Ladies and gentlemen, Zach Parise is back. Ever since the preseason began our new Captain has been looking like his old self, skating his legs off and giving 100% effort on every shift. But up until today Parise had yet to get a goal, and the performance of the Devils had left us understandably pessimistic. Not anymore.
It’s just one win and furthermore a win against a team that was already 0-1-1 to start the year. But hopes lies in the fact that the Devils were able to respond and correct many of the mistakes that led to the defeat against Philadelphia on opening night. Errors on the part of the Devils were certainly made, however none were too devastating and the positives we saw as a result of things done right far outweighed them.
Despite now dropping to 0-2-1, the Hurricanes are a great team. All their record shows is that we shouldn’t get too excited or panicked based on the first few games of the year. But today there’s no denying the Devils were better.
Stretching back to the second half of last season it’s seemed that the Devils have had the Hurricanes’ number. I can distinctly remember dominating offensive performances from Ilya Kovalchuk and defensively sound adjustments on defense which led to keeping Eric Staal off the score sheet last year as well.
There were a bunch of things that we as fans should be pleased about from the first period of today’s game. We’ve spent a lot of time criticizing the Devils for their inability to pass precisely and it was certainly the reason for a few goals against Philadelphia. Parise’s goal, his first of the year and obviously his first since the meniscus injury, was a result of more than just one beautiful pass. Elias made the first great pass of the rush as he hit Parise streaking down the left side with a long cross-ice pass that was right on his tape. The puck found its’ way to Petr Sykora who was in the high slot on the right side, and despite pressure from the defense he was able to deliver another precision strike to the tape of Elias. Elias, who was closely covered himself, had the presence of mind to send a perfect feed right down the middle of the zone to the stick of Zach Parise who was hustling behind the defense to his home at the front of the net. Elias’ pass and Parise’s positioning were so perfect that all Parise had to do was position his stick correctly and then throw his arms up in the air.
The Devils also did a great job of holding their own defensively in the first period. Bryce Salvador played both physically and responsibly, continuing his strong play since returning from an injury of his own. One thing that has bothered me in the past is Devils teammates not sticking up for each other. If Mike Richards or Chris Pronger is punching Parise in the face, someone should probably do something about it. If Moose or Marty makes a stop and the opposing teams’ players stay right in front of him in the crease after the play, someone needs to let them know that they’re in the wrong spot. Salvador understands this completely as evidenced in the first period of this game when he darted over after the whistle from across the ice to give shoves to players standing too close to Moose.
The last thing I really enjoyed watching in the first period was a great back checking play by Kovalchuk. Eric Staal was given a feed for a breakaway as he came out of the penalty box, and if not for the back check of Kovalchuk the period very well may have ended tied at 1.
One of the great plays that occurred during the start of the 2nd period was another instance in which Kovalchuk was great on defense. As we were applying pressure in the Canes’ zone, the puck was sent to Adam Larsson at the point. He accidentally misplayed it and it led to a rush going down the other end. Kovalchuk could be seen on his horse flying down to get back on D, and it ended up paying off, as the Canes entered the zone and fired a shot on Moose, a dangerous rebound came right in front of the net to Kovy, who was able to get to it and clear before the Carolina player who was right next to him.
Mattias Tedenby didn’t get on the scoreboard but played a brilliant game. We all know he is small, but he uses it to his advantage by using dekes and dances to get around players. Opponents would be standing right next to him trying to poke the puck away and Tedenby would just spin or change direction. Hurricanes were being turned inside out and made into pretzels every time they tried to follow him. This happened countless times today and considering Tedenby is still young with a potential to put on more pounds of muscle, it’s great to see him already able to evade pressure.
Brad Mills also deserves credit because it was in the 2nd period that he delivered a great hit to the linesman along the boards while he was entering the offensive zone. Besides this, Mills also played a great game. He skates hard, plays physical, and makes smart decisions. If you like Rod Pelley then you will like Brad Mills because he is a younger and more electric version of Rod, and he probably has a little more hockey skill too.
The second period also featured some bad moments, such as allowing the opponent to score a horrible goal off of us. This one in particular bounced off Andy Greene after hitting a million other people on its way from the blue line to the back of the net.
Henrik Tallinder, despite occasionally looking a little slow and like he was trying to catch up to the plays, made a fantastic play on a 2on1 involving Eric Staal and LaRose. Tallinder waited until the best possible moment and then dove in the path of Staal’s pass. What made this moment even more great was that it led to a rush up the ice for the Devils. On this rush Kovalchuk brings the puck along the left boards near the top of the circle and waits for help. Kovy literally stands there with a Canes defenseman 2 feet in front of him and stickhandles with the puck for about 10 seconds. Help eventually arrives but instead of just throwing the puck towards the first Red jersey seen entering the zone, Kovy waits and continues to stickhandle. Until he eventually finds Mark Fayne, who receives a picture perfect pass and buries it immediately far side under the blocker and into the back of the net. I think the Canes defender from this play who allowed Kovalchuk to mesmerize him will probably be destroyed in video sessions.
LaRose soon after scored to tie it at two with a great shot. We can’t give all the credit to him on this play though, because Tallinder and Fayne both were caught out of position and Moose really put up a lackluster effort to stop the shot.
Later on in the second Parise was playing 4on4 with Elias. Parise carried the puck down the right side boards and Elias followed him into the zone and cut towards the center. With two defenders to beat, Parise dangled into an incredible move that allowed him to completely beat the first defender and prompted the other one to dive. Unfortunately Parise had already decided to pass and the play was broken up. But his move on this play and how badly he beat the defense was just dirty. Parise has been speaking in interviews about how he needs to get his patience back, and today showed that while he is very close he doesn’t quite have it all. When he does, it’s more than safe to say that he will be both exciting and lethal.
