Final: Devils 2, Islanders 1 (1/19/2013)
For a team that probably had half of its players not playing hockey the last three months, that was a fairly textbook win over the Islanders. There’s obviously some things to work on, but all in all, the Devils and their fans should be pretty satisfied with the way they came out of this one. Some thoughts:
Stick to the script: There will be a formula to a lot of the Devils’ wins this season: an aggressive attack, timely saves from Marty Brodeur, a solid penalty kill and at least one role player will have to contribute on the score sheet. The Devils got three out of four tonight and were able to overcome some obvious midseason rust for the win. The thing that has to be most encouraging is when the team needed each of those, they got it. The Devils came out of the block aggressive and immediately put the Islanders back on their heels. Although it didn’t equate to any goals in the first, it was directly responsible for the Tallinder-to-Kovy-to-Zajac beauty that got the Devils on the board. Then, when the Isles came out of the second intermission with their skates on fire, Marty made some very big saves, including one on the penalty kill. And just about a minute after the Isles capitalized on a PK breakdown by the Devils to tie it, who else but David Clarkson (whose second line was stellar tonight) came through with a big goal to turn the tide back in favor of the Devils.
Second comes first: Obviously, the top line of Zubrus, Zajac and Kovy played well. That tic-tac-goal between Kovy and Zajac was a thing of beauty and Zajac basically eliminated John Tavares from the gameplan tonight. That said — the most impressive line for me was the second unit. Mattias Tedenby, Patrik Elias and Clarkson worked really well together on both ends of the ice, specifically Tedenby and Elias. Tedenby used his speed not only to set up scoring chances and force the issue in the offensive zone (his skate-by screen of Evgeni Nabokov on Clarkson’s goal was very smart), but he backchecked and was responsible in his own end. He and Elias clearly have a lot of chemistry and if the young Swede continues to mind his defensive game — a BIG if — this combination bears watching.
You’re killing me: Not a banner night on special teams to be sure.I’m not sure if it was rust or brain farts or just a bad night, but the Devils’ penalty kill was uncharacteristically sloppy tonight. After having a historically great kill last season, there seemed to be a lot of breakdowns in their own zone, particularly in slot coverage. The Isles’ lone gone came as a result of all four Devils getting caught chasing the puck in the corner, which left Travis Harmonic so wide open in the slot he had time to field the puck, skate in, pick his corner and let off a picture-perfect snap shot. The power play was worse, but that’s to be expected given the circumstances. There’s a new PP coach, a new system and they only had a six-day training camp — not to mention the fact that their best PP weapon (Kovalchuk) missed most of camp. The concern is there won’t be a lot of practice time this season to fine-tune it, so it will be mostly video and off-ice work that has to translate to on-the-job training. They looked very disjointed tonight and struggled to get the puck deep and for a power play that’s supposed to have a shoot-first mentality, they sure didn’t end up with a lot of shots.
Marty being Marty: At 40 years old, we’re not going to get lights-out Brodeur every night. That said, he still seems to good for at least 2-3 saves that a good goaltender needs to make to keep his team in the game. There will inevitably be nights when he looks slow or out of place and there will be probably be stretches where Johan Hedberg saves the day for a tired Brodeur. But the Devils, as always, will only go so far as Marty can carry them, which he did for stretches tonight. There were only a couple times when he was really tested, but he looked like he was doing a lot more than just playing golf during the lockout.
Deep as a kiddie pool: OK, so we all like what Tedenby did and Adam Henrique is a couple weeks away, which will create some interesting line questions if Tedenby is playing well. That said, this team is in desperate need of scoring depth on the wing. Like I wrote after the second period, this is a Devils team that, as presently constructed, is going to struggle scoring goals night to night. I’m not saying they need to go out and add Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry (although that would be nice and is a discussion for later on in the season), but they need another winger who can score on a 25-goal pace and play at least top-9 if not top-6 minutes. Everyone loves what the Carter-Gionta-Bernier line brings to the table, but does anyone really think they should each be playing 15 minutes a night? No, not really. This doesn’t look like a forward group that can keep up with the likes of Pittsburgh, the Rangers or the Flyers and I don’t think they can go toe-to-toe with the Bruins or Capitals either. Those are teams the Devils will have to steal games from in order to remain in the playoff chase and keeping a team off-balance with an aggressive forecheck will only do so much. This needs to be addressed.
Game notes, three stars and summaries after the jump…