The New Jersey Devils won their first non-shutout game of the season, their first come-from-behind win, their third on the road, and their third overall. The win snaps a three game losing streak, and I repeat that it was their third overall win. It took 11 games to get to 3 wins. It took a vastly improved performance by the Devils players to earn it, and so everyone can breathe a little easier.
Martin Brodeur can have a sigh of relief as his performance was emboldened by the guys in front of him. The blueline can wipe some sweat off their brow as they limited their errors and didn't get blown up by the Ducks. The forward lines looked good, started off hot, and didn't get discouraged when Anaheim scored first so they can feel good about that. John MacLean, who kept the lines together for the most part, can not worry about losing his job for the moment.
Of course, with a game tomorrow night in Los Angeles, they can't relax. Even if they didn't play tomorrow, they can't relax. After all, they only have 3 wins in this season. But they have something to build on. Here's a link to the game summary and event summary from NHL.com. Please follow along after the jump for additional commentary about tonight's game.
This isn't to say the Devils played an exceptionally great game. The power play was yet again powerless. It's not so much of the lack of goals that's troublesome, but that it was so inconsistent. The Devils had four man advantages and their effectiveness was like rolling a die. On one, they get good possession and a few shots. On the next, bupkis. The Devils generated only 6 shots on net in 7:53 of PP time, and could have had more if the plan wasn't focused on having the point man fire it through 5 bodies. Guess what, those shots went wide or got blocked wide.
Andy Greene didn't have a good night. He followed a good defensive play with a bad one. He got caught when Jason Blake got behind him, curled and jammed home Anaheim's lone goal, which also came on the power play. He seemed to have studied at the school of the 4-6 foot wide of the net slapshot tonight. And some of his passes were just hideous. Like, having an open lane to an open Zach Parise and firing it 2 feet away from his reach hideous. The only positive was that his Corsi at evens was +15 (really). Here's hoping he turns it around.
Speaking of bad, Jason Arnott did more harm than good. Sure, he won 7 of his 10 faceoffs; but he also took two dumb penalties in the Devils' own zone. One near the end of the second period, when it was 1-1; and a pick on Todd Marchant when it was 2-1 in the third. New Jersey's penalty killers along with Brodeur bailed him out though and preserved the score at the time.
I also want to say that as much as I liked the vigor of the offense in the first period (Devils forwards swarmed on the Ducks' turnovers in their own zone), they did yet again sag a bit in the second period. It wasn't as bad as other nights and while they allowed one, they tied it up with a sharp angle shot from Jamie Langenbrunner that got through Jonas Hiller's five-hole. So the second period wasn't a nightmare. Yet, the Ducks adjusted after being beaten on in the first period and the Devils really didn't to overtake them. The third period was mostly controlled by the Ducks but that can be explained away by Anaheim having to chase the game for an equalizer.
Nevertheless, the Devils got the win tonight and there are many positives to take out of this. The end of the game was a bit sloppy, but the Devils didn't freak out. The Ducks pinned the Devils back more than a few times, but they kept their wits about them by knocking away killer passes and eventually getting clearances. Even at the end, the Devils made proper choices. Colin White nearly got caught up high on a last-ditch long pass by Anaheim, but he recovered by taking out Teemu Selanne. Again: it was the right choice. It led to a weak shot, stopped by Martin Brodeur and time ran out as the referee signaled a penalty. Even if there was a few seconds, then fine; don't let someone as good as Selanne take it up to Brodeur.
Speaking of taking it up to Brodeur, the Ducks for some reason seemed to keep aiming their shots high on Marty tonight. Brodeur got them all and Blake's goal was an up-close, bang-at-it-and-hope-it-goes-in which went in low. You'd think the Ducks would want to mix it up, but whatever. Brodeur was solid, which was vital when Anaheim increased their intensity looking for an equalizer. Yet, only Lubomir Visnovsky beat him but not the goal post in the third period.
Overall, I have to praise the team for their backchecking; even Ilya Kovalchuk stopped some Anaheim attacks by taking a loose puck in the slot or elsewhere and clearing it. So much for the canard that Kovalchuk is a floater and doesn't do anything in his own zone. The forwards coming back helped out a defense which featured good work by Olivier Magnan-Grenier and White (though not together) tonight. Tyler Eckford was just OK. He didn't get a lot of time (11:59); but given the position, it's not such a bad thing to not be so noticeable.
Most of all, I think it's massive that the Devils managed to win the game after giving up the first one and did it with solid fundamentals. The team didn't give up when down 1-0 and got a break when Langenbrunner caught Hiller with his legs open a few minutes later. Just a simple low shot after some good puck movement. Then they hit back with a go-ahead goal after a penalty kill. Ilya Kovalchuk's forechecking forced Danny Syvret to make a bad, bad, bad clearance across ice. Alexander Vasyunov picks it off, takes it up, and makes a nice little feed to Patrik Elias in the high slot. Elias blasted a one-timer past Hiller and it proved to be the difference tonight. Good stuff, and a cause for celebration for those who support Vasyunov. The assist was the first NHL point of his career - and it was vital.
Hiller had a strong game, so it's not like the Devils were tepid; but getting that second goal was big Not just because he scored but because all of things that went right into it. Kovalchuk was smart in pressuring Syvret. Vasyunov was smart to just take it himself up ice after the interception and made a soft, simple pass to where Elias would be. Elias was smart to rush up near Vasyunov, hang back just a bit for space, and to decide to one-time that puck. Nothing too complicated, nothing fancy, and nothing cute about the play. So much of this could have went wrong either by a different decision, different execution, or different luck. That it didn't makes it an example of how smart and simple hockey can work. It's part of the highlight video of tonight's game from NHL.com - check it out:
In general, the Devils were focused, they weren't just throwing crap at a wall and hoping it sticks, and they helped each other out. John MacLean kept the forward lines together for most of the game because he didn't have a reason to jumble things up. Mind you, the Ducks weren't awful after the first period, and it's not like the Devils blew them out of the Honda Center. It was a close win. Given how this season has gone, that it happened like this is heartening.
Now we shall see if they can keep up the good work in a second straight game.
Who did you like the best on the Devils? Who do you think did the worst? Was there something that happened in tonight's game that was noteworthy that I missed? Or perhaps you disagree with an assessment? Please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings on tonight's game in the comments to this post. Thank you to all of the commenters in the Gamethread and thank you for reading.