Tonight would be the end of a very disappointing road trip for the New Jersey Devils. Their last home game was a loss; their first road game after a three day break was a horrible loss; and while they played well on a back-to-back set, they lost the first and second game on the set. They went into it with a loss and the following three games were also losses. Add that up and you get a four-game losing streak and a lot of frustrated Devils fans.
Tonight would turn out to be the end of that losing streak. After Dainius Zubrus stopped a botched shot by Carl Gunnarsson at the point, he attacked up ice. He drew away from the defense and looked to his left. He saw David Clarkson, who hesitated at the blueline and trailed towards the high slot, wide open. Clarkson settled it and fired a hammer low past Gunnarsson and through James Reimer's five hole. It shut up most of the Air Canada Centre, and it lifted all of the Devils around the world. Clarkson's second goal of the game managed to earn the Devils two points.
Of course, it was not one of New Jersey's better efforts. They played an amazing first period. They out-shot the Leafs 11-4 and out-did them in Corsi at +8. The Devils got two power plays and actually converted on both of them. They even drew a third call right near the end of the period, so they had every reason to keep driving over the Maple leafs in their own building. The Devils looked that great, as did the score.
Yet, Ron Wilson certainly wasn't going to let his team suffer like that. Whether or not it was his words or the scoreboard, but the Leafs fought back. The Devils power play reverted to it's usual self, with the complementary shorthanded chance allowed (thanks Adam Larsson). At even strength, the Leafs started pounding the Devils in deep. They ultimately out-shot them in the period 16-5 overall and 11-3 at evens. Yet, the only scoreboard response came when a puck from Jofferey Lupul hit Phil Kessel's skate and deflected into the net. A fluke cut the lead to one.
The first 90 seconds or so of the third period saw that the Devils weren't going to have a repeat of the second period. Yet you could argue it was more of the same with respect to past third periods in November in one area. Early on, Matt Frattin equalized when he torched Adam Larsson and put a shot off the far post and in. Yep, another lead blown. The play wasn't one-sided though; most of the third bounced back and forth. The Devils ended regulation behind in possession with a -4, but they were only out-shot by one (9-10). The Leafs had their chances, while the Devils had some pressure of their own. That alone separates it from past third periods where the action was at one end of the rink, like the second period of tonight's game. Of the Devils' chances, the most glorious in my view was one by Clarkson. He was sprung right in the slot one-on-one with Reimer. After skating to his left, Clarkson put the shot high; it's unclear whether Reimer even made a save, but it was a wasted chance. One that Clarkson would seemingly rue.
With that in mind, it's absolutely fantastic that Clarkson got another opportunity in overtime to put the Devils ahead and succeeded. It was a good read and a good rush up ice from Zubrus; and Clarkson's off-the-puck movement was rewarded. The shot was even better and so the Devils finally get their first "W" since the last full week of November. It wasn't a complete effort against Toronto; but it wasn't like the Devils only played 20 minutes and just sat back to get to overtime either. As usual, there are areas that the players and coaches need to work on for future games. However, we can properly praise the team knowing they got and earned a result they badly needed.
I will get to that praise and criticism after the jump. For the opposition's perspective, please visit your local Ottawa-haters at Pension Plan Puppets.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 two Devils power play goals and a sweet game winning goal in overtime? Sure, you do. Check out this video from NHL.com:
Tonight's Heroic Performance was Played by David Clarkson: Before this game, David Clarkson went seven games without a goal or a point. He has been slumping as much as anyone on the Devils. Tonight was his breakout night. He scored the Devils' second power play goal when he was found wide open by Zach Parise in front of the net. It was a great finish for a guy who has been struggling to put up points. It was even better to see him fire that puck through Reimer's legs to win the game in overtime. Usually, that alone would be enough; Clarkson did more than just score one goal tonight.
He also put up 6 shots on net to lead the Devils in that department. He was the team's top man in Corsi with a +8 and also in Fenwick at +9. Given that he saw the Tyler Bozak line more often than not at evens and the Devils finished at -4, that's just impressive. OK, the Ryan Carter line wasn't always attacking; there were some harrowing moments in their own end tonight. Clarkson still was a positive player throughout the evening. Overall, I'd say it was one of Clarkson's best games in a while.
