The man who made tonight's win a possibility with his excellent performance: Johan Hedberg. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils came from behind for the third straight game to win their fourth straight game by beating the San Jose Sharks, 2-1. This much is true. I have seen this right before my eyes. Over 17,000 saw it right before their eyes as well. This is also confirmed by the official score. The Devils did indeed come from behind. At the same time, I'm still having a little trouble processing what happened at the Rock this evening.
The Devils were clearly the inferior team for the first two periods. The Devils were out of sync going forward. They relied on reactionary defending instead of trying preventative defending. Large parts of the game were spent in the Devils' half of the rink, with the Sharks teeing up shot after shot after shot. The only reason why the Sharks didn't break the game wide open was Johan Hedberg. The Moose was sturdy, to say the least. Nevertheless, given the horrible first period and the improved but not all that good second period, I wasn't expecting a good result despite a 0-0 score after 40 minutes.
To me, the Devils looked tired more than anything else. I can't say that I blame them. Tonight was the third game in 4 nights and coming off an overtime win in Toronto. Just last week the Devils played 3 games in 4 nights, which was followed up by a Sunday afternoon game in Montreal. That's 7 games in 11 nights. That's hard to do. And with the offense being as lackluster as it was, one goal really could have decided the game.
Then the third period happened and it was almost like it was a new game. The Devils still had gas in the tanks. They actually registered some shots on Antti Niemi that were more than just token attempts. When San Jose scored first, the Devils didn't let it faze them. Two really dumb penalties by the Sharks later and the Devils get an equalizer on a 4-on-3 power play thanks to Brian Rolston's slapshot. Yes, the increasingly rare power play goal for New Jersey. The Devils continued to attack and got rewarded when Ilya Kovalchuk sniped a sharp angle shot through Niemi to make it 2-1. The Devils weathered a last minute (and shorthanded) attack from San Jose but was one second shy of the game-icing empty net goal.
The Devils pulled out a win. The Devils, who looked like nothing in the first two periods, beat a Sharks team, the hottest team in the league, with less than 20 minutes in the third. I'm still wrapping my head around the reality that the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils did this. Their third straight come from behind victory, their fourth straight victory. Thanks to a power play goal of all things. We remain in interesting times.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For an opinion on tonight's game from the opponent's view point, please check out Fear the Fin.
First, here are the stats from tonight's game that you should find interesting: the NHL.com game summary; the NHL.com event summary; the Time on Ice even strength Corsi chart; the Time on Ice head-to-head ice time chart.
Second, for those of you who didn't catch the game or want to see the most interesting events, here's the highlights video from NHL.com:
Third, for the sake of brevity, I'll break this down by various points since the part before the jump described the game as a whole.
Sign That Jacques Lemaire Ain't Messing Around: You'll notice that on Patrick Marleau's goal, Mark Fraser was on him in front of the crease. From what I saw, Hedberg stopped the shot from Niclas Wallin and the shallow rebound just dropped right then and there for Marleau, who stashed it home. Not Hedberg's fault and not Fraser's fault from what I saw. But that was a split second look. A closer look at the video shows that Fraser could have done more. He should have tried to tie up Marleau instead of making it a gimmie for the Shark. Fraser was there physically but not facing him so he could impede him if necessary. Not smart by the young defender.
Lemaire would likely agree as that was Fraser's last shift of the game according to the NHL.com time on ice report. That's why Fraser only got 12:02 of ice time this evening, he was stapled to the bench after the goal against. Like with Volchenkov against Carolina, there is such a thing as accountability with Lemaire as the boss.
It Would Have Helped if You Showed Up, Pt. 1: Hey, Devils offense, 2 shots on net to open up the first period isn't good. Especially when the other team throws 12 on Hedberg. The first 40 minutes of 11 shots on net nearly turned me into one of those "SHOOOOOOOT" people.
Seriously, it was hard to watch. Passes misfiring. Players with shooting opportunities literally passing them up instead of being justifiably selfish. Pucks sailing away. Getting pinned back and dumping it away, leading to more San Jose opportunities. Devils turnovers becoming Shark attacks. Call it just an "off" night. Call it the result of fatigue. Call it what you want. Lemaire's likely make a point about slow starts at the next practice.
The San Jose Defense Thought it was a Dump and Collect: One thing that irked me about the Devils' gameplan early was their insistence on dumping and chasing. In the beginning, I have no problem; but you'd think after the 10th time of a San Jose player collecting the dump and moving it around before the Devil gets to the end boards there would be a change. It took a while before that really ceased.
The Devils 4 Forward Lines, by Corsi: Coincidentally or not, the Corsi breakdown for the Devils forwards matched up with how they did in general on the ice. For reference, the Devils were a -11 as a team in Corsi. San Jose just pounded on the Devils at even strength shots, 31-24. There's no question who the better team was at evens this evening.
1. Brian Rolston - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus. All three of them finished with positive Corsi: Elias with a +8; Zubrus with a +5; and Rolston with a +5. That's really impressive given how the team ate it at evens for most of the game. They saw a lot of the Joe Thornton line at even strength and came out winners. Well done.
