Like all sports, the National Hockey League is a results-oriented business. By the end of the season, it's not how a team won games that determines whether they'll be playing in the postseason and their opponents. It's if they won enough games and earned enough points to get there. There are no additional points in the standings for whether a team won decisively or just scraped by somehow.
Yet, we are fans of the New Jersey Devils and we know better than to pre-judge a team by their record. The Columbus Blue Jackets came into this game with the worst record in hockey at 5-13-2. Yet, that didn't matter in their last 5 games in which they went 3-1-1. It definitely didn't matter tonight once the puck dropped. Record aside, I didn't think they were the worst team in hockey in my preview of this game. I felt they proved me right on the ice at the Prudential Center this evening. After all, they did what Boston, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and especially Florida did in New Jersey's last four games: own the third period.
The game wasn't leaning in one team's direction too much in the first period. I felt the Devils were fine after a sluggish start; their power plays helped get them going. The second period saw the home team get a goal and the visitors get several chances but came away with nothing. At the second intermission, shots were tied 17-17 and the Devils were up 1-0. A larger lead is always preferable, but it wasn't bad.
Then the third period came and the Devils got dumb. While killing a minor penalty to start the third period, Zach Parise tripped Nikita Nitikin to give Columbus a short 5-on-3. The Devils killed that and Parise's minor; but they didn't respond all that well. Columbus equalized when a long shot from Marc Methot hit Anton Volchenkov, then Jared Boll's skate, and then trickled into the net. The equalizer was a literal bad bounce against New Jersey. The Devils got a power play not long afterwards but the team registered only one shot on net - their last until a minute into overtime - and not long after it ended, Adam Larsson went into the box for holding. The Jackets piled up shot after shot for the rest of the game. The Devils certainly tried to attack but they kept turning the puck over on offense. They had a few too many in their own end too. Martin Brodeur stood on his head, stopping 16 out of 17 shots in the third period. It's never good when a team gets half of their shots on net in regulation in one single period.
In that regard, the Devils should be pleased they got into overtime. If it wasn't for Brodeur and some fortunate situations, the Blue Jackets could have done what the Panthers did on Monday. Overtime was much better; I felt the Devils took more control of the puck. They actually got more shots on net in those 5 minutes than in the 20 minutes of the third period. A shootout became necessary. There, the Devils claimed the second point thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and the Devils' hero, Martin Brodeur. How he was not the media's first star of the game, I do not know; Brodeur pretty much carried the Devils through the third period.
That's precisely the problem. As great as getting a win is in the big picture, the fact that the Devils blew another lead after a game where they really botched a big one is disheartening. It's frustrating to see the Devils get out-shot 17-3 in their own building in just one period. It's maddening that a team doubled-up in shots on net in just 20 minutes. It'd be one thing if the Devils were up by 3 or 4 goals and the other team was just desperate. But the Devils only had the one and weren't sharp or smart with the score in mind to add to it or maintain it. On another night, they lose this game in a heartbreaking and rage-inducing manner. We should be thankful it didn't. The Devils players and coaches have learn from these experiences soon because scraping out wins like this isn't always going to be an option. Just like in Sunrise on Monday.
As usual I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's take on this game, Matt Wagner of The Cannon has this recap available.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: From NHL.com, here are the highlights for this game:
Why Now I Include the Shot Summary in These Recaps: When looking at the event summary, I noticed that Zach Parise put up 7 shots on net in 20:35 of ice time. This surprised me. Normally, a forward putting 7 shots on net is a sign he did something right in the game. Yet, I didn't think he played all that well. Again, I liked his forechecking, but the captain wasn't exactly leading his team onward. Then I looked at the shot summary: 2 shots at even strength in the first period, 3 on the power play in the first period (I guess those jams at the net count for something), and 2 in overtime. Basically, I recall Parise's lack of events from the second and third periods (one penalty taken, one turnover that led to the play that resulted in Boll's goal); but the overall sheet notes his good first period and overtime and just lists that. Fortunately, the shot summary parses that down.
Really? Nothing?: Believe it or not, Ilya Kovalchuk ended up with no shots on net. He's officially credited with one attempt blocked and two misses. I swore he missed the net on more than just two shot attempts just on the two power plays in the first period. Alas, the scorer did not think so. I was actually surprised to see this myself.
By the by, Parise & Kovalchuk achieved little offensive results in the third period. Then again, so did the rest of the team. If Peter DeBoer isn't going to break up the Elias line, then maybe these two just need to switch sides or something. Something's got to be adjusted.
I Love The Penalty Kill (And I'm Frightened As To If/When It Gets Cold): Anton Volchenkov returned to the lineup and played the second-most minutes on the Devils this evening at 22:45. He played a huge 6:38 on the penalty kill. He was just in the wrong place, wrong time when Methot's shot hit him and then bounced off Boll's skate and into the net. I felt Volchenkov had a fine night as the main man on the Master Killer Penalty Killing Units that the New Jersey Devils have.
