The New Jersey Devils got two points tonight with a 3-2 shootout win over the Anaheim Ducks. In my opinion, the New Jersey Devils didn't deserve a win based on their performance tonight. In fact, I'm tempted to argue the Devils didn't deserve to get beyond regulation tonight. However, as Will Munny said in The Unforgiven, "Deserves got nothing to do with it."
The one Devil player who dragged the team into overtime, the shootout, and then an eventual victory was Martin Brodeur. Martin Brodeur was fantastic in net tonight. His glove was strong and quick, his legs were active, and he cleared the puck with his usual aplomb. He absolutely robbed Rod Pelley early in the second period. He absolutely robbed Nick Bonino and Jason Blake on separate occasions at the side of the net. He absolutely robbed Corey Perry on a shorthanded breakaway. He absolutely robbed so many Ducks, I lost count during the game. Anaheim seemingly had a large number of scoring chances and Brodeur came up big on all but two. Two goals allowed may not seem like much of a reason for praise, but keep in mind it's two goals out of 38 in 65 minutes plus a shootout.
There was not a thing he could do about Corey Perry putting back a rebound in the midst of a 3-on-2 rush. Brodeur was hung out to dry on the late equalizer by Sheldon Brookbank, who absolutely sniped a shot into the top right corner. Those goals against were not unlike the two the Devils scored in regulation on Jonas Hiller. Hiller had a fine game in his own right. The difference between the two goaltenders is that Brodeur had a lot more pressure, more bodies in front, a defensive effort that was able to pick up guys down low and not leave too many messes, and an offensive effort that was clearly successful. Brodeur had the tougher challenge and his performance kept the Ducks from blowing away the Devils. Brodeur rose to it and got the Devils something out of this game.
Yes, the Devils had a 2-1 lead going into the third period. Yes, that lead was blown. Yes, it happened within the final five mintues of the game. Yes, that's bad; it's the tenth time it's happened this season. I was there, it definitely hurt to see it happen. But that one was largely on the skaters and not the goaltender. Brodeur made so many bailout saves tonight that not coming up with one in that spot shouldn't be a mark against his performance. Brookbank killed that shot and Brodeur was hung out to dry anyway. The attending media at the Rock didn't hold it against him. They correctly recognized his importance in the Devils getting anything at all out of this game by naming him the first star of the game. Too bad the Devils didn't provide enough of the support that I think he needed to help him out. Brodeur deserved better, but again, deserves got nothing to do with anything.
That all said, the Devils did get beyond regulation to get a point; Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias scored in the shootout along with Brodeur and a post got stops to pick up the the second point. The Devils got a result despite getting outplayed by the Ducks, largely thanks to Brodeur. Hopefully, the rest of the skaters will reward him with a better effort in Montreal. I have more thoughts and opinions about tonight's performance after the jump. For an opposition point of view, please check out Anaheim Calling.
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 Icetime Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlight Video: If you want to see video evidence of a goaltender bailing out his team several times to keep them in the game, then you want to see this highlight video from NHL.com. It also has a few goals:
Two Words to Describe the Devils' Defensive Effort Tonight: Good grief!
Many More Words About the Devils' Defensive Effort Tonight: 38 shots on net is indicative of a poor defensive performance. 36 shots on net in regulation is indicative of a poor defensive performance. 34 shots on net during even strength situations is indicative of a poor defensive performance. The goaltender having to make a myriad of tough, impressive looking saves is indicative of a poor defensive performance. Guess what? The Devils really had a poor defensive performance.
It wasn't so much of a case of the Devils being unable to get clearances or not willing to battle or hustle for pucks. However, Anaheim flowed through the neutral zone without too many issues so they were able to enter New Jersey's end often by carrying the puck in. That usually means they have speed and numbers, and everyone had their opportunities. I mean everyone: every single Duck got at least one shot on net tonight. From top goalscorer Corey Perry (he had 5) all the way down to George Parros (who had 2, yes - more than several top scoring Ducks). When all 18 active opposing skaters are able to get rubber on net, it means the defensive effort had a bad night.
I'm emphasizing the defensive effort because it wasn't just the defenders. Oh no. When the other team's defensemen are getting looks on net, that's the responsibility of the forwards to get in their way. When there's extra bodies down low, that means the forwards have to collapse and help out. When the defensemen are taking guys behind the net, the forwards have to pick up whoever is lurking in open space. The latter is what happened on that late equalizer. No, David Clarkson, pointing to a wide-open Brookbank doesn't count. (Update: I should've been clearer, Brookbank wasn't Clarkson's man to cover. It should have been Patrik Elias or Petr Sykora - I believe it should have been Elias since Sykora went into the corner first, though Sykora hung out there longer than he needed to be. Thanks to triumph44 and dr(d)evil for pointing this out my oversight in the comments.)