The Non-heroics of Adam Larsson: I know he's a rookie, but Larsson was miserable tonight. He fell down backchecking a puck to prevent a shorthanded chance for Pascal Dupuis, and he managed to swipe the puck right to him in the process. Larsson got torched on the Frattin equalizer, which was just plain sad to watch. He's had his share of soft plays on the puck and poor clearances as usual. He didn't contribute much on offense with only two attempts, both blocked by Leafs. Most of all, he got beaten regularly at evens. He was a -16 in Corsi and a -13 in Fenwick; both of which are just plain awful values. What makes it worse is that, according to the head to head ice time charts, it doesn't appear Ron Wilson put a particular match-up on him - he just rolled players on him.
Larsson played the majority of his 19:03 at even strength with Bryce Salvador, who wasn't always in a spot to help out much. Anyone looking for a change in the pairings may be disappointed since the other two (Henrik Tallinder & Mark Fayne; Andy Greene & Anton Volchenkov) have done well. He's very much a rookie but he needs to get it together in his own end of the rink. I understand part of it is very much an issue of experience; but it's also in positioning and playing with the puck. Other teams will certainly target him in the future and he needs to be get better in the latter categories lest he become a liability.
Another Streak Snapped: The Devils snapped a losing streak, which is good. The Adam Henrique line had their scoring streak at evens snapped, which is not good. It wasn't a great night by the threesome of Henrique, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Zach Parise. They certainly put in a good effort on the ice; Parise and Kovalchuk forechecked noticeably well and the duo combined for 7 shots on net. However, they were dominated in Corsi: Parise was -6, Henrique was -10; and Kovalchuk was -12. Wilson used the pairing of Gunnarsson and Dion Phaneuf against them more often than not, and that may explain why they didn't generate all that much outside of the first period. That's a difficult pairing to breakdown and I'm sure the other Leafs skaters were told to watch for #17 and #9. Hence, that line didn't a lot of shots on net at evens, just 3, and so that streak was snapped.
I Loved Half of the Power Play: The Devils' first two power plays tonight were just great. They got into the zone, they had good possession, and they moved the puck around in a way that created some space. The Leafs PK didn't pick up on the mightiness of Kovalchuk's one timer, instead hoping to block the shot instead of preventing it. While Kovalchuk was blocked a few times, he did get at least one past them - and Reimer - for the game's first goal. Clarkson's goal was been prettier as the Devils' power play actually caught the Leafs' PK out of position and out of sorts. Given how bad the Devils' power play has been at times this season, that's simply fantastic. It also means the Leafs are terrible on the penalty kill.
Of course, it didn't last forever. The third and fourth opportunities weren't nearly as good as the first two. They had 4 shots on the first two opportunities, but only 2 and a non-shot on the later two. Let's talk about the non-shot. Parise did beat Reimer on shot down low not long after Dupuis' shorthanded attempt, but it struck the post. The puck bounced out almost in a perfect spot for Elias. He was ready to knock the loose puck into the net, but a Toronto defender prevented that from happening at the last moment (the first of two times that would happen to Elias tonight). That non-shot (shots that hit posts don't count as shots) would be the closest the Devils would come to scoring on the PP this evening. The fourth one was just a waste.
Martin Brodeur Was At Least Pretty Good Tonight: The narrative that Brodeur is done or just about done will just have to wait or be parroted by someone who didn't see this game. Brodeur played quite well for the Devils tonight. He impressively denied all seven of Phil Kessel's actual shots on net. The record will show eight; that's because he scored when a puck bounced off his skate, which is hardly an actual shot. Still, Kessel was fiercely effective tonight and Brodeur just shut him down save for one bad bounce. Brodeur's best save was when Kessel had just enough space to pull away from Tallinder. Tallinder swiped at Kessel's stick, which had some effect, but Brodeur had to come up big to deny the league's leading scorer. Not only did he make the first stop, he robbed him on the rebound. Brodeur was solid all night long and you can argue his only real error may have been on the Frattin goal, where he was beaten glove side. I'm iffy on that, but even if you fault him there, it's clear that Brodeur had a very fine evening in net. The critics will just have to wait for another day to declare his end.
Did the Shake Up Work: Peter DeBoer decided to shake up the lines by switching Zubrus and Mattias Tedenby. Did it work? It's hard to say. The Elias line definitely wasn't a net positive. Tedenby was a positive in possession with a +4 in Corsi; but he only had one shot on net and didn't see the ice in the final 10 minutes of the game. Petr Sykora finished positive with a +3 in Corsi and 3 shots on net; yet Elias surprisingly finished negative at -5 to go with his 3 shots on net. Given that the Zubrus-Elias-Sykora unit has been a solid positive possession unit, I can't say this is a good thing to see in the short-term.
