If I could describe the Devils' performance in four words, then they would be following: They made it rain. But this game deserves more than four words.
I thought the Panthers were a team fighting for a playoff spot, right in the middle of the thick of things in the East. They certainly didn't look that way, as the Devils just rolled them over 7-2. I felt Colorado had a bad game on Thursday, but Florida was worse today. Litter Box Cats definitely would agree that the Panthers were just plain owned today! Their offense was weak, their forechecking was ineffective, and Craig Anderson just was not having a good day.
Worst of all was their defense. Talk about a paper tiger. If the Panthers were looking to show off Jay Bouwmeester in this game, or any other Panther in this game, then they definitely failed. Maybe Nick Boynton would have made a difference, but the fact of the matter still holds. The Devils were able to put 46 shots on Anderson. They hit the post, I think, 3 times in addition to the 7 goals they did score. The Devils even managed to get one-on-ones with Anderson at least five or six times; and the Devils earned two goals on those breaks. But not by David Clarkson (who had a very good game!) and Brian Gionta. No, the goals came from the trailing players: Brendan Shanahan and Brian Rolston. No one picked them up and so the Panthers paid the price for their lack of backchecking.
I cannot stress enough how bad the Panthers' defense was today. For the first two periods, the Devils forwards just kept finding space in the neutral zone to bring the puck up on a rush! Had the Panthers' defense done their job and had the Panthers play the tight-checking hockey that was a big factor in their 4-0 win last week, this wouldn't have been a total blowout. You can't put it all on Anderson. Consider these Devils' goals: Dainius Zubrus busted through a crowd of white jerseys to force a beautiful top-shelf backhander, for the game's seventh goal. Travis Zajac potted an easy power play goal as the Panthers were caught looking on the set-up pass right to Zajac in the slot. In earning his brace, Zach Parise just made the defense look silly, featuring this absolute gem of a goal:
And Parise's work ethic and hustle was infectious. Sutter wanted scoring from other players not on the Parise line, and today he definitely got that. Everyone not only shot it on net all day long and created chances, but they got goals. Only the Pandolfo-Madden-Holik line was held scoreless, but Sutter shifted that around today as well. His line changes were effective today, so some credit should go to Sutter for that. The Devils' forwards were rightly taking advantage of Florida's miscues all day long and that was huge in getting those seven goals.
The defense may have only contributed secondary assists today; but they collectively worked real hard to stop Florida from generating much of anything on offense. They held the Panthers to a mere 17 shots on net! And Florida only had 4 blocked shots and 2 missed shots. Florida were held to only making 23 attempts at shooting! That's remarkable! Moreso when you consider they had three power plays for the Panthers. The most impressive was that third pairing defenseman, Andy Greene, looked great out there. And Sutter rewarded him with 20:22 of ice time! Just 18 seconds less than Paul Martin! Greene earned it! The Devils' defense was simply excellent today.
My only regret out of this game is that people who didn't see this game and only look at the stats will gripe about how Martin Brodeur gave up 2 goals on 17 shots. For starters, Ville Peltonen's shot was perfectly placed and through a screen on the high stick side. It's not like Brodeur would have gotten that one. Second, Bryan McCabe's shot deflected off a diving Shanahan (diving for a block? IPB is definitely going to be unhappy about this) to fool everyone - both Marty and the fans. It's not like Brodeur let up soft goals. I felt he was fine.
Yet again, today was another fantastic performance by the Devils overall. The offense was prolific in terms of shooting, scoring chances, and (obviously) goals. The defense was a rock: killing all the penalties and doing a fantastic job at preventing Florida for doing much of anything. The game definitely lost intensity in the third, what with NJ being up 6-1 at the time but the Panthers just gave up in this game by then. That's how good the Devils were (and how bad Florida was). Thic can only be described as domination.
The Devils don't get to enjoy this dominating victory, though. Philly awaits tomorrow, and that's a big one for the rivalry and the division. Hope it won't be a big let down!