New Jersey Devils Edge Los Angeles Kings in Shootout, 2-1

The New Jersey Devils are 2-1-0 this season.  Unless I'm horribly mistaken, this is the first time since the 2009-10 season that the Devils had a record that was truly over .500. It feels pretty good.

What doesn't feel as good was the Devils' performance. Don't get me wrong, they weren't completely bad.  It was a mixed bag as opposed to the quality play we saw on Monday against Carolina.   The Devils were pretty awful for much of the first period.  The Los Angeles Kings rolled them repeatedly and forced Martin Brodeur to bail the Devils out.  The lone goal allowed was a gaffe, the result of an ill-advised line change.   Once the Devils equalized, thanks to the one line that was consistently good all night long, the Devils were much more composed.  

That composure carried on through the second period and the Devils really ramped it up in the third period, peppering Jonathan Quick with shot after shot.  Alas, Quick couldn't be beaten directly and the constant rebounds didn't always fall onto the right sticks at the right time. At the same time, I can't say they were completely good as the Devils had shifts beyond the first period where the Kings did everything right but score, making the Devils look foolish in the process.  One example would be the Anze Kopitar unit and Drew Doughty spending what seemed like forever in the Devils' end in the second period; while the fourth line minus Cam Janssen (Ilya Kovalchuk was double-shifted early and often tonight) just scrambled.  Somehow the Kings didn't score, thanks to luck and Johan Hedberg   Moving on, I felt the Kings had the better of chances in overtime, too.  

Of course, nobody could solve either goaltender or get the luck to do that, so a shootout was necessary.  The atmosphere became thicker, with most of the denizens of the Rock standing, cheering and booing appropriately and loudly.  Ilya Kovalchuk lines up and scores on a backhand.  Simon Gagne cut in wide from the left but got denied by the legs of the Moose.  Zach Parise charges in, goes top shelf on Quick, and suddenly every Devils fan became a huge Hedberg partisan.  Kopitar went wide, but not as much as Gagne, cut in, and Hedberg stopped his backhand for his and the team's second win.  I'm glad the team won at all, but I particularly heartened that they made a game of it after getting rolled for most of the first period.  That's a positive for any team in any sport, and I hope it continues.  At the same time, I wouldn't take this win for granted.  On another night, perhaps LA gives them more of a consistent fight throughout the game or scores more than one goal when the Devils were beaten like a drum early on.  There's still plenty of improvement to be made with this hockey team.

I have more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's take, please check out Jewels From The Crown and Battle of California - should they put up something.

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 Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts

The Highlights: From NHL.com, here are two goals and a whole lot of saves by Quick:

Martin Brodeur Injury & Update:  When the Devils were getting pounded early on, Martin Brodeur came up big quite a few times. He had to, the Devils certainly weren't getting the job done in their own end.  Already they hung him out to dry on a line change, where Simon Gagne was all alone in front of the net to easily beat Brodeur.   Dainius Zubrus had no chance to catch him and the defensemen on the ice had to worry about Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams - who both set up Gagne - first.  It was already looking like Marty had to carry the team. 

About midway through the first period, the situation at hand forced him to make some desperate lateral movements.  After going hard to his right to make one stop, he knew the puck went to a King.  Figuring that the whole left side of the net was open, Brodeur dived like a soccer goalkeeper to his right.  It looked as odd as it reads.  Fortunately, the shot never came - it either missed or was blocked.  Unfortunately, Brodeur landed on his shoulder and was hunched over in pain for quite a bit.   After a stoppage shortly after, he talked it out with the training staff, went back in net, and played out the first period.    As the second period began, Johan Hedberg took to the net - Brodeur's night was done.  Clearly, he injured his shoulder - also known as "the upper body."

The good news is that after this game, Tom Gulitti did report at Fire & Ice that Brodeur says he only "tweaked" his right shoulder. Doctors don't think it's serious and Peter DeBoer says he's "day to day."   Hopefully, Brodeur will be ready to go in a few days. 

Moose Crossing: I don't believe he'll officially get one, but let it be known here that Johan Hedberg technically got a shutout. He gave up no goals on 16 shots in regulation.  He even gave up nothing in the shootout.  The Moose came into a tight 1-1 game and was solid the rest of the way.   Hedberg even made a smart move out of his net.  In the third period, a puck was gliding into open space with a King charging after it.  Moose came out of his net and not only played it along the boards, but got it to Jacob Josefson.  Yes, Hedberg made a smart play with the puck away from his crease.    He had a very good night and if he has to play on Saturday, then so be it.

