The New Jersey Devils road trip has certainly been an interesting one so far. They've come from behind in D.C., weathered a third period storm despite the lack of shots against, and won a shootout to beat the Caps. In Boston, the Devils and Bruins traded blows in the third period; but the B's managed to get a late one to continue their then-winning streak. The next night in Buffalo, the Devils offense showed up in a big way to put 5 up on the Sabres. Yeah, the Devils scored five. The Sabres tried to make it a game with 3 third period goals, but it wasn't to be. All were games that weren't easy for the Devils - not even the Sabres game. Tonight, the Devils visited the Tampa Bay Lightning game that proved to be interesting in their own right.
The first period was tepid. The Devils out-shot the Bolts 10-3, but team Corsi was only +1 for New Jersey. The Lightning had chances to put rubber on Martin Brodeur but found Devils skaters blocking said attempts along with some of them just sailing wide. The second period featured whistles. A lot of whistles. The refs called six minors - two for the Devils, four for the Lightning. Believe it or not, but the Devils' special teams got on the board. Dainius Zubrus scored on a two-on-one just after a Patrik Elias minor ended early in the second period. The Devils power play didn't score on a 91 second 5-on-3; but they did score two 5-on-4 power play goals. Elias finished a perfect give-and-go with David Clarkson for the first one; and Clarkson dove to put back an Adam Henrique-created rebound for the second. Given how dismal the Devils have been on special teams, scoring a power play goal is extraordinary, much less two. The Lightning had the edge at even strength, but the Devils took a 3-0 lead into the second half.
Of course, like the other four games on this road trip, it couldn't be a simple close-out-the-game effort. No. It got further interesting, to put it mildly.
First, the sharp eyes of the ref turned right to the Devils. Ryan Carter laid on top of Ryan Shannon for a holding call and then during that penalty kill, Bryce Salvador threw a puck over the glass. During the 5-on-3 kill, Dainius Zubrus hooked Marc-Andre Bergeron in the hands. Yes, the Devils took three deserved penalties. If it wasn't for Vincent Lecavalier holding Henrik Tallinder during their second 5-on-3, the Bolts really could have gotten back into the game. Thankfully, they didn't.
Second, the Devils started getting lethargic after the kills. They weren't as sharp in the neutral zone and the Lightning were able to get numbers several times rushing into New Jersey's end. The Devils could only respond with dumped and cleared pucks, so the Lightning kept rolling forward at evens. It was then the Devils got caught. The Lightning got on the board when Ryan Shannon wheeled around the D and found Martin St. Louis for an unstoppable one-timer. 90 seconds later, Steve Downie found Shannon breaking in wide with space and Shannon sniped a high shot short-side to make it 3-2. Things looked grim for the Devils. The Lightning were rolling; a comeback was definitely not out of the realm of possibility.
It was enough for Peter DeBoer to call a time out. I don't know what he said, or whether the guys needed a break to collect their thoughts. Whatever it was, it worked. The Devils got more aggressive in their own end. The forwards backchecked harder. The Devils finally got a shot on net in the third - after allowing 10 from the Lighting. They drew a power play which was subsequently wasted.The Devils picked off Lightning passes more often in the neutral zone. With about 2 minutes left, Clarkson intercepts a pass in the neutral zone and just dumps it in. It goes right to Dwayne Roloson's feet and he panicks. He flings it behind him - right where Ryan Carter can take it and throw it into the empty net. The game would be 4-2 and the Devils would ward off the Lightning to win. To quote Doc, "And they had them all the way."
What looked like an impending decisive win thanks to special teams - yes, that's plural, was nearly thrown away within the first 10 mintues of the third period. It was scary. The Devils got their minds right later on to seal the win. Just another up-and-down game on a road trip full of them. I'm not sure if I want to look forward to what will happen in Sunrise on Monday.
As usual, I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's point of view, please check out Raw Charge.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlights: Believe it: the Devils scored two power play goals in the same game tonight. Do you want proof? Both goals are part of this highlight video.
