The last time the New Jersey Devils won a home game in regulation this season was on October 10, when the Devils beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2. The Devils nearly achieved the same result, but couldn't get the empty net goal to boost the score. All the same, it's a third straight win for New Jersey and they didn't hand their conference opponent any points. Well done and all that.
The score would suggest it was a close game but I don't think it really was all that close. The Devils had a solid outing on their own. In terms of shots, the Devils reigned over the Canes, putting up 36 to their 27. In terms of possession, it was all Devils with a +13 in team Corsi and +16 in team Fenwick at even strength. The Devils were the better team during the run of play tonight. Yet, the Devils needed a deflection, Cam Ward not getting his shoulder high enough on a shot, and a fortunate bounce off a wrap around attempt to get their goals. It wasn't like the Devils just torched Ward, they just had to have a good amount luck to get what they got this evening.
Aptly, the Devils were fortunate to get those pucks past Ward at all. The Devils didn't get on the scoreboard until mid-way through the second, and when they did, it was to tie the game at 1-1. The Canes, Brandon Sutter in particular, struck first on a shorthanded 2-on-1 that just about disgusted every Devils fan around the world who saw it. While the Devils pulled ahead early in the third period, the Canes equalized when Joni Pitkanen attempted a pass to the top of the crease, only for it re-direct off Adam Henrique's stick and behind Martin Brodeur. Mind you, the Canes had a few other, more glorious opportunities to score, but Martin Brodeur and some desperate defending absolutely denied them.
Henrique may have been the fall guy on the Canes' second goal, but he redeemed his bad fortunate as he drove hard to the net in the Canes' end late in the third. He saw Zubrus (it was during a line change) battle along the boards with the puck, and got possession as he came to help out. He whisked around the net and he jammed it on that near post with so much force, such that the puck had to pop up off Ward's left pad. Of course, it dropped in with authority, causing the denizens at the Rock to chant his name yet again. And why not? Henrique was once again the hero of the evening, having scored a breakaway game winner in overtime on Saturday. I wouldn't call this goal an act of redemption - he was just at the wrong place, wrong time on the Canes' second goal. I would call it an act of effort with luck in his favor, or even luck balancing out. After all, some bad luck led to Pitkanen's goal, and some good luck led to his winning the game.
I could say the same on the other two Devils' goals. Dainius Zubrus was denied by the post on a one-on-one with Ward in the first period. Yet, he did score as he got enough of the puck on Anton Volchenkov's shot to deflect it in. He also had his stick low enough as the incredibly lengthy goal review found no evidence to overturn his deflection. (Thanks, Toronto. Ditto the sarcastic thanks to the Rock for not showing a replay of that goal during the review.) Petr Sykora was absolutely unlucky as he hit the crossbar and the post on a one-timer during a power play in the second period. It was one heck of a shot that sadly wasn't counted since shots off the post aren't considered shots. He not only got a lane to shoot off an offensive zone faceoff win; but he caught Ward off enough such that his shoulder wouldn't be able to stop the shot. Their goals were good and with fortune favoring each after they were denied on earlier chances.
Luck is not a dirty word. Luck is not a cop-out. The Devils certainly did a good job against the Canes, they worked hard to get the opportunities they did get. Still, they wouldn't have scored any of their three goals without something out of their control going their way on three of those opportunities. That's how they got a victory in regulation, and so we should be fine with that. After all, we curse the team's lack of luck when they do everything right but score; we should appreciate it after this game.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's take, please check out Bob Wage's recap of the game over at Canes Country.
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: Did you miss tonight's game? Perhaps you want to see the game's most pivotal moments? Then check out this highlight video from NHL.com:
But He's So Old How Can He Do Anything Right?: Tonight's three stars, as named by the attending media, were Adam Henrique, Patrik Elias, and Petr Sykora in that order. That's not bad. Henrique did score the game winning goal, so it's no surprise he's first. Elias had 2 assists, actually went over 50% on faceoffs (10-for-18), and had generally won his usual match up against the Eric Staal line. He did have that awful spill that led to Sutter's shorthanded goal, but the press felt he got beyond that and there's reason to agree there. Sykora scored the Devils' second goal, one of his six shots on net - seven if you want to count his double-post shot in the second period. Those are all defensible picks.
Too bad there isn't a fourth star because Martin Brodeur deserved some respect tonight. Brodeur may have only faced 27 shots on net, but he bailed out the Devils several times this evening. His stop on Eric Staal, Carolina's first shot on net of the game, was dicey, but he kept it out. From then on, Brodeur played like, well, himself. He moved well from post to post. He was strong with his stick, both behind the net and in the net - namely, when he pokechecked the puck away from a spinning Jeff Skinner. He was flashing the glove as he is wont to do. When people talk about Brodeur as "Marty," this is the kind of performance they're implying. A solid outing that makes you revere the guy just by a shortened friendly form of his first name.
