The New Jersey Devils have won games in all sort of manner in their last 24 games. That should be of no surprise given that the Devils won 20 of those 24 games. However, there was one checkbox unmarked on the list of "Ways to Win Hockey Games." The Devils did not win in a shootout. In fact, as Tom Gulitti tweeted during the game, the Devils did not even go to a shootout since November 27, 2010. Back when the Giants were looking for a NFC playoff berth (sigh) and John MacLean was a head coach. It was that long ago.
Today, the Devils did need to go to a shootout. They didn't get thrown off by the shootout, winning it to beat the New York Islanders 3-2. It was the sort of game one worries about from the Islanders. While several stats within the game will show that Devils were the better team, the Isles found a way to make it close. They did manage equalizing goals in the final five minutes of the second and third periods, and they forced Martin Brodeur to be brilliant (spoiler: he was) in overtime. With a shootout, the Isles truly had a chance to take an extra point this afternoon.
However, it was not to be thanks to the three most important players for New Jersey this afternoon. Martin Brodeur and his steady glove stopped all six Islander attempts after Frans Nielsen beat him on a brilliant backhander. Ilya Kovalchuk, scorer of New Jersey's second goal, tied it up as the second shooter. While Al Montoya made some solid stops, he got deked out of his pads by Brian Rolston, who arguably had the best performance of the afternoon.
The Devils have now won their last 4 games, kicking off what is a busy week. In a weird way, that the game had to go to a shootout could be a blessing in disguise for the Devils going forward. I'll explain that, while discussing various other points and observations about the game after the jump. For the opposition's perspective on today's game, please check out Lighthouse Hockey.The Stats: The NHL.com game summary; the NHL.com event summary; the Time on Ice Corsi Chart; the Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Chart.
The Game Highlights: This video has it all: spectacular stops by Martin Brodeur; blink-and-you-miss-it goals from Brian Rolston and Ilya Kovalchuk; a bad giveaway by Mark Fayne; and shootout highlights. All from NHL.com:
Wink Machine: Brian Rolston loves to give a wink whenever he's on camera. Perhaps it's a visual greeting to someone, like what Carol Burnett did with her ear. However, Rolston was doing far more than closing one of his eyes on the camera. #12 was fantastic on the ice today. He put up 8 shots on net. He scored on the only Devils power play of the day nine second in with a slapshot. He had 2 shots miss the net and 2 shots blocked; he was a +5 in Corsi. He played 19:29, including 2:36 of PK time. Rolston was the second man to score on Montoya in the shootout, ensuring the Devils' victory. Rolston was great this afternoon and it's a shame the media didn't show him the love by naming either of the game's three stars. I felt he was the best Devil on the ice this afternoon.
Another Day, Another Goal by Kovalchuk: After the Devils killed a slashing minor for Mark Fayne, Jacob Josefson fired up the rink with the puck. He laid a drop pass for Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk saw a little light in between Montoya's legs and that was that. One laser-shot and it's in. Whatever momentum the Isles built up in the first 2 minutes of the third period quickly died.
Kovalchuk wasn't particularly beastly today. He had a quiet first period, a more active second period, and was used quite a bit in the third with some adjustments. Kovalchuk finished with 2 shots on net, 3 blocked, 1 miss, and a +1 in Corsi. But of course, you can't ignore that goal or the important tying goal in the shootout. Not a bad day of work for #17.
Your Moment in "Ow:" Shortly a shot-less power play by the Islanders (on their first one; they only got one on net in 3 power plays - though it went in), Josh Bailey fired a slapshot that Anton Volchenkov blocked with his sprawled out body. It appeared to hit him the torso. I mention that here because, well, it was an impressive and painful block.
Praise for the Kids: Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby didn't shoot a whole lot today. Josefson had one shot on net, and Tedenby only had attempts (a step up over his last appearance). However, when they were on the ice, good things happened. Josefson led the Devils skaters in Corsi with +10 and Tedenby had +9. The two kids were hustling so well that in the third period, Jacques Lemaire double-shifted Kovalchuk to play with them instead of sitting either of the two. The gambit initially worked since that unit came on after killing the Fayne minor en route to Kovalchuk's goal. This is how Lemaire operates: if you do well, then you'll get minutes. Neither of the two played a whole lot; but they got time in OT and both were selected for the shootout.
Special congratulations for Josefson. His assist on Kovalchuk's goal is his first point as a NHL player. It was easily his finest moment, though batting a saved puck in mid-air for a clearance in the third period was pretty sweet.
Criticism for the Kids: Nick Palmieri didn't have the best of games. He only put one shot on net and he had two misses. He had two moments where you wished he did much better. The first came in the second period. Kovalchuk got the puck in the defensive zone and charged ahead to blow by the Islanders' defense. Kovalchuk was able to curl around the net where Palmieri was heading into the slot. But the winger's stick wasn't where it needed to be and a great chance went begging.
The second moment was far more grave. He just coughed up the puck to Michael Grabner to start off the third period. Grabner flew ahead on a breakaway, drawing Mark Fayne to slash him. Grabner beat Brodeur but didn't beat iron, so the Devils as a team didn't pay for the turnover. However, Palmieri's minutes were seriously cut in the third period from then on. Only three more shifts according to the time on ice report at NHL.com. This is why Lemaire decided to have Adam Mair was line up across Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac.
