The New Jersey Devils won their second game of the season on October 21. Eight days and three games later, they would win their third game of the season on October 29. Four days and two days later, the New Jersey Devils would earn their fourth win in a weird game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Who knows, maybe it won't be long before the Devils win their fifth game of the season?
Tonight, the Devils ended their 6 game road trip with a big, much needed 5-3 in Chicago. Were the Devils the better team tonight? No. Chicago owned the puck more, outshot the Devils 32-24, actually had an effective power play (and scored on one), won more faceoffs (34-23), and had the superior Corsi. Did the Devils even come out of this healthy? Not really. Martin Brodeur had to leave the game in the second period after taking a shot by Patrick Kane to his right elbow. It stung him, so it fell on Johan Hedberg to withstand the Blackhawk onslaught of shots. Did the Devils use their whole lineup? No. Tim Sestito played only 3:17; Alexander Vasyunov played 4:16; and Tyler Eckford got a mere 1:55 of ice time. There were a lot of double-shifted players and a lot of fatigue. Did the power play do anything? Not really - only 5 shots in 6 minutes in power play time. Did the Devils protect the lead? Not quite. Chicago clawed back from 2-0 to tie it up in the third; and once the Devils did get an empty net goal late to make it 4-2, the Hawks made it 4-3 almost immediately.
But there's a lot to be pleased about here. The Devils scored more than 3 goals for the first time this season. The goals against were more or less bad breaks rather than bad decisions or soft ones allowed. The Devils actually got some breaks of their own that led to goals scored. Martin Brodeur got x-rays and they are negative, the injury has been reported by Tom Gulitti as a bruise. They even scored two empty net goals, a rare feat. Oh, and the Devils won a hockey game.
This was a weird and sometimes nerve-wracking game. First and foremost, Martin Brodeur left the game in the second period. He took a Patrick Kane shot to his right arm, at the numbers on his jersey. It stung him, he couldn't continue, and so Johan Hedberg had to come in. Among his first shots against: robbing Jack Skille on a breakaway. Welcome to the game, Johan!
From that point on, the Devils were ahead 2-0 and the Blackhawks said "nuts to this, we're going to take over now," and then proceeded played like the 2009-10 team that was one of the best in the league and won the Stanley Cup. They didn't just turn loose pucks into offense, but they controlled the puck for long stretches at a time and pinned New Jersey back constantly in the second and third periods. The line of Adam-Mair-Rod Pelley-David Clarkson saw a lot of Troy Brouwer-Jonathon Toews-Patrick Kane in the second, and you can take three guesses how well that worked. For some reason, John MacLean didn't change that line until the third period (Adam Mair played a whopping 3 shifts).
For a 5-3 win, it was a sloppy game played by the Devils. The defense was positionally poor, but great in reaction and recovery. Hedberg played very well and can't be faulted on any of the goals allowed.
- Brian Campbell "scores" by a pass going into the crease being re-directed by Colin White's stick.
- Fernando Pisani is behind White (and the rest of the Devils). Viktor Stalberg fires a shot from the left circle, Hedberg saves the low shot, but Pisani was right there for the rebound to put past the left post and in.
- The Blackhawks storm down low, there's a goalmouth scramble, the puck is in White's skates, and Stalberg swoops in to take it and put it over Hedberg.
I can't even fault Colin White, who I mentioned in each goal against, because he was just caught in the wrong place. wrong time. He cleaned up a lot of messes, blocked a lot of passes and shots, and was just unlucky in some of those spots. I'm sure some fans will let him know about being there on these goals allowed, but it's not like he made a stupid error. If you're looking for defensemen to fault, consider criticizing Henrik Tallinder for taking two minors in his own end and forcing a few shots that turned into easy clears or counter-attacks for Chicago. Or Matt Taormina, who decided to trip Patrick Sharp shortly after Pisani tied up the game to put the Devils back on the penalty kill. Or John MacLean for shorting the blueline to 5 guys early.
