Postgame Thoughts: Islanders 3, Devils 1 (4/1/13)
If you had to pick a word for tonight’s game, it would probably be disappointing. On a night they could’ve put six points between themselves and the Islanders, the Devils came out of the gate so sluggish someone joked they thought the game started at 7:30. Is it the end-all, be-all? No, but it’s not a good sign after being unable to finish off an opponent the past two games. Some thoughts…
10-minute warning: How many times have we talked about the Devils taking 10 or sometimes 20 minutes to show up in a game? Once again, the Devils seem to have tremendous difficulty generating energy to start a game, something coach Pete DeBoer seemed totally flummoxed by. He admitted after the game that the slow start (a trend all season long) was disappointing and said the Devils didn’t take the Islanders lightly. OK, fair enough. DeBoer also didn’t seem to have an answer for why things started off so sideways and said that he actually tried to be calm in (yet another) first-period timeout. Think about how differently this game goes if the Devils are at least somewhat present for the first half of the first period. I mean, how many timeouts does DeBoer have to call in the first period? Matter of fact — does anyone have that stat? The bottom line is I shouldn’t have to ask that question. This is a veteran team with leaders galore that has been through the ringer. Their coach knows what it takes at this time of the season; everyone from the goalie out knows what it takes. So why are the Devils still having the same problem in April they had in January? One theory is that there’s no one in the room willing to overturn a table or kick something across the room. I’m starting to think that might have some merit. Even listening to the few Devils talk after tonight’s game, you get the sense that things are too even-keel for a team that’s on the edge of the playoff picture. The problem is that’s not something you add at the deadline. That’s something you need from the get-go, a player that’s been through training camp and the dregs of the season in that room. I just don’t think they’re suddenly going to “figure out” these slow starts and that’s going to cost them, either at the end of the season or in the playoffs.
On the defensive: The problem with the Devils’ defense can be summed up by two plays, both goals. The first is the Isles’ first goal of the game in which Bryce Salvador was caught up ice near the center ice line on an excellent breakout pass from the Isles. Salvador tried to turn and swat at the puck with his stick but by that time was already behind the play, meaning Marek Zidlicky was stuck playing 2-on-1, which is never a good spot for Marek Zidlicky. The play was symbolic of the lack of speed on the back end and how that lack of speed consistently puts them out of position and forces them to chase the play. I understand that in this situation the Isles executed a scripted breakout play to near-perfection, but Salvador in particular has been guilty of this far too many times this season to simply write it off as the Isles “out-executing” the Devils. Salvador was on the ice for the second play, John Taraves’ power-play goal in the third that pretty much iced it. Salvador and Dainius Zubrus got caught watching the puck and lost track of Tavares (!), which is poor form during 5-on-5 play, let alone on the penalty kill. I hate to keep killing Salvador here, because Zubrus was just as much at fault on this particular play, but the lack of awareness is a shining example of the Devils’ poor defensive-zone coverage all season. How many times have we seen an opposing player seemingly drift uncovered to the weakside only to have a half-open net to shoot at? A lot, that’s how many. The big problem is I see no answers for either of these problems. This group of eight defensemen is slow and getting older by the day and their youngest defenseman, Adam Larsson, has been too inconsistent to be trusted as an all-facets defender.
Didn’t we talk about this: I wrote in the pregame thread that the Devils HAD to be wary of the Islanders’ power play. My concern was grounded in two facts: One, the Isles’ power play has been a top-10 unit all season while the Devils’ penalty kill has lumbered near the bottom third of the league. Two, Tavares, in particular, has been a nightmare for the Devils on the man advantage. Prior to tonight’s game, Tavares had five goals and two assists in four games against New Jersey with three of the goals and both assists coming on the power play. It’s why I turned to Kevin Schultz of Islanders Point Blank before the third and warned that a power play for the Isles would likely mean a third goal and the end of the game for New Jersey. That’s precisely what happened — and I don’t bring this up to pat myself on the back. I mention it to point out that the Devils, already down a goal, took a penalty and then didn’t make it a point to keep track of a man who has destroyed them on the man advantage. To rub salt in the wound, Alexei Ponikarovsky took an offensive-zone hooking penalty only a minute after Tavares’ goal. The Devils killed that one off, but it cost them two more minutes of 5-on-5 play while down two goals in the final 10 minutes of the game. Not a good formula for a comeback.