In my opinion, Brodeur's biggest save was how he absolutely robbed Chad LaRose in the second period. Adam Larsson made a heinous giveaway into the neutral zone to Sutter, Sutter and LaRose went in on a two-on-one, and Brodeur just sprawled out with pace to deny LaRose what should have been Carolina's second goal. That wouldn't be the only big save he made, but anyone who believes Brodeur's washed up, losing it, or is just too old should be forced watch that save over and over and over. Brodeur, I thought, was great and important in tonight's victory.
E-Unit Concrete: That's a pretty terrible nickname for the line of Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, and Petr Sykora. They deserve a better one because they continue to play well. Per the Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts, they saw Eric Staal, Chad LaRose, and Jeff Skinner the most this evening. That's Carolina's top line. While those three Canes combined for 9 shots at even strength and those three only combined for 6 at evens, the Elias line were attempting more shots. The play tended to be at the Devils' end of the rink more often than not since by Corsi, Elias was a +9, Zubrus was a +8, and Sykora was a +7. Forcing the other team's best forwards to defend more than they attack is always a good sign. It speaks to how well the line is playing and how shrewd Peter DeBoer was to set and stick with that match-up.
Oh, and the Elias line got 2 goals this evening too. It goes without saying that's huge.
Improvement at the Top: The unit of Zach Parise, Henrique, and David Clarkson had a better outing tonight than they did on Saturday. Clarkson was definitely more involved in the play this evening as he put up 6 shots on net and drew a hooking call on Tlusty. Henrique stands out for scoring another important goal, though I won't forget how he rushed through a few Canes to create a shot for himself on a few shifts, which he unfortunately put way wide. Aside from that moment, Henrique was great on faceoffs and had a better defensive night. Parise definitely made his presence felt down low and thereabouts, but mostly on the power play. At even strength, he only had 1 shot on net. In terms of Corsi, the three finished just above zero. That's another improvement from Saturday night, where Henrique and Clarkson drowned in their match-ups. They were protected a bit since they saw Patrick Dwyer, Jiri Tlusty, and Sutter the most in terms of Canes forwards. Then again, they did see plenty of their top defensive pairing in Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason - so Paul Maurice had some idea on what to do about the Devils' top two lines. I still think the line would be better off with Ilya Kovalchuk, but I do have to credit this group with an improved effort.
A Disappointment: If there's one player that was disappointing on the Devils, then it was Mattias Tedenby. He didn't play too much, only 11 shifts for 9:37 of ice time. Tedenby did get a good chunk of power play time and he wasn't empty on the score sheet with 2 shots on net. He even drew the hooking call on Jay Harrison. Yet, the guy wasn't in sync this evening and he struggled to make good passes. For a few shifts against the line of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Zach Boychuk, and Tuomo Ruutu, he was just lost and pinned back (Tedenby finished a -1 in Corsi). I noticed late in the game that he wasn't taking regular shifts with Ryan Carter and Nick Palmieri, who each had more energetic and somewhat productive games. (Aside: Palmieri had 3 shots on net, 3 misses - including one big one. The difference here is that he did more than just miss an opportunity. He's fitting in with Ryan Carter.) That's not a good sign for him, but I can't say he did much to convince the coaches otherwise.
I know he's got a lot of talent, but he's got to start putting it together a little more often if he wants to be playing more minutes at this level.
The Constant Disappointment that is the New Jersey Devils Power Play: The Devils had three 5-on-4 situations that lasted 7:14 and a short 5-on-3 situation for 23 seconds. They did not score on any of their opportunities, though Sykora came incredibly close by hitting both a cross-bar and a post on a shot. The Devils did get 8 shots on net, which is usually a good thing to see from the Devils' power play. It means they were able to get set-up multiple times, maintain possession, and get enough good looks on net to force Ward to make some stops. Given that 4 of those 8 came from Parise, the Devils really got in close on some of these chances.
Yet, I can't really praise the power play because of the awful, awful, awful shorthanded goal they allowed. The Devils win a faceoff and Elias, the team's top performing forward, falls down. He just fell down. Nobody was near him, nobody yelled anything at him that would throw him off, and there was no visible force that could have caused him to fall. He just had Clarkson's equilibrium for a moment. Sutter immediately torched him and went off to the races. Perhaps Brodeur should have had that shot, but had Elias been able to stay on his two skates, the whole play doesn't happen. That's how the Devils started their first power play, and it wasn't even the only shorthanded situation. They allowed two more later in the game, which Brodeur did bail them out on. When the other team gets the best scoring chance on your power play, I'm sorry, but I can't really say too many good things about the PP.
Special Teams Silver Lining (a.k.a. The PK): At least the penalty kill remained perfect and fairly solid with only 4 shots allowed over 4 minutes. Cheers for the PK units (and jeers again to the PP units that had more ice time and nearly allowed as many shots against). They really should have only had to have killed one penalty. The Devils got dumb during a line change and got caught with six skaters on the ice near the end of the second period. That kind of penalty is always a poor one to take; thankfully, the penalty killers made sure it didn't burn them this evening.
