Sullivan said. “The timing was a bit off, but as I get a few games under my belt, I think that will come.”

DeBoer said of Sullivan: “He gave us some good minutes tonight.”

New Jersey outshot Toronto 14-8 in the first period yet still trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes.

Komarov re-directed Mark Fraser’s point shot at 3:49 of the first, giving the Leafs the lead. New Jersey had a number of chances but could not solve Reimer.

“We had a flurry of shots on net,” Sullivan said. “We carried the play in the offensive zone … I thought it was a great first period, but we were still down 1-0, so it was not the way we wanted to have a first period.”

DeBoer thought New Jersey could’ve been more desperate.

“We’ve got to find a way in that first period to get the first goal,” he said. “The table was set for us, and we could not take advantage of it.”

Clarkson’s goal broke up the Devils scoring drought at 143:36.

“It wasn’t for a lack of trying,” he said. “It’s just not going in right now.”

Forward Patrik Elias thinks New Jersey played well but simply didn’t get the desired result.

“The work ethic was there,” Elias said. “We created a lot of good chances.”

DeBoer said that Brodeur would play again Sunday in Buffalo against the Sabres.

Brodeur has played in eight straight since returning from a back injury. It sounds like Sunday will make that nine in a row.

The second-year coach also said he thinks the Devils can close the year with a win streak.

“I think we can win nine or 10,” he said.

Postgame Thoughts: Jets 3, Devils 1 (2/28/13)

Corey Griffin

Links: Pregame thread | Twitter | NHL.com recap

Well, that makes three straight losses and five defeats in their last six games for the Devils — not exactly the way Pete DeBoer wants to be trending when approaching the meat of the season. All in all, it was a far better overall effort than it had been in the past couple games, particularly Sunday, but not enough to get off the schneid. Some thoughts…

Help needed: You want a main reason behind the Devils’ current skid? Try these numbers: 1, 1, 1, 2, 1. That, in chronological order, is how many goals the Devils have scored in each of their last five losses. In past games, it’s been due to an almost passive nature on offense and a reluctance to establish a hard forecheck early and often. Tonight, after a brief wave of Jets attacks, the Devils started forcing the play and getting chances but just could not finish, which is something we wondered if they could do on a regular basis before the season. It seems like if  Clarkson or Kovy isn’t scoring the Devils are hard-pressed to find goals. Elias is having a strong season, but even he missed out on a couple chances to bury the puck tonight (one of which came on a nice cross-ice feed from Zajac). The bottom line is the Devils can’t simply rely on their top two players to score. If they’re going to compete for home-ice advantage in the first round, they’re going to have to find the secondary scoring that made them so dangerous in last season’s playoff run. I’m sorry but losing Parise is not an excuse anymore, not when you get 10 goals out of Clarkson and a 22-point start from Elias in the season’s first 20 games. Zajac has been non-existent offensively for the most part this season and Henrique has disappeared after putting together a good first few games when he returned from injury. Kovy cannot be the end all, be all of this offense or else the Devils won’t just struggle to host a playoff series — they’ll struggle to make the playoffs in an absurdly packed Eastern Conference. DeBoer messed around with his forward lines entering play tonight in an attempt to spark the dormant offense. It work in the sense that the Devils’ top two lines started generating chances and putting consistent pressure on an opponent, but that’s not enough.

Opening salvo: When you’re a team that’s already struggling to score goals, going down 1-0 eight seconds into the game doesn’t exactly help matters, especially when that goal happens on a defensive breakdown in the neutral zone. Yes, Andrew Ladd was in the right place at the right time, but it was the “right place” because ALL of the Devils got caught drifting toward the puck and the other side of the ice right off the draw. Ladd wasn’t out on an island. The puck didn’t take that strange of a bounce. He simply came off his spot following the opening draw and played the left wing and was closer than any Devils was when the puck bounced to the middle of the ice. Ladd then had a clear path to the net because Zidlicky tried to step up and play the man and there was no one at home when the puck bounced another way. However, it’s difficult to put this all on Zidlicky when Clarkson, who was matched up against Ladd off the draw drifted to the other side of the faceoff dot instead of staying with his man. It’s a tough break, yes, but it’s also a situation that could’ve been avoided if only the Devils had maintained responsibility off the draw and not been caught staring at the puck. Hedberg, who I thought played well overall tonight, never had a chance on Ladd’s shot, which was the result of some nice stickwork by the Jets captain.

