After the first two periods, I thought I was going to be given a lovely birthday present from the New Jersey Devils: a decisive win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. At the end of two periods, the Devils were up 3-0, they still had about a minute and 40 seconds on their power play of the night, the first power play of the night was great and scored a goal, the Devils were out-shooting the Leafs 21-17, and they were up +5 in Corsi with a lead. The Devils looked great and, what's this? The Leafs replaced James Reimer with Jean-Sebastian Giguere.
With a little over a minute and a half left to play, Jean-Sebastian Giguere was pulled as the Leafs were looking for a late equalizer. That's right, the Leafs made a game of it with special teams. They got on the board with a power play goal. They came within one by a 5-on-3 shorthanded goal, which was as horrible to watch as one would expect it to be. The Devils power play managed to hit a new low within 20 minutes, the Devils couldn't get one past Giguere, and the Leafs had a shot at a game that most thought was just about over after the first 40 minutes. Thankfully, the Devils clamped down on the Leafs and Patrik Elias scored an empty net goal to make it 4-2. A win's a win, and I will certainly accept it. But I really wish it would have been a less interesting third period!
This was not like the 3-2 win over the Islanders where the Devils nearly imploded in the third period last week. The Devils did manage to have the better of possession in the third period as well as the game overall. They out-shot the Leafs. The Devils did a lot of things right. As noted earlier, they only got burnt twice on special teams situations. New Jersey's performance, as a whole, was much better.
But I'll expand on that after the jump, which will include links to stats and a video of the game's highlights. If you want an opinion from a Toronto-supporting perspective, please check out Pension Plan Puppets.The Stats: The NHL.com game summary; the NHL.com event summary; the NHL.com official play by play; the Time on Ice Corsi Chart; the Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Chart.
He's Not 6 Feet Tall, He Just Plays Like He's Big: Mattias Tedenby was fantastic tonight. He put 3 shots on net, buried an Ilya Kovalchuk pass on a one-timer in the second period, battled in the boards, deked through a few Leafs on offense, and finished at +7 in Corsi. He looked great along side Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston tonight, as that line combined for 9 shots on net (Elias had 2, Rolston had 4). The threesome won their matchup against Nikolai Kulemin, Clark MacArthur, and Mikael Grabovski. No wonder Tedenby constantly looked up to go forward. His line was playing well and they were often attacking, something that clearly benefited the rookie winger tonight.
Hey, Matt Lashoff: Your jockstrap is still on the ice from when Tedenby torched you in the second period. Remember to thank James Reimer and/or the right post for Tedenby not scoring a highlight-reel goal after the deke.
30 Goalvalchuks: Ilya Kovalchuk had a strong game in his own right, hitting the 30 goal mark for the eighth time in his career. Here's his night: He put in 28:42 of work, placed 6 shots on net, had 2 shots blocked (including Mike Brown bravely/stupidly diving in front of a Kovalchuk slapshot), missed the net once, scored a PPG, set up Tedenby's goal, and finished a +3 in Corsi. Nice. He was double shifted with David Clarkson and David Steckel after Dainius Zubrus got injured early in the game; that he came out positive (Steckel was +1, Clarkson was -1) is a testament to how well he played.
As an aside: The Zajac line itself had a good game, as Travis Zajac had 3 shots on net (+4 Corsi) and Nick Palmieri had 2 shots, 3 blocked, 1 miss, 1 puck past Reimer but denied by the posts (though it fooled a ref, but correctly overruled by the video), and skated with plenty of vim and vigor (+3 Corsi). They did well in their match-up with the Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and Jofferey Lupul line; but Kovalchuk was the feature player. As usual, he skated after guys, knew when to pass it out, knew went to attempt a shot, and gave the Maple Leaf players fits at times. According to this post-game post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Jacques Lemaire agreed he played well while Kovalchuk himself didn't care much about the milestone, focusing on the win instead. How Devil-esque of him.
Lithuanian Freight Train Canceled Service on Wednesday: Dainius Zubrus was checked into a stanchion by Joey Crabb early in the game (illegally too, it was a boarding call) and immediately went down to the ice. It appeared his shoulder was struck and the pain was immense. Play was halted, he was helped off the ice with a trainer, and Zubrus left the rink. He did not return, which explains why Kovalchuk took his spot on the line with Steckel and Clarkson. I was afraid it was a serious injury given how fast Zubrus went down, not to mention that he went down in agony at all. Fortunately (I hope), Gulitti reported after the game that Zubrus suffered from a stinger. Let's hope that's all it is so he can play in the final weekend of the season.
