Tonight's game between the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins could have easily come in December. By that I mean the Devils played an excellent period (the first in tonight's case) but their overall performance wasn't nearly as solid. Yet, despite that, the Devils go on to win the game anyway. Several of the Devils' wins in December of this season were like that. At the end of the day, this is a results-oriented business, and the Devils got it with a 3-2 win over the Bruins.
Still, there's plenty about the game to discuss. Some praise for the Devils, for after all they won in part of their good work. The first period by the Devils ranks up there with some of the best single period performances the Devils have had in recent weeks: like the 3 goal second period against San Jose on March 2. It took a few minutes, but the Devils got rolling and rolled up Boston's defense and Tim Thomas (he was replaced by Tuukka Rask for the second period).
But there is also criticism, some areas where I wished the Devils could do a lot better. Namely, the offense in the second and third periods. While they held onto win, it's not something the team can afford to turn into a habit - especially this late in the season. It may be unreasonable to have expected carbon-copy performances of the first period; but that doesn't excuse just fading from the game on offense as they did. A more potent team would have made New Jersey pay for this; it is vital to at least keep the other team honest in their own end.
For the Boston side of this game, Stanley Cup of Chowder has a recap up already. I agree with the general sentiment that it was case of getting dug in too deep too early. If you want the official stats from the game, NHL.com has that along with their recap. For my further thoughts, please read on after the jump. Lastly, based on this post game post by Tom Gulitti, congratulations to Martin Skoula for the birth of his second child. May he enjoy his new life, and I suppose, the assist his dad got tonight.
Before jumping right in, here is a video of the highlights from tonight's game from NHL.com:
Tonight's game was an odd one in that despite the Devils faded from the game offensively, going from 12 shots and 3 goals in the first period to just 10 shots in the second to only 6 in the third period. At the same time, I never felt that the Devils never really faded out of the game. The two teams battled throughout the game. The Devils' defense wasn't at all effective in preventing shots, but they were able to force Boston to take a lot of easy shots for Martin Brodeur to stop as well as clean up any rebounds available. Mike Mottau and Colin White played a clean game in that regard. Don't look now, but the pairing some fans love to hate have been playing fairly well recently. The backchecking efforts by the forwards were successful if only coming after initial shots - I felt Dainius Zubrus and
So Boston ran up the shot total to 36, put up 15 in the third period, but most of them weren't very dangerous shots. The Devils' 6 shots in the third were probably more problematic for Tuukka Rask as most of those 15 were for Brodeur. Not to sound presumptious or smug, but I got a sense as to why Boston is able to get shots on net regularly but score so few goals. They do know to not keep firing pucks at the goalie's chest, right? They do know they are in a playoff battle and need the points, right? When they get an early goal in the second period they need to build on it not just hope for another break or a very late comeback (which is hard enough to do when down by one goal, much less two). They didn't really do that. Did they not learn from their 3-2 loss to Montreal, another game where the scoreline flattered the losing team?
That being said, Brodeur was definitely the single most consistent player on the ice for both teams (though you can make an argument for Tuukka Rask). He was only beaten twice. The first was a fluke deflection, Blake Wheeler re-directing Mark Stuart's sharp angle shot. The second was another deflection right in front of him by Patrice Bergeron while Boston pulled Rask for an extra skater and tired the Devils' skaters out on a long shift. None of those can be faulted on Brodeur, especially after calmly stopping 34 shots tonight. The lofted pass that sprung David Clarkson for his breakaway goal was sublime.
Still, this leads me to think that while it's great that the Devils won, I'd really like to see some improvements. What was great about the wins over Pittsburgh and the Rangers last week was that the Devils kept the opposition honest with the lead. That didn't happen nearly enough as it should have tonight. I give credit to Ilya Kovalchuk for trying to bust through a number of defenders - which incidentally bought time for the rest of the team to change, so it wasn't totally pointless - but the effectiveness wasn't there. No one really took his lead. This in of itself was also odd because Kovalchuk couldn't be stopped by Boston, only contained in the first period. I think Dennis Wideman is going to have nightmares about how Kovalchuk not only chased him down for a stray puck cleared in his own end, but knocked him flat down and just took it away. What happened going forward, I don't know - the energy was there but not the space. I think he'll be fine.
Also, was it just me, or did I see Kovalchuk play on a number of different lines tonight throughout the first and second periods. I don't think Lemaire was experimenting, was there a match-up that Lemaire liked? I couldn't figure it out from where I sat, but perhaps I'm mistaken.
Nevertheless, while I understand Boston's position was to do whatever they can to make up two goals in the final 20 minutes, they weren't really pressing the issue. They moved at their own pace, made simple passes up front, and attempted to find seams. It wasn't effective until they got caught on a long shift after an icing when Boston pulled the goalie. In retrospect, I'm sure Jacques Lemaire wished he had his time out still, instead of using it in the middle of the second period to give a breather to the fourth line and third pairing after they iced the puck. It would have been far more useful there,
A couple of the Devils' top forwards had mixed games. Patrik Elias picked up an assist and went 7-for-14 on faceoffs; but didn't get a shot on net. Jamie Langenbrunner only got one shot on net, took an unnecessary minor in the first period (Standing up for Parise? For a clean hit? Really, Jamie? Whatever). Dainius Zubrus had some moments of greatness, but was more effective in his own end than in the attack. Zach Parise (who scored tonight's eventual game winner) and Travis Zajac combined for six shots in the game, but only one in the third period (by Zajac).
If there's a forward to praise for his play throughout the game, it's David Clarkson. He fell down taking the shot that Rob Niedermayer re-directed for the game's first goal. He took Brodeur's pass in and schooled Tim Thomas on the breakaway. He had 3 shots, hustled all game long, and really made that third line go with Rob Niedermayer (who also did well) and Brian Rolston (fit in well, but didn't register a shot on net). In one of his post-game posts, Tom Gulitti said that tonight was "perhaps his best game since returning from a fractured right fibula." With a goal, an assist, a few shots, a few hits, and generally lively play, it's hard to disagree.
I also want to highlight the special teams tonight. The Devils only got one power play and it wasn't bad. It wasn't great, but they got two shots on net and perhaps if they got another power play, there could have been more results. The penalty killing by the Devils was great. The Devils only got two shots at that, but they were excellent on the first one and thanks to Brodeur and some timely clearances, did a good job on the second. They only allowed 4 shots against and most of those went easily into Brodeur's chest and covered up. Good special teams tonight for the Devils.
Now, getting the win is a good thing overall. It builds confidence, it helps the Devils in the standings, and it creates momentum. However, the Devils can't relent. Like I said earlier, it's important that they be more consistent in their shooting and it would help if their preventative defense was better. Was the puck movement better tonight than it was on Long Island? Yes. Was it totally sharp? Only at times. For example, the long passes into/through the neutral zone worked very well at times (and again Brodeur's was the best, feeding Clarkson on a breakaway), and at others, it was just icing it. Without the puck movement, there won't be so many shots on net to keep said opponent honest with a lead. And that's far better than hoping the opposition would take so many easily-seen and stopped shots. Basically, there's room for improvement.
Thanks to Steve for the GameThread and to all of you for reading and commenting there and here. Please leave all your complaints, criticisms, corrections, concerns, and thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.