I'm still a little giddy just recalling the final score. The New Jersey Devils beat the Winnipeg Jets 5-1. There are so many other ways to describe that. Here are a few: They beat on the Jets and scored five goals. They only allowed one goal and it came after the Devils were up four goals; then the Devils scored another one afterwards. The Devils not only scored first, but also second, third, and fourth in the game; whereas the Jets only answered the first one. The Devils won by four goals, a 5-1 win over the Jets.
OK, so the score looks awesome because it is awesome. How was the performance? Well, it wouldn't be what I would call dominating. The Devils held an edge in the shot count through the first period, blew the game wide open in the second period with goals but not necessarily shots, and just sat on the lead in the third period. The final totals in shots were 21-20 in favor of Winnipeg. At even strength, the Devils were out-shot 20-18. In terms of Corsi, the Devils finished the night at a -7. Normally, that's not good. Tonight, it's understandable since the Devils took a lead late in the first period, added to it, and never really looked back.
Personally, I'm not a fan when the Devils sit on a lead. Usually, it's best to keep the opponents somewhat honest by attacking here and there. That said, it's not good when the lead is just one or two goals. When you're up four by the third period, it's more understandable as the goal is just to not completely collapse. The Devils certainly didn't do that. They gave their lesser forwards more minutes in what was essentially garbage time in the third, and they still battled Winnipeg like it was a close game on defense. I just feel they could have took the puck up ice and shot it more often. But, again, the Devils had a four goal lead and reclaimed it in the third period, so I'm not complaining too loudly. Still, it's what stands out to me (among other items) that makes me feel like this blowout win wasn't really a result of dominance. I would have liked more shots on goal
That said, there is much to praise on how the Devils did this evening. Jets goaltender Chris Mason did well in Ottawa, didn't look so hot early on, and the Devils capitalized on him so many times they chased him to the bench in the second period. The Elias line had a better night in possession and bigger night on the scoresheet. Ilya Kovalchuk was motoring. The defense largely had a solid effort. Martin Brodeur came up huge early. All of this and more to discuss after the jump. For the opposition's point of view, please check out 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: A 5-1 win compels a Devils fan to at least check out the goals scored tonight. You can do that in this highlight video from NHL.com:
The Most Important Devil in the First 24 Minutes of the Game: Martin Brodeur deserves a lot more credit for this win then he'll probably get. No, a 20 save for 21 shot performance doesn't look all that great on paper, but Brodeur was crucial to keeping the Jets off the board early. That sounds obvious, but the Jets had some great chances to score before the David Clarkson made it 3-0 in the second period. Jim Slater beat the Devils to an iced puck and Brodeur had to come up big to deny him. That was Brodeur's first save of the game. Brodeur denied Mark Stuart and had to ward off several skaters as he stretched to cover up the puck to prevent the rebound. Eric Fehr got a great chance in front that Brodeur got a stop on. These and the other saves early on bailed out the Devils a few times in their own end and ensured that the Devils wouldn't go down early or lose their lead.
There was some luck involved - Nik Antropov had a wide open net early on and hit the side of the goal, a long shot in the post through traffic - but Brodeur played very well tonight. I don't think the one goal that beat him was a bad one. Sure, Tobias Enstrom fired it from the center point; but Brodeur had to deal with Andrew Ladd and Henrik Tallinder in his grill. Ladd was usually in Brodeur's grill (I noticed it from the second period onward), as the Jets were hoping to beat him through screens. It only worked on this one time. By the time Ladd moved away, the puck was about to beat Brodeur high and to his right. He didn't have much of a chance on that one. When the main criticism for the goalie is that he didn't get the shutout, then he did quite well.
Goal Achieved: Peter DeBoer utilized his lines to get the most out of the top two and he was successful. The line of Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, and David Clarkson played very well, much better than they did on Saturday. For one thing, all three players had shots on goal: Elias had 2, Sykora had 4, and Clarkson had 2. All three players finished the game positive in Corsi in spite of how the team did overall: Elias was a +2, Sykora was a +3, and Clarkson was a +1. All three players scored a goal tonight: Sykora low and to Mason's left on a screen, Clarkson on a sharp-angled shot Mason should've stopped, and Elias off a rebound to beat Ondrej Pavelec. Their most common match-ups were against the Little and Antropov lines, Winnipeg's most dangerous lines, and they came out ahead. The line collectively had a strong game. Let's hope it continues in future ones.
