The New Jersey Devils came out hustling, worked hard, and did much better on the penalty kill against Chicago. Alas, the Blackhawks also hustled, worked hard, and finished the chances they had to win 3-2 in overtime. Check out Second City Hockey for their thoughts on the game.
I felt that overall, the two teams were evenly matched. The third period was very instructive; the Devils would rush up ice, get a good chance or two on Khabibulin, but then Chicago would push back, forcing the Devils to make a play off the rebound or try and disrupt the play ealy. Neither team was necessarily poor tonight, and I don't think either team was necessarily outplayed. Yet, the result is the same no matter how you look at it. The Devils are now winless in their last 3 and I'm resorting to stating, "Hey, the Devils got a point tonight. That's something."
Given how Chicago won the game, I don't feel like it was a crushing loss. Kris Versteeg scored on the dying seconds of a power play with a terrific move down low to pick a corner. Martin Havlat pulled off an excellent shot that beat a screened Martin Brodeur (screen by Andrew Ladd). The overtime winner was a bomb of a one-timer from Havlat to Brent Seabrook at the blueline.
As an aside: Let me say that I was really impressed by how Versteeg played, I think he's going to be a very good player with a very good career! Also, Havlat had a great game as well. It wasn't Kane and Campbell that hurt New Jersey the most.
You can fault the Devils for allowing the series of events in the Devils' zone that led to Seabrook's game winner; as Jonathon Toews took the puck away first from Dainius Zubrus and later in the corner when Toews got it away from Patrik Elias. Or perhaps for not being able to clear the puck. Even then, it was lovely shot from Seabrook.
There are some positives from this loss. First and foremost was the penalty killing. Martin Brodeur played very well, but he was bombarded with shots in the first period. Specifically, 20 of them. Yes, in one period. The New Jersey Devils' displayed stupidity and a lack of discipline in the first period by taking 5 minor penalties. Seriously. Two of them (Mike Mottau and Elias) were delay of game penalties from clearing the puck out of play. And they came consecutively! Two of them were brainfarts of hits by Bobby Holik. Colin White returned to the ice and hooked down a Hawk right in front of the ref after the first Holik penalty. 5 power plays in the first period. How did Chicago not rake New Jersey over the coals with all that time on the man advantage? How could the Devils be so stupid?
Yet, tonight, the Devils' penalty killing units were solid. Versteeg's excellent move was the only time the Devils paid the price. The Devils' killers cleared rebounds well, got in front of the puck, pushed Chicago back when the opportunity presented itself, and most importantly, they kept moving on defense. The Devils' penalty killers showed a much improved awareness and didn't get caught looking like statues - something that has plagued the Devils in recent games on the road. Killing 5 out of 6 penalties is definitely laudable considering recent performances.
But what really held back the Devils from winning was that they had some strong chances on Nikolai Khabibulin, but they just couldn't convert them. Khabibulin, like Brodeur, played very well tonight. Don't misunderstand me, but how the Devils challenged him definitely played a part. In the first period, the Devils played with confidence on offense when they weren't killing penalties. Zach Parise's goal was just a powerful shot that just got a stick and Khabibulin's helmet before striking the twine. Paul Martin dashed in on a delayed penalty call and cleaned up on a loose puck in the slot. I'm thinking, hey, the Devils could really open this game up if they can stay out of the box. They can shoot hard, keep it high when he's caught down early, and get to those rebounds.
But those would be the only times the Devils would finish those great chances. The Devils have had great second chance opportunities, good rushes into the zone, and some good movement on the Devils' two power plays as the game went on. But either Khabibulin made a great save or the Devil in question didn't take full advantage of what was in front of him. For example, Holik had a perfect chance to put home a rebound in the third period, but he fired it directly at the goalie. It sounds lame, but those are chances that you need to finish - otherwise, it could come back to haunt you. That's what happened tonight.
Anyway, the Devils need to address the discipline issues and make sure that the loss doesn't hurt the team's confidence. I felt the Devils played with the right amount of intensity; they didn't wilt against Chicago's physical approach to the game. I think if their effort tomorrow was like tonight's, they got a good chance to pick up a win tomorrow against Carolina. But between the fatigue and the sobering fact that the team's effort alone wasn't enough to get the win, I really hope the Devils don't sulk at the Rock. That will almost guarantee a fourth game without a win.