PK back: If there was one encouraging sign out of tonight’s loss (and there was more than one), it was the return, for at least one night, of the Devils’ penalty kill. New Jersey was faced at one point with about 3:30 of consecutive power-play time for Winnipeg, including about 90 seconds of 5-on-3 action. But unlike in games past when power-play goals have put the Devils in big holes, this time the penalty killers were up to the task — even without sticks. Henrique in particular had maybe his best shift of the game, just missing a pass that would have sprung him for a short-handed breakaway and then playing balls to the wall in his own zone seconds later, even after his stick broke. It was an impressive sign overall for the Devils and it’s an aspect of their game that has to be strong at all times — and I really mean that. There is no room for slacking when it comes to the Devils’ PK. While some teams have the offensive firepower to survive a mediocre penalty kill, it’s become obvious that this Devils team simply can’t allow extra goals. Whether that means a top-five PK or simply limiting teams to two, one or no power plays on most nights, it’s something DeBoer and the Devils have to make sure is a nightly staple of their game. No nights off on the PK. Not this year.

Lokti-motive: Andrei Loktionov has been the Devils’ best forward for the past four games (non-Kovy division, of course). Yes, better than Elias. Loktionov has a point in each of those contest (two goals, two assists) and has played so well in the offensive zone that DeBoer moved him from the fourth line to the top unit in less than three games, displacing Zajac and forcing DeBoer to play Henrique out of position at left wing. In the process, he went from playing with Barch, Matteau, Butler and the like to being Kovy’s wingman. How’s that for a first five games? Every time he and Kovy are out on the ice, they’re constantly looking for each other and more often than not the puck ends up on one of their sticks in position for a shot on net or scoring chance. Loktionov hasn’t quite rediscovered the chemistry he had with Henrique in junior, but that will come over time. The question is how long DeBoer will keep this unit together considering he has an open preference for playing Henrique at center. With Zajac seemingly entrenched as the center on one of the Devils’ top two lines, will Henrique have to play out of position for the foreseeable future? It’s possible, but if he and Loktionov begin clicking, that top unit could be very dangerous.

Notes: As I wrote above, I thought Hedberg had a good game overall. He overplayed his hand on Byfuglien’s rush up the ice and it put him out of position for when Byfuglien came around the net with the puck, but I think he played well enough for the Devils to win, which is all you can ask of a backup goalie. Definitely a bounce-back game for him. … Speaking of that second goal, terrific job by the MSG crew showing Greene’s stick stuck inside the net just before Ladd tapped it in. Bad luck, but like DeBoer loves to say, “in this game, you create your own luck.” … Ondrej Pavelec wasn’t really tested the other night but made some big saves tonight. I’m still not sold on him as anything other than an average NHL goalie, but he definitely kept the Jets in it tonight. … If Pavelec were better on a nightly basis, the Jets would be a much better team. Kane, Ladd and Byfuglien are so incredibly skilled and they have some decent complimentary pieces around those guys. I like the future for this team. … The power play — yeahhhh. Larsson on the point. Larsson on the point. Larsson on the point. I don’t know how many times I can beat this drum. It’s time to turn the record over and move on. … Devils did a much better job backchecking tonight than they did Sunday, particularly Clarkson, who prevented an odd-man rush halfway through the second period by getting back and disrupting the play with his stick. … The Devils did a good job of controlling the tempo after a rapid-fire first 10 minutes, but they let the play get a little too up-and-down in the third period and it prevented them from getting anything more than one-off chances. There was no sustained pressure and the Devils spent as much time racing back into their own zone as they did trying to even up the score. … How many sticks broke for the Devils tonight? Total coincidence but felt like a record at one point.