Peter DeBoer Is A Good Coach: In the preview, I was concerned that the Guy Boucher was going to get all the match-ups he wanted. He's a very tactically minded coach and utilizes it well. Peter DeBoer did well to prevent the Devils from getting owned in that department. He managed to get players on and off as needed. Look at the head-to-head ice time charts. While the two most common forwards the Adam Henrique line saw were Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, they didn't always see that unit - Vincent Lecavalier was much lower on the list. Henrik Tallinder and Mark Fayne were able to be out there to take on the toughs. That's good awareness by DeBoer.
Boucher rolled with double-shifting St. Louis (21:15 of even strength ice time!) so the Devils' top six saw plenty of him; but no one unit was dominated over and over. That also explains why Adam Larsson and Andy Greene only saw St. Louis as much as they did, though that pairing was spared from Stamkos and Lecavalier. Of course, neither line won their match-up, but the lowest they hit was -6 Corsi. That's well under the -13 the team pulled together; after all, the Devils were winning for 39 minutes of tonight's game.
His biggest achievement was the timeout. The Devils were out of sorts and the Lightning were exposing them after the penalty kills earlier in the third period. After the timeout, the Devils calmed down and were much, much sharper on defense. How much sharper? According to the play by play log, the Lightning were held to one shot on net after the timeout - a not-dangerous long shot from Bergeron. Good call, coach.
Obstruction: Referees Brian Pochmara and Steve Kozari got a lot out of their whistles this evening. They called 14 minor penalties between both teams. All but two of them were obstruction fouls: hooking, holding, and interference. A few were ticky-tack calls; but both teams were careless with their sticks in defending players. Why, I couldn't tell you. NHL refs have been calling those hits to the gloves since the fall of 2005. I'm sure Lightning fans are frustrated that their favorite team were penalized eight times - especially the three that came during Lightning power plays.
Especially Good Teams: With all of the penalties, special teams for both sides got quite a few minutes. Let's start with the better unit for New Jersey. The Devils' penalty kill has been absolutely fantastic. The Lightning had 6:51 total of power play time, which included two 5-on-3 situations. The Devils not only held the Lightning to only 6 shots against; but also created a few offensive rushes. One of them happened just after their first killed penalty, whereupon Ryan Carter picked off a pass and chipped it up to Dainius Zubrus. Zubrus hustled, toe-dragged to get around a diving Eric Brewer and put it 5-hole on Roloson. Another fantastic night by the Devils PK.
As for the power play, well, I can't say they were bad. They had their highs and lows. The play that led to Elias' goal was off a rush and it was a beautiful give-and-go. It was another shot through the five-hole, but even if Roloson got it, Elias was still all alone for any short rebounds. For Clarkson's goal, the Devils power play finally did something I wanted to see from them: pace. Ilya Kovalchuk got a pass from the point, immediately threw it cross-ice to Henrique, Henrique only held up for a moment before firing it low and Clarkson cleaning up the rebound. Given how horri-bad the Devils power play has been, any night they get 11 shots out of 8 opportunities, allow nothing shorthanded, and two power play goals has to be celebrated.
At the same time, the Devils wasted a few of these eight power play situations, like their last one of the game. They struggled at times just breaking into the zone. Maintaining possession was spotty. Most of all, their power plays would be stemmed to having just one or two shots on net. Even on their 91 second 5-on-3 power play yielded only two shots on net. Granted, the Lightning blocked 4 of those shots (one of which shook up Nate Thompson) so that's not so bad - but my point is that while the Devils found power play success, they weren't consistent with it across all 8 of them. I will say they showed improvement tonight in comparison to past games.
Defense? Defense: The Devils were pretty porous for the first ten minutes of the third period; but they were very good in the final ten minutes. While the Devils were out-attempted by 13; the Lightning only out-shot them by 5 shots during 5-on-5 situations, 17-12. I didn't notice the Lightning trapping too much, but they held up the Devils quite well in terms of shots - only 24 total. Maybe they were and I missed it? Likewise, the Devils defense did keep the Lightning below their season average with only 23 against. Again, after the time out, only one shot was allowed.
Ilya Kovalchuk's Motor: Kovalchuk did show off some of his speed this evening in going through the neutral zone. That's a sign that he's gotten some the rust off from his injury layoff. Another was the fact that DeBoer played him 25:34, with 8:52 on the power play (15:41 at evens). Plus, his secondary assist wasn't a cheap one - it was important on the play that led to Clarkson's goal. However, it wasn't one of his better nights. He only got two shots on net and was blocked on two other times. Only 4 shooting attempts from Kovalchuk isn't enough, especially on a night where he got as much power play time as needed. The same can be said for Parise, but at least his four attempts got on net (and he drew two penalties). I'm sure we'll see better from #17 in future games.
A Silly Penalty: Cam Janssen drew a penalty this evening. He was hooked from behind by Dominic Moore after a dump-in by the Devils. There was no need to touch him, yet Moore felt he was too dangerous to let loose. Heh.
A-Train: Anton Volchenkov had a spirited night. His only real miscue was his penalty. #28 was huge on his 4:40 of shorthanded ice time. Volchenkov also threw 4 pretty big hits and blocked 6 shots. This was one of his better nights as a Devil and I enjoyed what I saw from the defender.
He's Feeling Quite Fine: Dainius Zubrus was excellent on his goal with his hustle, toe-drag, and five-hole-piercing shot. He also had 4 shots on net, went 6-for-8 on draws, and played considerable minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill. Big Z played, well, big for 20:06 and was named the first star of the game by the game's attending media. I think he's feeling good.
What Were Attending Media Watching?: By the by, the same media named Parise the second star of the game over Elias (4 SOG, 1 PPG), Clarkson (1 PPG, 1 PPA, the dump-in that created Carter's goal), or even Ryan Carter (1 G, 1 A, 7-for-11 on draws). Strange.
The Return of Mattias Tedenby: Tedenby was on the fourth line and didn't do too much. DeBoer did give him a few more shifts than Mills and Janssen, though. That said, he only played 6:03 and had a shot on net, the team's first of the game. I wasn't impressed with Nick Palmieri , but I'm doubtful DeBoer will swap the two anytime soon.
Moose in Disguise: I almost feel bad for Roloson. He didn't look good on the first two goals allowed, but it's not like the skaters helped him out too much on those plays. What he was doing with Clarkson's dump-in, I'm not sure. He just panicked and tried to fling it away. In retrospect, he should have just flung it forward. At least he would have known where it was going. That play was Hedberg-esque and thankfully iced the game for New Jersey.
In contrast, Brodeur was solid with the puck. He was similarly solid in net. He had no chance on the St. Louis goal. He may have had a shot at the Shannon shot, but that followed a bit of a breakdown in coverage. He made several tough saves to deny the Bolts an earlier goal. You know, solid.
A Little Love for a Member of the Lightning: While Ryan Shannon got hot and earned his goal and assist, I came away from tonight's game impressed with Martin St. Louis. He was leaned on by Boucher and deservedly so. The guy is 36, he's not large, and he was flying this evening. He had 9 shooting attempts, 5 on net, and rocketed one pretty one-timer into the net. St. Louis led the Bolts skaters in Corsi with +11 and I suspect most of that is from his own doing. The Devils quelled Stamkos and Lecavalier; but not St. Louis. I wonder how any team could given how he played. He's still an elite winger in this league.
Those are my thoughts on tonight's game. Now I want to know yours. What impressed you from the Devils performance tonight? How do you feel about the Devils' special teams? What would you like the Devils to do differently in their next game other than "do not take 3 straight penalties?" Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who read and commented in the Gamethread; thanks to those who followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter; and thank you for reading this recap.