The last time Martin Brodeur suited up and made some stops for the New Jersey Devils was on February 6, 2011 in Montreal. He stopped 11 out of 11 shots in the first period before leaving the game with injury. The Devils went on to win 4-1 with Johan Hedberg in net, the first of an eight-game winning streak that lasted until February 25. The Moose got so hot that Jacques Lemaire just sat Brodeur as the backup in recent games. Tonight, he got his first start since being injured.
It was like he never left. Tested early on a shot by David Booth, Brodeur went on to deal with heavy traffic in front of him several times on shots, moving laterally to make stops, withstanding bodies crashing into him at times, and only got beaten by a close-range one-timer by Marty Reasoner - not at all the goaltender's fault.
While the Devils were sloppy and chasing the game for the first 15 minutes, Brodeur kept them in it. And Marty rose to the occasion when the Panthers woke up near the end of the second period and when they pressed hard in the third. Brodeur's performance was excellent and a big reason why the Devils won in Florida today.
The win means the Devils went a remarkable 11-1-1 in the month, and 3-1-0 to end a four game road trip. A solid set of results. It wasn't the greatest of team performances, but I'd say it was better than the last two games. I'll explain further after the jump. Please check out Litter Box Cats for a Florida-based take on tonight's game.
The Game Highlight Video: From NHL.com, here's a video of the game's highlights featuring all three goals and a lot of saves by Martin Brodeur.
Guess Who Played: I was wrong in my preview: Dennis Wideman and Dmitry Kulikov were active on Florida's blueline this evening. Kulikov played 20:08, had no shots on goal, dumped David Clarkson into Florida's bench in the second period, and finished at +2 Corsi. Wideman was more of a factor, playing 21:15, put 3 shots on net, had 3 attempts blocked, and finished at +8 Corsi. Their return was helpful for the rest of the Florida blueline as the rest didn't have to play really heavy (24+) minutes.
You may also be surprised to learn that Mattias Tedenby not only played, but got over 10 minutes tonight. So much for the theory that Jacques Lemaire hates him. Though, his performance was foregettable. In 10:53 of total ice time, he had no shots on net and finished at -4 Corsi. Lemaire didn't double-shift Ilya Kovalchuk nearly as much, so Tedenby and Vladimir Zharkov got over 10 minutes, mostly with Jason Arnott.
End of Two Streaks: Kovalchuk failed to register a point tonight, which means his 12-game point streak is now over. In that streak, he put up 7 goals and 7 assists. Kovalchuk didn't have that "I'm a beast, so out of my way, peon" moment tonight, but he did have a good game. He had 3 shots on net, 1 attempt blocked, 2 missed shots, and finished with one of the better Corsi values on the Devils with a -2. I'm sure some fans aren't happy he decided to pass on a 2-on-1 in the third period with Palmieri, but that's only one play. Overall, I was pleased with what I saw from #17.
Another streak was broken tonight. David Clarkson scored his first goal in 17 games, his last happened on January 15 against the Panthers. (Coincidence? I think so!) He was in the right place for the rebound off of Rod Pelley's shot and all Tomas Vokoun could do is dive in the hopes Clarkson would miss. He didn't, instead opening up the scoring in the game. That goal has to make him feel great given his long drought; something that looked like it would continue when he hit the post on a shot in the first period.
An Explanation for the Possession Game: First, a summation of the game: the Devils were getting housed for the first 10-15 minutes of the game, but they turned it around late with a power play and after it in the first period. The second period saw the Devils roll through Florida like a steamroller until they went up by 2 goals and with about 5 minutes left; then Florida. Florida got a little more aggressive - understandable since they were down by 2 - but weren't as accurate in the third period so their shot total of 8 was lower than the number of attempts they had. In any case, Florida was the better team in terms of possession for the most part. When they were weak, the Devils made them pay more and that was enough to win.
The Corsi has a grimmer conclusion. The Devils ended with a team Corsi of -13. Ouch. Interestingly, no forward line was destroyed. Everyone except for Andy Greene (he was even) was negative; but it was all spread out. The best line: the Zajac line with Kovalchuk and Nick Palmieri rocking -2 each, and Zajac with a -1. The Elias line (Rolston: -4; Zubrus and Elias: -5) and Arnott line (Tedenby and Arnott: -4; Zharkov: -2) suffered the most, but no one value really sticks out. Chalk that up to coaching, I guess.
That doesn't mean no one unit on Florida stood out. Their top line of Stephen Weiss (+7); David Booth (4 SOG, +9); and Michel Repik (4 SOG; +7) got a lot forward. Henrik Tallinder (-8) and Mark Fayne (-7) was forced to do a lot in their own end and they were mixed and matched with several lines. Michael Santorelli stuck out in the head-to-head ice time chart for both Devils defenders, but he finished a -2 so it's not like he was pressing the issue tonight.
