The New Jersey Devils went into Detroit with a 4 game winning streak. The Detroit Red Wings weren't all that impressed and defeated them 3-1 to snap said streak. The game itself was interesting in that the Red Wings took more command of the game over time, yet the score didn't become definitive until the third goal of the game was scored by Johan Franzen with under a minute to play.
What I saw was not a Detroit team that looked beat up. They looked pumped up and definitely didn't take the Devils lightly. Definitely not in the first period, where the Devils were out-shooting them and out-working them. Definitely not in the second period, when the Red Wings had several strong offensive shifts in the latter half of the period. Definitely not in the third period where they took the game over on the shot count and the scoreboard. Say what you want about their roster, but it's easy to see why Detroit is a top team regardless of injuries. They are well-coached and the players are effective in their roles from top to bottom.
At the same time, the big positive is that this performance by New Jersey was far better than the last time these two teams played each other. The Devils didn't sulk after an early goal by Darren Helm and even tied up the game. The Devils didn't go into a shell when it was tied. I'm just saying this team is far and away more competitive than what they were back in mid-December when they last played the Red Wings.
There are several things to criticize, and I'll note them after the jump. For a Detroit-based take, please check out Winging it in Motown.
Now, please check out the game highlights from NHL.com. Pay attention to what happens on the first two Detroit goals.
That's right, an old nemesis of the Devils helped doom them tonight: turnovers. I have no idea what Mark Fraser was thinking en route to Helm's goal. Did he not see a player right on him? Did he not notice he was pressuring him pretty closely? What made him think he can go d-to-d? Going backwards? With a man on him? Helm took it away, went off to the races, and beat Martin Brodeur with a beautiful shot. Needless to say, the turnover was a good reason why Fraser played only 11 shifts for 7:51 this evening.
A second turnover helped cost the Devils this evening. Mark Fayne had possession after a solid Detroit shift in the third period and simply coughed it up. While the turnover itself didn't immediately lead to the goal, the Red Wings skated circles around the Devils in their own end. Eventually, Jason Arnott and David Clarkson both were caught unaware on a breaking Valtteri Filppula, who got a cross-ice pass from Jiri Hudler. Brodeur made a valiant effort on a diving save, got some of Filppula's shot, but not all of it.
The third goal against, well, that's just well put together pass by Henrik Zetterberg (who's good at that) and a well put together shot by Franzen (who's good at that). All it did was ice the game. Fun fact: both forwards had 5 shots on net each on Brodeur this evening. Yes, they are quite good players and it showed this evening.
The Devils would not be so fortunate or lethal on their chances. Brian Rolston's goal was the definition of ugly, jamming it home after Jimmy Howard didn't cleanly stop a slapshot from Anton Volchenkov. The Devils would put the puck over the goal line one more time in a similar fashion, by Ilya Kovalchuk, late in the third. But the ref was emphatic in waving it off. I guess either because of an "intent to blow the whistle" or ruling that Howard was pushed in along with the puck. It would have tied the game, but alas, there was no review.
What also undercut the Devils' chances tonight was their power play. They had the first three man advantages of the game. In 6 minutes, they got 2 shots on net. 2. Sure, there was an impressive block by Helm on a Kovalchuk slapshot and an impressive miss by Dainius Zubrus. But the Devils struggled to set up in all three of them and so they didn't even just get shots off. The second and third power plays took place while it was 1-1 and some offense would have been great to establish momentum in New Jersey's favor, not to mention possibly breaking the deadlock. Instead, the man advantages were wasted tonight. Question for Lemaire and Adam Oates: why play Kovalchuk for the entire duration of these power plays when they aren't functioning well? Why not give him some minutes off to rest up?