It wasn't like one defensive pairing got picked on so much more than another. All of the defenders were negative in Corsi and more negative in Fenwick. Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov were the least worst at -1 Corsi each. Even that pairing had their fair share of blockheaded errors like attempting clearances up the middle or going out of position to throw a check. The pairings of Andy Greene & Mark Fayne and Kurtis Foster & Matt Taormina did worse in the possession department and down low around the net. Fayne had one Duck on the Perry goal so he couldn't do anything and Greene was behind in getting to Perry off the rush. Foster and Taormina didn't get scored on but opposing players did tee up. Basically, I felt the defensemen weathered a lot of the storms and since the forwards weren't as effective on defense and couldn't get enough offense going to stave them off; they were overwhelmed and so Brodeur had to bail them out repeatedly. It worked tonight, it's not going to work too many times in the future.
Can You Sit On A Lead You Don't Have?: Since the Devils were up 2-0 by 10:56 into the second period, it's easy to say that the Devils hung back and sat on the lead only to watch it fade. There's just one problem with that statement. The Devils were getting significantly out-shot since the first period. The Ducks took an early 8-2 lead in shots and ultimately ended the first at 11-6. The Devils put up a few shots late, but they were long shots. The Devils surged within the first half of the second period, closed the lead in shots, and scored two goals. Yet, the Ducks didn't fade; they just kept poking holes through the neutral zone and kept getting close on Brodeur. They caught the Devils on a few rushes up ice, got one in the net on one of them, and by the end of the second the Ducks took a more commanding 23-15 lead in shots. That lead didn't get any better in the third; while the Devils would get 9 on net, the Ducks tacked on 12 more and an equalizer to make it 36-21. If the Devils were up in shots at some point in the game it wasn't by much and it wasn't for very long. As such, the Devils ended up really down in both Fenwick (-11) and Corsi (-9). The Ducks did more with the puck and it was apparent in the run of play.
Basically, the Devils' skaters were getting worked over for a majority of the game despite the scoreline. Even if the Ducks beat Brodeur a few times when they would have under more normal circumstances, they were likely going to keep up their attack as long as the game was still competitive. I have to give a lot of credit to Anaheim for the way they played tonight, as much as I am disappointed with how the Devils didn't give a smarter effort in either end of the rink.
Frustrating Offensive Choices: The Devils wouldn't have been so heavily out-shot if they made better offensive decisions. Just as the Ducks weren't slowed down in the neutral zone, the Devils had more than their share of being able to carry the puck into the zone with teammates. They had odd man rushes of their own. However, too many of these were wasted. Some involved a decision to pass rather than shoot, something that Petr Sykora notably did a few times tonight. Some involved just losing possession straight up. Some were just attempts to get the puck to the slot or get a rebound from Hiller only for no Devil to be in the slot to fight for the puck. When the Devils would get a 3-on-2 or a 4-on-3 or even a 2-on-1 situation, there was no guarantee Hiller had to make a save. In my eyes, it looked like the Devils zigged when they should have zagged. And it seemed like whatever success the Devils did get, it would come in waves followed by droughts. Still, it was a common sight to see the Ducks collect the puck after the Devils' attack breaks down, looked up ice, and were able to move it out of the zone and get something going on offense - which they did quite a bit of tonight.
The Goals Were At Least Good: They were. Adam Henrique was one of the few Devils who was both in position for a rebound and won one. He beat his man to get the Kovalchuk-created rebound, curled around Hiller, and scored the first goal of the game. Well done. About halfway through the second, Dainius Zubrus got the puck off a Luca Sbisa turnover (maybe his only bad mistake tonight?), he fed Alexei Ponikarovsky, and the new-ish Devil snuck one through Hiller to make it 2-0. They were pretty good goals. Too bad the Devils didn't get the breaks or put in a more consistent effort to get the goals.
Put Away the Crown: As great as Ponikarovsky's goal was, he really didn't have a good night. He was the worst Devil in Corsi at -10. His linemates Zubrus and Steve Bernier weren't much better at -9 and -6, respectively. Peter DeBoer tried to use them against Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, and Bobby Ryan with Toni Lydman and Brookbank on defense. Collectively, those five Ducks got 5 shots on net. Yet, they were quite poor in the little time they got with the other Ducks as they were on the ice for 6 more shots on net in 5-on-5 play. Yes, the line got a goal, but for the most part, they were defending at evens and not doing such a great job at it this evening. Their lowest moment may have been on the Perry goal; though they were initially far behind on the play due to a defensive stop by the Ducks.