The Greene Return: Andy Greene returned to the lineup after sitting out the past couple of games. He looked fine in his return. DeBoer tried to protect him a bit by not giving him a 20+ minute workload right away. While he was paired with Adam Larsson, Greene played 16:48 with very little PK time and none on the power play. Given how Elias was a pointman to not a lot of PP success, maybe he should have been, but whatever. Greene also didn't get the toughest matchups, he usually saw the Canes' secondary scorers more often than not. He did OK as evidenced by finishing +1 in Corsi and keeping up in his own end - even when the situation got a bit dicey (see: Larsson's awful giveaway into the neutrall zone). I'm sure Greene will get more minutes after good showing this evening.
The Fayne-Tallinder Section: Greene's return did not affect the status of either Mark Fayne and Henrik Tallinder. DeBoer kept them together and gave them the tough job - regular shifts against Staal's line. They sparkled. They weren't perfect. I still recall Fayne getting beat on a Skinner spin-move that Brodeur bailed him out of, and Tallinder took a tripping call he could have avoided. They had a few errors. But they more than made up for it with their play on the point and in their own end. Fayne attempted 4 shots and got 2 on net. Tallinder attempted 6 and got 2 on net. Given how the Devils' defenders aren't exactly all that offensive, that's quite good on offense. Most importantly, they were dominant in Corsi. Fayne and Tallinder were each +18 this evening. That's superior to any of the three forwards they regularly played behind tonight, which speaks to how well they did. Since they saw the Staal line most of all, it's rather impressive.
Goal (Mostly) Achieved: I will say the Devils got off to a slow start, as the Canes put up 4 shots in quick succession and generated the first dangerous scoring chance of the night. The passing through the neutral zone reminded me of Saturday's game against Winnipeg, where that was problem all night for them. That was not good.
Fortunately, the Devils got sharper in their puck movement. I would say the Devils really got going until about 6-7 minutes into the game. Their passes hit their targets more often and not coincidentally, they started putting up more and more shots on Ward. This continued through the second and third period, which was reassuring in my eyes. It helped the Devils put enough pressure on the Canes' defense to keep getting chances to score. It definitely helped the Devils keep the Canes honest late in the game. When a team is able to get forward with just a few passes into and through the neutral zone, then they're going to have offensive success. The 36 shots the Devils put on Ward are indicative of how successful it can be.
Faceoff Winners: Whereas the Devils got creamed at the dot against Winnipeg, they were the creamers tonight. As a team, the Devils won 38 out of 56 faceoffs, which is quite good. Elias had a good night, but Zubrus was even better as he went 7-for-8. Needless to say, Big Z should be taking all of the draws when Elias is thrown out of them. But, wait, there's more. Henrique was beastly at the dot by going 7-for-9. Carter wasn't too bad in going 5-for-9. Brad Mills only played 8:09 tonight, but even he was perfect in going 5-for-5 on draws. Even Clarkson, yes David Clarkson, went 3-for-6 on draws. This was a nice little turnaround from Saturday. Not to mention that one of Elias' faceoff wins created Sykora's goal.
A Little Thing that Teams Do to Win Games: I call it a little thing, but I certainly noticed it at the end. With about 41 seconds left, the Canes iced the puck and so the Devils had an offensive zone faceoff. Ward had to go back into net in case the Devils won the draw. Henrique did so, the Devils put the puck into the end boards, and the line started forechecking when the Canes recovered. They got Pitkanen skating about with the puck behind the net and ultimately the Canes were forced to toss it away for another icing call. The Devils didn't win the puck and get a shot on net, but they forced the Canes to stick with 5 skaters, they burned 16 seconds off the clock, and got another offensive zone draw.
The Devils nearly did it again as they won the draw and put that puck into the corner. but Pitkanen escaped Zubrus and was able to get it up ice for one last chance with 10 seconds left. As indicated by the score, it didn't result in anything (shot deflected over the glass, another draw, the Devils won it and cleared it). But I was impressed by the effort that saw the Devils force the Canes to give up possession and waste time to hold onto a lead. It's the sort of thing that I believe good teams do to win games in situations like these. It speaks well of the players' awareness and the coaching staff to instill them with this kind of mentality. That's a good thing to see going forward, especially in a close game on the scoreboard (though not on ice, as indicated by shots, Corsi, etc.).
Those are my thoughts on tonight's game, now I want read yours. Who do you think had a good night for the Devils? Who do you think had a bad night for the Devils? What did you think of Greene's return? Do you think the Devils put on a solid performance over Carolina or did you think the performance of the two teams was close like the score? What would you do with the power play, given that it's hit a low of sorts? Other than the power play, what would you like to see the Devils change for Friday's game against the Caps? Please leave all of your thoughts and other comments the Devils' win in the comments. Thank you to everyone in the gamethread for reading and commenting; thanks to everyone who followed @InLouWeTrust for a part of the game (Thanks, phone battery); and thank you for reading this recap.