Sharper New Jersey Devils Win First Game of Season, 4-2 Over Carolina Hurricanes

On Saturday night, the New Jersey Devils began their regular season chasing their opponents, misfiring on more passes than making them, and getting pounded.  Their opponents, the Philadelphia Flyers, played their first game two days prior and showed few, if any, signs of rust.  The Devils, on the other hand, looked as rusty as a steel pipe left out in a downpour.   Their problems spiraled and so they looked like garbage in a 3-0 loss.

Today, the Devils hosted the Carolina Hurricanes.  With the experience of having an actual NHL game at NHL speed that counted in the NHL standings under their collective belt, they looked a million times better.  Right from the puck drop, the Devils were hustling, passes were more on-point, and the skaters were playing off each other.  They definitely got their "legs" back and they were pumping for 60 minutes.  The first 4 minutes, in particular, was straight-up Devils domination.  Carolina was pinned back and the Devils just kept rolling on them for shift after shift until the Devils scored the game's (and their season's) first goal.

It would have been nice if it continued, but the Hurricanes - as the Capitals will tell you - don't go down easily without some resistance.  The Devils also shot themselves in the foot a few times.  Fortunately, the vast improvement in skating and puck movement ensured that those shots didn't kill them in this game.  The Canes did hang with the Devils almost until the very end, as a matter of fact. I think that makes the Devils' 4-2 victory this afternoon even sweeter.  They had a strong start, they were forced to ward off a pesky Canes squad, and they came out of it with two points.  A definite confidence booster going into Wednesday's Thursday's game against Los Angeles. 

As usual, I have a lot more to say about this game - both good and bad.  If you would like opposition's side point of view, then please check out Bob Wage's recap of this game at Canes Country.  Please continue on after the jump to check out my additional thoughts.

The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Even Strength Corsi Charts

The Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the video highlights of today's game. Check out all of those goals scored by New Jersey. All four of them, in fact.

The Dominance of the Devils' Hot Start: Six shots on net, all four lines having time in Carolina's end of the rink, and it ends with a sweet tic-tac-toe play.  Petr Sykora to Patrik Elias to Zach Parise torching Jay Harrison and re-directing Elias' shot past Cam Ward.  It was not only successful on the scoreboard, but on the ice.  The Devils looked like they had a point to prove and they, well, did just that.   The only positive the Canes had was that they won all of the faceoffs; but they were small victories.

Give the Canes credit, they "woke up" after that goal.  Granted, Jacob Josefson helped them out by grabbing Alexei Ponikarovsky along the boards, which the refs saw.  From my vantage point, I thought it was Nick Palmieri, but whatever.  The Canes moved the puck well on that power play, put up 2 shots on net, and just missed 2 others.  The game became, well, a game. 

Technically, Discipline Was Better Today:  The Devils gifted the Flyers 8 power plays on Saturday.  That's unacceptable. Today, they improved by only giving the Canes 5 opportunities.  That's technically an improvement.   It's not much of one. What was shocking was that of the 7 total penalties they took today, 6 were by skill players. In order:  Josefson, Mattias Tedenby, Sykora, Dainius Zubrus, Nick Palmieri, and Patrik Elias. Two of those were holding calls, three were tripping calls (one negated because Jussi Jokinen embellished acted unsportingly), and there was a goaltender interference call.  Those are frustrating to watch because those are avoidable calls.  One could make a case that the tripping call on Palmieri was ticky-tacky; but the Devils played with fire in giving Carolina that many opportunities to get back into the game.  Especially with the latter two coming so close together in the third period, which gave the Canes 44 seconds of 5-on-3 to work with.   Fortunately, they didn't get burned.

Penalty Kill Dynamos: The Devils have yet to allow a power play goal despite all of their efforts at giving the opposition chances to do so in their first two games.  Unlike the Philadelphia game, the Devils were more in control on the PK.  They only yielded 6 shots on net (none of the 5-on-3, their one attempt was blocked by Andy Greene); they forced 2 shots on net shorthanded (and could have had more); and were just massive early in the third period during the 5-on-3 and following 5-on-4 situation.   The Canes were wise to move the puck around the perimeter, but the Devils made sure to get in their way when they attempted to get inside.  I'd like to point out in particular Zach Parise, Andy Greene, and Anton Volchenkov for staying composed in that 5-on-3 situation and in other PK work during the game.  They were great.   I also felt Dainius Zubrus (4:18 of PK time), Henrik Tallinder, Mark Fayne and even Brad Mills were effective as well.   Now, if the team can cut down on the penalties, that would help out this unit - and the team - in the long run.

