The Devils were the dominant team for the first 40 minutes of the game, compiling all five goals in the 5-1 win over Atlanta tonight. Tonight's final score was definitely deserved given the quality of each team on the ice. The Thrashers just looked slower on defense whenever the Devils maintained possession on offense or attacked in general. The only bad things about the game were the stupid penalties the Devils took, that they let up in the third period (partially related to the penalties), and Colin White left the game after the first period with a "sore hand." According to Gulitti, the hand will be examined on Saturday.
Back to the game. The Devils were dominant for a majority of the game. Even when Atlanta had a power play, a situation in hockey where is expected that the team with the man advantage to at least control the puck, the Devils' killers were able to spring players for two-on-ones, one-on-ones, and shots on net. There must have been 6 or so of them. This game was excellent evidence for the strategy of having scoring forward on the kill; justified by the shorthanded goals from John Madden (his shot was a rocket) and Brian Gionta's tally off a faceoff wherein he made Rich Peverley and Kari Lehtonen look real dumb in their shock.
So, yeah, the penalty kills by the Devils were awesome tonight. They didn't let up a goal, though Colby Armstrong's goal came shortly after a power play. More to the point, they scored two whilst killing them. Much better than Tuesday night's performance!
The only complaints I have about the Devils' performance is that they didn't really go for the throat in the third period. The Devils only registered 3 shots on net, and while the Thrashers weren't seriously threatening to make it a game when down 5-1 despite 18 shots on net (thanks Weekes!), it's not a good habit to form. But that's somewhat defensible considering the second complaint: STUPID PENALTIES. The Devils took 8 minors tonight and 5 of them really were just dumb. Taking two straight faceoff violations (Langenbrunner on the second!) - dumb. Paul Martin's cross-check of Motzko from behind high in front of the ref - dumb. Holik hitting the goaltender way after he played the puck - dumb. Too many men on the ice - always dumb. Bryce Salvador lunging a stick out at a player after he's beaten you for the puck to cause a trip - dumb. And three of these were in the third period! I get upset with this because while the Thrashers wasted power play after power play (7 in total!), other teams would really put the Devils to the sword in such situations!
Thankfully, Kevin Weekes had a good game; and thankfully the Thrashers left a lot of shots hit defenders or miss entirely! The Devils are in the lower third of the league in total times shorthanded (206, 9th). Imagine how much better off they'd be if they would just calm down and play with a clearer head sometime!
That all said, the complaint cease because overall, this was a strong performance. The Devils came out strong after a loss. They came out strong against a team that beat them good the last time they played. The special teams were fantastic - especially the penalty killers. The power play was good too, I thought. While they only scored one power play goal out of 6 opportunities (some where abbreviated, and one was abbreviated and interrupted by a penalty), and it was an absolutely beautiful goal, the Devils were better in maintaining possession on those power plays and taking shots at Lehtonen.
Whereas Lehtonen sparkled against the Rangers, the Devils had him yanked before halfway through the second period! He got beat with deflections (Travis Zajac touching a Jamie Langenbrunner toss into the net; David Clarkson's pass hitting Eric Perrin's skate), he got beat with blazing shots (Elias drop passing to Madden for a wicked slapshot; Elias deftly passing it to Parise who blazed home his 30th goal of the season), and he got caught by surprise by Gionta. The Devils made it rain on the Thrashers in the first, 18-4 in shots and 3-0 in goals; and while the shot totals in the second were even, the Devils made the most of it. New Jersey did the right things against Lehtonen by making him work early, and it worked. Given the final result and how the Devils did to get there, it's definitely reassuring of the Devils' strength.
That's what you want to see: the Devils beating up on a poor team because they are the better team. They won't have that luxury tomorrow, as LA has been hot as of late and the Devils are traveling back to the Rock for this one. Hopefully, White's hand is OK and the Devils can keep up the pace with a win tomorrow. Lastly, let's all laugh at the Rangers!