Add or subtract: With the trade deadline only two days away, tonight’s game certainly won’t quell feelings that the Devils need to make a move at the deadline. I’ve already made my feelings on what I think the Devils will do Wednesday — nothing. That’s not to say the Devils don’t need to do something. They could use another scorer and a mobile defenseman, but they don’t have the assets to make that happen. They’ve already traded away most of their draft picks from this season and some from next to acquire role players (Ponikarovsky, D’Agostini, Loktionov). Prospects? Sure, the Devils have a few, but I don’t see Lou willingly parting with them with the roster likely needing to be reshaped in the next two offseasons. Also, and this is what I think is more crucial — adding one or two players won’t suddenly make the Devils into a Cup contender. This is a flawed team struggling to make the playoffs. Some will point out that the Devils were in a similar position last year, but I don’t think it takes much time watching them to notice the Devils aren’t the same team as last year. The absence of Zach Parise has clearly had an effect on Travis Zajac, who remains a strong centerman overall but has lost a lot of his offensive game this season. Also, Adam Henrique is not the dynamic force he was last season. Adding pieces would make the Devils better right now, but it would come at the expense of valuable future assets (be it players or picks). That’s a high price to pay for a team light years behind the league’s elite class.
Notes: I’ll write about this more tomorrow, but damn David Clarkson looks frustrated. No matter how many shots he puts on net, nothing gets the goalie. If you watch him, it seems like he throws his head to the sky every time a puck gets deflected wide or goes high or a goalie makes a stop. … Andrei Loktionov isn’t the two-way player that Henrique or Zajac is and it’s becoming apparent that he needs a finisher to be effective in the offensive end. DeBoer tried Steve Bernier with him tonight (and there were a couple chances) but I wonder if D’Agostini might be a better option. … Tough go for Tom Kostopolous, who used his face to stop Matt Martin’s fist in an attempt to get the Devils going. Thankfully he’s expected to be OK, but it’s a little ridiculous that the Devils need something like that to spark them against a rival competing for the same playoff spots. … Is it just me or does it feel like Martin Brodeur needs to be perfect in the first period? … Not exactly a banner return for Zubrus, who looked tired and clearly rusty. Not sure if I would’ve used him on the PK in his first game back. Also not sure I would’ve played him tonight, period — especially with a pair of off days and full practices coming up tomorrow and Wednesday. … The Devils have no dynamic weapon capable of producing offense without Kovy. I know that’s an obvious statement, but it’s a problem considering they have Henrique, Zajac and Elias healthy. … Speaking of Zajac, for those of you that thought he looked off tonight, DeBoer said he had the flu and was throwing up between periods, which is why I’m cutting him some slack tonight. … I didn’t write about the dominant second period because it doesn’t matter. The Devils need to play 60 minutes or at least 40 minutes that way if they’re going to stay in the playoff chase. Any team can be dominant for one period against a fringe playoff team.
Postgame Thoughts: Lightning 5, Devils 4 S/O (3/29/13)
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.
With Ilya Kovalchuk out for at least the next two weeks, someone on the Devils will have to step up and carry the team in his absence. Who do you think it is? Vote and sound off in the comments below!
Postgame Thoughts: Senators 3, Devils 2, SO (3/25/13)
There’s two different ways you could look at tonight’s game: Disappointing or gutsy. During their first contest without Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils fought through in-game injuries to two game players and an awful to start to eek out a consolation point. They also played some good hockey in the second and third periods, although there were mistakes and they were clearly tired in overtime. Some thoughts…
One and one: One game without Kovalchuk, one point for the Devils. This is how it will have to be. Yes, they would’ve liked to have picked up the extra point and surely played like it in the third period, but any points are important given the state they’re in right now. If you’d like to be concerned, the Devils’ record in overtimes and shootouts is reason for worry. New Jersey has left a lot of points on the ice this season after excelling in extra hockey last season. Will it be the difference between eighth and ninth? Too early to tell, but for now the Devils simply have to do everything they can to stay stagnant (at worst) in the standings while Kovy is out. Tonight, the Devils managed to overcome a dreadful start and seemingly woke up after being undressed by Pete DeBoer during a first-period timeout. The gears didn’t really begin to turn until the second when Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique had some impressive shifts as DeBoer mixed and matched forwards given his limited bench. Over the final two periods, the Devils looked like a good hockey team that couldn’t finish — which is what they’ve looked like for stretches this season. Except there’s no Kovy coming in to seal the deal with a rocket from the point or a perfect pass across the ice. Make no mistake, this is what the Devils will look like for the next two weeks. They could play very inspired hockey game in and game out and it will still be a challenge to score goals.
