Tonight was not a historic night, but it sure was an intense night. The New Jersey Devils held the Pittsburgh Penguins without a goal for a second straight game and now have a streak of 168:28 where the Penguins have not scored against New Jersey (thanks to ILWT user Imperator_Celtic). NHL.com has their recap up complete with links to the boxscore and other stats. While the game wasn't necessarily a sharp affair, it was filled with mounds of energy and plenty of big saves from both Martin Brodeur and Brent Johnson.
Let me give full credit to the goalies, first and foremost. This was a goaltender's duel and you usually don't have big saves without big scoring chances. Both Brodeur and Johnson bailed out their teams more than a few times and ensured the lead/kept the game winnable. With Brodeur, perhaps it comes as no surprise - he is a legend, after all. In his 105th career shutout (4th of this season), he was tested on most of 32 shots he faced. Of course, Brodeur passed them all with flying colors. Johnson was more impressive if only because it's a backup coming in and having to deal with numerous Devils attacks. He played big tonight and was well deserving of the second star of the game. Penguins fans should not fault Johnson for his performance tonight. I almost feel bad for him that Nicklas Bergfors' sharp angle shot beat him early in the game. Key word: almost.
Nonetheless, without the excellent play of either goalie, this game's score is much larger. Based on the energy levels of each team, it would have been close. Yet from the run of play and from a work-ethic standpoint, I felt the Devils were the better team on the ice and the win was earned by the Devils. Check out Hooks Orpik's recap at PensBurgh for a recap from the Pittsburgh standpoint and if you want to see what a recap from someone on Haterade™ looks like. Read on for my further thoughts on tonight's game.
I know some (cough Hooks cough) may see the scoreline and think it was a game filled with traps and whathaveyou, but the reality doesn't meet the perception. Both teams played up and down hockey, both teams had 32 shots on net, and both teams had plenty of scoring chances that they were either robbed on by the goaltender or the shooter botched the chance (e.g. Jordan Staal all alone in front with a loose puck in the first period). Neither team sat back, there were constant battles for the puck all night long. I especially like seeing that from a Devils standpoint
Only tonight, the Devils won a majority of those battles. Their stickchecking was remarkably effective as time went on, the forecheck forced a few gaffes from the Pittsburgh defenders, and the defense didn't allow many second chances for Pittsburgh. Likewise, the Pittsburgh defense was on point in preventing many rebounds reaching Devils sticks and when the Penguins did get a good shift going, Martin Brodeur had to rise to the occassion. Neither team played any good preventative defense, just look at the shot totals for evidence of that. Yet, they played well in terms of reactive defense.
Still, because the Devils were relentless, New Jersey often had more puck possession and in a way the attack shot itself in the foot with it's accuracy. Yes, 32 shots got to Brent Johnson and some of them were fantastic shots. Yet, the Devils were blocked 17 times (most notably one in the third period that appeared to shake Evgeni Malkin up) and missed the net 8 times. While three out of the four power plays (the first one was wasted) that the Devils enjoyed weren't bad at moving the puck; but the killer pass either missed the target or the shot wasn't there. Therefore, they only got 3 shots on the power play when they could have had so much more. If there is a big criticism for the Devils tonight, that's the one: New Jersey needs to sharpen up on their accuracy. Especially on the power play, in my opinion.
As far as criticism for the opposition, there is plenty. First and foremost, can someone tell me who was wearing #71 and #87 tonight? Because the real Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby would have been far more effective tonight. They combined for 5 shots, 3 blocked, and 1 miss. Malkin got robbed twice and that was his contribution to the game - other than going 2 for 8 on faceoffs (ouch). Crosby was noticeably worse tonight. He gave the Rock a laugh when he whiffed twice on an open, uncovered shot during a 4-on-4 situation. His best moment was intercepting a poor pass from Johnny Oduya while shorthanded, skating up ice, getting closed down by Oduya, and pulling off a better-looking-than-it-was backhand. His worst moment followed shortly after as Brodeur played that puck, the Devils got it up ice, dumped it, and Crosby then cleared it over the glass to put the Penguins down two men for 30 seconds. While it wasn't as if no skater on Pittsburgh played well - Bill Guerin and Jordan Staal (despite missing that sitter in the first) had good games, 5 shots each - when you have two of the three best hockey players in the world, you expect them to play well. They didn't, the Devils quelled their skills, and I strongly believe that held the Penguins back tonight.
Then there was the discipline from the Penguins. Penguins fans may be wondering why there wasn't more calls from the ref, and I'd attribute that to the refs being rather lenient tonight. The Devils understood this, but apparently the Penguins didn't figure it out. That only makes the penalties they took even dumber because they were so obvious. Seriously, an elbow from Maxime Talbot (his sole contribution to the game); two slashing calls (Matt Cooke, Chris Kunitz) while the Penguins have the puck; and Crosby's ill-fated clearance. None of those should have happened and the Penguins should be very happy with Brent Johnson and the Devils' power play for Pittsburgh not paying the price for those calls. Especially with three of those minors coming in the third period. Pittsburgh has to shape up in terms of discipline.
Lastly, there is the power play at the end of the game. Travis Zajac takes a holding call and at 1-0 in the final 1:26 of the game, the Pens didn't really challenge the PK units. With six attackers, including Crosby and Malkin no less! They got exactly one shot through to Brodeur and all others were blocked or easily knocked away by the Devils. Jamie Langenbrunner took it up ice at the end to pot in the empty net to ice the game. I know the Penguins' power play converts at an incredibly low rate, but you can't tell me they made the most of that opportunity. Not even close.
Nonetheless, a number of Devils skaters not named Martin Brodeur looked good tonight. Bergfors was all over the place, got plenty of PP time, and skated with Zajac and Zach Parise for most of the game to play 19:51. He looked good tonight with 4 shots and, of course, the goal. Brian Rolston also had a good game with 5 shots on net and 3 hits; Jamie Langenbrunner complemented him with 4 shots and 4 hits. Zajac also had 4 shots and went 9 for 14 at the dot, which is a good night's work for him. The defensive pairing of Johnny Oduya and Andy Greene got a ton of minutes and looked solid in their own end. Lastly, Matthew Corrente played with some vigor and played simple defense well enough on the third pairing. He got 9:24 of ice time (more than Mark Fraser's 8:58, actually), and was credited with two hits and a blocked shot. Not bad for someone who hasn't seen the ice in quite a bit of time.
There was some bad news on the devils' side with respect to injuries. Per Tom Gulitti's postgame post, David Clarkson has apparently re-injured his right fibula. Definitely bad news as he was just coming back from a major injury. He left the game during the second period, he did not return, and it doesn't appear that he'll be traveling with the team for tomorrow night's game or Saturday's game. More information will come out later, but this is awful luck. The Devils do have the depth to keep on rolling as they were without him, but I hate seeing a player getting injured right after he gets healthy. Especially someone with Clarkson's lovely mixture of skill, grit, and guts. Hopefully, it is a minor injury this time.
Overall, however, the Devils put out a 60 minute effort and Jacques Lemaire properly recognizes this per Gulitti's post game post. I can't disagree. Martin Brodeur played a great game and the Devils kept up the effort throughout all three periods. It wasn't the most excellent game played; but it was an intense, up-tempo affair. For a second straight game, the Devils looked very good against Pittsburgh. In fact, they shut them out - again.
Thanks to all the commenters in the GameThread and thank you for reading. Please leave all your thoughts, questions, concerns, and other such notes in the comments about tonight's game. On that note, please enjoy the highlights from tonight's game via NHL.com. You'll love it if you enjoy goaltending: