Tonight, the New Jersey Devils came from behind to tie the New York Rangers twice late in regulation. The game itself was frenetic and fitting for two rival teams that simply dislike each other given the pace and physical actions. The Rangers did their best to go up in the game; but the Devils kept fighting back and were rewarded for their efforts. Close calls in overtime were just that and so a shootout was necessary. Thankfully, this game would have a winner. Ilya Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur sealed it to make it a 4-3 shootout win. The Devils' three game winless (and only one goal scored) streak was snapped; and it happened against those blue fellows from across the river in an exciting, dramatic, and tense fashion.
As I left the Rock and headed towards Newark Penn Station, a Rangers fan had something to say as I walked by with the confidence that comes with seeing a hated rival lose. It was an older gentleman, clad in a Rangers-branded tracksuit. He stated: "It's better to be lucky than good sometimes, huh?" With the high of a hard-fought, dramatic victory over a rival in mind, I just snapped "That's the story of the Rangers season." Truthfully, it wasn't most witty response. It didn't necessitate a response. However, what he said did stick with me from the whole trip back home to write this very recap.
At the time, I felt it was a put down. Perhaps that was the intent. He was a fan of a rival unhappy to see their team blow a lead late in the game twice. He didn't look pleased when he said what he said. It certainly wasn't a compliment. I thought about it some more and I think he sort of hit on something.
Let's take a step back first. The New Jersey Devils went into the All Star Game break with a 2-1 shootout loss to Buffalo. That was a game where the Devils did everything right except score two goals. They came close in regulation. They came close in overtime. It didn't happen. In fact, the Sabres only scored in regulation due to a fortuitous bounce off the glass that laid a puck right out in front for Buffalo to poke in. The Devils outplayed the Sabres, but they didn't get enough breaks despite their efforts - and they lost in a shootout. The Devils were good, but not lucky and they didn't get the desired result.
Now let's jump to tonight, the Devils hosted the Rangers and had an uneven performance of sorts. The Devils did well enough on offense (+2 in team Corsi) but it took until the second period before it really germinated. And it wasn't even all that pressing in the third. The Devils defense seemingly jumped from playing solid in their own end to sheer panic at times. Frustrating to witness and it burned the Devils a couple of times. Martin Brodeur made several huge stops to bail out the skaters; but still let up a soft one late after Ilya Kovalchuk's equalizer. And the Devils did get their share of big breaks. The Devils fought back to tie the game 3-3, but it may not have happened if Greene's dump-in hit the glass itself or the boards as intended - or if David Clarkson wasn't charging through the center of the ice for the puck. The first third period equalizer may not have happened if the Rangers cleared the puck on their third PK instead of attempting to attack, which led to the odd-man rush. The shootout wouldn't have happened if Derek Stepan curled that puck into the net in OT instead of pushing it laterally across the line; or if Andy Greene didn't clear it away quickly enough. The Devils were lucky to get a point tonight with that in mind. The Rangers did enough to win and seemingly iced the game when Michael Del Zotto scored that third goal. The Devils were lucky to get the opportunities to equalize twice in the third period.
The key here is that the Devils made the most of those opportunities that they were fortunate to get. Kovalchuk made sure the odd-man rush wasn't just an opportunity; Clarkson made Biron pay for keeping his legs open after the bad bounce; Greene did clear the puck; and the Devils did make sure the Rangers didn't get anything easy on net in OT (or anything at all per the scorer).
The man almost had it right: the Devils were lucky. They were also good enough to not squander it as they got a result. And the Devils did just that. That's just how it is in hockey - like in all sports.
As usual, I have more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump as well as links to the game's stats and a highlight video from NHL.com. For the opposition's point of view, please check out Bryan Winter's recap over at Blueshirt Banter. He's not happy about the bounce that led to Clarkson's goal and I can't say I blame him. Sometimes, it's better to be lucky (and close your five hole) than good.
