The New Jersey Devils are ever closer to what could be a needed break. After finishing a five-game road trip on Monday in Sunrise, Florida; the Devils hosted Columbus on Wednesday; and began a home-and-home with the New York Islanders in Long Island today. After Saturday's home game, the Devils will finally get three days before their next game. It's not much, but they can have a full practice to address some of their recent issues like their power play or their third period performances.
However, there are games to get through first. The Devils had a real gritty time of it in Long Island this afternoon. The Devils had a sloppy first period, an improved second period, and a third period that wasn't as bad as the prior six but not all that great either. The Devils were only able to beat Al Montoya once. Given that the Islanders have been bleeding shots and goals all season, that's at least a little disappointing. Yet, it was enough to get the win thanks to some timely blocks by the Devils skaters and (especially) goaltender Johan Hedberg.
The Moose was stellar this afternoon. He stayed calm during the Devils' three penalty kills in the first period. Hedberg flashed his pads out wide to deny Isles on several shots, both off scrums and rushes. His biggest saves bailed out Adam Larsson's two turnovers right to Michael Grabner for breakaways in the third period. His pokecheck prevented a shot on net at all. The second breakaway yielded a penalty shot, whereupon Hedberg made a brilliant save. Late in the game when the Isles decided to get aggressive, Hedberg wasn't faded. He stood tall on the shots they got through and with some help with the defense in front of him, he maintained the shutout. Hedberg was the Devils' best player through all three periods and completely deserved the first star of today's game with his second shutout of the season.
Of course, there cannot be as much praise for the rest of New Jersey's performance. It's great the Devils got a lead going into the third and kept it for a change. Yet, the Devils really didn't play all that smoothly going forward and they definitely had some sore spots. It wasn't terrible, but it's nothing to proclaim as great. As usual, I have more to say about this game after the jump. For the opposition's point of view, please check out Dominik's recap of the game over at Lighthouse Hockey.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: Do you want to see some saves by Moose or the only goal scored in this game? Please check out this video at NHL.com:
Block Party: This game featured only 23 shots on net from both teams. It's not that both team's were offensively inept; but both teams attempted quite a few shots that hit bodies instead of the goaltender or net. The Devils had 17 attempts blocked and the Islanders were more frustrated with 21 attempts blocked. Perhaps the scorer at Nassau Coliseum likes to be generous with blocks; but there definitely some big ones by both teams. For the Devils, Anton Volchenkov had a big one not long after the Islanders' lone power play of the third period. Zach Parise sacrificed his body to deny a shot off a flank that could have been the equalizer as well. Mark Fayne was prolific with 4 of them this evening. As for the Isles, Andrew McDonald stopped 4 and Kyle Okposo stopped 3, which came at crucial points as well. This isn't to say that Hedberg and Al Montoya had easy days, but they got some help from the skaters for better or worse.
Benched: Hedberg definitely didn't have it easy thanks to two errors by Adam Larsson. I didn't think the rookie defenseman was having that bad of a game. He was OK for two periods, playing his shifts regularly against a mix of Isles forwards - mostly the Frans Neilsen line and the Jay Pandolfo line. He started the third period and gave the puck away to Michael Grabner. Hedberg bailed him out, Larsson blocked an attempted pass to the center, and shortly thereafter, Larsson was benched. He was brought back out for a Devils power play in the third period and proceeded to make a soft cross-ice pass to Ilya Kovalchuk after the Devils won the faceoff. Grabner picked it off and went off to the races. Kovalchuk fouled him (or Grabner dove, take your pick) and a penalty shot was awarded. While Kovalchuk caused the penalty shot, it was all Larsson's doing. Thankfully, Moose bailed him out. Needless to say, Peter DeBoer stapled him to the bench from then on.
I'm actually fine with this kind of discipline from DeBoer. While Larsson is a rookie in the NHL, he's been a professional hockey player for a few years now. As a defensemen, he should know it's a cardinal sin to carelessly give the puck away either at the point or up the ice in the defensive zone. Larsson's been prone to those kind of turnovers and the two he had in the third period were just awful, schoolboy errors. I don't know whether it's enough as to have him sit a game, but I'm hopeful he's learned a lesson from sitting in the third period. Plus, it establishes that DeBoer's not playing favorites among the younger players in the lineup. Just as Mattias Tedenby and Nick Palmieri saw less time due to lackluster performances, the first round draft pick Larsson is not immune to some punishment.