Honored: Prior to the National Anthems, Patrik Elias was formally recognized tonight for playing his 1000th game with the Devils against Florida on January 6. Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy posted a helpful infographic to put that achievement - 1,000+ games with the same team - into historical perspective. Sticking around a franchise for that long means the player has some serious talent. We got to see that tonight as part of his one goal, two assist performance. The goal may have been one of good fortune, as he was just in the right place when Anton Volchenkov's shot caromed off Clarkson's legs and right to Elias with an empty net. The effort definitely was all Elias. If you haven't seen #26 for the Devils live, then make a point of it to do so because he's still playing some simply fantastic hockey this season.
Not So Much a Beast, but A Force to Be Reckoned With All the Same: Ilya Kovalchuk wasn't necessarily a beast, but he definitely made his mark on the game. Zach Parise got a block on an Enstrom shot at the point, and sprung Kovalchuk on a breakaway. The finish was all Kovalchuk. In the second period, Kovalchuk's lone power play shot found it's way through traffic to make it 4-0 and chase Mason from the net. Both goals were the sort of goals one expects out of #17. Powerful, clinical strikes that make the fans jump up and/or just say "that was awesome." Because it was tonight. Kovalchuk only attempted 6 shots and got 3 on net and he was even in Corsi. It wasn't like he was a beast out there, just picking on Jets skaters all night long. Still, I really liked what I saw. After all, if a complaint includes "not scoring a hat trick," then it means the player did quite well in the game.
Incidentally, that line had a good outing as well. They saw a quite a bit of Winnipeg's checking line. Parise and Kovalchuk were even in Corsi and only Zubrus was a +1 in Corsi. That's not really great, but it's not too bad given score effects and the situation on the ice. Zach Parise got a little more involved on offense with 3 shots on net and had a breakaway in the second period where he apparently didn't get a shot off. Dainius Zubrus was fairly in both ends of the rink; he only faltered in the faceoff dot and in taking one penalty. For some reason, the line could have done more to help themselves out - and pile on more misery on Winnipeg - if they were smarter with their passes. They gave up quite a few pucks in the neutral zone and on offense with some rather poor decisions. That didn't hurt the Devils too much as they had help from their defenders and Brodeur was playing well. On another night, like Thursday against Boston, it could be lethal. It's something to work on.
Regular Power Play Section: I know the power play scored a goal, but the PP units were all over the place in terms of how they played. They would have stretches of good possession without shots on net followed by stretches where breaking out and into Winnipeg's end of the rink looked to be a challenge. With 6:01 of power play time, the Devils really should have generated more than 2 shots on net. I know the Devils scorer is stingy with shots, but that's pretty bad. That all said, they did convert shortly after an abbreviated 5-on-3, so we must say the PP was a success tonight. I just want the Devils to make more of these kinds of opportunities.
On the Flipside, Faceoffs Weren't a Disaster: Against the Jets on Saturday, the Devils were terrible on faceoffs. Tonight, almost all of the Devils were above 50% in their success rates. Steve Zalewski did OK by going 4-for-7; Jacob Josefson was all right at 6-for-11; and Elias gave a good showing by going 10-for-18. Brad Mills was perfect, winning all 8 of his draws. Zubrus was the exact opposite of perfect, losing all 9 of his draws. Overall, the Devils actually won the majority of the faceoffs in this game by going 29-for-56. That's a positive.
Call-Ups Part of Bottomed Out Group: The Devils called up Jacob Josefson and Brad Mills from Albany earlier today and both played tonight. Josefson returned from the AHL, which came after returning from a broken clavicle he suffered way back in mid-October. Simply, Josefson played like someone who hasn't played in several months. There would be moves he'd make that would belie his potential: smart, skilled, and calm. That would be followed by a bad decision or just getting beat by his opposition. Overall, there's not much in terms of results that we can point to and say that's how he did tonight. Josefson ended the night without a shot on net and he finished the night a -2 in Corsi. He also gave a scare when he took a hard hit into the boards in the third period and immediately went to the bench; but he turned out to be fine and took a few more shifts to end the game. I felt the line he usually centered at times (wingers: Tedenby, Carter) was getting worked over (either by the Little line or the Alexander Burmistrov line), requiring the defense or Brodeur to bail them out. They did enough positive, though, as to not be totally bad.
Brad Mills did better than anyone could have expected on faceoffs and even got a shot on net. For a fourth-line replacement of Cam Janssen, I feel confident in saying that Mills can bring more to the team than Janssen. While I would prefer Vladimir Zharkov, I'm fine with Mills for the next few games based on tonight's performance.