The Flow of the Game: The first period was rather open, with both teams putting up 11 shots on net. The Devils attacked, then the Leafs attacked, and repeat. The second continued much in the same way until Tedenby's goal. If the two teams were trading blows before, then Tedenby's goal was like an uppercut that stunned the Leafs. (And Tallinder's goal would be like a right cross to follow up said uppercut.) At that point, the ice was tilted in New Jersey's direction. Henrik Tallinder was found open by Adam Mair (seriously) in the slot for a one-timer that made it 3-0 a minute after the Tedenby goal. And the Devils kept pinning Toronto back.
The third was more stunted due to the penalties Toronto took. And they were some dumb penalties. I'm still trying to figure out what was worse: Keith Aulie cross-checking Rod Pelley in the numbers in front of a ref shortly after a Devils power play or Kulemin holding Rolston back in a race for a puck already sailed into the corner. I want to say it's the latter because the thought that Kulemin was worried enough about Brian Rolston outracing him makes me giggle. Ironically, the three power plays (plus the carry over from a too many men call late in the second) the Devils got did not help them out. In fact, it hurt them. At even strength, though, the Devils enjoyed the better of the run of play.
This is all backed by the Corsi. The Devils finished a +8 and the best line was the Elias line as Tedenby and Rolston went +7 and Elias was a +8. In fact, only Jay Leach, David Clarkson, the 2:42 that Dainius Zubrus played, and the line of Jacob Josefson, Adam Mair, and Pelley finished negative. And the worst among that five was Leach at -3. Given that the Devils led throughout a majority of a game, that speaks well to how the Devils played at evens.
It's also an indictment of the Maple Leafs. I know they played last night. They didn't look tired to me. They just weren't aggressive enough. In a period where special teams got them within two and then one, they still finished -3 in Corsi in the third alone. They only got 3 shots on net and made 4 attempts in even strength non-empty net situations. That's terrible. I know their season is essentially done; but at the same time, why not go for the gusto? Just bomb away and maybe you'll get something. Why not attempt so much? I know the Devils' defense is good but it's not that good - especially with Colin White and Anton Volchenkov out. Why finish at only 24 shots and 32 total attempts? Why, Leafs, why?
The First Two Power Plays Were Good, Like Being Invited to a Party: They were. I don't want to hear about how the Devils' power play is totally bad because they weren't totally bad tonight. The Devils got 11 shots on net in 5-on-4 situations in total and most of those came from the first two power plays. They didn't look just like power plays, but effective ones. Smart passes, calm puck movement, and proper shots were set up. Plus, Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 30th of the season on the first one. Those two were great. Which would explain why the other three left a bad taste in the collective mouth of the Devils' faithful.
The Rest of the 5-on-4 Situations for New Jersey Were Bad, Like Finding Out No One is at Said Party: The Maple Leafs took three minors in the third period and the resulting power plays by New Jersey were wastes of time for the most part. I didn't mind the power play during the Aulie minor because, hey, the Devils were up by 3. Unfortunately, it gave Toronto a blueprint for the Devils' man advantage units: pressure them high, apply a forecheck, and force them to dump it around. Win a battle along the boards, clear it, and repeat. So that's how the Devils had 6 minutes of 5-on-4 time and did little with it.
The 29 Second 5-on-3 Situation Was Atrocious, Like One Guy Finally Showing Up to Said Party Only to Just Punch You in the Face Really, Really Hard: I didn't expect the Devils to score in a 29 second 5-on-3. Maybe just get one or two shots. Not only did that not happen, but something terrible happened. After Dion Phaneuf got caught elbowing Tedenby, David Steckel lost one of his three draws of the night (he went 9-for-12). But Travis Zajac gets to the loose puck first and places a weak pass towards Rolston. Tyler Bozak charges at the puck to intercept it and blows by Rolston. He goes in close, goes backhand, and roofs it to beat Brodeur and make it 3-2. Yes, the Devils gave up a goal at 5-on-3. Ain't no one at the Rock but the few Leafs fans there was happy. All the Devils faithful were either mad, angry, or just plain shocked.