Technically, the Power Play was Better Today Too:  The Carolina Hurricanes took their own fair share of dumb penalties. Their most costly was Alexei Ponikarovsky hitting Patrik Elias away from the play when the Canes were trying to get a late equalizer. While they pulled their goalie after winning the faceoff, they couldn't maintain control, Ilya Kovalchuk chipped it up to Zach Parise, and Parise iced the game with a power play empty net goal.   Yes, the Devils' first power play goal was into an empty net.

In more seriousness, the Devils did manage more shots on net on their five power plays.  Make that three, since two of them were very short odd-man situations (15 seconds at 5-on-3, 23 at 4-on-3).  They registered 6 shots on net and their problems didn't stem from setting up.  It was in maintaining control once they got into the zone.  The Devils could have benefited with a little more selfishness.  I noticed several incidents where a player (e.g. Elias) had a shooting lane on the side and decided to force a pass to the middle or across the zone in the hopes for a more dangerous one.  While I respect those sorts of decisions, they often led to Carolina clearing the puck in some form.  It's still improvement of sorts.

Mooooooooooooooooose: Johan Hedberg started today's game and had a fine outing.  He made 24 saves, he only got bumped outside of the net which led to the sole fright outside of the net, and his glove was in full effect today.  The two that got past Hedberg really can't be blamed on him, in my opinion.

The first Carolina goal wasn't totally unlike Parise's first goal.  Bryan Allen set up Tim Gleason at the point, he fired a shot that Alexei Ponikarovsky re-directed in the slot.  What was different from Parise's goal was that A) Ponikarovsky did so in the slot and B) the puck took a second deflection off of Greene's skates.  Greene was covering Brent Sutter, who was screening Hedberg.  The puck trickled past the outstretched left leg of Hedberg and into the net.  It was truly a bad bounce.

The second Carolina goal was a little more odd.  Jeff Skinner found Chad LaRose rushing through the neutral zone and hit him with a leading pass.  For some reason, while both Tallinder and Fayne were back, Tallinder was caught off guard somehow.  Instead of skating backwards, he was turned and didn't seem to be balanced.  LaRose fired either a perfect shot to the top right corner himself or he got the perfect angle on Tallinder's stick to deflect it past a surprised Hedberg.    If Tallinder had better body position, then maybe LaRose doesn't even attempt a shot.  Nevertheless, the puck had a small window to get through to get in the net, and LaRose made it happen. 

The Canes' Ferocious First Line:  I wish Vic Ferrari's game Corsi scripts were up, but it wouldn't surprise me if Carolina's first line was their best in possession today.    The trio of LaRose, Skinner, and Eric Staal each attempted at least 6 shots on net.  LaRose put up a team-leading 5 shots on net, including his goal.  Skinner had 3 on net, 2 blocked, and 2 misses.  Staal only got 2 on net, had 1 blocked, and missed the net 3 times.  Those three accounted for 19 of Carolina' 44 total shooting attempts. That's a good outing from what could be an impressive unit for Carolina.  Thankfully, they succeeded in scoring only once.

The Tepid Tuomo Ruutu: Believe it or not, but Tuomo Ruutu played in this game.  He got 14:33 of ice time, no shots on net, and most notably shoved Kovalchuk after he scored his goal.  Punk.

The Faulk Sectoin: OK, so you're Justin Faulk. You're a 19 year old defenseman who's now in the NHL after one season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.  You're trying to impress Paul Maurice and make a stake on the roster.  It's 4-2 with less than a minute in the game.  Do you try to work hard despite knowing that the game is lost? Do you focus on trying to make it look interesting late?  No, what you do is blind-side Adam Henrique in the head.   Your day ends with a double-minor to go with your "over the glass" minor in the second, Brad Mills wanting to punch your face in, and possibly a call from the league.  Why? I guess it's because you're a jerk, among other terms.   (And maybe he was following Eric "Spearing Larsson" Staal's lead. I really don't know.)

This Rookie Did Well and Didn't Try to Hurt Anyone: Adam Larsson is making me look dumber and dumber by the game.  Yes, I was the one who said back in the summer that going back to the SEL would be better for him.  When that wasn't happening, I kept stressing how his ELC shouldn't be burnt and he could develop just fine in Albany.  Yet, as in preseason, Peter DeBoer keeps giving him big minutes and Larsson is, well, justifying them so far.  Sure, he got a load of power play time, but he also led the team in even strength minutes at 18:30 (Greene was close behind at 18:10). A rookie's not going to get that kind of ice time unless he's deserving to a degree. I'd love to know the Corsi of the Greene-Larsson pairing was in this game, but I thought those two worked well together today.  Should this continue, I'm just going to have own up to being wrong about Larsson and enjoy what he's bringing to the table.