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 Highlight Video: From NHL.com, here's the highlight video of tonight's game. Yes, it was that up and down at the game late. Thankfully, it ended the way it did!
Marty! (Or A Lot of Words About Goalies): It sounds strange to laud a goaltender who got beaten three times on 22 shots at even strength, but I really do think Martin Brodeur was a big reason why the Devils won this game. He bailed out the Devils three times in the first period; stoned Brad Richards on a breakaway when he split an unaware Kurtis Foster and Bryce Salvador in the second period among his other stops. Just as importantly, he denied Marian Gaborik and Richards in the shootout which gave the team the win. Brodeur was big.
Brodeur wasn't perfect, as evidenced by the 3 GA-out-of-26 SOGs stat. As for the goals that beat him, I can only really fault him on the third one. Brodeur tried to kick Gaborik's initial shot away but it went awry. Kurtis Foster was in position to either play the puck or do something about a breaking Anton Stralman and did neither. That's how the first one happened and it happened minutes after Brodeur made three huge stops as the skaters in front of him looked like AHLers for a shift. Brian Boyle got behind Foster in the third period and got Stu Bickel's pass. Boyle had Brodeur one-on-one and Boyle knew he just had to wait Brodeur out. Brodeur tried valiantly but Boyle's aim was true. The goal by Michael Del Zotto should have been stopped; it was from distance and he clearly saw it. That was bad. But if wasn't for Brodeur's huge saves earlier or in the shootout, the Devils get zero out of this one instead of one or two points.
Jumping over to the other Martin who played goaltender tonight, Martin Biron had a little more work to do in terms of total shots. He faced three more shots than Brodeur and let up as many goals. Biron had a few impressive stops; though I think he wished he would have had two of those three goals allowed back. There's no shame on the first one. Zach Parise beat Bickel to his own rebound and attempted a sharp angle shot. Biron could have covered up the post better; but Parise's shot had to be pin-point to get into the net from where he was. It was more of a case of it being a fantastic shot rather than bad goaltending. Biron got frozen twice by Kovalchuk, first on the PPG in the third period (beaten to his left) and later on in the shootout (beaten five hole). Yeah, Biron did come up big on a shorthanded breakaway by Kovalchuk early in the third period; but he could have done something of note on those two blasts from Kovalchuk's stick. Then there's the infamous Clarkson goal. Yes, it was a bad bounce, Rangers fans. I don't see how that excuses Biron leaving his five hole open. Some would say that was bad goaltending.
Snark aside, Biron did do well enough in the shootout on Zach Parise and Patrik Elias among other stops and the loss can't be fully placed on New York's Marty. Biron didn't get torched on D or take a risk during a PK that ended up coming the other way. Though, it does make one wonder whether Henrik Lundqvist would have done better if he got the start.
The Return of Andy Greene: In the preview, I felt taking out of either Matt Taormina or Kurtis Foster would have made sense for Andy Greene to return. Greene hasn't played a game since early December and in replacing Taormina, Peter DeBoer could limit his minutes and protect him somewhat. While the lineup move I expected happened, DeBoer didn't limit Greene at all. No, the two-way defenseman played 22:55 total, with 21:16 coming at even strength. In terms of competition, he saw a significant amount of Gaborik, Richards, Carl Hagelin, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Stepan. Those are top forwards on the Rangers; definitely not limited competition.
The Rangers mixed up their match-ups but Greene came out ahead for the most part. He finished a +8 in Corsi to go with an assist on Clarkson's equalizer. He got thrown into the fire and came out without being horribly burnt. That's enough to say that Greene had a successful return. I will say he started off slowly and he did take an offensive zone tripping call. I could defend that call based on the fact that if he didn't, the Rangers could have easily had an odd-man rush going the other way. Still, he was caught and that mistake was made. Then there was the memorable sequence where he got beat by Stepan in OT and then cleared his little attempt around the post off the line. A mixture of horrifying and amazing in a matter of seconds from #6. Nevertheless, it was good to see him back.