Ilya Kovalchuk’s Game Is Incredible

Pat Pickens

When the New Jersey Devils traded for Ilya Kovalchuk about three years ago, I thought they were simply getting a goal scorer.

Who knew the Devils were actually getting a thoroughbred.

Ilya Kovalchuk's game has rounded out immensely since his 2010 trade from Atlanta.

Ilya Kovalchuk’s game has rounded out immensely since his 2010 trade from Atlanta.

Kovalchuk played 28:58 in New Jersey’s 3-2 win over Washington on Thursday night. The Russian winger scored a goal and had a game-high seven shots on goal Thursday.

Kovalchuk’s 26:03 average leads all forwards in ice time, and it isn’t even close really. Kovalchuk ranks eighth in the NHL in ice time and is the only forward in the top 63.

To watch Kovalchuk and not marvel is to turn a blind eye on how incredible his game truly is. He covers all facets of the ice. He plays the point on power plays, he kills penalties and he even sparingly takes faceoffs.

But Kovalchuk’s strengths are most evident on New Jersey’s power plays, when he spends the entire two minutes on the ice playing the point. He peppers shot after shot at the opposition’s cage — even during the third period Thursday while Washington double-teamed him.

He then goes to the bench for a short break before heading out for his normal shift.

The pressure was on for Kovalchuk to perform before this year. With all apologies to Martin Brodeur, Zach Parise’s departure has left Kovalchuk as the present — and future — face of the franchise. He’d not worn such a badge since he left Atlanta — and he really didn’t handle being the face of the Thrashers too well.

Maybe Peter DeBoer commands some respect for that. Jacques Lemaire was a stabilizing influence as well. But Kovalchuk’s probably just matured into a all-around player who simply wants to win.

A friend texted me a few weeks back and asked which player I’d want: Alex Ovechkin or Kovalchuk. Five years ago — when Ovechkin was scoring 65 goals and Kovalchuk was labeled TK for “Team Killer” — it would have been a slam dunk in Ovechkin’s favor.

But now the tables have turned. I think I’d take Kovalchuk today.

Pat Pickens is a New Jersey native and lifelong Devils fan. Follow him on Twitter here.

Patrik Elias Taking Mattias Tedenby Under His Wing

Anyone who watched Saturday’s game saw the chemistry on the Tedenby-Elias-Clarkson line. They were all over the ice and scored the second of the Devils’ two goals, which is saying something considering the only reason the trio is together is Adam Henrique’s injury. Pete DeBoer thinks it has a lot to do with the mentor-mentee relationship between Patrik Elias and Mattias Tedenby.

Via Tom Gulitti of The Record:

DeBoer likes how Elias has been active in speaking with linemate Mattias Tedenby during practices and games to try to help him the best he can.

“I think Patty’s taken Teddy under his wing, spent a lot of time with him,” DeBoer said. “He gives him a lot of feedback on a shift-to-shift basis and that’s invaluable. It’s one thing for a player to hear it from a coach. When you’re hearing it from a Hall of Fame player I think it’s another level of sinking in.”

Corey Griffin

This has to be music to any Devils’ fans ears. Tedenby wasn’t even a lock to make the team out of camp (although he was prohibitive favorite), but he played Saturday like we haven’t seen him really ever play a consistent basis in the NHL. It’s only one game, so fans have to keep their excitement in check, but the fact that Tedenby has taken to Elias is a very positive sign. Between Elias’ experience, knowledge and skill set, there might not be a better veteran for Tedenby to emulate. All that said, displaying chemistry and scoring goals against the Islanders and Flyers are two very different things, especially when Tedenby will likely be seeing a lot of Scott Hartnell tonight. Now that’s a matchup worth watching.