Once again, the Devils did not concede a power play goal. While they only yielded one shot on goal while shorthanded, they did rush up ice to at least kill clock and force Columbus to defend a little. They weren't as lights-out in shot prevention, though. After only allowing 3 on net across 4 opportunities in the first two periods, the Blue Jackets got 7 power play shots on net during a carried-over penalty and two other opportunities. Yes, 7 of the 17 shots on net came from the power play. So the PK units got worked over a bit in the third; but overall, not at all a bad effort. It also helped that Martin Brodeur was what cool kids in the mid-1990s called "the bomb."
I Hate That the PK Had to Play 11:40 Out of 60 Tonight: Six penalties! As much as people may want to point to the coaches, this is all on the players. After all, the coaches are on the bench, they're not fouling the opposition on the ice. I'll concede that the boarding call on Anton Volchenkov was odd considering Tim Sestito got boarded in a similar way a little bit beforehand which yielded no call. Yet, the others were legit and entirely avoidable. When will the players learn that the best penalty kills are the ones that don't have to be taken in the first place? Apparently not yet. It's a reason why the third period was such a hot mess for New Jersey and if it's not addressed by the players soon, then it could be a reason for some future losses.
Do You Hate the Power Play?: Well, I can't say I fully hated the power play tonight. They only allowed one middling shot against, and they had 6 for. They looked decent on their first two opportunities. I wish Parise would try and lift the puck instead of just jamming it in down low, but I suspect that's now how the play goes. Anyway, the third one was a bit of a waste, which was unfortunate since it came not long after Columbus scored.
The Quasi-Goon Section: Cam Janssen sure had a game tonight. Like the Devils, he didn't look so bad as the game began. After Mattias Tedenby drew a hook by Grant Clitsome; Janssen discombobulated Derek Dorsett into his own bench. That would be his positive highlight of the night. The fourth line was continuing to get the occasional shift in the second period and #25 wasn't out of place. Late in the second period, Janssen tried to wreck Jared Boll but he went in too rough and got a deserved two minutes. After that penalty was killed, he tried to stick-lift Antoine Vermette from behind but he apparently got his hands and so went right to the box. Janssen was then stapled to the bench.
The amazing thing is that Janssen had went six games without taking a minor penalty. Of course, all good things must come to an end. Tonight, it was in an emphatic fashion. He took two minors in a row, they were bone-headed penalties, and so instead of having a shot at seeing more ice time than he has had all season, he got a front row seat to the rest of the game. We'll see if he knows any better in the next game he plays in.
A Good Coaching Adjustment: I'm certain DeBoer will get some flack for another bad third period performance by the Devils. Some of it is deserved; but I do want to highlight a particular adjustment. In the second period, the Blue Jackets were able to exploit the Devils' defense pinching in and got quite a few odd man rushes and breakaways. Brodeur and the recovering defense held up well, so Columbus didn't make the most of it. Yet, seeing Columbus forwards vivisect the Devils through the neutral zone like an eleventh-grade high school class studying frogs was something that had to be stopped. For all of the that was bad of the third period, the Blue Jackets didn't beat the Devils off the rush. The defensemen did a better job dropping back. That was a good one. If only the Devils had a few more this evening.
The Tedenby Frustration: In the first period, Mattias Tedenby was flying on the fourth line. Usually by himself, but he stood out against Columbus' bottom six. While he registered no shots on net, he did draw two penalties. It looked like that he would go on to have a pretty good night.
Well, he did get some shifts with David Clarkson and Ryan Carter. Yet, Tedenby's contribution to the game really ended in that first period. He didn't do too much since then even when he was out there with Carter and Clarkson. This is the source of frustration with Tedenby. He'll have some good shifts or a good period, but he'll do very little outside of it. Had Tedenby at least kept hustling throughout the game, then that would be a step forward. Hopefully, he'll make it soon - not that Nick Palmieri's making a better case for himself or anything like that.
Adam Larsson Fun Fact: Larsson put up 3 shots on net, had 3 attempts blocked, and officially missed once. If it wasn't for Parise's 7 shots on net, Larsson would have led the Devils in shooting attempts in this game. One of them led to Zubrus' goal, too; so he picked up his fifth assist of the season. That said, insert your usual "please stop giving the puck away in your own end of the rink" statement to Larsson here. It definitely applies from this game.
Get the Matchups? Got It? Good: In terms of Corsi, the Devils finished the game at -10. That's understandably disappointing since they were out-shot by 14 in the third period alone. Yet, the key match-ups that DeBoer got weren't the main culprits. The Adam Henrique line got matched with the Blue Jackets' checking line (Sami Pahlsson, Dorsett, Vermette) for the most part and they weren't too negative (-1 for Parise, -4 for double-shifted Kovalchuk, and somehow a +5 for Henrique). The Patrik Elias line got the Jeff Carter line most of the time and they finished the game not too far below zero as well: -1 for Zubrus, -3 for Elias, +1 for Sykora. That's not bad at all for a unit that consists of Jeff Carter, Rick Nash, and Vinny Prospal who put up a combined 14 out of Columbus' 36 shots on net in the game. Of course, it helps that they only got 7 of those 14 at even strength.
