The New Jersey Devils ended their four game road trip with an afternoon game at Winnipeg. It began with a trip to Pittsburgh where they got wrecked in possession but struck gold with three goals and got some great goaltending to hold on to win 3-1. It continued in Calgary, where the Devils had a nightmare of a first period and couldn't get out of the hole of a 4-0 period. It also didn't help that Calgary added two more goals, so the Devils lost 6-3. On the next night, they traveled to Edmonton and played a sloppy game. While the Devils performance was superior to what was seen in Calgary, Edmonton kept getting attempt after attempt after attempt. Most of them hit Devils skaters; the Devils only allowed one in the third after a shorthanded goal in the second; and the Devils won in OT 2-1. Today, they played the Winnipeg Jets, came from behind to win 2-1 in regulation, and weren't half-bad in possession. The road trip ended with a success. With a 3-1 record, we can say it was a success from a results standpoint.
The performance itself was about above average and probably was the best of the road trip from a possession standpoint. Sure, the Devils had the vast majority of possession in the Calgary game - after they were down four goals. Today, the Devils were ahead in Corsi for most of the game. It wasn't just a function of score effect, either; when Andrew Ladd scored in the first period, there was only 1:29 left in the period. The Devils only had one shooting attempt, none allowed since that goal and finished the period up +7 in Corsi. It was evidence that the Devils had an edge on the ice in that period. That lasted for most of the game. It lessened a bit as time went on and there were some harrowing shifts. Still, the Devils ended the game even in Corsi and Fenwick - pretty good considering they held a lead for a little over 7 minutes.
A lot of credit for that has to go to the defense. The Devils only allowed 18 shots against at evens and 23 overall. Not everyone was positive in possession, but nearly everyone had a hand in the offense today. Henrik Tallinder had one of the Devils' best chances to score in the game, joining up on a two-on-one only to be robbed by Ondrej Pavelec. Bryce Salvador was a boss in his own end and chipped in a few shots, too. I'd go as far as to say that Salvador was the best Devil in the defensive zone today. Anton Volchenkov of all players had 3 shots on net. All six defenders had at least one shot on goal. Kurtis Foster's lone shot was huge, as he wristed one short-side off a rare-for-today Devils faceoff win. That was his first goal as a Devil and tied up the game. Adam Larsson had 2 shots on net and the team's best Corsi value at +8, but his big contribution was a pass. After receiving a dummied pass from Petr Sykora, Larsson looked up, saw Patrik Elias ahead of Bryan Little heading to the net. He threaded a pass past Johnny Oduya and Elias re-directed it in to give the Devils a 2-1 lead. The Devils blueline doesn't contribute much on offense, but today, they were a definite factor.
They were also big at the end of the game. It seemed like the Jets just swarmed New Jersey with 6 skaters for the game's final 90 seconds. But they made life difficult for the Jets as they frantically searched for an equalizer. Officially, the Jets only got 2 shots on net, missed once, got blocked once (thanks Salvador); and just picked up constantly motioning Jets with ease. Nothing easy was given and the Devils survived with the comeback 2-1 win. On a road trip where we saw the D make costly errors or the skaters as a whole get dominated in possession, they were instrumental in today's win.
I have more thoughts on the victory after the jump. For an opposition point of view, please check out TJCAPS' short recap at Arctic Ice Hockey.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlights: The highlights of today's game are in this embedded video from NHL.com:
Henrique Zubrus Line: Since Adam Henrique was held out for precautionary reasons per Tom Gulitti, Dainius Zubrus centered Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. The line did fairly well today in my opinion. Kovalchuk was firing away, though 6 of his 10 shooting attempts hit Jets players and not Pavelec/the net. He finished the game with a +7 in Corsi, the second highest among Devils today. Parise wasn't too shabby, he had 2 shots and a +5 in Corsi. Zubrus was more muddled at +1 Corsi, but he did pick up the only point on the line as he assisted on Foster's goal. Kovalchuk's and Parise's point streaks were snapped, but they continued to play as well as they have been in recent games.