A Few Improved Players from Saturday who Don't Get Their Own Section:  Title is what it is:

Mattias Tedenby - He was moved up to a third line with Zubrus and David Clarkson and he was more active today.  Say what you want about his size, but he's fearless in the corners and behind the net. He's also bold with his stickhandling, which got him out of a few jams.  He only played 9:06, drew a hooking call from Staal, took one silly tripping call, and only got a mere shot on net.  It wasn't the most productive of performances. Yet, I'd like to think that with more performances like today, he'll get more ice time in the future.  I'd also love to see him on a power play unit, too.

Nick Palmieri - He, too, was more active along the boards and with the puck than on Saturday.  Palmieri only got a shot on net, but he picked up two assists and tried a little more on backchecking.  Can't complain about that.

Mark Fayne - He had such a bad night on Saturday that he deserves his due today.  He was much better on the puck and he was more steady in positioning. He looked good and scored his first goal of the season off a sick shot above the right circle.  His only major gaffe was pinching on a power play in the first period, where he didn't succeed and the Canes went off to the races.  Thankfully, Kovalchuk came back and broke up the play to bail Fayne out. That aside, Fayne was quite good.

Dainius Zubrus - Big Z is getting the rust off in a big way.  He imposed himself down low, he registered three shots on net, and racked up significant PK time.  His only misstep was that one penalty, but thankfully Jokinen helped him out by embellishing it. 

Who Didn't Improve: Two players stood out in my mind for not really doing much good today.

David Clarkson - His timing seemed to be off all game long.  He also managed to fall down a few times all on his own.  At least he didn't take any penalties today.

Petr Sykora - Sure, he had an assist on the game's first goal; but what did he really do? I know Elias and Parise are the main men on that first line; but no shots on net? Come on, man.

Kovalchuk Could Use Some Sturdier Sticks: He managed to break two of them on slapshots on the power play.  Both were unfortunate occurrences.  Kovalchuk almost had a blooper moment too. On their last power play of the second period, he cut in just a little too close to Hedberg with the puck, forcing a frantic freeze by Moose.  The fans, understandably, didn't like that. Behind the net, Ilya.  You cut across behind the net on a power play.

Those moments aside, I can't really complain about Kovalchuk's performance today  He wanted to work harder and he did just that.  Early in the game, he pressures a Cane below the dots on defense, curls around as another Devils defender fights him for a puck, and torches past a Cane in the hopes of receiving a leading pass for a breakaway.  It wasn't on target, unfortunately, but it served notice to Carolina that #17 was going to give them problems.   And he did.  He roamed from the point all the way to the corner on offense.  The power plays didn't just focus on him and him alone, which sort of opened up the Devils' power plays.   He turned the puck over fewer times today than he did on Saturday.  He made plays, most notably setting up Fayne's goal with a slick cross-ice pass and chipping the puck up to Parise for the game-icing empty net goal.   Most of all, Kovalchuk scored his first goal - today's game winner.  Josefson chipped it out in front from behind the net, Kovalchuk was down low, forced a pad save by Ward, and fired in his own rebound while warding off a defender.   If this is a hard-working Kovalchuk, then I am all for it.

Captain Makes Due:  Patrik Elias had a fine game with 4 shots and 2 other attempts. He could have had more.  Yet, the real star on that first line was #9.  Zach Parise had a game that showcased why he is so highly regarded.  He didn't do much last season, missing most of it due to injury.  Today, he showed the Devils, the fans at the Rock, the Hurricanes, and the hockey world that he is that good.  He was constantly in motion, almost to a point where he down low in one moment, right in front of the crease in a second moment, and suddenly hustling back to help out on D.  He managed four shots on net, two goals, and two misses.  Parise will only get better as the season rolls on and I'm looking forward to it.

One Final Note: One aspect of today's performance that I cannot stress enough is that the Devils didn't let a bad event ruin their day.  When the Canes tied them up the first time, they got a quick goal in response.  When the Canes tied them up a second time, they didn't panic or freak out. They kept calm and carried on.  When the Canes got a 5-on-3 power play early in the third, they maintained their composure and got a big kill out of it.  Minutes later, the Devils go up 3-2.  When the Canes tried to fight back, the Devils really put a clamp on the game and actually got offensive pressure as the third died down.  Even when it was 4-2, the Devils made an honest effort on their final power play of the game to score, forcing a big glove save from Ward.    This kind of resiliency by the team is admirable; and it's something that I hope continues as the season goes on.  L.A. will provide a good test of that on Wednesday Thursday.

Now that you know my extended thoughts on today's game, what are yours?  Who impressed you in today's game?  Likewise, who didn't really impress you in this game? What about the Devils' or Hurricanes' performance stood out to you the most? Do you think the Devils will take fewer penalties in a game any time soon? Do you think they'll get better on special teams in general? Does this win make you feel much better after Saturday's game? (And if not, why not?)  Do you think the Devils will build on this victory?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who read and commented in the Gamethread; and thank you for reading.

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