However, the Devils' bottom six got wrecked for the most part. Carter was a -9, Clarkson was a -5, Tedenby was a -7, and Sestito was a -4 (energy! He...didn't bring much). Somehow, Palmieri avoided this by finishing a +2 but he only played 8:17 of ice time. Carter and Clarkson saw plenty of the Mark Letestu line. Ryan Johansen racked up 5 shots on net all at even strength, so that really helped bring them down. Tedenby and Sestito saw the Pahlsson line quite a bit and while they were a checking line, they still got forward. In retrospect, that's pretty bad and the coaches may want to be a bit concerned about the defense of those bottom two lines in future games.
Also wrecked in Corsi: Henrik Tallinder (-6) and Mark Fayne (-8). They took the brunt of the Carter line with the Letestu line behind them in terms of head-to-head ice time. Given that those two lines fired plenty of shots this evening, it's safe to say that those two had to be sharp in cleaning up loose pucks and picking up open men. They were for the most part; but they couldn't do it such that the play would be driven forward.
Ping!: Carter can claim to have beaten Martin Brodeur this evening. Off an offensive zone turnover by Kovalchuk (story of the third period for the Devils' attack), Carter skated in and fired a long shot that hit iron instead of the net. Thankfully, he was kept off the score sheet; but with 6 shots on net, 10 official attempts on net, and one that rang off the goal frame, it's clear that Carter is back to being a threat. Thankfully, the Devils don't have to see him, Rick Nash, or Vinny Prospal again this season.
A Quote from Kovalchuk: In Tom Gulitti's post-game post, Kovalchuk said the following about the team's third period performance.
"Marty stood on his head," Kovalchuk said. "We can’t play like that in the last 20 minutes. I think we had three shots on net and they got (17). We’ve got to be much better. That’s for sure. We just stopped doing what the coaches tell us to do. We started backing off and waited for them to come. We’ve got to stick to our system for all 60 minutes."
The bold emphasis is my own; and it's a concerning. Why did the players stop? Why didn't leadership say, "Hey, let's get back to what we're supposed to be doing" during a TV timeout or a break in the action? This may be just for one night, so I wouldn't panic over this. I'm not. But I'm raising an eyebrow that Kovalchuk would be this candid. Let's hope it is just a one night issue.
Oh, and I don't think the Devils backed off until the final minute of the period or so. They just turned the puck over way too many times while trying to attack. This wasn't like the Boston game where the Bruins forced the Devils to do nothing but defend, get a clearance, get a line change, and repeat. This wasn't like the Florida game on Monday where the Devils vainly forechecked and got sloppy all over the rink. Tonight, the Devils did OK getting into Columbus' end but when they had a little possession in their end, the players forced a lot of bad passes that Columbus defenders were more than happy to takeaway and turn into attacks up ice.
Goaltender Love: Curtis Sanford is a better goaltender than Steve Mason. He showed again tonight. He didn't waver when Parise went for another close-up jam. He didn't freak out when the Devils were trying to fire long shots with the intent of hitting traffic or a deflection. He played the puck fairly well outside of the net save for one gaffe that Clarkson nearly had (Columbus D picked him up). Sanford was only bested in regulation off a rebound that Dainius Zubrus put away so cleanly, you would have thought it went into a passivation tank or something. If I'm Scott Arniel, I'm rolling with Sanford even when Mason gets healthy.
Martin Brodeur was better though. He had to be better. He had a slow start to the game by the Devils skaters to deal with. He had crashing players to deal with. He had odd man rushes in the second period and just a lot of rubber in general in the third period to deal with. Save for an unfortunate bounce off Volchenkov and off Boll and Carter hitting iron instead of the net, Brodeur had a fantastic night. Again, why he wasn't the first star of the game, I do not know. Instead, it went to Jared Boll. Boll drew two calls, had one shot on net, finished a -1 in Corsi, and had a puck bounce off his skate for his goal. The media at the game felt that was superior to Brodeur's performance. Balderdash. The Devils don't even get into overtime without how well #30 played.
At Least the Devils Are Great At Shootouts: I will say this, Kovalchuk's and Parise's moves in the shootout are sick-nasty. The only way Sanford was beaten more dead to rights than on each shot would have to involve formaldehyde somehow. Brodeur participated in his first shootout of the season and like the 65 minutes he played prior, he was superb in stopping both shots from Nash and Letestu. It got the Devils a second point, so, "yay."
Those are my thoughts on tonight's game, now I want to know yours. Other than "garbage third period," what did you think of the Devils performance tonight? What must the Devils try and improve for their upcoming home-and-home with the Islanders? Who from this game stood out tonight from your perspective? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who read and commented in the gamethread, thanks to everyone who followed @InLouWeTrust during the game, and thank you for reading.