The New Jersey Devils had a bit of a challenge tonight to say the least. Still depleted by injuries, winless in their last three, and up against an opponent who not only has won four straight but three of those wins came against quality opponents (Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Washington). Yet, the Devils and Senators went on to play a tightly checked game and Patrik Elias' tip made all the difference in the score. That's Elias' first of the season, yet another game winning goal (68th of his career), and the Devils break their winless streak by a score of 3-1. NHL.com has their recap up, complete with the box score and other stats from the game.
The biggest indicator of the game itself came with the shots on net. Ottawa outshot the Devils 25-21. No, that's not a typo. Both teams struggled to get the space to put shots on net. Sure, the Senators had 11 attempts denied (5 blocked, 6 missed) and the Devils had 17 attempts that didn't go on net (11 blocked, 6 missed). However, that really speaks to how well both team's defenses were at positionally. There were times that both teams looked sloppy in their own end; but neither team got much in terms of consistent pressure with the exception of the Senators after the Devils' first goal. It was a tight game, and that the Devils rose above over a hot Senators squad has to do wonders for the team's confidence.
Peter R has his recap up at Silver Seven, lamenting the boredom of the game and the frustration shown by the Senators. (Maybe he should consider a different sport if he thought tonight's game was boring. Or demand that his team perform better?). My thoughts on tonight's game follow after the jump, complete with an embedded NHL.com video of tonight's highlights.
Now, both Martin Brodeur and Brian Elliott played well tonight. I felt Brodeur had more dangerous scoring chances to deal with - how the Senators didn't score on a loose puck right in front in the third, I don't know - but no one can really complain about the goals either goaltender gave up. Brodeur got beaten by a deft deflection (a chop?) from Milan Michalek right in front of him. No shame in conceding that one. Likewise, Elliott shouldn't feel too bad about being beaten by Patrik Elias' tip of Andy Greene's shot late in the second period.
Elliott may regret the first goal he gave up. Andy Greene's dump into the zone takes a funny bounce off the boards and goes into the slot. Now, if you look closely in the video, you see Elliott about to make a move at it but he doesn't. I understand he doesn't want to expose himself, but he really should have attempted to poke it away or smother it. Instead, Nicklas Bergfors picks it up, makes a move, and beats Elliott. It was luck that got Bergfors the opportunity, but it was the rookie's skill in turning it into a goal.
I would want to point out that despite contributing 21 shots on net, a number of forwards stood out. Nicklas Bergfors started off the game willing and ready to fire the puck and got 3 shots. Scoring that goal should do well to boost his confidence. I felt he became quiet as the game wore on, but that could have been the result of Ottawa's defense keying on the unit of Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Niclas Bergfors. Still, I think he's responding to the recent criticism of him well; he can build on a performance like the one he had tonight.
Which leads me to Parise. He was hustling, making plays on forechecking efforts and battling along the boards well enough. Yet, I felt his shots were a bit off; especially in the first period where he would take a pass and fire it before it really settled on his stick. Nevertheless, he put 4 shots on Elliott (more than any other Devils tonight) and got an assist. If that's a not-so-good game from Parise, then we should all be so happy.
But the big performer at forward tonight was Patrik Elias. OK, it wasn't all good - he was 4 for 13 at the faceoff dot. But he was skating well with Brian Rolston and Jamie Langenbrunner; he got 18:15 of ice time tonight; he was more confident with his passes; and he was looking more like the Elias that we all know and love. Some of his passes could have been simpler on offense, but he'll get better about that. Of course there is the goal. It's his first of the season and he has to feel confident. As usual, the goal Elias scored was big not only because Elliott had no real chance at the deflection, but it was the game winner. It's almost funny that he tends to score important goals.
OK, enough about the forwards, what about the defense? Well, the Ottawa forecheckers were successful at smoking out a number of defensemen on the breakout. The Senators were pretty good at catching cleared pucks in the neutral zone or at the point to re-start their attack at points of the game. I felt the Devils were sloppy after the Bergfors goal and that Ottawa had most of it's best chances to score in the game in that time frame in the third period. It honestly reminded me of what happened after Brian Rolston's goal in Dallas on Saturday - which didn't end well.
Yet, the Devils escaped the first period at 1-1 and the defense shored itself up afterwards. Namely by not allowing Ottawa to boss them around on the rink from the second period onward. I wouldn't say they were great, but that the Senators only got 25 through to Brodeur and attempted only 36 shots total is laudable. What was laudable was that the minutes were spread out a little more. Sure, Andy Greene played 25:03 but he was the only defenseman to have played more than 24 minutes. Mark Fraser got 14:15 and looked OK, Matthew Corrente got 8:54 and was also decent; but I think the big factor was that no defenseman had to do any PK duty tonight. This limited the Devils to even strength situations, which allowed Jacques Lemaire to roll all three pairings, and power plays where only one defenseman was on each unit.
The discipline from the Devils tonight was mostly impeccable short of the two (three?) items. First, David Clarkson and Andrew Peters wanting to start something with Matt Carkner and getting coincidental minors in separate situations. Second, Andrew Peters demolished Chris Neil and Alexandre Picard with big hits. While that meant this is really the first game where Peters was actually noticible in a game. Per Peter R's recap at Silver Seven, Neil was injured by the hit and Picard was shaken up. I felt the first hit was just a hard one (if it was improper, would it be in the highlights?), but the second one was questionable. Still, I hate seeing injuries and I certainly hope Neil's is minor. Again, any penalty was wiped by Carkner and Peter trying to tussle, which the refs weren't allowing. Outside of that, the Devils were clean. Not having to kill penalties that's the best penalty killing, after all.
Still, despite the lack of total shots attempted and power plays from the Senators, I felt Brodeur bailed out the Devils quite a bit with a big save or an clearance of a loose puck. The defense got onto most of the rebounds, but Marty came up huge, particularly in the third period and particularly on Jarkko Ruutu - as shown in the highlights). How the Senators didn't tie it up there is beyond me. Maybe Marty's goaltending is like a vacuum for pucks? I don't know. Michalek's deflection was perfect and the Senators couldn't recreate perfection to beat Brodeur. I may be repeating myself, but Brodeur was solid tonight and was a key factor in the Devils' win.
I said in the preview for his game that focus would be crucial and outside of the Devils' performance after Bergfors' goal in the first period, I think that bore out. The Devils didn't get down on themselves for being tied at 1 or not getting much done on the power play, The Devils didn't panic much late in the game, even drawing a tripping call from Jarkko Ruutu that helped kill the clock. They weren't perfect, but they did well enough to earn the victory. Keeping their focus on the task at hand allowed it all to happen, from what I saw.
Now, the Devils get to rest for a little bit, enjoy a little Thanksgiving, and then head up to Boston for a noon game on Black Friday followed by a 1 PM game at the Rock against the Islanders on Nondescript Color Saturday. I'm not even sure when they'll get the chance to practice to work on their power play or make simpler plays on offense, but the win should give them a boost to give a good effort for the next two games. After all, it broke a winless streak, thanks to Patrik Elias' tip.
Thanks to Steve for running the GameThread, thanks to you all for reading. Please leave all your thoughts, questions, and concerns about tonight's game in the comments. Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!