Last Saturday, the New Jersey Devils snowballed their way to a huge 6-1 win over the New York Islanders. As the game went on, the Devils played better and went on to dominate on the ice and on the scoreboard. Tonight, the opposite happened as the Devils hosted the Detroit Red Wings. The Devils started off great, slowed down a bit in the second period, and then reverted to how they looked last night in the third period. In the process, the Devils conceded a two goal lead and the game was forced into overtime and followed by a shootout. The Devils won there, the final became 4-3, and so NHL.com has your recap complete with the relevant stats.
The Devils prevailed there, but I can't honestly say I'm pleased with the performance. I know, I know, it's a results-oriented business and the Devils just picked up 4 points in 48 hours. Fine. But the Devils could have and should have done better tonight, especially because they played so well and worked so hard in the first period. Credit the Detroit Red Wings for responding after being beaten on first twenty minutes, they eventually took the game over and made it a game.
Winging it in Motown has their recap up and joehass wonders why Patrick Eaves wasn't used in the shootout for Detroit given that he had a goal and an assist. Read on my extended thoughts on tonight's game.
Let's talk about the goaltenders first. Martin Brodeur and Chris Osgood, I felt, played well. Both goaltenders had to come up huge at various points. Brodeur bailed the Devils out of the third period, whereas Chris Osgood robbed the Devils a few times earlier - most notably Ilkka Pikkarainen's backhand. A bit odd to say given that both gave up 3 goals each. However, only one of the six goals scored in regulation was really a soft - Johnny Oduya's individual effort sliding right through Osgood's legs. The other goals were off rebounds where the goaltender had no chance on (Jamie Langenbrunner, and one deflection by Patrick Eaves. Here's a video of the game's highlights from NHL.com. See for yourself:
Now, you can see where the momentum lied in the shots by period. The Devils' first period was very strong. They bossed the Detroit skaters around, they moved the puck up ice at will, they owned the neutral zone, and outshot the Wings 11-7. They were doing what I said I wanted them to do in the game preview - be aggressive on offense. If you had seen that period, then you became increasingly amazed at how the Devils took their foot off the proverbial pedal. In the second period, Detroit pulled one back (Kris Draper on a rebound), the Devils responded with a goal of their own (Rob Niedermayer on a rebound created by Vladimir Zharkov), and then Detroit capitalized on a power play near the end of the period (Thomas Holmstrom on a tip). Sure, the Devils were leading after the period, 3-2; but the Red Wings clearly made adjustments that the Devils didn't have many answers for and so outshot the Devils 11-9. No longer was Detroit being outworked, no longer was Detroit constantly giving away the puck in the neutral zone.
And then the third period came and it reminded me so much of last night, it was sick in retrospect. It started off well enough. Jay Pandolfo nearly had a goal when his shot from the high slot was stopped by Chris Osgood. The puck bounced up, over Osgood, and was about to slide in only for Brad Stuart to swoop in and clear it off the line. From that point on, Detroit took over in pinning the Devils back, forcing them to clear the puck right back to Detroit, and repeat. Patrick Eaves got the equalizer off a deflection and Martin Brodeur should be thanked for keeping the score tied. After all, the Devils only put 3 shots on Osgood in the third (11-3 Detroit in terms of shots). Where were the Devils of the first period? Where was the aggressive offense? Truthfully, the Devils escaped the third period and were fortunate to earn a point with that kind of "offense."
Overtime saw the Devils actually make an effort to score a goal and came close when a deflected shot by Travis Zajac beat Osgood, but was denied by the post. Alas, this game needed a shootout and the Devils pull out a win. The fans (it was a very good and loud crowd at the Rock) were real happy with the win, nearly everyone standing for every shot and Devils attempt. Exciting stuff, but I can't help but think that most would have liked to have seen the Devils continue to do what they did in the first period and put the game out of doubt. But Detroit responded real well and the Devils wilted. I also can't help but think of the following cliche: good teams know how to win games that they perhaps shouldn't have. The Devils did just that in the last two games. So I guess they are a good team.
A few Devils stuck out tonight, in my opinion. I felt Jay Pandolfo (17:58, 1 A, 2 SOG) and Johnny Oduya (21:01, 1 G, 3 hits) had good games. I was a bit concerned with how they would look after not playing for at least a month, and my concerns were quickly erased. Both hustled pretty well and didn't make too many noticeable mistakes as they played significant minutes. Well, Oduya did jump up on offense, got caught, and didn't really recover well as Darren Helm unloaded a shot that Kris Draper eventually knocked in. But Oduya was just a part of that, the other Devils should have helped out in recovery; so I wouldn't kill him for that one. Rob Niedermayer had a good game, he had 3 shots on net and went right to the net at the right time for the Devils' third goal. He played just over 19 minutes (19:17) and statistically I can only fault him for going 5 for 13 on faceoffs. I also felt Colin White (21:00) and Mike Mottau (24:57) had a solid game on defense. This is especially good news for White as he left Friday's game early due to "lower body soreness." Tonight, he stayed in and feels pretty good afterward according to Gulitti's postgame report.
In terms of Devils who stuck out for not being noticeable (this makes sense, hear me out), I'd have to point the finger to Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston. Last week, they were a dynamite duo. Tonight, they weren't really there. Rolston had 3 shots on net and played 14:57. None of those shots were of particular importance and he managed to get blocked twice and miss the net three times. I didn't think he had an impact. Elias got the win-clinching goal in the shootout, but he did little else in the game. He also played far less than I thought, only 14:05, put 1 shot on net, and was thoroughly beaten at the faceoff dot (3 for 11). The offense has a whole suffered as the game went on, and these two really do need to take more initiative to prevent this from happening in future games.
I do have to credit Detroit's defense in part of stifling New Jersey's offense. Nicklas Lidstrom is an absolute joy to watch on the blueline. He knows where to position himself, when to step up on a player, when to drop back, and he is so slick with the puck. A few times in the game, a Devil forward would have the puck and carry it over the blueline only to just dump it away because he knows he can't beat Lidstrom in a one-on-one battle. It's no wonder he's known as a dominant defenseman. Naturally, he played 30:48 for Detroit because he really is that important. Jonathan Ericsson also came back from injury and put in a good (not perfect, but good) effort in playing 28:24 (!!), often along side Lidstrom. Overall, the Red Wings' D cleaned up a lot of rebounds and Lidstrom alone made things difficult for the Devils' offense after the first period. Not that the Devils' offense was particularly interested in attacking them by the third period.
So what's next? The Devils have four games in the coming week and they really need to be more consistently positive on offense. That means putting shots on net through all three periods. That means not allowing the opposition to dictate the play when up with a lead. That means not giving up a two goal lead in a game. I think it'll get better, hopefully by Monday when they go up to Buffalo. Thanks to Steve and commenters in the GameThread, as well as all of the readers. Feel free to leave your thoughts, questions, complaints, stats I missed, and anything else you feel about tonight's shootout win in the comments.