The New Jersey Devils wrapped up preseason with a 4-2 win over the New York Islanders at the Rock. The game was filled with fights, goals, and players looking to make a lasting impression. NHL.com has their recap up; Dominik has a recap up from the Islanders perspective; and so let's go over the game. But first, two aside:
First, as reported by Gulitti prior to the game, the Devils made cuts earlier today by sending Jay Leach, Rob Davison, and Tim Setito down to Lowell. They will be subject to waiver claims first; if they pass, they'll be in the AHL. The Devils also placed Mark Fraser and Patrik Elias on IR, so the Devils have one more cut to make. And Gulitti's pretty sure it'll be between Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Ilkka Pikkarainen, and - the most likely candidate as he would not be subject to waivers if sent down - Matt Halischuk. I agree with Gulitti and I imagine we'll find out tomorrow.
Second, I called in during the first intermission to Blueshirt Banter Radio as part of a Atlantic Division Roundtable. That show is archived, so you can hear me talk a little trash, talk a little Devils, and forget who Ray Emery's backup is in Philadelphia at your lesiure.
With respect to tonight's game, while the Devils won to go 4-0-1, the performance itself was quite mixed. For every positive to take out of it, there is a glaring negative that cannot be ignored. Given that Jacques Lemaire wasn't happy with the 1-0 win over Philadelphia, I can't imagine that he's pleased with tonight's win. And according to Gulitti, he isn't.
Let's start out with the positives. First, the ZZ Pops line is now in full effect. After a few preseason games, skating and roaming in the offensive zone but only to finish the game pointless, they were productive with two goals. Not only did each player on that line get a point, the two goals came from well set-up plays. Zach Parise got the Devils' first goal in the second period; but the goal was a team effort. Parise tossed it from the boards to Travis Zajac, who set up Jamie Langenbrunner across the slot for a seemingly sure-fire goal. The shot was somehow stopped by Dwayne Roloson, but he never smothered it. Parise swooped in, tapped it in behind the line and there we go.
The second goal sealed off a great night for Parise and Zajac. Parise had it behind the net, saw a streaking Zajac and fed him in the slot. Zajac knew what he had to do and this time it beat Roloson cleanly over his glove for the third goal of the game. The whole sequence of events before was the result of excellent work by Zajac to keep possession in the zone. I think this line will be perfectly fine for Saturday's game against Philadelphia.
The other two goals the Devils scored are worth noting as well. Brian Rolston, he who has to have a great season, scored a slick power play goal in the second period. While Cory Murphy got the puck to him up-ice on the rush, Rolston passed the puck off the boards to himself, took a stride, and fired one either right through Roloson's legs or right past them on his right. Either way, it was a big power play goal that tied up the game at the time.
The fourth goal was one of the few Devils highlights in the third period. Brendan Shanahan may be in his 40s, he's not as fast as he once was, not as strong as he once was, but two parts of his game hasn't diminished at all. First, his intelligence. When the Devils won possession, he knew full well to get to the blueline, turn his body properly, get his stick set up for a pass, and be ready to shoot. Sure enough, heading up ice, Dainius Zubrus saw Nicklas Bergfors skating into space and fed him the puck. Bergfors, wide on the end boards carried it over, noticed Shanahan right across him to his left with the lone defender standing by. Poor defender, the play was too high for him to committ without being hung up! Bergfors fed Shanahan perfectly and this leads to the part of his game that hasn't weakened: his shot. Shanahan just unloaded a wicked one-timer for the Devils' fourth goal and pleased all the fans.
So the goals, they were good goals. Rolston got one, which is good for his confidence. Bergfors setting up Shanahan was great. ZZ Pops getting points. Those are positives.
What wasn't was the team's puck control. Lemaire focused on the team's intensity waivering, and I don't think he's wrong. In my opinion, that lack of intensity led to some really sloppy passing and some lazy giveaways. In the first period, the Devils relied too much on the long pass through the neutral zone. This led to a lot of passes going awry due to a deflection, a bad bounce, hitting a body part instead of the stick, and so forth. It didn't bother the Devils all that much as the Islanders were just as bad, but it hurt them from getting some offensive pressure going. Don't get me wrong, they got some solid shifts of their own in the first. But some of those dump-ins and passes off the boards prevented more of those offensive zone set-ups from occurring that they could have had.