The Debut of Steve Bernier: The Devils signed Steve Bernier to a two-way deal earlier this week and he started on the third line alongside Jacob Josefson and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Did Bernier have a big game? Not really. He only had one shot on goal among his 13:30 of ice time mostly against the Rangers' third and fourth lines. Bernier did get a little power play time, too. What was impressive was that he was a +7 in Corsi by the end of the night. While he wasn't generating the offense himself, good things continued to happen and he certainly wasn't a liability on the ice. At a minimum, his night was more beneficial than what we saw from, say, Tim Sestito. It was just one game, though; but I'd keep an eye on him among the bottom six.
Defensive Mixups: Normally, holding a NHL team to 26 shots in 65 minutes is pretty good. It's not amazing; but it's nothing to complain about in the big picture. The Devils have been very good at keeping the other team's shot count low this season. Yet, it's striking how the Devils defense is perceived to be porous by some/many fans. In the big picture, there's really not much to complain about. Tonight's game provided some great examples of why this perception exists and grows. There were entire shifts where the Devils just chased the Rangers around to no avail until Brodeur made a big stop or the puck was played out or something, particularly in the first period.
Peter DeBoer did switch up the blueline to some degree. Kurtis Foster, who looked awful on the first two goals against, got paired with Bryce Salvador, who took Clarkson's fall-down powers for the evening; and they were limited in minutes together. It may have helped Foster in terms of Corsi, who ended up even, but not in defensive zone decision making. Greene held with Mark Fayne, which was mostly good. Adam Larsson got together with Anton Volchenkov and that helped out Larsson a bit. And there must have been some further switches as Larsson's 26:31 performance included significant time with Greene at evens. I suspect DeBoer should have kept him with Volchenkov as Volchenkov ended the night at +5 Corsi while Larsson got hit with -7 like Salvador.
What was interesting is that John Tortorella mixed up the usage of his forward lines. I don't know whether that was in response to anything the Devils were doing, or how they were doing against New Jersey's defense. It did keep any of the Rangers forwards from putting in 20 minutes of work; so it may have been by design that way. Maybe he should have done that for his defenders; Dan Girardi played a mind-boggling 33:46 (25:59 at evens, +5 in Corsi) and Ryan McDonagh ate up 29:11 (26:00 at evens, +8 Corsi). The pairing did do very well, so I guess I can't blame the Rangers for leaning on those two tonight. Who knows how they'll do tomorrow in Buffalo, though.
Third Period Ilya: Ilya Kovalchuk led the Devils in shots on net with 5 and in attempts with 7 (aside: believe it or not Foster had 6 attempts - at least Foster tried hard on offense). The interesting thing about it is that Kovalchuk didn't really get going until the third period. In the first period, things just didn't go right. Passes went off his stick, or his passes went off his target's stick. He lost possession in attempting to drive to the net a few times. Kovalchuk just didn't seem threatening early on.
Kovalchuk more than made up for it in the third period with 4 shots on net, including a shorthanded breakaway and a power play goal. The breakaway attempt was a good one; Biron came up big on a stop there. The good news was that it didn't deter #17 from attacking. He roared on and his shot off the rush on the power play was sublime. Kovalchuk very nearly got a second goal in OT when he was just a bit late at getting to a loose puck at the right post. In terms of possession, Kovalchuk was a -1 in Corsi over 20:41 of even strength ice time. Not great, but not terrible either. I wish Kovalchuk did more earlier in the game, but he did quite well in the third period to be notable for the evening.
Did You Know: Patrik Elias set up Kovalchuk's goal on the power play, which was an important goal at the time. That is something you probably know from tonight. Did you know that Patrik Elias also put up 4 shots on net and went 11-for-16 on faceoffs? Well, now you do. However, he was a -4 in Corsi; so it wasn't all glitter and star stickers for his performance. Strangely, Petr Sykora didn't look so good in the defensive zone and wasn't as active as Elias (no surprise there, Sykora's a winger, he doesn't have the same responsibilities); yet he was a +2 in Corsi.