Still, Mills was a liability given his -7 Corsi value. Zalewski (-6) and Eric Boulton (-7) didn't fare much better. Needless to say, the bottom two lines really didn't do much that's all that good. Mills and Ryan Carter were the only ones among the six to register a shot on net - and each only had one. The fourth line was out there as an uncovered defender fired the shot that became Winnipeg's lone goal. Everyone on those bottom two lines were negative in Corsi and weren't nearly as good in their own end like the top two lines. The Devils being behind in shooting attempts is a result of the Jets just picking on those six guys. On paper, it's an improvement over what we've seen this season. Now they just need to keep working to get it together.
Garbage Time Fun Time: Since the Devils were up by four, Peter DeBoer was sensible to give the bottom six more minutes than he would otherwise give in a closer game. This probably explains why they ended up so low in terms of Corsi. In any case, everyone on the Devils played at least 11 minutes - even Eric Boulton. Kovalchuk and Parise were the only forwards who played over 20 minutes and each had a significant amount of power play time to boost that total. On defense, only Bryce Salvador and Adam Larsson played over 20 minutes, so the other four defenders had a lesser workload. We even The Devils got a big lead and spread the ice time around so the top players the team leans on can catch a few more breaths than the otherwise would have. That's a good thing, if only as a sign that the coaches know the game is pretty much decided.
Besides, when the Devils were killing a penalty in the third period, they threw out Mills and Mattias Tedenby on that kill. When Tedenby is getting PK work, you know it's garbage time. Incidentally, I thought Tedenby did rather well in his 35 seconds of shorthanded ice time. He made nice clearances and he didn't try to take on players with the puck.
Discipline Almost Perfect: In another improvement, the Devils really cut down on the penalties tonight. Maybe they got away with a few iffy calls - that's common in hockey and in sport - but the only egregious thing they did was when Zubrus tripped Chris Thorburn in the corners on defense. It was a fair call. To think, if Zubrus stayed up, then perhaps the Devils could have went the whole game without taking a single minor penalty. That would have been impressive. Like the shutout, there was just that one blemish. Oh well, I can't really complain about just one penalty called against NJ.
An Even Improved Defense from Saturday: On Saturday, the Devils blueline as a whole had a great game. All six defenders contributed on offense and held the Jets to a mere 23 shots on net. Tonight, the defense wasn't as productive on offense; but they were stingier in holding the Jets to just 21. The pairing of Adam Larsson and Bryce Salvador was just smooth and effective. Mark Fayne was the good kind of invisible; he didn't make any outrageous mistakes, he kept to where he needed to be. I feel a bit bad for Henrik Tallinder being right there for Enstrom's goal. That's not his fault as a forward should have been on the defender. He can feel good about helping draw attention prior to Sykora scoring his goal. I felt the pairing did well. Kurtis Foster and Volchenkov were also solid, I have no complaints about either.
Here's a sign of their impressive play: Andrew Ladd (who was more of a screener than an attacker tonight), Bryan Little, and Kyle Wellwood did not register a single shot on net. Evander Kane only got one, and only Antropov can boast about being in the top six and getting multiple shots on net with 3. And he won't boast too much given his big miss in the first period. Those players are among Winnipeg's most dangerous players, and they were held quiet tonight. To the defense: Well done.
Chased: Chris Mason didn't look good today. He got yanked after Kovalchuk's second goal 8:46 into the second period after 4 goals allowed on 15 shots. Ondrej Pavelec held down the crease for over half the game and looked OK, even though the Devils didn't challenge him like he was Mason. He only saw 5 shots on net, and the one that went in was on his flank - he had no chance. Then again, the Devils didn't need to since they were up by four goals. The funny thing about it is that Mason played on Monday in Ottawa and shut them out. Good on the Devils for not being thrown off by that and making his short night feel longer.
Important Win: It's great to beat up a team 5-1. I enjoyed it live and I hope the Devils can do it more often. With respect to the standings, it's two points all the same. This win is important as the Devils are competing with the Jets for playoff spots in the East. While everyone ahead of NJ prior to tonight remains ahead of them, the Jets are now 7 points behind the Devils in tenth place. These kinds of wins, victories over Eastern Conference teams, help drive them down further and away from the Devils. It's great that the Devils won big, but we must not lose sight on the standings with each result. The more positive results the Devils get now, the more room they'll have to maneuver in March when the schedule really crunches in there.
A Streak Begins: With this win, the Devils have won three in a row. The Devils have two rather tough games ahead, so who knows if it'll last. It sure would be swell, considering the Devils will play at home through February 2.
That's my take on tonight's big win. How would you describe the Devils' 5-1 win? Do you think the Devils should have done better in their performance? What would you like them to improve upon in the future? Who would you say was the best player on the ice for New Jersey tonight? Did you feel more confident up four goals going into the third period rather than three? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments. Thank you to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and to those who followed the occasional tweet from @InLouWeTrust. Of course, thank you for reading.