Seriously? More injuries?: I’m not going to overreact to Bryce Salvador and Stephen Gionta leaving the game early tonight. We don’t know anything about them other than the general area (lower for Salvador, upper for Gionta). DeBoer says they haven’t seen the doctor yet but will travel with the team to Tampa Bay, where the Devils play Friday. The good news is that Salvador’s injury isn’t connected to the upper-body ailment that caused him to miss a game earlier this month. After Salvador missed a game against the Canes, he admitted he would have to play through the pain and deal with the injury and my first thought tonight was that he aggravated whatever that injury was. Instead, it looks like a separate issue, which is just further evidence of how the bangs and bruises will add up through this short season. We said before the year that there would be plenty of injuries for the teams to deal with, but this is starting to feel like a bit of an onslaught. It’s also what happens when a large chunk of your team is veterans with a lot of miles on their bodies. I’m not saying these injuries could’ve been avoided, but look at the players who have hit the IR this season and then take a look at their ages. That’s not a coincidence. Gionta’s a bit of the exception. Despite being 29, he’s spent most of pro hockey career outside of the NHL. He’s also the one player among these two whose absence I believe would hurt the most. Yes, Salvador is the captain and a reliable piece on defense, but the Devils have eight NHL-caliber defensemen and can get by without him for a time. Gionta? First of all, he’s one of the few true right wings the Devils have right now, which, as we’re seeing with the Kovy injury, is a pretty big deal. Two, he’s one of the few players who pretty much plays his role every time he’s out on the ice. The Devils need his energy and effort on the forecheck, especially with Kovy, Zubrus and Ponikarovsky on IR. If Gionta is out for any long period of time, I’m not sure there’s really a player to replace what he brings to the table.
Forced trios: The one thing Gionta’s injury did force DeBoer to do is get real funky with his line combos again and I think he might have stumbled into a winner. When Gionta first didn’t come out for the second period, DeBoer tried Adam Henrique in between Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. It was a solid shift, but the next time the remaining two-thirds of the CBGB line hit the ice it was with Andrei Loktionov in the middle. In fact, it was on that shift that the Devils scored their first goal of the night with Carter taking the draw and Loktionov lined up to the left. DeBoer stuck with the trio for most of the rest of the game with Carter taking most of the draws and Loktionov playing the middle for the most part. I liked the immediate chemistry between them and I also like how Loktionov was able to play off Carter and Bernier’s physical in-the-corners and in-your-face style. If DeBoer wanted to leave Loktionov there, he could use Henrique to center the “top” line with D’Agostini (who was invisible tonight) and possibly Pesonen until Ponikarovsky comes back. It would allow DeBoer to get Henrique away from the wing, which clearly does not suit him and where DeBoer is incredibly loathe to use him.
No power: The one place we knew the Devils would struggle without Kovy was the power play. Although the Devils only had one opportunity with the man advantage against Ottawa, it certainly wasn’t pretty. There were multiple turnovers, multiple breakaways (by the Sens) and a general sense of discombobulation and confusion. Basically, the Devils didn’t have any sort of “alpha dog” to take over the two minutes and run plays from start to finish. We hypothesized earlier that it’s possible the Devils will use this time to morph into a better overall power-play unit because they won’t be relying on one player — and that’s still possible. It’s impossible to judge anything about this unit without Kovy after just one game let alone one power play, but what I will say is I don’t have a ton of faith that they’ll suddenly start humming 30-plus games into the season. The best option for them now is to spend as much time trying to fire pucks at the net and hoping for rebounds and mismatches in front or for deflections.
Notes: Martin Brodeur did not have his A-game tonight. That was obvious from the Senators’ very first goal. He gave up far too many rebounds and it finally cost him on that late goal in the second period. Devils aren’t going to win many games these next two weeks if Marty doesn’t bring his top game every night. … Second straight game with a goal in the final seconds of a period. Those kinds of goals are absolute killers. Have to hope that’s a blip on the radar and not a trend. … How many posts was that tonight? I think my ears are still ringing. … Zajac played a strong game once again but that giveaway on the power play was awful. … If there’s one thing I noticed tonight it’s that the Senators have a lot of skill and a lot of depth up front despite the injuries. Guillaume Latendresse is a shining example. I’m really surprised he didn’t have about two or three goals tonight with the way he played. … Not sure whether it was David Clarkson fight or DeBoer’s intermission speech that got the Devils fired up, but Clarkson really handled Zach Smith in that fight. … A fifth-round pick for Loktionov. Just throwing that out there again. … What a game for Marek Zidlicky, eh? All over the ice, single-handedly tied the game and a sound one in his own end. Impressive night for Zids. … Clarkson has GOT to start burying some of these shots. He’s getting far too many opportunities compared to the goals he’s scoring. … The Devils looked exhausted in OT, just completely spent. If the injuries to Salvador and Gionta are of decent severity, it’s only a matter of time before that catches up to New Jersey. … A few shootout notes: 1) Daniel Alfredsson’s snap shot is absurdly good. 2) It’s almost as good as that move Mika Zibanejad put on Brodeur for the game winner. 3) Could Kyle Turris have gone any slower? 4) Why do we still have the shootout?
Emptying The Bag: How Will Devils Deal Without Kovy?
New of Ilya Kovalchuk’s shoulder injury hit the Devils at the worst possible time. With New Jersey fighting off somewhere between five and 37 teams for one of the final three playoff spots in the East, the Devils can hardly afford to lose their best player. After a couple days of collecting my thoughts on the injury, I decided to “empty the bag” on Kovy’s absence, the power play and if it affects the Devils’ trade deadline plans.
