Please note that I missed the first four minutes (and the first two goals) of the game because TimeWarnerCable forgot to turn on the feed to the game until about 7:20pm. Thanks TimeWarner. Please remember that when I decide to take an extra few days on my next payment.
I didn't expect the Devils to win this game. It was the 2nd game of back-to-back days, plus it was on the road against a strong Washington Capitals squad in their home opener. A win would have been a tough task for any NHL team. What I didn't expect was to lose 7-2 in a game that was theoretically over at the end of the 2nd period. That said, a loss is a loss. If the Devils lost 3-2 would it make things any better? I am really not sure. If one play symbolized the Devils' loss tonight it would have to be early in the 3rd period when the Devils were on the power play and goaltender Johan Hedberg was trying to make a pass up the ice when Brooks Laich knocked it down and shot the puck into an empty net. Besides the absurdity of it, the play was symbolic because it was a case of a Devils player trying to do too much.
This happened a few times tonight: Rookie Alexander Urbom leaving his man (Tomas Fleishmann) alone in the slot and trying to get the puck from Alexander Semin. Colin White forcing a pass to Matt Taormina that Alex Ovechkin stole and used to draw a penalty shot and subsequent goal. All three lines trying to force the puck into space that wasn't there and having to run back to defend an odd man rush.
To add injury to embarrassment, Anton Volchenkov suffered a broken nose late in the 1st period when he took a shot that pushed his visor into his face. John MacLean has already commented to Tom Gulitti that he hopes Volchenkov will be able to play on Monday, but the Devils will re-evaluate him tomorrow. Gulitti also reports that Brian Rolston suffered a lower body injury which caused his exit in the 3rd period.
Oh, and while he only plays about 4:00 minutes in a game anyway, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond will probably be suspended for a game because of his instigator penalty late in the game when he tried to draw Marcus Johansson into a fight. Normally that wouldn't be a big loss but with the short roster (more on that shortly) the Devils are currently using, it becomes problematic.
Were there some positives to this game? A few. I will discuss them, some larger issues and the lowlights of the game. If you are a sadist and want to see how other fans reacted to the game during real-time, you can take a look at the game thread here. JapersRink has their recap up here. If you choose to read more about this game after the jump....here we go.
While the game was a disappointment I wanted to touch upon the larger issue at the moment that I think needs to be rectified: the 20-man roster.
It doesn't work. Let's assume for a second that Volchenkov and Rolston are out with injuries and PL3 is suspended for Monday's game. 15 skaters? Really? The Devils need depth that they can use. The Bryce Salvador injury gave the Devils a chance to delay the inevitable and not cut a player making a larger salary. They can't worry about not being able to call up a player if one is injured - and injuries happen. As seen in this game one errant shot can knock a player out of commission quickly. You also don't want players rushing back from injury because of the short bench. Right now, in my opinion, the environment created by the lingering cap issues is not a healthy one to generate success. Moves will need to be made eventually, just make them and allow the team to create some chemistry.
Secondly, if the team doesn't start utilizing PL3, Rod Pelley, Mark Fraser and Urbom more, having a 20-man roster makes even less sense. Pelley, to his credit bounced back with a much better game and contributed some effective minutes on the penalty kill. Fraser and Urbom may be forced into more action with Volchenkov's injury but once Volchenkov is back they should be utilized more or in Urbom's case be sent to Albany for development. For PL3, who I like despite his mental error at end of the game, just has to be used for more than 3-5 minutes a game or he doesn't have much use on the active roster.
Now back to the game. It was a tale of three periods.
The 1st period was a back and forth game with two teams who did their best to move up the ice to create offense off the rush. The second goal which gave the Devils the lead was technically a shorthanded goal, but really a 4-on-4 situation after Zach Parise took a penalty while the Devils were on the penalty kill 'tripping' Jeff Schultz. I have to commend the performance of Schultz in drawing that penalty as he clearly must have taken classes at the Dan Carcillo Acting School over the summer. What turned out to be the Devils' last goal of the game was a result of hard work by both Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus, with Zubrus drawing two defenders towards him and setting up Henrik Tallinder. The period ended on a bad note however, when Volchenkov was injured by Backstrom's shot.
The 2nd period started without Volchenkov and it quickly showed. Without Volchenkov the defensive pairings adjusted to Urbom/Tallinder, Fraser/Greene and White/Taormina. After quickly letting up the tying goal on a play where Urbom left his man to go try and help Jason Arnott the game quickly snowballed into a rout with two goals by Ovechkin and a shorthanded goal by Jason Chimera. The first goal by Ovechkin was a wrist shot that got past Brodeur on his weak side as Andy Greene gave him too much space. Chimera's goal occurred when he slipped past Jason Arnott, who was manning the point on a power play, and fired a shot past Brodeur. Finally Ovechkin's penalty shot came as a result of an errant Colin White pass in which he pulled Ovechkin down on a breakaway. It was another disastrous 2nd period by the Devils who clearly missed Volchenkov in their lineup.
The 3rd period started with Johan Hedberg in net where he quickly made his first major gaffe as a Devil to let up the Capitals 6th goal. At that point the Devils were on a power play that could have brought the game to a two goal deficit and the Caps second shorthanded goal of the game pretty much ended it right there. Beyond another Cap goal to take it to 7-2 the rest of the period was a back and forth affair with both teams settled into winding down the clock. Well until Ilya Kovalchuk started to make some noise. After knocking down Matt Bradley (Bradley was off balance) the Caps bench took umbrage to the hit and a few minutes later, after another failed Devils rush, Kovalchuk was pushed into the boards by Mike Green and they fought. Do I want the $100 million dollar man to fight? NO. Do I like that he plays the game with that sort of passion? Yes. I think at times his emotions gets the best of him (Game 2 of the Playoff series vs the Flyers) but it is nice to see that someone was as visibly frustrated as most Devils fans were at this point.
This set off an undercard of fights involving David Clarkson/Bradley, Matt Hendricks/Pelley and then finally the instigator penalty/fight that will likely get PL3 a suspension. After PL3's bonehead move, the Capitals ran out the clock on their 7-minute power play.
Let's not take anything away from the Capitals though and give credit where credit is due. They did what good teams do and capitalized on the other team's mistakes. Their aggressive penalty killing unit generated two shorthanded goals. Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth settled down after a shaky 1st period to hold the Devils to only two goals. They were the better team tonight and deserved to win.
One final item, I know he let in 5 goals on 19 shots and wasn't his sharpest tonight but Martin Brodeur is not solely to blame for the loss tonight. He hasn't had a great first two games, but if I recall he started off last year the same way and ending up having a good year.
While it is only one loss and you can't put too much emphasis on one October game, I think the Devils need to solidify their roster in order to accelerate the team playing better as a unit. This is not panic or thoughts that the sky is falling it is just a reality that they need the ability to have players get injured and not have to make 2 or 3 moves to bring up a replacement. Also, after two games it seems that too many players are trying too hard to generate offense or make a big play and are not relying on their teammates. The Devils are currently a work in progress and let's hope for a bounce-back Monday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Penguins.