Believe it or not, Kenndal McArdle finished the night at +10 Corsi, the best among all skaters this evening. It seems a bit odd because he had a whopping 1 shot on net and played 12:51 mostly with Radek Dvorak (1 SOG; +2) and Reasoner (2 SOG; +6). I guess his work was in getting it forward so his linemates could shoot - or his teammates on the back end (6.0 with Wideman, who fired quite a few shots tonight).
In any case, I wanted to see the Devils to establish offensive possession and they really only did it for most of the second period. It was enough to win, but they need to do it more often. Granted, Florida's defense was bolstered by the return of Wideman and Kulikov and the Devils did have a lead for the second half of the game. I can understand a negative Corsi. However, Florida out-shot the Devils 25-18 at evens; that's a serious deficit. -13 is a serious deficit. The Devils still need to improve in this part, even though I can say that scoring when they did get (very) positive in the second period is a step up over what was seen against Dallas and Tampa Bay.
The Power Play Was Powerful: The game ended 26-26 in shots. So if the Devils got out-shot at evens by 7, then they made up the difference on special teams. The power play units were great tonight. They got 4 shots on net on their first man advantage of the game, which helped turned momentum to New Jersey's favor. The Devils didn't get to establish pressure for too long on the first one, but they kept putting rubber on Vokoun so it's OK (it also meant they had no trouble getting into the zone). The Devils didn't need any pressure for the second one. Brian Rolston scored on the second one right off of a faceoff win by Dainius Zubrus. His bomb from the point made sure Mike Weaver had to get up just after sitting down. The third man advantage added another 3 shots on net, but featured more sustained pressure than just shot-clear-shot-clear of the first one. Patrik Elias actually beat Vokoun on a shot on this one, but a defender (Weaver?) was able to deflect the puck out just before it went over the line.
Florida has one of the best penalty killing units in the league, so the performance by the New Jersey power play units is even more impressive. Well done, guys.
Oh, the penalty killers killed yet another penalty. Andy Greene had to slash Bill Thomas as he split the D and Greene's infraction prevented what would have been a dangerous shot on Brodeur. The PK units weren't always clean, but they held the Panthers to only one shot on net and Brodeur stopped it. Their streak of success continues.
The Hugh Jessiman Impact: Hugh Jessiman was drafted in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft and did not play a single NHL game until tonight. He is the last player from that illustrious first round to have played a game. So how did his NHL debut go? Well, fairly well. In 9:31, Jessiman got 2 shots on net, made a pass that Darcy Hordichuk couldn't jam in the fracas right in front of the crease, and finished at +2 Corsi. Not a bad debut. Where he'll go from here, who knows. He was called up to fill in some spots due to injuries. Perhaps he'll impress Florida enough to give him a full time job next season?
Curious: Anssi Salmela led the Devils in overall ice time tonight with 21:33, all at even strength. Salmela had a good night - finishing only at -1 Corsi. He was mostly paired with Andy Greene, which is the most curious bit. They were together in the last Panthers-Devils game and were beaten on regularly. Tonight, they were rather solid. I suppose that justifies the ice time, but it's weird to see Salmela lead in minutes over Tallinder, Greene, or even Colin White - and all of it coming at evens.
Faceoff Woes: Let's start from the top. Zubrus took only two draws and one of his wins led to the eventual game winner. Rod Pelley was the second-best draw taker by going 5-for-11. Patrik Elias had 5 shots on net which is god (and led the Devils tonight), not a good Corsi at -5, and was very poor on draws by going 3-for-8. Jason Arnott was worse by going 2-for-6. Worst of all was Travis Zajac. Zajac had an otherwise good night with 3 shots on net, 3 attempts blocked, and -1 Corsi on a team that went -1. He went a miserable 4-for-13. In a word: ouch.
As an aside for Zajac, he was also caught in no man's land on the Reasoner goal. Anton Volchenkov fell trying to go after a rebound (an accident), so Zajac was in the area for where Reasoner was going to fire. However, he wasn't in a place to block Repik's pass from behind the net or to get in between Reasoner and Brodeur for the shot. I guess if you want to blame someone, blame him, I guess. I'd say it was more of a good shot than a breakdown. Anyway, back to faceoffs:
I wouldn't start panicking about faceoff draws. Zajac, Zubrus, Arnott, and Pelley have been very good all season, all four have won well over 50% of their draws. As a team for the season, before tonight's games, the Devils are seventh in the league with a winning percentage of 51.3%. I'd mark tonight as just another off night for faceoffs with only 40% won and leave it at that.
Talking Red: It will be up shortly after this recap.
The Trade Deadline is Tomorrow: Don't discuss trades here. We'll have an open thread for that kicking off at midnight.
That's how I saw tonight's game. What did you think of tonight's game? Was it better than their games last week at Dallas and Tampa Bay? What do you think needs to change, if anything, for the Devils to perform better at 5-on-5? What else stuck out for you in tonight's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to all of the commenters in the Gamethread and thank you for reading.