Mark Fayne didn't have a bad game, but he had an even worse turnover. Late in the game, Travis Hamonic beats Henrik Tallinder to a puck around the boards. No big deal, the puck goes right to Mark Fayne. However, he just gives it right up to Blake Comeau. Maybe his stick broke. Maybe it took a bounce off David Steckel's skate. But Fayne had a man in blue right in front of him and risked the puck by trying to clear it. Unlike Grabner, Comeau took full advantage of the opportunity and beat Brodeur. Less than 4 minutes in the game and the Isles did what no opponent had done since the 2-1 loss to Tampa: score more than one goal on the Devils. Again: Fayne didn't have a bad game. He was a +3 in Corsi and played 23:02; but that mistake was costly.
Possession: If you're unable to get a lot of goals, then such mistakes are costly. It's a shame because the Devils really did have the better run of play. They were constantly positive as a team in Corsi. They finished the game at +11 Corsi. The Devils only had three negative players: Travis Zajac at -2; David Clarkson at -5; and Steckel at -6. Zajac's mark isn't so bad, considering how nondescript Mair and Palmieri were; plus, Zajac did contribute by going an amazing 13-for-19 on draws this afternoon. Clarkson and Steckel were mostly defending, which isn't really a surprise in Steckel's case since he's not an offensive player.
The Elias line really enjoyed the match-up against John Tavares, P-A Parenteau, and Matt Moulson since Elias went +9 in Corsi with 3 shots (and nearly won the game in OT); Zubrus was a +6, completely screened Montoya on Rolston's goal, and suffered a questionable tripping minor; and Rolston was a +5 with, oh yeah, eight shots on net. As far as Josefson and Tedenby; I'm sure Isles' head coach Jack Capuano is going to let Comeau, Matt Martin, and Josh Bailey know that two rookies together handled them real well this afternoon. Ditto the defensive pairing they saw the most: Andy McDonald and Travis Hamonic.
Basically, the Devils had the puck more and used it more. They out-shot the Isles 28-21 at evens; 29-22 overall. The Devils were only out-shot in overtime, 4-2. They also had more attempts: 54-44. This is clear. But again, the score was kept close because Al Montoya had a good game, the Islanders defense made sure the Devils wouldn't have easy access to the many rebounds Montoya allowed, and the Islanders cashed on two breaks.
Drawn to Win: The only part of Elias' day that was bad was his faceoff work: he went 4-for-9. Out of all Devils who took more than one faceoff, he was the worst. That the worst was only 44% winning, the Devils as a whole were strong on faceoffs. Zajac was great; Steckel went 7-for-11; and even Josefson went 3-for-1. It's always good to see the Devils do well at the dot. Especially Zajac's lone power play draw, as it led to Rolston's blast.
Martin Brodeur's Glove: Brodeur's glove hand got a real work out, both in regulation and in the shootout. Call it confirmation bias, but the legendary keeper had to flash his left hand quite a bit this afternoon. He was successful in doing so. While the Devils' defense did well (and Henrik Tallinder managed to get 5 shots on net and yet finish even in Corsi) to hold the Islanders to only 22 shots, the two goals allowed cannot be the goaltender's fault.
The first, a power play goal by Josh Bailey, came as a direct bounce in the Isles favor. Steckel came back to the slot to cover Frans Nielsen. He did his job, but the puck went off his skate right to Bailey on the left side of Brodeur. Brodeur dived but he had no real chance unless Bailey botched the shot - which he didn't. The second goal came in the slot right off a turnover. There shouldn't have been a shot on net if Fayne didn't goof up with the puck; that's not Brodeur's fault. It's another strong performance by Brodeur and further proof that, if nothing else, the Devils have enjoyed some strong goaltending.
Blessing in Disguise: While the Devils were better in possession, had more shots on net, and enjoyed some more goodness from Martin Brodeur, they nearly lost this game. The Devils did well to not allow a first period goal for the 13th straight game, but they failed to score in the first in their last 6 games. Yes, that has as much to do with the opposition goaltender and defense; but the Devils really could. They're winning all of these close games, but a few bounces here and there, and they can become losses in short order. If the goal really is the playoffs, then the Devils need to sharpen up going forward, get some more power plays in their favor (only 1 today), and continue to attack even if they have a one-goal lead late in the game. They really need to make a point of it to win decisively on the scoreboard as well as in other aspects.
The big blessing in disguise here is that the game's close nature may serve as a wake up call for the team. The next two weeks have the following opponents: vs. Ottawa, at Atlanta, vs. the Islanders, vs. Atlanta, at Ottawa, vs. Washington. Five of those six games before the Caps are against non-playoff teams right now: two against a team that is ahead of New Jersey and three against teams behind them. On paper, you may expect the Devils to light them up as they have been winning all kinds of games. However, today's game served notice that none of these games can be taken easily. Just as when the Devils were in fifteenth, they can still hang with a superior-in-the-standings opponent and even handily win the game. Even if you're not convinced in the postseason being a realistic goal, you don't want to see the Devils drop these games due to a lack of focus. This game should help prevent that. If not by itself, then by Jacques Lemaire letting them know about it in their next practice.
Such is what I took out of the game. What did you think of the Devils' performance this afternoon? Who do you think was the best Devil this afternoon? What do you want to see the Devils do differently in the next game? What did you notice that I may have missed here? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. The latest episode of Talking Red will be up here in a little bit. Thanks to everyone in the Gamethread for commenting; and thank you for reading.