On another one of our powerplays this period Larsson beautifully set up Kovalchuk with a one timer. Kovy, who was above the left circle, had a white open net that he gunned for with the slapshot. Had his stick not failed him it would have been an easy goal, and most likely the first of many we’re going to see resulting from Adam Larsson crisply feeding Ilya.
An interesting point in this period occurred when Larsson was suddenly sticked (slashed?) in the nuts by Eric Staal. When this happened the two players were not near the puck, and Larsson was understandably not ready for it. For those of you who didn’t see this, it wasn’t just a little stick blade accidentally touching the front of the jock. It was as if Staal was trying to perform the stick lift on Larssons groin. His stick started between Adam’s legs and was thrust upwards where there is pretty much no protection. Understandably, Larsson was very visibly in pain. He was writhing in the bench and I ‘m sure that I wasn’t the only Devils fan furious that this happened without repercussion.
Larsson tried to make the best of it though. We ended up having another PP shortly after, and Larsson was well enough to be out there for it and he made the right choice. He was exceptional in multiple facets throughout this powerplay. The first instance came when the puck was nearly cleared out of the zone by the Canes, but before it could get there, Larsson hustled to it, out-stretched his arm as far as he possibly could, and with one hand passed the puck back threw his legs into the offensive zone. He picked it up and passed it back to a teammate, all without ever causing an offside. This puck was literally inches from crossing the blue line and appeared to be something most other defensemen would not even try to save. Larsson wasn’t done yet though on this powerplay. For each of the next two passes he received he wound up and fired consecutive one-timers on net. He seemed pissed off because of the actions of Eric Staal during this powerplay and it was very fun to watch.
The last major event of the period was a shame because I felt Kovy had played a great defensive game up to this point, with at least two very notable plays that may have saved goals. But in a move that only he would try and pull off, Kovy made the decision to enter Moose’s crease with the puck even though Jokinen was right on top of him. Of course this resulted in Jokinen desperately poking the puck away and into the pads of an alert Hedberg. It was almost as hard to watch as Parise going headfirst into the boards earlier in the period, and it could have very easily gone fivehole or somehow ended up in the back of the net. I’m truly glad that Kovy had 3 points and an otherwise fine game defensively, or I would fear about the repercussions this incident might have on his confidence.
No one on the 2nd line has been able to set up kovalchuk. In creating offensive chances its seemed that it always has to be him chasing after the puck and making the crisp passes. Kovalchuk can be relied on for everything offensively but as we know he is especially potent with that scoring touch. He needs someone who is nonselfish and a playmaker, badly.
3rd Period and General Notes
For a guy who receives so much praise and credit for being a great skater because of figure skating training, it sure did seem like Jeff Skinner fell down awfully easily today. His falls or dives led to more than one powerplay opportunity for the Canes but as was the story all night, our PK was absolutely incredible.
Clarkson surprised me numerous times by not falling over when hit along the boards and I thought he’s looked better so far this year than last. Zubrus was dynamite today. He gets called Zubust for not putting up goals but if you watch his style of play and then call him a bust you are nothing more than a complete idiot. Zubrus is the prototypical Devils cycling forward. He uses that big body which Chico loves to talk about and just works his way along the boards or wherever he wants to go in the offensive zone. Players trailing him in search of the puck quickly realize that they’re not going to get it simply by muscling it away. Zubrus is big enough and experienced enough to know how to properly position himself and execute the responsible, sustained pressure, cycling game that we are famous for. Additionally, today he was the best defensive forward on the team. He raced back as soon as our offensive plays broke down and was always there to help out our D and negate odd man rushes. Zubes also had a great chance right in front of Ward, in which he didn’t rush the shot, took his time, but got robbed by a fantastic save.
Elias and Parise are both insane at creating plays. It’s unfair that Kovalchuk doesn’t have someone like them on his line. Kovy is continually forced to be the guy who not only gains the zone, but also find the open man, deliver the pass accurately, and then score if he gets the puck back. It’s true that Kovy has such insane offensive prowess that he can perform all of its’ components intricately, but the way we are set up right how asks too much from him. The best part of his game is still his shot, and we need someone on his line who is capable of letting him find the open space and then hitting him with a pass to bury.
I was disappointed with Petr Sykora tonight. Aside from making a great pass to set up our first goal, he appeard almost in visble for the rest of the night. This should never happen when both of your linemates are so skilled that they are continuously drawing the defense to them. Additionally, Elias and Parise were also taking minutes on the PK and were still skating harder than Sykora. With linesmates as electric as the ones he has, all Petr needs to do is find an open area and good things will happen. If he’s already not able to keep up with either the speed or physical aspect of the game, there’s not much hope for him to last an entire season.
The last thing I wanted to mention was the play of this Caroline rookie Justin Faulk. This guy must be modeling himself after Matt Cooke because the actions he made at the end of the game were disgusting to watch. It started with a ridiculous open ice hit on Adam Henrique. This hit not only went uncalled, not only left Henrique down on the ice in pain, but also was CLEARLY a direct headshot. To top it off, Faulk then went straight up to Brad Mills and punched him in the face despite no provocation. Mills was understandably furious and dropped his gloves to try and take Faulk to task. But it was obvious the referees wanted to get out of there. They broke up the fight before it even happened and no appropriate disciplinary action was given to Faulk despite the fact that he performed two violations easily worthy of multiple game suspensions in this years’ NHL. The refs clearly and totally botched the end of this game, and I’m just glad no one was hurt.
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