Speaking of Kovalchuk, Jacques Lemaire really wanted him out there tonight. Kovalchuk played a whopping 27:50 of total ice time over 31 shifts. Kovalchuk had 4 shots on net, 3 blocked, 1 missed shot, and 1 waved off goal. He finished with a -2 in Corsi, so he wasn't that much of a positive factor going forward. Like with most of the team, he was at first, but over time, it went down. If he played so much, who suffered? Mattias Tedenby. He got his minutes severely cut, only playing 6:20 over 9 shifts, as Kovalchuk took near-regular shifts with Arnott (-4) and Vladimir Zharkov (+1) as well as with Travis Zajac (+2) and Nick Palmieri (-2). Personally, I don't think Kovalchuk really needed to play that much this evening. He was OK, but he could have been just as effective with 20 minutes of ice time. If he's having a hot night or there's a match-up to exploit, then sure, throw him out there. But nothing he did tonight really screamed at me, "He needs to be on the ice as much as possible."
At least the line of Rolston (+5), Patrik Elias (+5), and Zubrus (+6) were positive going forward. Too bad they didn't get more minutes. Then again, Rolston's high stick on Patrick Eaves really hurt that cause. That whole incident was weird because play kept going after Helm went down, the Devils got a 3-on-1, Zubrus shot it into Howard, and then after the trainers come out, Rolston gets 4 minutes because Eaves was bleeding. Fair enough, I found it a bit odd since play kept going.
Mark Fayne had a very poor night. He was picked on all night long by Detroit in his 18:09 of work. Fayne ended the night with a -9 in Corsi; cleared the puck over the glass on a 4-minute penalty kill to give Detroit a long 5-on-3 (Fayne should personally thank the PK units for bailing him out on that); and, among other errors, memorably iced the puck after the Red Wings pinned him and most of the fourth line in their own end in the second period - leading to more offense by Detroit. I think Fayne was the worst Devil on the ice tonight, though with the injury to White, I am not surprised that he got 18 minutes of ice time this evening. If White's going to be out for a long time, then that means Fayne or someone like him will have to pick up his minutes. That's a time for the opposition to strike, as Detroit showed this evening.
At least the Devils killed off the Rolston and Fayne penalties, but the Devils didn't muster up much of an attack. After the no-goal call on Kovalchuk, Detroit realized they needed possession and they got it. While killing off a little over 4 minutes in penalties in the third period doesn't help, the fact is that the Devils didn't attack as much as they needed to in the third period. Despite being down a goal, they were still out-shot in the third period 11-7 by Detroit, who finished the night 29-24 in shots. That's not good, especially since the Devils had no trouble going on the attack after a 1-0 deficit to the Red Wings earlier in the game.
Accuracy was also not on New Jersey's side all night long as they got blocked 15 times and missed the net 11 times. What they did get on net, Jimmy Howard was calm enough to stop them. Simple as. Brodeur had to do a lot more, what with Detroit setting up more shots off of cross-ice looks and quick passes. It also helped that Detroit whiffed on a few here and there. That said, Brodeur was his usual self and can't really be faulted on the ones he got beat on. If anything, Brodeur was a big reason why the game wasn't blown wide open at all. Solid possession over time can help create these situations and perhaps that's why Detroit got them as time went on. Possession in flow and off draws, as the Red Wings also won 62% (36-for-58) of all faceoffs this evening - not a single Devil won over 50% of their faceoffs.
That all said, it was a close game right until Franzen's goal in the third period and that right there highlights the big difference between the team that last played (and lost) to Detroit and this one tonight. The team that lost in December would have collapsed after Helm's goal and just went through the motions. The Devils could have done more tonight to attack, be it in passing, decision making, and possession, sure. But it wasn't as if Detroit was steamrolling through them like they were an AHL team who showed up at the wrong arena. The Devils will have to do better, Lemaire will certainly let them know that they will do better, and they'll try in the next game.
That's at least my take on this evening's loss. What did you think of how the Devils played? What do you think the Devils need to improve upon the most? Who do you think did the best on the Devils? Did you think Fayne was as bad as I thought he was? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to the commentators in the Gamethread and thank you for reading.