The New Jersey Devils' injury list is loaded. The team has a tough stretch of games ahead of them on the schedule and a potential "banana peel" opponent tonight. What do the Devils go out and do? They make the most of their chances. And so the Devils defeated the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 at home. With the win, the team is now 4-4 at the Rock, they have won six straight games, and by virtue of having played two fewer games than the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Devils currently lead the Atlantic Division. NHL.com has their recap up with all the boxscores and game stats that you may desire. For the Ducks' side of things, Daniel at Anaheim Calling has an open recap post open with a short blurb about their loss.
For example, look at the shot totals. The Ducks, holders of one of the worst defenses of the league, outshot the Devils, who has one of the best defenses in the league, 32-25. I felt the Devils didn't really do much dictation of the game, waiting for mistakes to pounce on. Instead, it was Anaheim who set themselves up more often on offense, made safer passes for better possession, and so had more shots on net. Something I certainly didn't expect going into tonight's game.
Upon reflection, I now wonder why the Devils push the tempo more often? Whenever they did get the puck in deep and start cycling, they looked pretty good in doing so. They just didn't do it as much as they could.
Yet, all that led to was the Ducks leading in quantity and total possession. As you see from the score, that amounted to very little. The Devils' defense - both the defensemen and backchecking forwards - were instrumental in preventing any rebounds or second chance shots get to Anaheim sticks. The lone goal allowed was a bit soft; I'm not sure why Martin Brodeur couldn't have covered the post better and I'm even less sure why Colin White didn't knock Corey Perry to the ground before he scored what was likely the easiest goal he'll score all season. Beyond that error, Martin Brodeur saw the majority of those 32 shots against and the only concern for him was reacting to any rebounds. An issue that the Devils made sure wouldn't become goals against. The defense and Brodeur played well in that regard.
The Devils' offense really made the most of it's chances and that decided the game. Look at the highlight video from NHL.com and you'll see what I'm talking about. Three great goals from New Jersey. Jamie Langenbrunner's deflection of Andy Greene's shot was sublime; and early enough in the game to really dampen Anaheim's spirits. David Clarkson's goal was just fantastic. I have no other words for that release off the toe drag. Zach Parise's shorthanded effort was an excellent blend of skill and grit, making the goal happen. I felt Parise was actually robbed on a 5-on-3 power play; he had the puck right on the backdoor, but Jonas Hiller just threw his body to his left and got fortunate. It's in the highlight video too. That power play situation wasn't too bad as it put good offensive pressure on the Ducks in the third period, but it didn't convert and so you can find some fault with the the Devils having zero goals on two-man advantages for the season.
Hiller was kind of sketchy all night long. From what I saw, he gave up far too many rebounds than he would have liked. He got into position well, but instead of saving a shot and then holding onto it, too often did the puck just bounce ahead of him. Fortunately, the Ducks' defense was solid in preventing rebounds as well. Which makes me wonder what could have been if the Devils were just more aggressive tonight.
To clarify, I mean in terms of offensive play. The Devils were caught being too aggressive by handing Anaheim 6 power plays. OK, some of them were a bit iffy, such as Dainius Zubrus' "hook" and the tripping call on David Clarkson - I thought it would be on Jamie Langenbrunner as Clarkson was just standing behind the net. But I saw it live, perhaps it was clearer on tape. The most infuriating of the calls were that two of them were too many men on the ice calls and, honestly, I have nothing but an angry stream of expletives. This is a clean blog so I will relent but no one should be happy with one too many men on the ice call tonight, much less two. This careless team error needs to stop happening at all. Overall, the discipline was poor and handing any team 6 power play opportunities is just stupid.
Except the Ducks' power play was absolutely terrible. They may have actually set up in the Devils' zone for one and a half of those power play chances: second half of the Zubrus hooking minor at the start of the third period and during the Mike Mottau slashing minor. The stats say the Ducks got 8 power play shots on net; I'm pretty sure nearly all of them were pedestrian. The Devils penalty killing units just kept taking the puck away and clearing it in all manners of fashion. Of course, the apex was Jamie Langenbrunner springing Zach Parise into space for his shorthanded goal. The Devils penalty killers were just excellent all game long and the Ducks' power play just couldn't muster much momentum going. Again, I'd like to see less shorthanded situations overall; but any Devils fan has to praise the work done by the PK tonight.
Just as a final note, just a few quick thoughts: Patrik Elias looked more like himself, playing in all situations across 18:47 of ice time; though, I wish he shot it more than once. He did look tired again in the third, but that will go away in due time. The best forwards on the Devils tonight were the goal scorers: Jamie Langenbrunner (1 G, 1 A, 5 SOG, 19:05), David Clarkson (1 G, 3 SOG, 15:43), and Zach Parise (1 G, 1 A, 5 SOG, 22:25). On defense, I felt Mike Mottau had a quiet, but very effective night - his only error was that slashing call near the end of the game but the Devils PK made sure it wasn't a big error. Mark Fraser got over 12 minutes tonight which is a nice step; Cory Murphy playing less than 8 makes me wonder whether Matthew Corrente will replace him for a game or two. Lastly, in honoring the 2003 Stanley Cup Champion Devils team, they announced all the players from that team prior to the game. Brian Rafalski, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Gionta, Sergei Brylin, and Pat Burns all got noticeable cheers; whereas Scott Gomez got very noticeable booing.
Big thanks to Steve for taking care of the GameThread and thanks to all the readers and commenters. The Devils now lead the division and have a chance to start building a lead tomorrow night at the Igloo. Of course, they'll have to do better at dictating the pace of the game themselves instead of just reacting to the opposition, as well as not hand the other team power play after power play. A quick preview of that game is forthcoming. Please comment about tonight's win here in the meantime.