With only four days of practice under their belt, the New Jersey Devils traveled up to Albany to face the New York Rangers at Times Union Center in their first preseason game of the 2011-2012 hockey year. The Devils had a number of veterans play tonight along with a handful of players vying for an open spot in New Jersey (or the organization) and some definite AHLers. The Devils avoided a comeback from the Rangers in the third period and 45 seconds into overtime, they won the game 2-1.
Petr Sykora continued to make a statement in camp with a nice goal in the first period and Patrik Elias scored on a redirect from a feed from Zach Parise in overtime to win the game. Keith Kinkaid stopped all 10 of the shots he faced in just over 31 minutes of time. Jeff Frazee stopped all but one in what was a okay performance as well. Dale Weise tied the game on the weak side after some confusion in the corner.
Head Coach Peter DeBoer has preached hard working, up-tempo, and aggressive style hockey while playing the same type of defense the franchise has been known for. It's only the first preseason game, but you can definitely see that DeBoers words are getting to the players. I have a few more things to say about tonight's game after the jump.
As John noted in the preview, the score tonight is pointless, but a win against Our Hated Rivals is always good. The purpose of these games is too assess players and get the most capable and beneficial line up for the regular season. Here were the lines tonight - Note these weren't in stone all game and DeBoer mismatched a few players here and there.
Zach Parise - Patrik Elias - Nick Palmieri
Stephane Veilleux - Petr Sykora - Steven Bernier
There aren't any stats like time on ice for each player, shots, hits or even penalties from NHL.com. Luckily, Tom Gulitti of Fire and Ice has a synopsis at the game on paper. I don't want to go over the game in real detail. Instead I'd rather look at each position, special teams, and strategy as well as a look at who impressed me and who didn't.
Let's get the regulars out of the way first. Kovalchuk, Parise and Elias had solid performances. Kovy was the fastest player on the ice and had a great chance in the first period a few minutes after the goal. He also had a nice end-to-end skate, whipping around players like it was nothing. This shouldn't surprise you - most of the guys he turned cross eyed were most likely vying for NHL spots as well. As for Parise, he was hard working around the net, and had a few good chances as well. This was technically his second game back from knee surgery, and you wouldn't and shouldn't even know it.
David Clarkson didn't have a good game. I didn't think he was physical enough and he just looked out of place with Josefson and Kovalchuk. He had one of his patented wrap-around chances that obviously didn't go in. Palmieri had a subtle performance, complimenting Parise and Elias. I actually like this line a lot and it could be a Corsi machine. Josefson had a 50/50 game. I felt as the game went along, he got better. He saw some time on the penalty kill and did well blocking shots and keeping himself square with his opponents. Offensively, he still looks a little weak. He was taken out a couple times around the boards.
Sykora had a very good game. His goal beat Henrik Lundqvist from the top of the left circle from a feed from Adam Larsson. He's one step closer to getting a contract with his original NHL team. Brad Mills also had a good game - he drew a tripping call, and had a nice backcheck turnover on the penalty kill. As for the Bash Bothers (Janssen and Boulton) - let's just hope only one of them plays in a game from now on. I actually liked Janssen's aggressiveness in the beginning of the game (a big check behind the net led to Sykora's goal) but a stupid interference penalty later and typical fighter antics quickly made me retract that thought.
Overall the offense was good- 42 shots on goal good.
I have to tip my hat to the defense tonight. They played very well. They clogged up the slot and the area around the net to protect the goalies as much as possible. They were blocking shots, on point with the opposition. The Rangers didn't have a shot until about eight minutes into the first period They had only had 13 shots after two periods and finished with 21.
Adam Larsson was outstanding tonight. You would never believe his age. His play set up Sykora's goal - the puck worked its way to the point and he quickly faked a shot and passed. He looks like a veteran out there. He's big, his reach his long, and his passing in the offensive zone was on point. He got powerplay time and really showed what he can do with space. He jumped into the play and got deep that led to some really inventive passes and chances. He had a great one-on-one defensive play against Brandon Dubinsky with his stick. I've been on the fence with him on where he should start the regular season, but more performances like this is going to put weight on my opinion.
You know who also looked good? Mark Fraser. He made a couple nice defensive plays after some Rangers takeaways. Anton Volchenkov took a lot shots tonight and even had a nice pass to Sykora from behind the net (yes, Volchenkov was deep behind the net). Stralman also showed his offensive capabilities. He started the overtime period which was probably a reward for his hard work. Keep an eye out on him.
The goal against wasn't too bad. Larsson was checked int he corner and lost his stick. Sykora tried to give him his and this left Tallinder alone in front of the net. The pass from Artem Anisimov got through to Weise on the weak side and buried it. There was no forward nearby Weise to contest him and it led to an easy goal.
I really liked the decision to give Kinkaid and Frazee the nods tonight. They are going to be the netminders in Albany, so why not let them get used to the boards, the ice, and the arena. Kinkaid was very solid. He was very good with his rebounds and was always square to the shooter. One area he most certainly needs to improve is puck handling. He wasn't quick enough when making a pass and needs to learn the ropes when coming out of the net.
As for Frazee, he was decent. He faced 11 shots and the goal against wasn't his fault. He had some trouble with rebounds and covering the puck during some scrums around the net. He was in during the more high pressure portion of the game, but a long time professional shouldn't be phased by that. He can only play his way out of the starting role on Albany, and this wasn't a good start.
A quick nod to Rangers goalie Cam Talbot. This kid has some glove. He absolutely robbed for what would have been Sykora's second goal and flashed the glove again against Kovalchuk in the slot. He had no chance at the game winner, but still - Rangers fans have to be happy with his game tonight.
Power Play and Penalty Kill
The PK was very very good tonight. Just like the defense, they blocked plenty of shots and didn't give too much to the Rags. They worked as a unit and it showed on the television. The Devils had a lot of penalties - which I don't recommended even if the PK is playing well. Still I wouldn't worry - this is the first preseason game and they will bcome more disciplined.
As for the PP, they were most certainly in an umbrella type format. Larsson was top middle with Kovy to his left and Elias to his right (Parise and Palmieri were near the net). The passing between the three point men was certainly something amazing. The location of the passes need to be tweaked (that will take time) to set up one timers. Still though, the fact that these three, all with good, hard shots can move the puck around like that gives Devils fans some much needed confidence for the powerplay.
One more thing I want to point out. If you saw the game, you noticed the more aggressive forecheck. It looked like a 2-1-2 at some points and on those handful of occasions the pressure made the Rags just clear the puck out. I really liked what I saw tonight in terms of that. The team looks fast and focused and from the first day of training camp tilnow, I have loved what DeBoer is doing.
Here's Tom Gulitti's post with DeBoer quotes on what he thought of the game and certain players (Kinkaid, Larsson, Sykora); and here's one with player quotes.
So what did you think about tonight's game? Who impressed you? Who disappointing you? What did you notice that I didn't bring up? Talk about the game in the comments. Thanks for reading.