Moreover, they did it against Winnipeg's make-shift top defensive pairing of Tobias Enstrom (who belongs on the top pairing) and Ron Hainsey (who doesn't) and their checking line of Jim Slater, Tanner Glass, and Antti Miettinen. Their success wasn't against weak players, which is more evidence that they had a good day. When they were seeing that line at evens, they did get a decent chunk of even strength time against Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd, and Bryan Little. Most of all, with a one-goal lead, these three were out there with Adam Larsson and Bryce Salvador to ward off Winnipeg's desperate attack. Overall, I don't have too many complaints about how they did. If Henrique remains out for another game or two, then I wouldn't mind seeing this trio again.
Go Figure, Pt. 1: Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, and David Clarkson didn't do so well. They got matched against Kane, Little, and for part of the game Blake Wheeler. When Wheeler left the game after taking a Sykora shot to the throat, Alexander Burmistrov took his spot. The Elias line struggled to get offense going. David Clarkson did get 4 shots on goal, but they were weak and sometimes weren't even with Elias and Sykora. Sykora was invisible save for his pass to Tallinder, his shot hurting Wheeler, and his pass to Larsson that became the game winning goal. He had no shots on net; Elias' lone shot on net was his goal. In terms of Corsi, Elias was -7, Sykora was -8, and Clarkson was -4. The line just wasn't that good in generating offense and getting stops in their own end. Tallinder and Mark Fayne played behind them and suffered more or less because of it; they did fairly well in their own end.
Of course, the line generates the game winning goal and Elias drew a penalty shot late in the game off a defensive stop. The penalty shot was blocked by Pavelec's arm, but that was while the Devils were up 2-1 and it didn't come back to haunt the Devils. The Elias goal was the result of a great play. Elias dummied the pass like a soccer star, letting it go through his legs instead of one-timing the pass. That's always a risky move since it assumed it'd go to a Devil. But the risk paid off; and Elias had the good sense to charge through the coverage after Kane went past him. The puck slid to Larsson, he saw Elias beat his man towards the net, and Larsson threaded a great pass through the slot. Elias got it and put it past Pavelec's flank. The goalie had no chance to stop that. For a line that did very little on offense today, they sure scored on a very good play.
Marty, Marty, Marty: The box score will show that Martin Brodeur made 22 saves on 23 shots. On paper, that's just like Johan Hedberg's night in Edmonton, when he stopped 22 out of 23. The difference was that Hedberg had no chance on the one that got past him, whereas Brodeur really should have stopped Ladd's shot in the first period. While it's possible Larsson's stick may have deflected a bit of it, but it went off Brodeur's glove and in. If it went off the glove, then it could have been caught or deflected away. It wasn't and so Winnipeg scored their first home goal in January late in the first.
It was a bad goal to allow - and it was disappointing considering Brodeur made some tough stops earlier in that period, including one on Kane in the slot on a Jets power play. The good news is that was the lone mark against the goaltender. Brodeur made many more stops and held strong even when the Jets were crashing the net hard in the game's final minute. The cold reality of goaltending is that making X number of great saves doesn't absolve a soft goal against - they're expected to be stopped regardless. I get that. At the same time, Brodeur didn't freak out afterwards, he didn't get exposed elsewhere, and he stopped everything else fairly well. Oh, and he denied Ladd later in the game just fine as a bit of revenge. Soft goal aside, it was a good bounce back game after the horror in Calgary and I say that knowing there will be some fans crowing about the goal regardless.