Come Back Soon, Henrique: With Adam Henrique out with a groin injury, Dainius Zubrus was centering Zach Parise and Kovalchuk; and Clarkson was with Elias and Sykora. Zubrus didn't do a whole lot in terms of production with no shots on net, or in possession with a -3 in Corsi. Big Z was a disappointing 4-for-11 on faceoffs too. I'm not sure why he got 16:47 in even strength minutes tonight, but he did. Still, Zubrus nearly became the hero of the night when he nearly found an opening by the right post in OT. Ryan McDonagh's stick check prevented him from pounding it in, though. (Aside to Rangers fans: Yes, this was a close call that went your team's way just like Stepan's failed attempt did for NJ later in OT. It was good fortune for NY.)
Clarkson was a hero for firing a puck between Biron's legs late in the game. Yes, getting the puck all alone in the slot was great luck. But Clarkson finished the play with his own shot. That was great. Other than that, he was a -1 in Corsi and had only one other shot on net. He didn't look so good alongside Elias in my opinion and he was just "there" on the PP. The latter will happen as his job is just to be in the way, it seems. As for the former, well, it may be a bit early after one game. I think Henrique's absence hurts in that Zubrus is better off with Elias, Clarkson is better off on a third line, and Bernier is better off taking the place of Cam Janssen (just making sure you're still reading). Maybe Clarkson will get it together on the "power" line over the next game or two before Henrique is available.
Improvement Before Our Very Eyes: The Devils had three power plays and they got better with each one. The first one was bad as it began with the Rangers getting a shorthanded scoring opportunity and the Devils doing nothing else short of an easy shot on net. The second one wasn't good either and yielded no shots on net; but at least the Rangers weren't in New Jersey's end of the rink at any point. The third one actually saw the Devils get set up, get a shot on net fairly quickly, and converted on their chances thanks to a odd-man rush created by Ryan Callahan losing the puck at New Jersey's blueline. That's improvement. The next step will be playing a game where the other team's penalty killers does not get any sniff of offense all game.
Wham, Biff, Socko, Crunch, Etc.: The referees Francois St Laurent and Steve Kozari let the Devils and Rangers play a rather physical game. There were all kinds of big hits and questionable plays that left fans on both sides wondering where the call was. I leave it to you to decide whether it was a good or bad thing. It definitely was as no Devil or Ranger was unafraid to throw their weight around. That meant players on both sides got away with a few such as Zubrus hooking down John Mitchell during the Rangers' second power play, and Parise being knocked to the ice well away from the puck late in the third off a rush. The refs were content to only call the rather obvious fouls and so they did.
That reminds me of a question for you. How in the world did the Devils put six skaters on the ice while they were defending? Thankfully, the Devils killed that penalty along with the other two with relative ease. It was still a fantastically dumb call to take. As much as I think DeBoer did a good job with adjustments as needed, that was an oversight that could have been costly.
Because All The Points Matter: So the Devils benefited from luck along with their quality tonight and they got two points. While it didn't come in regulation, the win did push the Devils up to seventh place and created a little separation from Florida and more separation from Winnipeg. ROW only matters if there's a tie and right now, there isn't any. Expect to see this phrase a lot: all points matter. Because they do from this point in the season onward.
Lastly: It does feel good to see your favorite team beat a rival.
That's my extended take on tonight's game, now I want to know yours regardless of length or kind of detail. What did you make of the Devils' performance tonight? Would you say they were lucky and good or just lucky (or, somehow, just good)? What did you think of Andy Greene's return? Who on New Jersey impressed you the most? Who on New Jersey disappointed you the most? What would you like to see the Devils do differently against Montreal on Thursday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Apologies for the lack of tweets and comments due to a low mobile battery (my fault); but I thank everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and @InLouWeTrust anyway. Thank you for reading.