The New Jersey Devils coming from behind in a game to win should not be new to Devils fans this season. They've done it multiple times with 1 or 2 goal deficits. But tonight, the Devils' offense truly led the way to victory tonight. The New Jersey Devils came from losing 3-1 after the first period to lead 4-3 after the second, and finished the game at 5-4. NHL.com has their recap up complete with all the stats from tonight's game.
And when I say the offense was leading the way, I truly meant it. The Devils put 24 shots on Ondrej Pavelec in the first period. Mind you, they had 22 shots against Ottawa last night in the entire game. The Devils didn't hold back in either period; they finished with 42 on net. Everyone except for Jamie Langenbrunner had an official shot on net. Even Andrew Peters had a shot on net, and it was good one - Pavelec legitimately robbed him of a goal in the first period. When Andrew Peters gets a good chance at the net, then it's a fantastic night for the offense. All four lines were contributing, as Zach Parise, Brian Rolston, and Rod Pelley led the team with 5 shots each. The power play went 1 for 2, converting is always a good sign. Of course, the Devils scored 4 straight goals after the first period and Atlanta could only answer back with one.
In contrast, the Atlanta Thrashers' defensive play was embarassingly bad. Seriously, 24 shots against in one period? Not tightening up afterwards? Allowing loose pucks and rebounds to go free in the slot? Stepping up on forwards beyond the red line to allow odd man rushes? Blindly throwing the puck away in an attempt to clear it? Awful, awful, awful, awful! For much of the game, the Devils were able to do whatever they'd like on offense because of Atlanta's terrible defending. Their backchecking was a joke and their defense gave New Jersey forwards too much space. If it wasn't for Pavelec, the Devils would have absolutely routed the Thrashers. Glenn "Chico" Resch was killing the Thrashers all night long for their lackadaisical defending. Maybe he's a bit of a homer, but he was 100% correct tonight.
If the Thrashers had a competent defensive effort tonight, then they'd probably go on to win this game easily. I would hope the Falconer or someone at Bird Watchers Anonymous will hammer this point further in their recap.
More thoughts on tonight's exciting effort game come after the jump.
In terms of the forwards and the general offense, tonight was a complete, full, 60 minute effort. That was great. The game itself was quite entertaining, with plenty of scoring chances and actual scoring. Check out the full highlights of the game from NHL.com for, well, the highlights:
What wasn't was the Devils' defense in the first period. Ondrej Pavelec had it all to do in facing 24 shots and the only one that beat him was Rob Niedermayer's laser from the top of the left circle. By contrast, Martin Brodeur suffered with defenders making brainfarts of their own in front of him. Colin White and Mike Mottau not only got burned once, but twice by Atlanta to leave Brodeur in no man's land. Ron Hainsey got past both White and Mottau and fired a bouncing puck for Atlanta's first goal; and Nik Antropov split the duo and fired it perfectly into the top left corner for Atlanta's second. Both White and Mottau were out there for a third goal against, as Atlanta actually set up on offense, got the puck around to Pavel Kubina, who let loose with a blistering bomb from the point. 3 goals against is pretty bad and White and Mottau were directly responsible for two of them occuring.
What makes that worse is that Atlanta had a grand total of 6 shots on net that period. The Devils pushing forward over and over (thanks to Atlanta's terrible defense and neutral zone play) played a role in the Thrashers putting up so few shots. So did the other two pairings actually playing well on defense. White and Mottau are normally pretty solid; but tonight, for whatever reason, they stunk up the ice in that first period.
Fortunately, Jacques Lemaire - he who is not afraid to make changes to his forward lines - made two important changes. First, he took Martin Brodeur out and put Yann Danis in - the first time this season that has happened. Devils fans who wanted Danis to get in a game were satisfied with the move. I was thinking he would start; I was sort of hoping he would; but I do have to say that Danis probably doesn't stop any of those three goals that Atlanta scored in the first period. That said, he had a very solid game in relief. He only conceded one and it was strong shot by Slava Kozlov on a late power play from the top of the circle. No shame in that, really.
The second would be more important in the long term: Lemaire paired Mike Mottau with Johnny Oduya and Colin White with Mark Fraser. From the second period onward, White turned his -2 from the first into an even total - even making the clearance that Brian Rolston picked up on for a breakaway and the Devils' first goal of the second period. Mottau settled down and played smarter from then on. While Atlanta flourished in the second period to put 12 shots on Danis, the defense didn't allow any big scoring chances and they were very good at cleaning up any and all rebounds. Overall, they held the high powered Atlanta offense to a total of 26 shots while helping the Devils push forward en route to 42 minutes.