It's also not just for young guys. Brad Mills only had one 50 second shift after his penalty in the first period. DeBoer's not really pleased with him. Throw in Cam Janssen's fight being his only contribution (two shift after the fight), and the Devils rolled with 10 forwards for the majority of this game. Take that as you will.
The Third Period Wasn't Awful - Really: Devils fans will read that bolded text and say something like, "Come on, John. The Devils allowed two breakaways, a penalty shot, a power play, and the Isles crashed the net hard to open and close the third. How can you say the Devils outside of Moose weren't awful in the third?" Fair point, straw-fan I've created. The Isles definitely had their moments of greatness. They could have equalized early in the third period or right at the end after the Devils missed three attempts at an empty net. Some better luck for them and perhaps they get that equalizer.
Yet, what wasn't mentioned was precisely why the third period wasn't awful. The Isles had some threatening moments, but they were really only dangerous at the beginning or the end of the third period. For the most part, the Devils did a good job keeping them at bay. They won pucks along the boards, they had several shifts with offensive possession, and they didn't give up on getting a second goal until the final minute of the game or so. If you want evidence of the Devils' defense not being bad, then just look at the shot count: 9-7 in favor of the Isles. After five straight games where the Devils got rolled for 10+ shots, allowing only 9, with 5 coming in the final 5 minutes of the game, today's third period was an improvement. Especially with only using 10 forwards and 5 defensemen. As further evidence of the Devils not getting dominated, the Devils went into the third period with a +7 Corsi and ended regulation at +4 Corsi as a team. The Isles certainly attacked more, as you would expect since they were down a goal, but the Devils weren't drowning in their own end for most of the period. That they still finished positive is a testament to their not just sitting on the lead for much of the third period. That's a big step up over the most of the last 20 third periods the Devils have played this season.
Poor First Period: Besides, if you want to get down on the Devils for a poor period performance, then look no further than the first period. The Devils shot themselves in the foot with three minor penalties, all by depth players in the lineup: Bryce Salvador, Tedenby, and Brad Mills. Tedenby's was not long after Salvador's penalty was killed; and Mills' call was only 2 minutes after Tedenby's. While the Devils penalty killers remained fantastic (and yielded New Jersey's sole dangerous attack when Zach Parise broke out shorthanded), it really disrupted how the Devils would play for the rest of the period. The Devils missed seemingly easy passes so their attack stalled, whereas Islanders established possession at even strength better than they had on their three power plays. That's how a poor 5-on-5 team like the Isles were up 6-2 in 5-on-5 shots and drove the Devils to -5 in Corsi.
The Devils fortunately got it together after intermission and played a far better second period. Yet, going against recent games, the first period contained the Devils' worst performance in this game.
Fluke Goals Count As Much as Non-Fluke Goals: The New Jersey Devils power play has performed like the New Jersey Devils power play of recent games. Inconsistent, not enough movement, and yet somehow able to get a few shots on net or even a goal. Today's lone goal came off a fluke play. Adam Larsson broke his stick on an attempted shot at the point and the puck slid perfectly flat right to Petr Sykora in the slot. Sykora turned, shot, and beat a surprised Montoya just inside the right post. It was a great shot by Sykora. The fluky part was Larsson's stick breaking on the shot and the puck being sent perfectly to Sykora's position on the ice. It would be the first of three gifted pucks by Larsson this afternoon (the other two were for Grabner).
Anyway: the power play as a whole wasn't that good. I swore they had more than just two shots on net across two opportunities (I swore Kovalchuk alone had more than just one on net), but that's all the scorer gave them. Allowing that breakaway to Grabner was vomit-inducing and I'm thankful Moose stone-cold stopped Grabner on the ensuing penalty shot. Yes, Sykora scored, but it wasn't like they set up for that shot either. As usual, the power play
Empty Nets: The Devils had three chances at an empty net and missed on all three. The third one was kind of dumb from Patrik Elias, as he flung it from behind the red line. Since it missed, it became an icing. The Devils used their timeout to at least give them a breather; but it was a risky play. Anyway, it's a bit frustrating that the Devils could have iced the game at 2-0 and failed to do so. In their defense, the Devils haven't had too many chances to score on an empty net this season. Maybe they need to practice that in advance of the next time?