My first, second, and third thoughts upon seeing it was to blame Rolston for getting beat and not fouling Bozak. Rolston looks terrible there and the event serves only as more evidence that there should be someone faster on the point to guard against those situations. Say what you want about Kovalchuk, but Ilya catches Bozak in that situation. Upon video review, the bulk of the blame should go to Zajac for the lazy dish that led to the whole play in the first place. If he hits it harder, then either Rolston gets it or gives it more space so Bozak doesn't pounce on it. To his credit, Zajac takes blame for it as Gulitti reported in this post-game post at Fire & Ice. Still, I can describe the whole incident in one clean word: Barf.
Can't Fault the Goaltenders: James Reimer and Martin Brodeur combined for 5 goals allowed and neither were their faults. Reimer got beat on two one-timers in the second period and a Kovalchuk blast in the first. If he got a piece of any of them, then he had some great luck. I'm not sure why Ron Wilson pulled him after the second period. I remember liking it, as a sign that Toronto's just shrugging at it all out there (that didn't really happen); but I don't know why. Reimer wasn't the reason the Devils were steam rolling through their skaters after Tedenby's goal. If anything he bailed out his team more than a few times tonight. I would say that he struggled to hold onto pucks, especially in the first period, but the Leaf defenders did well to make sure New Jersey didn't pound them in (though they tried really hard at times). Reimer's replacement, Giguere, was perfectly fine and didn't get beat. I feel he should have been tested more than 9 shots on net; of course, the powerless play undercut the Devils' hopes from doing just that.
As for Brodeur, while he faced fewer shots (24), he made some important heads-up stops. When the Leafs were moving more freely forward in the first two periods, he got a piece of everything that Toronto threw at him. He absolutely robbed Tyler Bozak on a one-timer in the first period that I still think Bozak should have scored on. Like Reimer, the two goals against aren't really his fault, though. Phil Kessel finished a one-timer in the slot on a power play. Kessel scoring there should surprise no one, it's what he does (he had a good shooting night with 5 shots on net). In retrospect, Jacob Josefson shouldn't have taken that silly holding call in the first place (incidentally, it was the lone PP for Toronto). Then there was the Bozak shorthanded goal. Brodeur forced Bozak to go to his backhand and the goal was more of Bozak making a brilliant move on a breakaway that shouldn't have happened in the first place.
Ultimately, I think both goaltenders had good nights. They were marred by errors from the guys in front of them and great shots by those who eventually scored.
Scoring Chances - Toronto Style: Slava Duris has been tracking scoring chances for Leafs games over at Leafs Nation. Check it out tomorrow (or so) to see how the Devils fared. I wouldn't be surprised if the Devils out-chanced the Leafs on top of out-shooting them (33-24) and out-attempting them (52-32).
Relief Comes With an Empty Net: Thankfully, the Devils clamped down on Toronto with the extra skater late in the game, and Elias was able to score an empty net goal. As far as ENGs go, it was a hard working one. He carried it into the zone to kill some clock, got blocked on his first attempt, recovered the puck, and skated around another Leaf to slide it in at close range. I don't know about you, but for a meaningless game, I felt a whole lot better about it when he did that.
One Last Note, No More #9 This Season: Tom Gulitti learned during the game that Zach Parise will not play in the final two games of the season and has a whole must-read post about it at Fire & Ice. Quickly: It has nothing to do with the injury (of course, if he was still hurt, then why would the Devils let him skate and practice?); and it has nothing to do with contract negotiations (Parise himself). This is just for precaution. I'm a little disappointed, but I understand the decision. His teammates certainly understand it. The one game he did play may be enough to show that his knee is fine and so negotiations are all that's left until next season. When will they be finished, who knows? But the time for them is nigh - after all, the Devils aren't playing past Sunday anyway.
What did you think of the Devils' performance against Toronto? What would you like to see them do differently for their next two games? Now that the Devils allowed a 5-on-3 shorthanded goal, can we say we truly seen and suffered it all this season? Did you also think Tedenby and Kovalchuk were great? Who did you think wasn't so great? 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.