Quick Note to Kovalchuk & Josefson: Never, never, never, never, never pass the puck across the slot in your own zone when the other team is present and attacking!  They each did it twice tonight!  Kovalchuk did this in the first period and Brodeur had to bail them out of the resulting scrum of activity.  Josefson did this right after Hedberg made his one good stickhandling play, giving the fans a fright.    I know both aren't known for their defense, but they should be reminded of this basic rule of defense.

Big Minute Ilya: Peter DeBoer thought a lot of Ilya Kovalchuk tonight and very little of Cam Janssen.  Janssen got a whopping 6 shifts, played 3:32, and took one dumb penalty in a game where the refs called very few fouls.   Naturally, he rode the bench.  Kovalchuk was double-shifted for most of the night and it shows.  He played an astounding 29:37, including all 4 minutes that the Devils had on their power play.   If he wasn't with Josefson and Nick Palmieri; he was out there for a quick shift with Brad Mills and Rod Pelley.   

How did Kovalchuk do?  This was a frustrating game in a way.  He would seemingly follow a good shift with a bad shift; a good decision with a bad decision; a good break with a bad break. On some shifts, he was everywhere, forchecking, backchecking, and doing the things you'd expect him to do.  On others, he would make an error that made you wonder if he was feeling all right.  Certainly a little gassed as time went on. Ultimately, he ended up as a net negative in Corsi at -3 (Palmieri/Josefson just above 0, Mills/Pelley just below 0) so he wasn't a force.   Kovalchuk did get 3 shots on net, but was blocked 4 times and missed the net once.  Yet, the opposition managed to generate more offense at even strength than when he was on the ice.  It would have helped if his linemates made more of an impact tonight.  It also would have helped if Kovalchuk didn't force so many plays.  It possibly could have helped most of all had DeBoer not constantly double-shift Kovalchuk.    Hopefully, Ilya gets a good night's sleep tonight.

Big Minute Drew: As for the Kings, their top minute man was, who else, Drew Doughty. He played 27:02, got a shot on net that forced a tough save from Hedberg, missed twice, and played in all situations.   Per the Time on Ice Head to Head charts, Doughty saw a lot of Kovalchuk along with Josefson and Palmieri.  While he succeeded there, he got a decent amount of time against the Elias line and that was what gave him (and the Kings) fits.  Ultimately, he also finished as a net negative in Corsi at -2.  Not terrible given all of the ice time and that the Devils outshot the Kings 34-27 at even strength.   Given that time against the Elias unit, it could have been a lot worse.

Big Minute Adam: OK, I'll stop with the big minute stuff here, but it's worth highlighting the Devils' 18-year old defenseman.  He played 24:59 tonight and a massive 21:16 of it was at even strength.   How did he look?  Just solid, really.  Incredibly composed on the puck, especially on one keep during the Devils' first power play.  He was in the right place at the right time for most of the game, too.  I'm amazed he's only 18 and he's performing the way he does.   I felt his partner Andy Greene was fantastic, especially early on in the game; but Adam Larsson had a very good evening as well.  Coaches don't just hand out ice time without thinking the player is worthy of it.   The sheer amount of ice time tells me the coaches think very highly of Larsson and that he deserves it.

Larsson and Greene had fantastic Corsi numbers, +13 and +11, respectively. Those are excellent values for a defenseman, especially two who played over 20 minutes at even strength.  Though, a big reason is that they were usually behind the Elias line.  Let's talk about that line now.

The Elias Line Destroyed the Kings:  Here are the Corsi numbers for each player.  Patrik Elias: +11.  Petr Sykora: +10. Zach Parise: +14. These are astounding and the Fenwick numbers were even higher.  Here are their shot counts.  Parise: 4 shots on net out of 6 attempts; Sykora: 2 shots on net out of 5 attempts; Elias: 7 shots on net out of 7 attempts.  Elias was fantastic, Parise was dogging every King that got in his way, and Sykora was complementing both beautifully.  Elias scored the Devils' lone goal in regulation, a rebound off a Sykora shot that popped up over Quick and in.  With the amount of chaos and loose pucks they were creating, they could have had a lot more.   This line was ridiculous in regulation.  I hope they can continue to be this ridiculous in coming weeks.