In my opinion, what was almost as shocking as the Atlanta defense was the play of Atlanta's top player. Normally, Ilya Kovalchuk is a beast. Tonight, his only positive contribution was passing the puck to Nik Antropov, who split White and Mottau for a breakaway goal. Outside of that, he had a crucial giveaway that led to the Devils' fifth goal and he had no shots on net in 21:03 of ice time. I don't know whether he was just bad or whether the defense just shut him down. Maybe both? They aren't mutually exclusive, in my view. Poor Pavelec, the defense was terrible for him, and Atlanta's top player was just as bad. No wonder he had so many saves in tonight's highlights.
Let's get back to praise here. First and foremost, fantastic coaching job by Jacques Lemaire tonight. In addition to the other two lineup moves he made, he saw that Atlanta's defense was bad. He saw that they were still playing bad despite whatever John Anderson, Atlanta's coach, told them after the first period. Being down two goals, Lemaire allowed the Devils offense to be vigorous. But what was truly novel was the third period. Despite being up a goal, Lemaire kept instructing the Devils to go forward and they did. The Devils kept pushing forward on offense, they kept looking for shots (got 9), kept the lines together (Elias-McAmmond-Parise worked so well!) and they were rewarded with Dean McAmmond's second goal of the night. An eventually important goal, as Slava Kozlov did score off a Patrik Elias high sticking penalty (I didn't see it, but Kozlov's goal was well done). The only time the Devils "held back" was when Atlanta emptied the net and at that point, that's what you're supposed to do. Well done, Lemaire.
Now, the guys who fell under the radar on offense. Niclas Bergfors had a much better game tonight playing with Rob Niedermayer and Jay Pandolfo. He was credited with a whopping 4 official takeaways, 4 shots on net, and he played 16:35. He looked more active on the ice than he did against Ottawa on Friday. If you thought he was in a doghouse, tonight proved otherwise. Zach Parise didn't score, but he had 5 shots, he hit the post once, and he had a hand in setting up two goals. He's involved in the play, he's still hustling, and he's getting chances. It's not easy to accept, but I guess he'll break his goalless streak only in due time. Jay Pandolfo played very well in the neutral zone and down low, his finest moment was his touch pass to Niedermayer prior to his goal. Vladimir Zharkov ended up playing very limited minutes (6:35), but still managed an assist and 3 shots on net.
Tonight, the goalscorers truly had great nights. In my opinion, the second period was a fantastic response by the offense. Brian Rolston extended his point streak with an excellent move to slide the puck through Pavelec's legs on a breakway. He's been playing real well, this time with Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac. Rod Pelley went back to center for tonight and scored his first goal of the season with a rising shot that beat Pavelec to the top right corner. Congratulations to Pelley for his first of the season (and thanks to the Thrasher -Jim Slater? - for letting him free enough to make the shot). Rob Niedermayer played very well against Atlanta's top players and opened up the scoring with a sweet goal.
The best Devil tonight? In my opinion, it was Dean McAmmond. McAmmond was dynamite centering for Zach Parise and Patrik Elias. Seriously, Lemaire put the fourth line center up on the first he dazzled tonight with 4 shots, 10 for 21 on faceoffs (acceptable given he usually doesn't take that many), and he got two goals. He cashed in on the rebound - one of the many Atlanta allowed but this one was point blank for his first of the night; and then he put home a beautiful backhand from a Patrik Elias pass for his second of the night. With every game, McAmmond looks to be getting better and better, which is absolutely wonderful for the team. Somewhere, an Ottawa fan is doing a very happy dance.
Overall, I'm very pleased with how the Devils did on offense and I can only wonder what would have happened had White and Mottau played better in the first period. Would Brodeur have remained in net? Would the Devils have pressed forward for the next two periods for more goals? Would the Devils have even been down by 2 to begin with? I don't know. But the Devils came from behind by two goals, Danis got a win and stopped 19 of 20 shots, and the team can rest a bit before travelling to Pittsburgh for control of the Atlantic Division.
Thanks to all of you who have read this and to those who followed along and/or commented in the GameThread. Please leave all your thoughts and feelings about tonight's game in the comments.