Disaster at the Dots: Not that Henrique was great on faceoffs, as evidenced by his 47.9% success rate; but I wonder if they missed him today. The Devils were dominated on faceoffs today, winning a mere 16 out of 54 draws today. The best Devils were Kovalchuk and Clarkson, who each went 1-for-2, and they only took those draws because a center was thrown out. Ryan Carter was bad by going 3-for-7. Patrik Elias was putrid at 6-for-18. Dainius Zubrus' day provides some evidence that he should stay at RW since he was abysmal by going 4-for-19. The faceoff losses didn't doom the Devils, but it denied them some more opportunities of possession or even a shot were it in the offensive zone. That was a bit frustrating.
Go Figure, Pt. 2: The Devils first goal came off of Zubrus' lone offensive zone faceoff win. Zubrus boxed out Jim Slater and kicked it back. Foster swooped in, used Hainsey as a screen of sorts, and picked out the space to beat Pavelec.
Bottom Six Not Destroyed?: Yes! The bottom six included Nick Palmieri in place of Clarkson and Palmieri was the only Devils forward among the third and fourth lines to be negative in Corsi with -4. That should surprise no one given that Palmieri was more invisible than Sykora today. The other four was positive and Cam Janssen didn't register at all.
Were they good? No! Just because they were ahead in shooting attempts doesn't mean they did a whole lot. Only Mattias Tedenby (1 SOG) and Eric Boulton (2 SOG) got shots on net. Cam Janssen was a literal non-factor; I know Henrique sitting out meant he had to be the 12th guy, but at this point, the Devils would be better served going to 7 defensemen than playing Janssen. They took two penalties - Carter for roughing, Tedenby for interference - as opposed to drawing any. You saw a lot less of them as time went on. They didn't do much; they just didn't get rolled over.
Your Words on Special Teams: The Devils power play reverted back to it's ineffective ways with only two shots on goal across two opportunities. They had some decent possession on the first power play, but they just kept missing. The second one just didn't have much at all save for an easily-stopped Parise "jam" play down low. Oh, and they allowed a weak shorthanded shot on that one too. Meh. The Devils PK looked out of sorts during their first kill and Brodeur had to bail them out thrice, including a ridiculous stop on Kane. They looked more like their usual selves on the second kill, though. Basically, it was an average day. The penalty killers succeeded, though they didn't shut down Winnipeg completely. The power play was what we've been used to seeing this season.
Wheeler Out, Ladd Strong: Blake Wheeler got knocked out of the game due to taking a Petr Sykora shot to the throat in the second period. Wheeler has been one of Winnipeg's top forwards and had he not have that accident, he could have done some real damage to the Devils. While the Devils defense had a good day, they couldn't completely quell Andrew Ladd. Ladd had 4 shots on net including a goal and had the Jets' best Corsi at +8. He had two good looks to score in the third period; denied by Brodeur's stick shaft and his chest respectively. I can only wonder how much more effective Ladd could have been if Wheeler remained in the game. Maybe we'll find out on Tuesday. Hopefully the answer is not much.
A Final Point: The Devils win was a comeback win. They were down 1-0 late in the first, tied it before halfway through the third period, and scored the winner a few minutes later. The Devils did this on the road, with one of their top lines not having a good game overall, and did so in a tough place to play against a team hungry for any kind of win this month. The Devils could have packed it in after the soft goal or after Pavelec absolutely robbed Tallinder and continued to shut out the Devils. They didn't, they kept at their game plan, and they eventually succeeded. The Devils aren't unfamiliar with coming from behind in a game, they did it just last Saturday to Pittsburgh. That they did it again still speaks to the character of the team as well as how they performed today.
That's my take on today's game. Apologies for the late recap, but there will be some time to think about it as the Devils are off until Tuesday. Now I want to know your take. What is your opinion of today's performance by the Devils? Did you think the Devils defense played well today? Would you agree that Martin Brodeur had a good bounce back game, or does the soft goal against leave a bad taste in your mouth? In your view, who do you think was the Devils best player on the ice? What do the Devils need to work on before Tuesday's rematch at the Rock? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone in the Gamethread for commenting and reading during the game. Thanks to everyone who followed the occasional tweets with @InLouWeTrust. Just as important, thank you for reading.