Rolston was especially noticeable as he took 7 shots on net and showed the Devils faithful why it's important to set up a shot on a power play with his goal. Elias put up 2 shots, Zubrus only 1 - but Big Z did go 5-for-8 on draws. Zubrus also got hit with a high stick from Torrey Mitchell late in the game that required stitches and 4 minutes in the box for Mitchell. As reported by Tom Gulitti in this postgame post, Zubrus is OK.
2. Ilya Kovalchuk - Travis Zajac - Nick Palmieri. Each of them went negative in Corsi, but not by much: -1 for Kovalchuk and Zajac and -2 for Palmieri. Not too bad against Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and Dany Heatley. Zajac was fantastic at the dot, winning 11 out of 14 faceoffs this evening. This includes the one he won that led to the Kovalchuk game winner. He picked up 3 shots on net too, so not a bad night's work for the center. Palmieri had a quiet game.
Kovalchuk got double shifted a few times, but he had a quieter night than usual. Only 20:40 of ice time, 1 shot on net, 3 blocked, and 1 missed. He was among the many Devils out of sorts in the beginning. Yet, he shined in the third period. He made the pass to Anssi Salmela that drew the call that led to the 4-on-3, he earned the primary assist on Rolston's goal on said 4-on-3, and he scored the game winner through Niemi. Yes, Kovalchuk remains hot.
3. Vladimir Zharkov - Jason Arnott - Mattias Tedenby. Zharkov and Tedenby were a -5 in Corsi and Arnott was a -7. None of them got any shots on net and not a lot of minutes. They weren't good, but at least they weren't as bad as the fourth line.
4. Rod Pelley - Tim Sestito - David Clarkson. Pelley and Sestito rocked -11 in Corsi and Clarkson got -9. Only Clarkson got a shot on net among the three. Sestito was the worst center on New Jersey; on a night where everyone else was 50% or better at winning draws, he went 3-for-8. In a word: barf.
It Would Have Helped if You Showed Up, Pt. 2: Only three Sharks had negative Corsi values tonight and all of them were on the Joe Thornton line. Devin Setoguchi was a -8, Ben Eager was a -3, and Thornton himself was a -6. Big Joe had a poor night. He was OK at faceoffs (7-for-14) but he registered no shots on net in 19:32 of ice time. Worse, he hooked Elias during a Sharks power play in the third period up 1-0.
Other Than That Critical Error, You Did Good, Kid: Logan Couture put up 5 shots on net, had a strong game according to his +8 in Corsi, and beat on his matchups repeatedly. And he took the penalty that led to the Devils tying the game up in the third period. Kovalchuk fed Anssi Salmela for a pass up in the Sharks' zone and Couture tripped him into the net. That led to the 4-on-3 situation where the Devils got back into the game with a bomb from Brian Rolston. Oops.
A Skater Who Deserves Some Rest: After playing over 29 minutes in Toronto, Andy Greene put in 25:53 of ice time tonight. I'd say he did pretty well; as he did finish with a +4 in Corsi. He and Tallinder were solid in cleaning up the messes in front of Hedberg, and Lemaire rewarded him with ice time.
Believe it or Not: The Sharks got no shots on net on their one power play of the game according to the game's official record. That certainly surprised me given how much they have been shooting at 5-on-4 this season. They did get credited 2 shots in shorthanded situations, but that's when they pulled the goalie during the Mitchell double-minor.
F = m*a: For those who don't know, this equation is straight forward. Force equals mass times acceleration. Mattias Tedenby doesn't have a lot of mass, but he can certainly turn on the jets. That's how he smashed Kent Huskins near the end of the first period, causing a big boom along the boards with that big hit. I didn't know Tedenby had it in him.
One Second Sooner...: Patrik Elias had the game-icing and rare power play empty net goal, but time expired before it crossed the line. It would have been nice if it was done a little earlier. A second power play goal and another tally for Elias. Alas, it was not to be.
Lastly, Give it Up for the Moose: The only Devil who was excellent for all 60 minutes tonight was Johan Hedberg. The Devils didn't not achieve my desired goal for this game and seemingly let the Sharks do as they wish early on offense. In most games, this doesn't end well. Tonight wasn't most games as Hedberg stood on his head, getting stops through screens and keeping his rebounds to a minimum. He was unfazed when the Sharks started crashing the net more and more as time went on. The only time Moose looked shaky tonight was when he left his crease - which should surprise few Devils fans at this point. He nearly got punished for a wraparound goal, but it thankfully missed. The Sharks may have dominated the shot charts but the game was up for grabs because of how unflappable Hedberg was on the ice.
Kovalchuk deserves the accolades for the game winner, but Hedberg was the man who made it all possible tonight. And this week, given all of the games this week have been close except for the one in Montreal. On the behalf of all Devils fans, I thank you, Moose. Enjoy the next 4 days away from games; you have certainly earned it.
That's my take on tonight's game. What did you think of tonight's performance? How do you think the Devils will do after getting some much needed rest? Who impressed you the most on New Jersey among the skaters? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone in the Gamethread for commenting, and thank you for reading.