Sing with me now!
There's only one Martin Brodeur! There's only one Martin Brodeur! There's only one Maaaaaar-tin Brodeur!
Martin Brodeur didn't have to make many big saves or pull out any highlight-reel worthy moves to stop the Buffalo Sabres. He did his job, he did it well, he was solid with his stick, and he controlled all the rebounds to places where his teammates can clean it up. Martin Brodeur earned his 103rd career shutout, tying him with the all-time leader, the legendary Terry Sawchuk. If 4 Vezinas, 3 Cups, and well over 552 career wins weren't enough to convince you of his greatness, then this should clue you in. If not, I have no words for you. Congratulations to Martin Brodeur.
That said, the 3-0 victory was also an excellent team win. While the first 15 minutes or so weren't great, the New Jersey Devils went on to apply - get this - consistent offensive pressure and just out-worked the Sabres for much of the game. The Devils had sequences where shift after shift just kept going after the Sabres. Most of the second period was an exercise of this domination, and even late in the game the Devils made a point of it to get the puck forward and put shots on Ryan Miller. It was what I wanted to see, it was what I think the team needed to do after two lackluster performances on offense, and it was glorious. NHL.com has their recap up of the Devils' victory, complete with links to the boxscore and other stats.
For the Buffalo perspective, read on at Die by the Blade later on for their recap. I would expect frustration to be the theme, but that's just me. The Buffalo faithful really let their displeasure known in the second and third periods and honestly, I don't blame them for booing. Their team just fell flat after the first period and deserves criticism for it. Read on for my further thoughts on tonight's win.
As the schedule turned out, this would be the only Devils road game between the beginning of the month and December 19 (where they travel to Atlanta). I figured the opposition would be tough and at first, it was a close game. I felt Buffalo were a bit better in the run of play for most of the first period. The Devils didn't look as sharp with their passes, they were a bit too passive on defense, and didn't get much sustained pressure going.
Fortunately, late in the period, they didn't need to do that as Brian Rolston and later Travis Zajac scored off the rush. They were well set up plays, truth be told. Vladimir Zharkov cut outside, fed it down low to Patrik Elias, who put it right on Brian Rolston's stick for the far-post shot that slid in. Well done. Shortly thereafter, the Devils hit back on a long breakout created by Colin White, Zach Parise dished it off to Zajac who ripped one through Ryan Miller. The Devils didn't look all that great, yet led after the period 2-0.
Then the domination began. When you're down 2-0, don't take a holding call to start a period! Apparently, Clarke MacArthur forgot that and he regretted his infraction. Nicklas Bergfors used Parise well on a screen to beat Miller and put the Devils up 3-0. And then the pressure came. The forechecks surprised Buffalo's defense. The neutral zone play was solid. And in the rare chance that Buffalo actually had the puck in a position to do something on offense, the defense either negated it, the Sabres either lost it while trying to set up a "good shot," or Martin Brodeur made an easy save. Only once did the Sabres get the puck in close on Brodeur, literally in the dying seconds of the second period - and the goaltender made sure he smothered it.
I cannot praise the offensive pressure enough, the Devils didn't hold onto their lead and they were really unfortunate (largely thanks to Ryan Miller) to not blow the game completely wide open. I wanted to see an aggressive offense from New Jersey's forwards and I saw it tonight and it was great. The second period was just fantastic hockey by the Devils. On this note, enjoy tonight's highlights from the game with this embedded video from NHL.com.
Jacques Lemaire rolled four lines, all of whom were effective, throughout the second and even all the way into the third period. As the forwards pushed forward, this gave less opportunity for Buffalo to attack. And when they did, the defense and backcheckers did a great job making it difficult with 20 blocked shots and only 22 allowed on net. Excellent work at both ends, in my view. When you see the fourth line of Rod Pelley-Dean McAmmond-Ilkka Pikkarainen out for a shift late in the third period - like with 100 seconds to go - that's a sign that the entire team has played very well that night.
Praise is definitely deserved for Brodeur. But nearly everyone had a good game tonight! Zach Parise roared with 7 shots on goal and an assist. Nicklas Bergfors had 6 shots and a power play goal. Travis Zajac (seriously, that line was cooking) had 4 shots, a goal, and went 7 for 11 on faceoffs. Brian Rolston had 4 shots and a goal. Patrik Elias had 3 shots and went 4 for 8 (good for him at least). Vladimir Zharkov didn't get a shot on net, but he did set up a goal, so that's definitely good - 3 assists in his last 3 games. Rob Niedermayer was solid on the penalty kill, leading that effort on special teams. Even the fourth line had a presence, Dean McAmmond stood out the most as he hit the post in the second, and got his two shots in the third: first by taking a long shot and his second was his own rebound. (Buffalo defense, you got burned by Dean McAmmond). The team as a whole blocked 20 Buffalo shots while only allowing 22 to go at Brodeur. Bryce Salvador and Mark Fraser each had 4, and Jay Pandolfo was close behind with 3. Johnny Oduya skated his socks off with a 26:13 effort; Andy Greene and Colin White rarely made a wrong move; and even Matt Corrente looked good in limited minutes (9:03, only one to play less than 10 minutes). Mike Mottau has played well for New Jersey, but he really wasn't needed all that much. I honestly can't say that any Devil had a bad game. Lemaire got the team fired up after a mediocre first period (despite scoring 2 goals at the end) and it clearly showed on the ice.
The Devils went on to outshoot the Sabres 37-22 (led after 2 periods 25-11, mind you), win more faceoffs (23-16 NJ), and nearly had 3 more goals. Dean McAmmond went high on a low Ryan Miller and only got post in the second period, Travis Zajac's shot while streaking to the net hit the far post on a feed from Parise, and Parise had a goal waived off when the video replay saw a kicking motion on the puck late in the game.
The only faults I could think of the team's performance had to do with discipline and special teams. During a power play, Brian Rolston, rushing back to prevent a shorthanded scoring chance, tripped up a Sabre - which wiped out the Devils' man advantage. In terms of straight-up minors, Bergfors took a late hooking call in the second and Fraser hit a Sabre with a high stick in front of the crease in the third period. Sure, the Devils (with some help with the Sabres) killed these penalties; but they could have been avoided altogether. On the flip side, the Devils' power play wasn't so great. Out of 4 opportunities (well, 3 minus Rolston wiping out the Devils' second power play of the second period), the Devils managed to only get 5 shots on net. They didn't do anything on the first power play of the game or the one they had in the third period. Of course, they did score a power play goal and for the Devils, that's perfectly fine.
And really, those faults are really small blips in comparison to the excellence of the (eventual) overall team effort, the coaching adjustments, Martin Brodeur, the effectiveness of the defense, and the play from all 12 forwards. If this is what the Devils look like now, just wait until the Devils get Paul Martin, Dainius Zubrus, and David Clarkson back from injury.
This was a great win for the Devils and I hope this inspires them to continue what they did in Buffalo tonight at the Rock. Once again, congratulations to the New Jersey Devils for a quality win and congratulations to Martin Brodeur for his 103rd career shutout.
Thanks to all who have commented and/or read the GameThread, thanks to Steve for making the GameThread, and thanks to you for reading this. Please leave all your thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.