What about the other line? Clarkson had a great night as noted earlier, so there's that. It seems Clarkson was the sole stand out on that line. Carter was just OK and had only one shot on net. At least he was positive at +6 in Corsi; Zubrus was a -5 and didn't register a shot on net. This isn't to say Zubrus was totally useless; after all, he set up the game winning goal. Yet, it doesn't speak well to how he did overall as a group.
Late in regulation, DeBoer switched Zubrus back with Elias and Sykora, so I suspect that this shake up may be short lived. We shall see in later games, though.
Some Leafs Praise: Their top five in my view was the Tyler Bozak line with Phaneuf and Gunnarsson on defense. Kessel was just all over the place with 8 shots on net, Lupul and Bozak helped make it happen for #81, and Phaneuf and Gunnarson were solid all night long. That group is a tough one to break down, and Ron Wilson played the match-up game well, mixing it up so the Devils couldn't get settled with one line for the most part. As their secondary scoring blossoms (e.g. Frattin, Grabovski), their goaltending situation gets sorted, and their PK stops being hot garbage, this Toronto team could be quite good. Say what you will about the Devils giving up a two goal lead, but the Leafs clearly showed they have the offensive talent to make that up and they're not going to break down after a bad (for them) period. It's easy to demand a 60 minute effort; but when you play quality opponents like the Leafs - especially on the road - it's incredibly difficult to be the better team for 60 minutes straight.
Teach Me How To Lupul: Here are some steps as I understand it:
Step 1: Stand close to a person.
Step 2: Do something to draw that person's attention (e.g. hit them).
Step 3: Get touched in response to a part of the body (e.g. the thigh, the shin)
Step 4: Reel back and gesture/howl about how badly hurt you are.
Follow these steps and you too can Do the Lupul.
But, seriously, Elias has to be smarter than to retaliate to some physical play. It was a very weak slash, but even late in the game, the refs aren't going to tolerate actions of revenge. As much as Lupul sold it, I can't really complain about the penalty.
Thankfully, the league's best penalty killers not only killed that late game penalty, but they held the Leafs to no shots on net. Once again, we must say thank you to the members of the PK units and Dave Barr for killing this one and one other penalty this evening.
One Shot on Goal but SO MUCH ENERGY...: Tim Sestito wasn't totally useless tonight. He was (somehow) a positive player in Corsi at +5 and actually had an offensive move. Sestito picked up a loose puck, got around a defender, and curled around the net for a wraparound attempt. Reimer actually had to make a somewhat difficult stop with his pad. It was a Good Move by Sestito. It showed some actual energy.
The rest of his night? Simply meh. That wrap around was his sole shot on net.
Yes, Coaching Adjustments Were Made: I will say that the Devils did make good adjustments in the third period. The Maple Leafs owned most of the second period, but they didn't dominate nearly as often in the third. The Leafs kept trying to open the game up so guys like Kessel, Lupul, or anyone with speed (e.g. Frattin) could catch the Devils unaware. Save for Frattin beating Larsson, the Devils defenders hung back enough to make sure the Leafs wouldn't get too many breakaways or odd-man rushes. The Devils team weren't conservative, they just didn't get careless in their positioning. It also helped the Devils get stops in their own end and turn the puck up ice for some offense. Those adjustments helped the Devils out regardless of the fact that Leafs tied the game. It ensured the Leafs wouldn't repeat their second period performance in the third, which I felt was an important reason why the game turned out the way they did.
There are still some questions to be asked, like the usage of Eric Boulton in spot duty late in the game, or the utilization of the fourth line, and so forth. Still, credit is due where it's due with respect to not hanging the goalie out to dry with breakaway after breakaway.
Now That I Think About It: Wasn't it nice to see a Devils game where they didn't have a back-breaking giveaway?
While that's how I saw tonight's game, I want to know your take. How did you react when Clarkson scored? (I let out a yelp of joy.) What about the Devils performance did you like the most? What did you like the least? What was your take on the shake up in the Devils lines? Should DeBoer keep them? What do you think the Devils need to do to avoid taking a step back after breaking their losing streak tonight? 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 everyone who followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter; and thank you for reading.