How long we talkin’ here?!: Lou Lamoriello is notorious for his half answers and dodgy “day to day” injury tactics. That was no different for Kovy, who apparently has a shoulder injury but no one will say what exactly is wrong within said shoulder. Also, according to Lou, Kovy could miss two weeks or less than two weeks or possibly three weeks or maybe even four weeks. The Devils even waited seven hours after announcing the timeline to actually place Kovy on injured reserve, guaranteeing he’d miss at least seven full days. The Devils didn’t even want you to definitvely know he’d miss that much time! The problem with all of this double-talk and ridiculous injury gamesmanship is that it gets old real fast. How fast? Well, keep in mind that Martin Brodeur was day to day with a minor back issue until he was on IR for a month with a pinched nerve that almost required surgery. Of course, there’s also the Henrik Tallinder case and his “minor” lower-body injury that has now kept him out since March 7. And there’s Dainius Zubrus, whose “minor” upper-body injury turned into wrist surgery that was only supposed to keep him out four to six weeks. Oh, wait, it’s been six weeks already? And Zubrus isn’t even practicing? You don’t say.
Postgame Thoughts: Devils 2, Panthers 1 (3/23/13)
That certainly was not a pretty win by any means, but it was a win nonetheless. The Devils had one strong period surrounded by two sleepy ones and got away with two points against a very injured, very bad team. Of course, none of that matters if Ilya Kovalchuk is seriously hurt, but we’ll reserve judgement until we hear something from the Devils. Some thoughts…
Two points is two points: We’ve talked about the Devils racking up standing points regardless of style and that was precisely what tonight’s game was about. The Devils won’t admit it, but it looks to me like they overlooked the Panthers. They came out flat and were pretty de-energized in the third period, as well (wonder if that late goal had anything to do with it?). The good news is they had a very strong second period and got just enough goals to beat one of the worst teams in the league. With the Senators winning earlier in the day and the Rangers and Canes each possessing a game in hand, the Devils just have to points on top of points. More importantly, they have to win games at home against teams they should beat — like the Panthers. Martin Brodeur didn’t have to be great — although he had a great moment here and there in career win No. 666 — but he was sharp enough outside of that brain fart behind the net at the end of the second period. More importantly, this win puts pressure on the teams around the Devils to keep up, which can only help New Jersey. Hell, at this point, the Devils could be within four points of fifth place with a win over Ottawa on Tuesday and that’s ahead of a sweepable two-game trip to the Florida teams next weekend. All in all, the Devils have things to work (the power play, for one), but they can leave the arena tonight knowing they did enough to help their playoff positioning and these days that’s really the only thing that matters.
The wounded: Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Bryce Salvador and Tim Sestito. That’s a hell of an injury list at the end of a game. The good news: the last three on that list should all be fine. Zajac’s injury was initial numbness from a slash during a second period. My guess is the stick made direct contact with a nerve right where the glove ends and the wrist is unprotected. Salvador said afterward he was OK after a knee-on-knee hit along the boards in the final seconds. Believe it or not, Salvador said his knee braces probably saved him from any sort of real injury. As for Sestito, we’ll get into the hit in a bit here, but DeBoer said after the game that he’s fine — which is pretty lucky considering what the hit looked like at first. With all that out of the way, obviously the main concern is Kovalchuk, who was in noticeable pain IMMEDIATELY after his shoulder went into the boards. And did you see the way DeBoer was talking after the game? Normally reserved, cautious, measured and secretive in all of his injury updates, DeBoer basically sounded like a man ready to lose his star player for more than a “little while.” We’ll go into more depth on the injury tomorrow once we know what it is, but safe to say the Devils would be in major trouble if they lost Kovalchuk for anything more than a week — and it sounds like it’ll be at least that, if not more. DeBoer will address the media tomorrow at 1 p.m. and I’d bet we find out at least some specifics then.
It’s a second line party: Pretty safe to say the Devils wouldn’t have won tonight’s game without the line of Patrik Elias, Zajac and David Clarkson. Beyond the fact that the trio combined for the Devils’ only two goals of the game, the trio pretty much dominated the entire second period. If Kovy is out for any sort of extended period, they will have to carry the entire time — and I mean carry. The good news is that Zajac appears to have awoken from his offensive slumber and is basically doing it all over the last three games. The better news is that Clarkson woke up too, with the most David Clarkson goal ever. It wasn’t just that Clarkson finally scored that was relieving (although it’s about damn time), but that he did it by charging the net, not giving up on a loose puck and finally putting that loose puck in the net. Will that garbage goal get him going? I have no idea, but it certainly can’t hurt for the Devils to have their leading scorer (seriously, he’s STILL their leading scorer with 12 goals) putting pucks in the back of the net. As for Elias, he continues to be Mr. Reliable. We joked earlier in the year about Clarkson’s asking price rising with every goal, but, to paraphrase Childish Gambino, Elias is doing himself a ton of favors contract-wise. Despite his advanced age, Elias continues to demonstrate enough speed to split defensemen and streak his way to a pretty one-touch goal while also having the veteran savvy to know exactly when and where to rush. Despite the Kovy injury, I don’t foresee DeBoer splitting this trio up and that means they’ll be expected to produce for however long the Devils’ superstar is shelved.