The Curious Case of the Henrique Line: The line of Zach Parise, Adam Henrique, and Ilya Kovalchuk invited themselves some more scrutiny and criticism from Devils fans. After all, none of them scored and none of them contributed a point at even strength again. Fans have more reason wonder when Parise and/or Kovalchuk will get "going." Certainly, this unit had their share of blown attacks with a bad pass or a bad read going forward this afternoon. There were times where I felt they could have done more.
Yet, if we look at the shot summary, the trio combined for 6 of New Jersey's 17 shots at even strength. Across all situations, Kovalchuk attempted 9 shots (3 blocked, 4 missed), Parise attempted 6 (2 blocked, 1 missed), and Henrique attempted 5 (1 missed). In the second and third periods, that line had shifts where they would be able to break into the Islanders' end of the rink and get some offensive pressure that the other lines followed up on. Moreover, they were winning their match-up against Neilsen, Grabner, and Okposo. Parise finished +1 in Corsi, Kovalchuk finished +2 in Corsi, and Henrique put up a strong +5. Given that this unit has been beaten upon their recent road trip and even at home against Columbus, the line finishing positive in Corsi is evidence that they didn't have a bad outing at all.
Yes, they had their errors; but we must be honest in saying that they have had their successes in attacking this afternoon. It may not be the ideal unit, but I wouldn't use this game as a reason as to why it can't possibly work.
The Adam Henrique Aside: 4 shots on net, 22:07 of ice time, 3:33 of PK time, a Corsi value higher than the team's at +5, and a secondary assist on Sykora's goal. That's not a bad night for the rookie. The only downside was his performance on draws, which leads me to this section.
Bad at the Dots: The Devils got wrecked as a team and individually on faceoffs in Long Island. Both Henrique and Patrik Elias went 7-for-18. Tim Sestito was employed as a center this evening and he went 3-for-9. Spot duty for Dainius Zubrus wasn't good either as he went 1-for-4. As a team, the Devils won 22 out of 58 faceoffs; 35% isn't good no matter how you slice it.
Was there any particular foe who owned the Devils? Apparently so. John Tavares was astounding at the dot as he went 17-for-20. Frans Neilsen and Josh Bailey weren't super great; but they weren't so bad to bring down Tavares' success too much.
John Tavares Praise: Tavares attempted 7 shots, put 3 on Hedberg, owned the faceoff dot when he was taking a draw, and managed to be +5 in Corsi on a team that finished -4 with most of the players being negative. I don't think the Elias line did poorly against him, as they were his common match-up and Elias, Sykora, and Zubrus all finished positive in Corsi (+2, +4, +3, respectively). I think Tavares struck gold when Jack Capuano was able to get an advantageous match-up like against the Devils' bottom six. He's a great player and he's only going to get better. Look out for him in the future - be it tomorrow or years from now.
Smooth Tallinder: I must say, I really liked Henrik Tallinder's game this afternoon. He was sound in the 21:52 that he's played; he was strong on the 3:03 of ice time on the penalty kill; and he was a positive possession player at +4 while seeing the Tavares line for most of the game. With Adam Larsson's benching, Tallinder's play was one of the reasons I almost forgot the Devils just played with five defensemen in the third period.
Now That I Think About It, I Have A Question: Why did Jack Capuano allow the match-up of the Elias line with Tallinder and Mark Fayne on Tavares line for most of the game? Why didn't he do what other teams hosting the Devils do and try to get their top line out there against the Henrique line or at least another defensive pairing? Capuano did know he had the last change, right?
Those take care of my thoughts on this game. We'll see the same team tomorrow; Tom will have you covered with a preview of the second game. What are your thoughts and feelings from this game? Why do you think Capuano allowed the Devils to have the best possible match-up against their top line? Are you concerned about the Devils' discipline? What do you make of the team's performance overall? Do you at least agree that this third period performance wasn't as bad as either of the last six? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to those who read and/or commented in the gamethread and to those who followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.