The New Jersey Devils capitalized where the Minnesota Wild couldn't even catch much of a break. The Devils cruised to a 4-0 win despite being outshot through the first two periods and having to endure seven power plays (including a five on three) in total.
Hockey Wilderness will have their recap of the game later and I can't imagine it won't have some frustration at the team's performance. The Wild really need to win games at this time of year, falling on their faces isn't an option. And the Wild did just that on offense despite the advantage in shots tonight (35-29).
From what I saw, I think there are multiple reasons for this. The Wild, for whatever reason, made a lot of good, cross-ice passes to dangerous areas. They set up quite a few plays, especially on the power play, that are designed for the shooter to make the opponent pay. Yet, for a good portion of the Wild's attempts at offense, the Wild couldn't close the deal. Reasons include the following: Someone was out of sync. A Devil defender got in the way. The shot wasn't clean. The Wild don't have the skilled forwards necessary to pull the play off. Minnesota was just unfortunate/cursed. The Wild got the shot off, but the Devils/Brodeur ensured that no one in white got the rebound. And the list of reasons go so on.
The biggest reason for the Minnesota's failure to score was Martin Brodeur, of course.
The Wild did manage to get high quality scoring chances at Brodeur. With 5 power plays in the second period alone and with that 5-on-3 in the third period, the Wild definitely made Marty work. Brodeur was more than up to the challenge, seemingly perfect at controlling the rebounds from the shots he stopped. The New Jersey defense wasn't sparkling tonight, as they definitely played a "bend, but not break" style. That said, they were good enough to not allow the Wild to do as they pleased and they were absolutely excellent at preventing those second chance rebounds for Minnesota.
Put all of this together and the Brodeur's 101st career shutout was clearly earned with some help from the opposition!
Speaking of excellent performances, the penalty killing was top-notch tonight. There's nothing bad you can really say about a performance that involved 7 penalties being killed. Their clearances were great and the three units kept it together. After the last game where the PK units got scored on 3 times en route to a loss, killing all seven penalties was simply fantastic. If there was any doubt into their confidence level, it was restored tonight!
On the flipside, the biggest issue with the Devils tonight was discipline. OK, the hooking call on Paul Martin and the holding the stick call on Mike Mottau were weak and drew the ire of the fans. That said, 5 of these 7 calls were avoidable. Bobby Holik had no reason to slash that guy behind the play. Johnny Oduya should have realized that clearing the crease doesn't mean he can push with his stick. Too many men on the ice penalties are almost always stupid and avoidable. Brendan Shanahan, like all players who have been around since 2005-06, should know that the refs always call that hook to the hands. Niclas Havelid didn't have to hug that forechecking Wild player after a takeaway. All of these, I think, are avoidable. I don't think the Devils have an ongoing issue with discipline; but tonight's was awful.
Back to the Devils, the offense took some time to get going. I think they spent the first period applying the tactic of "shooting through the defender." It didn't go well as Niklas Backstom saw only 6 pucks. While the Devils spent a half of the second period shorthanded, the offense saw chances and made the most of it. They only got 6 shots, but they scored on 3 of them.
Patrik Elias' first goal was a gift. The Wild just coughed it up from behind the net on a dump and Elias was flying in at the right time. Backstrom got into position but he truly was hung out to dry on that one. The only things missing were a nice little bow on the puck and a tag on it saying "Happy 29th goal, Patty!" Elias would complete a brace later in the third period when he scored on the power play by being right at the crease when Josh Harding redirected a Zach Parise shot right to him. Elias now has 30 goals this season and he made the Wild eat it on both chances. He definitely did well tonight.
Speaking of Zach Parise (who also had a good game), just after the Devils killed their first penalty of the second period, he just flew up ice and made a killer pass to Brian Gionta. Backstrom had no chance at this beautiful, gorgeous goal. A fantastic pass followed by a fantastic finish. Gionta is raising his game, people!
Lastly, Backstrom got pulled after Oduya got a fantastic bounce off a slapshot. David Clarkson bounces it off the boards to the point, Oduya rushes to get it, takes his shot and he hits it awkwardly at the net. The puck, I'm not sure exactly how, sinks low, literally bounces off the ice - no sticks were present - and it beats Backstrom high, right in the corner.
Poor Backstrom! He gets hung out to dry, stretched out in a vain attempt at Gionta's effort, and is beaten by a fluke! I know it's 3 goals on 11 shots, but I think Lemaire should have been more considerate.
Overall, as the third period rolled around, the Devils (finally) got some power plays of their own and started driving through a demoralized Minnesota squad. Hence, the third period featured more shots by New Jersey. Minnesota's defense wasn't really awful tonight, they didn't let the Devils get too many rebounds. Then again, they gave up the chances that the Devils just killed them on it. Mix that with how the Minnesota offense was looking (poor and getting owned by Marty) and after goal number three, I honestly felt confident in a Devils win. At the time, I just felt a shutout would just be nice and pleasant surprise.
But truly, it was deserved. Brodeur stopped what the Wild actually got through to him and the Devils defense helped make sure the Wild never got to swarming the puck all that much. Tonight's win was a decisive one and it should be a big confidence boost before the big back-to-back set of games starting on Sunday.