Suspension coming: We mentioned the Sestito hit earlier in the post, but I wanted to save the specifics for its own point. There’s absolutely NO WAY that Colby Robak should escape suspension here. Buffalo’s Patrick Kaleta got five games for doing the exact same thing to the Rangers’ Brad Richards. Now, Robak obviously doesn’t have the same rap sheet at Kaleta, which is why I don’t think it’ll be a five-game ban. That said, there’s not many better examples of one of the kind of hit that Brendan Shanahan says he’s trying to get out of the game. Sestito clearly had his back to Robak and was about foot and a half from the boards when Robak pushed Sestito in the back and sent his head and shoulder careening into the boards. Was it a heavy shove? No. I even hesitate to call it a push. It was more like Robak was making a gentle suggestion of which direction Sestito should go. However, the players have seen enough evidence on the AHL and NHL level to know what happens when a player is the position Sestito was. All of of his weight was clearly leaning forward and he was 100 percent unable to protect himself from the “hit.” DeBoer says Sestito will be OK, but the Rangers said the same thing about Richards. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Sestito misses a practice or two and maybe even a game to heal or maybe even sell the injury to guarantee suspension.
Seven days: That game got pretty chippy in the third period, with the Panthers playing through the whistle. I don’t blame them. After all, what do they have to lose? Most of them are playing to prove they belong on the roster next season, let alone playing for ice time right now. But soft is definitely not a word you would use to describe these Devils. With these teams set to play again in Miami next Saturday, I foresee some retribution for the hits on Salvador and Sestito. In fact, we may even see Krys Barch dress for the simple purpose of laying someone the eff out in the first period. Make no mistake, if Barch had dressed tonight, someone would’ve had to pay for the Robak hit since Robak was in the locker room. The Devils also are not stupid, so don’t expect them to go and run Jonathan Huberdeau in the first period to prove point. Look for a very physical but smart response from New Jersey early on that sends a message but doesn’t put the Devils in a compromising position early in the game. If the game gets out of hand? Well — that’s another story entirely.
Notes: That post-to-post save by Brodeur in the second period on a 2-on-1 breakaway was a pretty, pretty save. … Insert 666 joke here. … As good as the forecheck was Thursday, it was the exact opposite for roughly 75 percent of tonight’s game. The Devils got away with it because of the opponent, but that won’t be the case Tuesday in Ottawa or next Friday in Tampa. … I’m sorry, but 25 shots against this Panthers team is terrible. The Devils, at one point, went over 17 minutes (between the first and second periods) without a shot on goal. … Matt D’Agostini has some serious wheels attached to his ankles. You can see why the Devils took a flier on the kid. I think he can definitely help (on scale) for a time, especially if Kovy is going to miss a long stretch. … Great backcheck by Florida’s Tyson Strachan at the end of the first period. Kovy and Adam Henrique had a 2-on-1 and Henrique appeared to have an easy path to a backhander into the empty net. Strachan, however, had other ideas, rushing back into the zone and stickchecking Henrique, which kept him from getting a shot off. Textbook stuff there. … Huberdeau is really good. The Panthers have a keeper in that one. Let’s just hope he develops better than some of the other top Panthers draft picks of years past. … Reading through my notes and it’s amazing how many times Kovy’s name appears. You can’t overstate how devastating a loss he would be. … I liked seeing Andrei Loktionov manning the halfboards on the first power-play unit. I like the idea of putting him, Kovy and Zidlicky in position to direct the puck and make plays. … Speaking of Lokti, I wonder what will happen to him with Kovy sidelined. Will DeBoer knock him down to the third line line and move Henrique up to replace some of Kovy’s firepower? Lots of ripples from this injury. … That five-minute power play was awful. Just awful. … My two favorite defensive plays of the game came in the final minute. One, Stephen Gionta’s diving pokecheck off a defensive-zone faceoff (with the extra attacker on) and then eventual second effort to make sure the puck got out of the zone. Two, Clarkson’s pickpocket of a Panthers forward attempting to enter the Devils’ zone with about 30 seconds left in the game. It was so smooth. Both players are examples of the little things the Devils do to seal games.
