The New Jersey Devils played a tough game yesterday afternoon. They were on the road, against a rival, and against a top team in the league in the Philadelphia Flyers. They prevailed 3-1 even in spite of some absences (Colin White leaving the game early due to injury, Nick Palmieri out with an "upper body" injury, and Vladimir Zharkov injured). The Devils earned a three game winning streak that afternoon, but the potential of it ending today was high. They were up against the last team who beat them (in overtime), a team who didn't play on Saturday, and a team who needs the points to scratch and claw their way up to eighth in the East in the Florida Panthers.
It wasn't the best of games by the Devils, but they managed to get the job done with a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers at the Prudential Center this afternoon. Once again, the Devils put up 2 goals in the first period to establish an early lead. Once again, the Devils managed to protect that lead. However, they added to it from the most unlikely of places given their recent form: the power play.
Two power play goals stopped any hopes of a Florida comeback in the second period. It was important that they scored on the PP since the Panthers were pretty much dominating in the second period until just before the first call came on Keaton Ellerby. The goals, particularly the 5-on-3 goal by Patrik Elias, along with 7 shots on net should also boost the confidence of a power play unit that has struggled to get shots on net in recent game.
There's some deserved criticism in how the Devils played today. Yet, Florida never took full advantage of New Jersey's errors and shortcomings at times. They paid the price. That the Devils still managed to win by a decisive score anyway is another significant piece of evidence that this team has turned it around.
I have a few more thoughts on today's game after the jump. For a Panthers-based perspective on the game, please check out Litter Box Cats.
ALSO TALKING RED: In lieu of making a separate post on it, please check out Episode 17 of Talking Red either directly from the Talking Red website here, or at iTunes or Zune. If you want a stream, the website has one for the latest episode right above the Twitter feed.
First, here are the highlights in this video from NHL.com. Indeed it is proof that the Devils did score off a tip-in (Ilya Kovalchuk), a rebound (Jason Arnott), a bomb from the point on the power play (Brian Rolston), and a great shot through the legs at 5-on-3 (Patrik Elias). Please check it out for those are sweet goals.
Once again, the offense came from multiple lines. Jacques Lemaire stuck Arnott with the called-up Alexander Vasyunov and Adam Mair, and Arnott had a productive day. According to the event summary, he went 9-for-17 on draws, he was tied with Mattias Tedenby with the most shots on net for the Devils at 4, and he scored the goal right at the end of the first and the game-icing empty netter. He wasn't perfect though. As seen in the above video, his giveaway in the corner led to a 3-on-2 rush for Florida where Shawn Mattias hung back enough to have a free shot in a good spot to score Flordia's first goal. On top of that, he got tagged for unsportsmanlike conduct (pro-tip: don't curse at the ref) in the second period, the lone power play for Florida today. Fortunately for Arnott, the Devils penalty killers held the Panthers to nothing on the man advantage.
Ilya Kovalchuk was similarly productive; his three-point game was his first of the season. He tipped in Andy Greene's shot for the first goal of the game, a shot that happened after Kovalchuk put a strong shot on Scott Clemmensen in the slot. Kovalchuk later picked up assists on the two power play goals. Kovalchuk didn't get a lot of minutes today, with only 19:27 of total ice time - 16:11 at evens, shortened power plays by goals cut the time down too. He was still fairly effective with 3 shots on net and helping others get shots on net (e.g. Tedenby doesn't get 4 without a few feeds from Kovalchuk).
The resurgence of Brian Rolston and the all-star-like play of Patrik Elias continued, as each scored a power play goal this afternoon and Rolston assisted on Elias' goal. It wasn't just the scoresheet where they stood out. In a game where the Devils led for most of it, the Panthers unsurprisingly out-shot the Devils at even strength. Based on the event summary, it was 26-16. Corsi would be heavily in favor of Florida and it was for the most part. Yet, the line of Rolston, Elias, and Dainius Zubrus managed to stay positive at Corsi this afternoon somehow. The 5-on-5 Corsi chart at Time On Ice proves they were the best Devils going forward with possession. Incidentally, Arnott (-7) and Kovalchuk (-4) were negative at Corsi, but again, so was most of the team since the Panthers significantly out-shot the Devils at 5-on-5.
