The New Jersey Devils dominated the game in all aspects except on the scoreboard in this afternoon's game. Nonetheless, the Devils earned the result through the shootout thanks to David Clarkson not going glove-side on Antero Nittymaki and a number of Lightning shooters not fooling Martin Brodeur. NHL.com has their recap up along with links to the boxscore, extended stats, and highlight videos. Check out Raw Charge later for their recap of today's events from the Lightning perspective.
Honestly, the tight score was no means indicative to how well the Devils played in this game. The Devils outshot the Lightning 40-19; 38 to 15 in regulation. The Devils had power plays largely set up in Tampa Bay's end for the duration of the penalty. The Devils' penalty kill allowed a mere two shots on net, both in the first period where the Devils allowed only 3 shots against. The Lightning looked out of sorts for the first 40 minutes and surprisingly also in the shootout where shooters Andrej Meszaros, Jeff Halpern (seriously) and Steven Stamkos all missed the net entirely.
The win is the Devils' seventh straight on the road, their third via the shootout, and their fifth where they won by one goal. It also results in the Devils finishing the month at 8-4, their best in recent seasons. Read on for more thoughts about the game.First and foremost, Tampa Bay Lightning fans need to give all the credit for this game to Antero Niittymaki. He and he alone kept this game from being a blowout in New Jersey's favor. He robbed Ilkka Pikkarainen and Cory Murphy with his glove in the first period. He denied a penalty shot attempt from Jamie Langenbrunner (from the penalty kill no less) with a stretched out left leg. He moved swiftly to get in front of everything possible when the Devils swarmed the Tampa Bay defense, especially when New Jersey had the man advantage. Simply put, Antero Niittymaki got this team with a point. Given how much Tampa Bay seemed "floaty" out there, he had to stand on his head and make save after save with the exception of one goal and one that got through to the crossbar.
And Tampa Bay was seriously beaten on in this game. I'm telling you, the Lightning got two power plays in the first period and the following players on the team's top 6: Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone, and Steve Stamkos. The only got 3 shots on net. During the second period, the Devils had a power play where they spent all 2 minutes of it in Tampa Bay's end, followed by a power play later in the period where the Lightning got 3 clearances. After Tampa Bay got it's equalizer - a literal fluke goal as Langenbrunner unwittingly re-directed a Steve Stamkos pass at Brodeur which fooled him - it only had the Lightning play more "even" with the Devils instead of New Jersey dictating the game as they did through the first 40 minutes.
The Lightning were clearly outplayed in this game overall. At forward, with 40 shots on net, they largely looked good. The ZZ Pops line looked great, with Parise putting eight shots on net. Ilkka Pikkarainen had his best game yet as a Devil, while robbed by Niittymaki, he worked hard and well with his linemates (Nicklas Bergfors and Dainius Zubrus) and put up 4 shots of his own - the second most on the team along with Mike Mottau (seriously). Brian Rolston also looked good with 3 shots and 4 blocked and I've noticed him more on the penalty kill and going up on the forecheck. As with Bergfors, I think the points will eventually come to Rolston if he keeps up his good work.
I have to give a lot of credit to the entire Devils team for outplaying Tampa Bay alone. In their third game in four nights, on reduced rest because it was in the afternoon, and still reeling with injuries to Paul Martin, Jay Pandolfo, and Johnny Oduya, one would expect the Devils to falter somewhere. Yet, they did the opposite. The depleted defense held Tampa Bay to 15 shots on net in regulation and the Devils kept attacking over and over again. I said in the preview to this game that I wanted the Devils to take initiative, and they did just that. Even on the power play, where the Devils often moved the puck with ease in Tampa Bay's zone and applied further pressure to their defense. This had all the makings of a blowout if it weren't for Niittymaki. My only real complaint is that, well, the Devils needed to go to the shootout to win this. But can I really complain that much if the opposition's goaltender was so good?
I especially have to thank the defense because Lemaire wasn't kidding when he said he'd give the veterans most of the minutes. While they looked OK, Mark Fraser had only 6:52 of ice time and Cory Murphy played 14:02. The minutes for the new third pairing were limited. That's why Mike Mottau played 28:29 and Andy Greene played 29:48 of solid, solid defense from both of them. That's why Bryce Salvador played 23:35, blocked 5 shots, took a backhanded shot to the ear, and was massive all game long. That's why Colin White, somehow, got "only" 20:54 and 4 hits. The Devils blocked 13 shots and allowed only 19 shots against from Tampa Bay today - you can't expect much better than that. Martin Brodeur was as good as he could have been, though I wish he (and everyone else) was more aware on Langenbrunner's deflection off of Stamkos. If only to get shutout #103 out of the way already.
You also can't ask for much better than this individual effort from Travis Zajac in the only Devils goal in regulation.
To recap: Zajac won the faceoff which went to Fraser. Zajac tips the shot, spins away from the defender to get loose, and Zajac gets to the rebound first to put it home. Simply great from Zajac. With the end of the month, I'm going to have a hard time deciding between him and Parise for Devil of the Month.
Again, my only regret is that the Devils didn't turn the dominance in shots, possession, power play chances (4 to 3), and so forth into more goals. Going into the third, I had the voice of pessimism in the back of my mind saying, "You know, if Tampa Bay gets a break and scores one, it's not only tied but they'll be energized to take this game over." The Lightning did get that break, but the Devils held them off soon after and didn't let up too much on their own after the goal. While that was good and I'm glad the Devils got their deserved result, it's not something that New Jersey should look to make a trend.
Nevertheless, the important matter is that the Devils got the two points, they end a successful October, and they amazingly remain perfect on the road. Again, one can't complain too loudly, can they? The Devils now get 3 days of rest before hosting Washington next Wednesday. The team has certainly earned it!
Thanks for reading, and please leave your thoughts on today's game in the comments.