Reminder That Jack Johnson Is A Defensive Black Hole:  Jack Johnson was a -13 in Corsi.  His regular partner Rob Scuderi was only -6 in Corsi.   Parise, Elias, and Sykora lit up #3 all night long.  It was great.

Speaking of Matchups:  There were a handful of shifts where the Josefson line actually got some offensive success, and not just because Kovalchuk forced it to happen.  I mean, it had to have happened, how else does Palmieri end up with 4 shots on net credited to him?  That's because that unit didn't always get matched with Mike Richards, Dustin Penner, and Dustin Brown.  As the game went on, DeBoer matched the Richards line with David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus, and Mattias Tedenby.   The Zubrus line didn't have a great night; Tedenby was mostly just "there" (yes, he played tonight) and Clarkson had, well, a Clarkson-like game (hits, constantly shooting at any opportunity, not much on defense, not much possession, falling down on his own at least once).  Yet, they didn't get destroyed.  By giving the Josefson line some time against Jarret Stoll, Trent Hunter, and Brad Richardson; I feel that spreading of responsibilities helped the Devils out in general.  I noticed it in the second period onward, which was when the Devils started to play better overall.   

Between that and how excellent the Elias line was, I would have to say the Devils did their job in quelling the Kings' top six this evening. Gagne only scored thanks to a team error; and only Justin Williams and Brown were positive in Corsi for the entire LA roster this evening.  Well done, DeBoer.

When Whistles Get Swallowed: The Devils managed to improve their discipline by fate. The referee duo of Kelly Sutherland and David Banfield only whistled for three penalties.  All three were obvious calls.  Janssen went too hard into Ethan Moreau and got a deserved roughing call, which may have resulted in his later benching. Yeah, I know, Cam Janssen taking a dumb penalty; who would have guessed?   Brown held Clarkson on too long resulting in a collision into the boards, which was another easy call.  Lastly, Penner got tagged for charging (!) when he managed to add to a pile of players during a scrum at the side of the net.    Yes, the Devils only took one penalty and got two power plays.  I'd hesitate in calling that progress given how the refs decided not to call hooking, cross-checking, and some other iffy moves by both sides.

What I would call progress is the penalty kill.  Not only was their one call killed, the Kings got no shots on net.   I can't ask for much better than that.  Well, I could by asking the Devils to not take a penalty in the first place, but that's besides the point.

Power Play Work in Progress: The Devils' first power play was pretty good. 3 shots on net, including a breakaway - which is fairly rare in 5-on-4 situations.  And the player breaking away was Clarkson of all people.  He didn't do too much with it, unfortunately.  Points to Kovalchuk for hitting him perfectly with the long pass.  In any case, the Devils got some good looks and it was the sort of PP where if they had more of those more often, they'd be more successful.

The second power play looked good to start, but it just degraded over time.  Passes went over the blueline.  Shots were passed up and ultimately possession was snuffed out.  Getting into the zone became more difficult. The last stage was when the Devils actually iced it near the end of the third period.  That power play just sucked.  It was a missed opportunity since it could have won the Devils the game in regulation, too.    Basically, it's a sign that the PP needs some more work. 

Third Period Power: I will give the Devils credit for this.  In a tied game, the Devils bossed the Kings around throughout the third period.  They out-shot them 12-4, which is impressive on it's own.  It's more impressive that the Devils did their best to try and win the game instead of playing for the point, which was what LA was doing as the final 20 minutes of regulation went on.   To me, what's most impressive about it is that they did so in a situation where the other team had just as much of a reason to fight back given that it was a tied game, and they were rolling the home team over much earlier in the game.   The Devils were unfortunate to not score, but they certainly gave LA a big scare. While it was not a perfect period by the Devils, if they have more performances like that, then the goals will most definitely come.

Those are my thoughts on tonight's game. What are yours?  Do you think the Devils played a better game than I think they did?   Are you heartened that the Devils came back in this game to tie it up and ultimately get the win?  Were you floored by how well the Elias line played? What about Greene-Larsson?  How did you rate the performances of Kovalchuk and other players not on the Elias line?   What did you think of tonight's opponents?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone in the Gamethread who read and commented in it; and thank you for reading.

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