Speaking of the Corsi chart, note that Andy Greene and Rod Pelley totally stood out with -11 a piece. Greene played a solid 23:10 this afternoon; and according to the head-to-head ice time charts for 5-on-5 at Time on Ice, Greene saw plenty of Stephen Weiss, David Booth, Evgeny Dadonov, and Rostislav Olesz among others. Pelley, on the other hand, only played 14:59 (seriously) but still saw plenty of Olesz, Booth, Mike Santorelli. The Devils' fourth line was picked on today and none more than Pelley this afternoon. At times, notably in the first period, the fourth line would get pinned back, get the puck somehow, and then proceed to ice it away so they stay on the ice or they dump it away but not deep enough to get a change.
There were stretches in the first period where Florida was controlling the play. Granted, a few good shifts will happen in the course of a game; but stupid decisions with the puck when it comes to dumping it or missing a breakout pass that resulted in an icing made it easier for the visitors. At least the Devils were able to hit those passes forward; and when they did, they really asserted themselves in Florida's end. A decent enough first period, all things considered.
While the Devils went up 2-0 to end the first, the old second period blues came back at the Rock. The Devils were simply horrid to start the second period. The Devils had no shots on net for the first 11 minutes of the period. It wasn't until 8:37 was left before the first shot on net was taken by Vasyunov. The rink was tilted towards Martin Brodeur's end. Sure, the Devils clamped down on the Panthers at first. However, when the action is in going one-way, the risk of something bad happening increases and it did when Mattias scored, which was followed up with the Arnott penalty. 7 shots for Florida, one goal, and nothing going forward for New Jersey until Vasyunov did something.
Tom Gulitti reported on Fire & Ice that Jacques Lemaire wasn't happy after the game. I can't say I blame him for the second period alone. Even on that first power play, the Devils absolutely struggled to get the puck in over the blueline. It took Martin Brodeur firing up a puck, have it bounce off a kneeling Panther in the neutral zone in the right way for the play to develop. Brian Rolston's goal was sweet, but it was entirely against run of play. After the goal, it was all Devils; but they were lucky to not have the game tied up in the second.
The third period was like more of what has been seen in this recent run of wins: the other team's losing, they shoot more, and the Devils goaltender stops pretty much everything. Brodeur was fine today and he mostly had help in the slot to clean up any messes. The only time Brodeur was beat was on a puck he had no shot at stopping. Brodeur stops the initial shot from Corey Stillman, Radek Dvorak somehow gets it loose from Brodeur, and Marty Reasoner streaks in on the flank to put it home. Some will point at Henrik Tallinder (who otherwise had another fine 24:11 of ice time today) for not restraining Dvorak or getting outmuscled by him; but the video appears to show that Reasoner was Mair's man and Reasoner blew past Mair. The goal would ultimately be a consolation goal, but it's a breakdown in coverage all the same.
While that was a goal, David Clarkson stashing in a loose puck later in the third period somehow wasn't. Apparently, Jakob Markstrom got a glove on the puck and even though it popped out, the ref blew his whistle for not seeing it - even though it came loose. Poor Clarkson, he was robbed of his first goal in 4 games. It would have been a brighter spot in a day where his line wasn't much of a positive factor this afternoon.
Speaking of players to draw sympathy, poor Clemmensen. He was beat on a tip and a rebound in the first period, 2 goals on 8 shots per the game summary. According to George Richards of the Miami Herald, he was pulled to "spark" the team. So Markstrom came in relief, his first ever NHL game. I wish the Devils didn't take over half of the second to put a shot on net. To that end, the Panthers were "sparked." However, the Devils did proceed to beat him, nullifying said spark. Hopefully Clemmensen's confidence doesn't take a hit for it.
Overall, the Devils pulling out a win by 3-goals despite a flawed team performance is a big sign things are turning around for the team. I believe the Devils of October, November, or December 2010 does not win this game. They either wouldn't get those early goals, and/or they would just "give up" on the ice after the first goal against en route to more goals against. They would let fatigue or a lack of focus or something else be their excuse. Fortunately, the Devils power play, of all units, bailed out the team in the second - something that definitely didn't happen earlier this season. The result keeps them hot and ensures a positive record for January, a reason for Devils fans to smile. If the players want to keep winning games, though, they'll look to improve their shortcomings this afternoon. I'm confident that Lemaire will let them know exactly that in the team's next practice.
That's my take on the game. Thanks to Tom for putting up the Gamethread. I want to know what you think of the Devils performance. What did you like the least? What do you think they need to work on for Wednesday's game? Perhaps you disagree and thought the performance was just fine? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about today's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.