The second period was all right in that regard, and so the Devils enjoyed many shifts where they really dictated play and, hey, got 3 goals. But the third period, wow, it was bad. The Devils only had 3 shots that period and a lot of that manifested from the Devils not being able to string a few good passes together. OK, down 4-2, the opposition is going to be more aggressive - but seriously, the Devils made some poor clearances and just plain misread what their linemates were doing with some of these passes. I even saw a Devil drop-pass to no one in particular in his own zone, allowing the Islanders to continue moving the puck around looking for a shot. If you're having trouble getting the puck out, then you're simply not going to be able to move it up ice in the hopes of setting something up.
In my opinion, that puck control is indicative of why Lemaire is not happy about tonight's game, criticizing the team's lack of consistency in their intensity.
Let's move onto another negative: Penalties. The Devils penalty kill got burned for two power play goals against. The first one, Martin Brodeur really should have had Jack Hillen's shot. Then again, the Islanders got that power play when the Devils got caught with too many men on the ice - an always dumb penalty. That's on Lemaire, in my opinion. The Islanders' second goal came from Mark Streit's laser of a slapshot on a 5-on-3. Brodeur had no chance on the goal, as he was screened by Bryce Salvador; but again, did the Devils really have to take two penalties? Johnny Oduya got tagged for cross checking as the Islanders were making an offensive push down low. OK. Then about 30 seconds into it, new Devils signing Rob Niedermayer is on the PK, he's looking to get the puck up ice, and he practically hugs an Islander (Matt Moulson) with his stick in open ice (see picture). Oh, Rob, you had an OK game otherwise, and I know it's your first preseason game - but that was just plain stupid. And the Devils paid for it by eating Streit's strike.
So the penalties and the subsequent PK was a negative. A positive about the Devils performance were the faceoffs. A big positive as all who took faceoffs for the Devils tonight won at least 50% of their draws. Zajac was a monster at the dot, winning 16 out of 21 faceoffs. Zubrus was equally good with 8 out of 11 won, another reason why he should remain as a center. Niedermayer won 8 out of 14, a good debut back in his old center position. Rod Pelley went 2 for 4, but that's still 50% and I feel that's fine for the fourth line. Shanahan, thanks to some centers being thrown out, got 6 faceoffs to take and won 4, which helped as well. Great night for Devils in faceoffs, especially after a poor showing against Philly on Sunday.
I will say that a negative about tonight's game was, well, the fighting. I'm not a fan of fighting, but it was certainly noticeable. The Devils fought 5 times, with Andrew Peters getting 2 bouts, Leblond getting one, Salvador engaging once, and David Clarkson battling Brendan Witt. The game itself was intense and - here's the negative - Joel Rechlicz made a name for himself by A) dropping his gloves to no one in particular in the first; B) skating across the zone to go after Leblond because Leblond was throwing legal hits and we can't have that in a hockey game; and C) fighting Peters, shoving Colin White down as he was escorted to the bench, and (likely) yelled a lot of choice words feeling he was in the right some how.
Yes, Rechlicz was a negative in the game in general, drawing the ire of the Devils faithful for needlessly and shamefully shoving down White - who literally was just standing around! He didn't deserve that!
If Rechlicz makes the Islanders, at least the Devils fans have a new player to hate. It's bad when the fans are calling you an orifice in a preseason game. Peters is particularly unhappy with Richlicz, according this postgame post by Gulitti. Strategically, I don't know if I can support guys sitting 5 minutes at a time for 5 times in a game; but the Devils didn't escalate the violence too much - they just fought, it was done with it, and they didn't start much of it (despite what the instigator on Peters says, Rechlicz went over to Peters).
Let's end on a positive note. The play of the players who, thanks to the cuts, have likely made the team was pretty good. Bergfors was moved between a line with Rolston & Zubrus and Shanahan & Niedermayer. He looked primed and ready for NHL action and earned a solid assist on Shanahan's goal. A great way to end a great camp. He's pretty much a lock to make the team now. Cory Murphy didn't look so bad on defense, earning a solid 18:20 of ice time. Only one shot and a few adventures jumping into the offensive zone; but he did get an assist on Rolston's power play goal and looked fine in his own end. Rod Pelley matched the energy of his linemates and earned some time on the PK. Lemaire praised Leblond for not being a liability out there; I agree as that fourth line was really only in over their heads on defense once all game. Good showing overall for the Devils who could become new regulars this season.
With respect to the overall performance, the win is nice; but the Devils have plenty to improve upon before the season opener against Philadelphia. Fortunately for the Devils, pretty much every team in the league has something to work on as they start the season. Going 4-0-1 in preseason may be meaningless, but the team and coaching staff, I think, can be confident that they got the job done regardless of the rosters. Hopefully, they can use that confidence to get it together faster than their opponents.