Postgame Thoughts: Devils 4, Hurricanes 1 (3/21/13)
It was almost a storybook return, but history turned out to be too good to be true for Martin Brodeur. Still, after weathering a hectic first 10 minutes, the Devils responded with an excellent overall effort and have ended their most recent losing streak in impressive fashion. Some thoughts…
Marty: It may not have been history, but it was an excellent return for Brodeur, who single-handedly kept the Devils in the game long enough for them to find their sea legs. Brodeur’s performance during the first 10 minutes of the first period was the shining example of what we wrote earlier this week. While Johan Hedberg was good enough, he wasn’t Brodeur. He didn’t have that extra level. Moose was likely to be beaten on the fifth shot of a rapid-fire barrage. Brodeur, on the other hand, was calm, cool, collected and his usual reliable self. Of course, he was blatantly exhausted at the end of that stretch, but thankfully the rest of the team took over from there, shutting the Hurricanes down so well even Drake would’ve been impressed. But it wasn’t just those saves — or his goal (yes, his goal) — that stood out for me. It was all the little things that Brodeur does that make him such an excellent netminder even at the age of 40. One of those examples came during the first period when there was a turnover and Alexander Semin came rushing up the gut toward the puck. Moose might’ve dove at the puck and he might have disrupted Semin enough to be successful. It’s a risky proposition we’ve seen Hedberg both win and lose this season. Instead, Brodeur stayed calm, stayed upright and came out just far enough that he forced Semin to shoot at one of several tiny windows. Semin, of course, nearly scored, rocketing a shot off the post just over Brodeur’s shoulder, but that’s a nearly impossible shot to make and it’s the only one Brodeur gave him. Marty also made at least two or three excellent decision with the puck on his stick, deftly moving the play away from the net and helping the Devils get out of the zone. Brodeur’s return will likely be remembered for his incredibly bizarre goal and those frantic first minutes, but it was the things that went unnoticed, things not seen in the box score that impressed me the most.
First 10, last 50: As alluded to above, it was a schizophrenic game to be certain, although not nearly a half-and-half situation. The Canes came out of the gate pressing the Devils, which only increased once Brodeur scored on that whacky deflection. Carolina threw everything they could at Brodeur over 10 minutes, amassing 11 shots and seemingly coming within a post or a puck bounce of at least a tie game if not a lead. Thankfully for the Devils, Brodeur was there to man the gates, but what happened after that 10 minutes is what really impressed me about this game. The Devils stopped the Hurricanes in their tracks. I mean absolutely stopped them. After those 11 shots, Carolina mustered three more until the midway point of the third period and it had everything to do with the Devils’ smart play in the neutral zone and the way they kept the Canes from establishing any sort of presence in the the Devils’ zone. This was the style of play that frustrated a lot of teams earlier in the season — take the other team’s top skill players out of the game in the neutral zone and halt their primary method of generating changes. The Hurricanes love to shoot the puck — like, really, really love to shoot it — but the Devils wouldn’t even give them the chance to dump it at the net from the point until Jeff Skinner’s puck deflected off Bryce Salvador’s stick and in during the third period. Seeing this style of play return and seeing the Devils sustain it for basically the last 50 minutes of tonight’s game was as good of a sign as Brodeur’s return.
Answering the bell: Of course, none of that would’ve mattered if guys like Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac didn’t stand up and deliver some offensive hockey tonight. One night after Zajac scored for the first time in 11 games, Henrique scored for just the second time since March 7. While Zajac didn’t register a goal tonight, it was his speed into the offensive zone and work on the forecheck that directly led to Peter Harrold’s goal in the second. Zajac also played a key part in Andrei Loktionov’s game-sealing tally in the fourth, winning an offensive-zone faceoff singlehandedly and deflecting a puck from the point to keep it moving in the offensive end. Tonight was the third game in a row where Zajac was clearly more engaged in the offensive zone and if the Devils can get Henrique going as well, along with the Loktionov-Kovalchuk combination, they could start to be a team that scores more than one or two goals a game. Of course, this is a very small sample size and we’ll have to see if the Devils continue to finish their offensive chances in the next couple games, but it was an encouraging sign for a team that has been wondering when Zajac and Henrique would finally turn it on.
The streak, part 2: As noted above, tonight’s win ended the Devils’ most recent losing streak, a 3-game skid that saw them pick up an overtime point in the first game against Philly. While it certainly wasn’t the disastrous slide of two weeks ago, it was enough to temporarily knock the Devils out of the playoff picture. But this isn’t about that streak, it’s about what the Devils need to do going forward, which is reel off a stretch of four wins in five games or at least rack up points in all of those contests — say, seven points out of five games. That’s not too much to ask, not with the Panthers at home Saturday, an injury-ravaged Ottawa team Monday and a Florida twofer next Friday and Saturday. With the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff pictures so tightly packed (eight points separate fifth place and 13th as of this post), even picking up a charity point can bump you a spot or two on any given tonight. As an example, the Devils moved from ninth to seventh Thursday night thanks to their win and a Rangers loss. It’s going to be a crazy few weeks as this season wears down and it’s incredibly crucial the Devils use this opportunity to stack points during games against beatable teams.