That said, Hedberg played well, and the guys that beat New Jersey weren't Chicago's top guys. Sharp, Kane, and Toews were held to only 6 shots on net, despite territorially pounding New Jersey. The Blackhawks' most productive threats were Stalberg (1 G, 2 A, 4 shots on net) and Skille (5 shots on net). There's something to be said for that; though the Devils were overrun at times in the second. Exacerbated by, of course, a lack of offense after the Devils' second goal of the game.
I will say that the Devils weren't totally punchless all night long. The first period was OK, they even scored. Patrik Elias found Jason Arnott right in front of the net late in the first period to score on a point-blank one-timer. Just a great pass by Elias and a proper shot by Arnott. The Devils opened the second with a few shots, and also a goal. Langenbrunner won a puck in the corner, Kovalchuk managed to touch it down to lay it for a great shot by Travis Zajac to make it 2-0 early in the second. Great execution even if the situation wasn't ideal. But as has been the story all season with the Devils, New Jersey hasn't been getting the breaks. Even tonight, they lost Brodeur to a (hopefully minor) injury, the first goal allowed was just bad luck, not much could have been done on the second, and Chicago had the momentum were playing like a third goal was just inevitable. The Devils offense just about disappeared from the time of Brodeur's injury to a few minutes after Pisani's goal. That was familiar and yet hard to watch.
But it wouldn't be like other nights where the other team scores and then wins. No, tonight was different. Tonight saw the Devils get something they haven't had too many of all season. Finally, the Devils got a break - and it came from Brad Mills. Here, watch it with this video from NHL.com:
After Chicago tied it up early in the third, the Devils managed to attack more. In a game filled with misfired passes, deflected pucks, and some questionable decisions, the Devils did manage to tighten up their passing a bit. They got a little here and there, forced Turco to make some good saves. But the go-ahead goal was an odd one. They went ahead on a Brad Mills (yes, that Brad Mills) shot that hit the right pad of Marty Turco. And that was a rebound on a shot Mills originally took. Mills was out there with Jamie Langenbrunner and Ilya Kovalchuk (who saw a lot of Brent Seabrook tonight; hence only 2 shots on net, a lot of passes, and 2 assists) on that shift, managed to get a close shot on net off, and then get his own rebound to score. His first NHL goal was that Seriously. I'm not making this up.
Of course, the weirdness didn't end there. Jamie Langenbrunner scores an empty net goal with 50 second left. Normally, the game is iced right there. Well, Chicago never put Turco back in net, and as noted earlier, Stalberg scores 16 seconds later. The Devils actually needed a second empty net goal to secure the win, and it came from a long shot from the neutral zone by Andy Greene. Greene had a much better night than as of late, as he got 4 shots on net instead of just flinging it all wide.
So the Johan Hedberg gets the win and the Devils go to 4-9-1 with Langenbrunner's game winning empty net goal. Again: I am not making this up.
What can the Devils do differently going forward? Well, they still need to work on in-game adjustments, it was a wonder that Chicago didn't pile up goals along with the shots they were racking up. I know the home team gets the last change, but it's another story when Chicago is winning through their match-ups coming over the boards on the fly. Discipline would help. While they committed a player to stand right in front of Turco, the power play needs to do a lot more than just set up the shot from the center point. The neutral zone was pretty much Chicago's area to roam for most of the night. Some of the shooting decisions were just mindless. While Chicago is a very good team, I still think there's still a lot of room for improvement.
But now that they ended this road trip with a win, they got a lead, they were never behind at any point in the game, and they scored several goals, I think they should have the confidence and momentum to perform better. As with prior wins, they need to build on this one. Let us hope they do when they take on Our Hated Rivals tomorrow.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread, and thanks to you for reading. For an uncensored take from the Hawks' perspective, please check out Second City Hockey. What did you think of the Devils' performance tonight? Who did you think did and did not do well? What did you want the Devils to take away from this? Please leave your responses and other thoughts and feelings about tonight's win in the comments.