The New Jersey Devils maintained their perfect record on the road as they defeated the Boston Bruins 2-1 tonight. While it was a win for the team, the Devils lost Johnny Oduya in the second period to a "lower body injury" shortly after Boston's goal. For the Boston perspective, please check out Stanley Cup of Chowder. NHL.com has their recap up and available with links to the boxscore and other stats.
It was the first start for backup goaltender Yann Danis this season and he was sensational. His positioning was solid, his lateral movement was smooth, and he looked calm and confident in making 31 saves on 32 shots. And the one that beat him, he had no chance on. A Zdeno Chara shot was blocked by Oduya, his stick broke, Marco Sturm got the loose puck, fired a blind pass in front, and Patrice Bergeron put it home all alone. Bad luck all around and that wasn't Danis' fault at all. You can't ask for much better from any goalie, really. Great job tonight by Danis. Were I to name a player of the game, it'd have to be Danis.
In a way, this game is a bit confusing to discuss. From what I saw, Boston dominated puck possession and had many more shifts where they set themselves up on offense and pinned back the Devils' defense for extended shifts. Yet, the game itself was sloppy - especially by Boston's attack. Passes missing their target. Shots missing the net or firing directly into a skater. This was "helped" by some poor clearances by the Devils in some cases. Moreover, the Devils offense was largely based around counter-attacks and they didn't get many offensive shifts in Boston's end until the third period. So Boston was able to benefit from the same blocks and misses.
Yet, the game ended with 31 shots on net by New Jersey and 32 by Boston. A quick look at the Event Summary from NHL.com better shows what I'm talking about, as Boston missed the net 17 times and were blocked 10 times. To me, those were just wasted chances for the B's. It was close, tight game and the Devils came out winners thanks to two Devils crashing the net to put home shots that went through Tim Thomas but not into the net. Read on further for tonight's recap of the game as I saw it:
Interestingly, the majority of these shots came in the first two periods, Claude Julien and the Bruins didn't fully capitalize on a depleted Devils' defense. The loss of Oduya - no details on his injury just yet - meant the Devils had to go to 5 defensemen. Among those 5, only Mark Fraser didn't play more than 20 minutes, just 12:52 of ice time. Jacques Lemaire went with experience and so Mike Mottau (26:30), Colin White (23:36), Bryce Salvador (24:42), and Andy Greene (22:01) had to play out of their minds.
I'd love to say that was why the Bruins looked so strong in getting the puck in the Devils' zone and keeping it there. I'd love to say that the defense. But because it was happening from the start of the game, I really can't. The Devils were pinned back more often that any fan would have liked to have seen, leading to some very long shifts from the aforementioned four defenders. Thankfully, Danis (and a crossbar in the dying seconds of the game) were more than up to the task.
The Devils' offense looked better in the third period, but until then, they struggled to set-up in Boston's zone. Lemaire mixed up the lines for tonight's game but actually didn't shift them around too much during the game. The Devils had Dainius Zubrus center Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac center Brian Rolston and (wait for it) Ilkka Pikkarainen, who actually looked pretty decent on the line. I think Lemaire wanted to see if he could handle a larger role. Given that he stayed there all game long, I think Lemaire liked what he saw from Pikkarainen. The only in-game change I noticed was Zajac and Zubrus switching for a few shifts. It didn't have a significant positive effect for New Jersey, so Lemaire switched them back.
The Devils' fourth line of Andrew Peters, Rod Pelley, and Matt Halischuk actually had a good game of their own with limited minutes. Not as impressive as, say, Boston's fourth line - which worked real hard tonight - but better than what we've seen recently. Maybe they are improving? David Clarkson and Nicklas Bergfors had better nights, and while he went pointless tonight, Travis Zajac led the team with 5 shots.
Still, I would have liked to have seen more consistent pressure on offense. It would have made the game seem so less, one-sided with the run of play. Nevertheless, the Devils made a point of it to shoot when they did get the chance and to shoot as hard as they could on Tim Thomas. And I can't complain too loudly about putting 31 on Thomas.
Thomas, by the way, played well, but he was beaten the same way for both goals and that has to be frustrating. In the first period, Nicklas Bergfors picked up on an errant Devils pass from their own zone, charged up Thomas' right and fired one at Thomas' 5-hole. The puck squirted through and David Clarkson put it home with a one-handed effort. As that was the Devils' opening goal, the game winning goal was scored in a similar way. Late in the third period, Parise, Zubrus, and Langenbrunner worked real hard to get a cycle going and the following happened:
Zubrus out of nowhere! And uncovered! And what a dive over the crease! A great reward for him and his line for their hard work on that shift. Poor, poor Boston! After all that possession, all those wasted chances, and the Devils go through the backdoor to pick up the go-ahead goal and eventually the win.
While I would like to see the defense to a much better job in preventing shots and the offense to put on more pressure instead of relying mainly on rushes off turnovers and blocks, I am happy with the win. It was a tight game, on the road, against a good team who looked like the better team based on the run of play. Winning those kinds of games is a sign of a team's strength. It's the first win for Danis, the first win without Paul Martin and Jay Pandolfo, and now the best October record within the last 5 seasons. Hopefully the Devils can get a little rest, especially the blueliners, in advance of Saturday's game.
As far as Oduya is concerned, Tom Gulitti does have this postgame report where it is stated that his status is unknown. It does highlight why Oduya left and when the injury actually happened, but nothing on the injury itself or how long he'll be out. As more information comes out, we'll pass it along.
Thanks to Steve and to all who commented in the GameThread. Please leave further thoughts, observations, questions, complaints, and compliments about tonight's game in the comments.