Notes: I think it’s a good thing the action slowed down after that first 11 minutes. Marty was gassed and I’m guessing if the Canes had continued to press eventually the rust and conditioning factors would’ve gotten to him. … You could feel a goal coming during the second period. The Devils were getting a lot of chances and Dan Ellis was leaving a lot of loose pucks in front of the net. Ilya Kovalchuk and Ryan Carter each missed or fanned on multiple chances before Henrique scored. … I think Pete DeBoer really wants to use the CBGB line as much as possible, but it’s going to be difficult to do once the Devils are healthy. … Speaking of “when the Devils are healthy,” I wonder what happens to tonight’s interesting third line when that’s the case. I assumd the Devils will continue to carry Krys Barch for pure intimidation factor and while also assuming Tim Sestito is the first one back to Albany when either Dainius Zubrus or Henrik Tallinder come off the IR. Since DeBoer insists on keeping eight defensemen around, that leaves either Tom Kostopolous or Harri Pesonen on the chopping block. I like Pesonen’s game much better, but he doesn’t have to pass through waivers, which Kostoplous would if they wanted to send one of them to Albany. … Good to see Adam Larsson putting the puck on net prior to Henrique’s goal, but would’ve been better if he had kept the shot low. That puck was headed over the net until it hit Kovy in front. … Andy Greene made another of his underrated but excellent plays at the close of the second period. Greene was dealing with a bouncing puck in his own zone and had two or three Canes bearing down on him while the Devils changed lines. Instead of panicking, Greene settled the puck and calmly dodged all three Canes while skating behind his net and up the other side of the zone before eventually leading a breakout. All while being hit, chipped at and pushed by the Canes. Tremendous play by the Devils’ best blueliner. … Marek Zidlicky, do you know how many scoring chances you would have if your stick was on the ice? … The calm Loktionov displayed on his goal was fantastic to see and just another example of how his game grows by the day. That backhander was pretty nice, too — although not as nice as Harrold’s.
I won’t say the Devils “didn’t deserve” to win that one, because that’s not what happened tonight. Yes, the Devils allowed too many odd-man rushes and the offensive pressure and possession pretty much died in the third period. But the Devils also ran into a hot goaltender and were also the victim of some unfortunate bounces. All in all, it was a very good hockey game between two rivals fighting for the same land in the playoff landscape. Some thoughts…
Goalie class: First off, let me say that Johan Hedberg didn’t play poorly at all. He played well, in fact. Hedberg was victimized by a bad bounce on one of the second goal and some
sloppy nonexistent coverage of the trailer on the first goal. Moose managed to keep the Devils in the game on several occasions and his glove work (particularly on Nash in the third) was just phenomenal. The problem with Hedberg is that he’s not on Henrik Lundqvist’s level and when a goalie not on Lundqvist’s level runs into an elite goalie that’s playing well, it usually doesn’t end well. Right before the third and deciding goal for the Rangers, Lundqvist made about four or five strong saves that only a select group of goalies can make. Devils fans witnessed it for almost two decades with Martin Brodeur, so they know what elite goaltending looks like. There’s no denying that Lundqvist was maybe the main reason tonight’s game ended the way it did. The good news for the Devils is they’re finally getting Brodeur back, possibly as early as Thursday. That will help the Devils even the playing field a bit when they match up with the Rangers, Canadiens and Bruins later on this season and potentially in the playoffs.
Where have you gone: That must have been the question for Pete DeBoer as he tried to figure out where the energy and offensive pressure went in between the second and third periods. The Devils seemingly lost their way in the offensive end for much of the final period and it resulted in a team that barely registered a scoring chance through the first ten minutes of the third. It’s hard not to look back at those 10 to 15 minutes of game action and wonder how different the final five minutes would’ve been if the Devils didn’t wait for Johan Hedberg to leave the ice to start putting shots on net and forechecking. Too often during the period the Devils forwards tried to pass back or laterally instead of either dumping the puck down below the goal line or skating it below the faceoff dots. Patrik Elias in particular was guilty of this tonight and Travis Zajac also had a couple opportunities to either shoot the puck or get the forecheck going in the third period and instead chose to move every direction but forward. When David Clarkson actually followed through on that halfway through the period, he drew a tripping call. However, the power play the proceeded was fairly uneventful and lacking in any sort of momentum or pressure. The bottom line is the Devils can’t simply hope to play hard for 20 or 40 minutes and then turn it on in the final five. This team has got to forecheck hard for almost the entire game in order to generate offense.
So short handed: The forecheck is especially important when you consider some of the players the Devils are currently icing due to injury. With guys like Andrei Loktionov, Dainius Zubrus and now Alexei Ponikarovsky on the shelf, the already-limited Devils simply don’t have the talent to think they can score with drop passes and fancy puck movement. Yes, there are skill guys on this roster, guys that can do special things with the puck on their tape, but there’s not enough of them to eschew the gameplan, which is further limited when DeBoer has to play Harri Pesonen on the second line while also icing Krys Barch and Tom Kostopolous. Let’s face it, the Devils team that played the Rangers tonight was extremely short-handed due to injuries. Simply by adding back Loktionov and a full game of Ponikarovsky, DeBoer is able to roll lines with consistency that also show a decent balance of skill and grit. If you add Zubrus to the equation, now guys like Barch and Pesonen aren’t even dressing and maybe aren’t even on the roster. It was a tough game to manage for a coach that can usually get pretty creative but was clearly stretched to his limits tonight.
Welcome back, (Za)jac: If there was one encouraging thing tonight (and there were more than one), it was the fact that Zajac finally snapped his goal streak. The goal itself, Zajac’s first in 11 games, was a mix of effort and skill. After fanning on the first shot, Zajac gathered the puck again and snapped a laser through the five-hole of Lundqvist. It was the kind of goal that can kick-start a player and kick-start a team that’s desperate for goals. The question is whether that will actually happen. Even when not scoring, Zajac does the other things that make him a valuable hockey player. He wins draws at a high rate, usually is good at generating a forecheck and is exceedingly responsible (and skilled) in his own end. Tonight, I watched him pick-pocket Rick Nash from behind without any real effort at all. Those are the kinds of things that, when added to the scoring touch demonstrated in the past, make him worthy of a long-term contract extension. But the goals have got to start adding up. I’m not asking for him to be a point-per-game player, but he’s got to be much closer to that than what the Devils are getting now.
Tough loss: This loss was a difficult one for the Devils. For one, they’re out of the playoff picture for the first time this season. More importantly, the Devils lost two key points to a team that they’ll be facing down for a playoff spot as the next month develops. Yes, the Devils are getting Brodeur back and Loktionov should be in the lineup by the weekend, but as DeBoer said tonight — the Devils are running out of time to put points on the board. They’ve got to start translating this effort into one or two points on a nightly basis if only to keep up with the Rangers, Hurricanes, Jets, Senators and Islanders. That’s not even mentioning teams like the Maple Leafs and Lightning, both of whom (along with the Canes, Isles and Sens) are among the teams the Devils will play in the next two weeks. Because of the East-only schedule this year, every loss is amplified because chances are you’re losing to or beating someone within two to four points of you. The time of the season where the Devils could lose three in a row is over. They have to get more than one point out of games with three potential playoff teams.
Notes: The Devils had their forecheck going for most of the first two periods and clearly had the Rangers on their heels for most of the first period. It was an impressive start to the game and the kind the Devils need to translate into goals, which is something we’ve been saying all season. … The Devils went straight Oliver Twist on the Rangers tonight — some very impressive puck thievery. … Michael Del Zotto makes some beautiful passes. There’s not many defensemen in the NHL with that skill. … Cover. The. Trailer. … I like Pesonen’s game more than I like Kostopolous’, but I fear it’ll be a numbers game for both of them when Zubrus and Henrik Tallinder return off injured reserve. … You know the puck is bouncing like crazy when Anton Volchenkov scores like that. … Speaking of bounces, how about that Kovalchuk shot in the first period? It was like a McDonald’s commercial: off the defenseman, off the goalie’s stick, off the post and still almost bounces in. … Am I the only one really excited to watch guys like Kovalchuk and Nash in the Olympics next year? I can’t imagine what those two will do with all that extra room. … Bit of a tough-luck game for Larsson, who fumbled probably his best offensive chance in weeks early in the second period. I think he’s still a little nervous with the puck on his stick in the opponent’s zone. … That was a bad call on Zajac for “running” Lundqvist. I’m sorry, but the officials have got to see that. Can you imagine if the Rangers had scored there? It would be all we talked about after the game. And let’s not forgetthe acting job by King Henrik. That was some special stuff right there, Hank. Marty would be proud. … Henrique played with a lot of energy tonight. He was diving (the good kind) all over the ice and trying to make plays. … It was a feisty, physical game, but I (like Ken Daneyko) thought there would be at least one fight. … Way too many odd-man rushes for the Rangers and this isn’t the first time the Devils have dealt with that. Thankfully for New Jersey, Hedberg was there to keep the game close. … The Devils defensemen would do well to note what Del Zotto and Derek Stepan did to Elias and Clarkson around the net on a late shot that Elias and Clarkson each just missed tapping in. Why did they just miss? Because Del Zotto and Stepan had good position on them around the net and kept them from being close enough to bang home the rebound before Lundqvist could react. … Speaking of which, the Devils left a lot of missed pucks out there tonight. For as well as he played, Lundqvist was serving up all types of rebounds for long stretches.