Did Anyone Win a Matchup?: Arguably, two-third of the Patrik Elias line did. Offensively, they were frustrating as Sykora missed a few shots, Elias and Sykora had moments of passing when they should have shot in retrospect, and Clarkson tried to create space by stickhandling the puck with little results. At least Elias went 11-for-15 on draws and scored a sweet shootout goal. In any case, they drew the Ducks' third line of Andrew Cogliano, Bonino, and Matt Beleskey and they mostly won against them. Elias was a +5 in Corsi and Sykora was +2. By themselves, that's not great but given that the Devils were a collective -9, they do look good. Clarkson was strangely a -3, though. All I can say about that is "hmm" and "hustle harder back," I guess.
The Fourth Line Wasn't a Total Waste: Eric Boulton had one of his worst shifts as a Devil in the first period. In a sequence of events, he got beaten, he turned over the puck in a precarious spot on D (bailed out by Brodeur), botched a clearance, and then got into a fight. The fight was the positive part of the shift because it meant he didn't have to play for 5 minutes. That's how bad Boulton was on that shift. Strangely, Boulton did much better afterwards. In fact, the fourth line of Jacob Josefon, Nick Palmieri, and Boulton had a few good shifts in the second period - particularly one really strong attacking shift after the Henrique goal. They were still correctly limited to less than 6-7 minutes of ice time, but I can at least say they were not sieves tonight. That's a small step in the right direction.
A Correct Call: Overtime seemed to have ended fairly quickly when it looked like Ryan Getzlaf knocked the puck in low on Brodeur's flank. The puck was in the net, Ducks players were celebrating, and the Devils fans were unhappily leaving for the exits. But then there were those magic words: "The play is now under review." Getzlaf turned his skate and motioned towards the puck to knock it into the net. That's a kicking motion and the situation room in Toronto overruled the initial call on the ice. It gave the Devils a new life on the game, which they proceeded to have the Ducks pin them back for about 40-50 seconds not longer after. Yeah, the Devils were lucky to get two points tonight.
A Thing I Noticed That Probably Doesn't Mean Much But I Found It Interesting So I Bring it Up: Sometimes, a goaltender will kick out his pads to not only stop a puck but also to knock the puck away to prevent a short rebound. Tonight, Hiller managed to do something like that with his glove. Twice. I've seen goaltenders take pucks to the glove where it would bounce out instead of being caught. Instead, Hiller had the puck in the glove and just swung it out to throw it out several yards away from danger. He didn't even have possession of either, he did it in one sweeping motion. It clearly worked, it ensured the Devils wouldn't get to the puck - at least not from a distance. Maybe he does this regularly?
PK Machines: The Devils had three penalties to kill, one was a dubious call (Volchenkov stick-checked Sbisa down and it was ruled a trip - really), but none of them were a serious problem because the Devils' penalty killing units were fantastic. In 6 minutes of power play time, the Ducks got 3 shots on net and the Devils had at least as many rushes towards Hiller. I would have liked there to be more shots, but I'm not complaining about the time it took up or forcing the Ducks back into their own end. It was good to see the skaters perform consistently well at some area of the game.
Incidentally, the Devils power play had it's good and bad moments. The bad moment was a Perry opportunity where Brodeur had to slide and make a stylish save. When the fans are chanting the goalie's name during a power play, it doesn't speak much of the power play. Still, the Devils did get some possession in Anaheim's end and they got two shots on net so it wasn't like they did nothing. The refs let quite a bit go and both teams didn't do too many dirty things to warrant calls.
Credit Where Credit is Due: It wasn't so much that the Devils were tired, but the Ducks were fresh, they were focused, they didn't lose their resolve when Brodeur made his umpteenth big save of the night, and they kept pounding on the door in dangerous situations. Bruce Boudreau had a great gameplan and made smart adjustments, mixing up the match-ups of his top two lines to avoid getting too hurt by either one. The Duck skaters played very well in the middle of a long and difficult road trip. Their defense was pretty good (and made two good stick-checks on Kovalchuk from behind); their offense was even better (Perry was a machine; their depth was a lot better than I expected (e.g. Rod Pelley got a great scoring chance, 3 SOG, and a +8 in Corsi in 6 minutes); and I felt Hiller had a solid night as any in net. They were the better team tonight. The Anaheim Ducks are a far better team than their record would indicate right now. Whoever has them next better prepare rather well unless they want to get wrecked.
One Final Thought: What do I make of Ilya Kovalchuk's night? On the one hand, I didn't see the beast seen against the Sabres, tormenting the defenders who would go up against them. There were some missed opportunities where one wished Kovalchuk could have done better. On the other, he got 6 shots on net out of 7 attempts, he created the rebound for Henrique's lone shot on net and goal, he was the least negative player on his line at Corsi (-2 compared to Zach Parise's -6 and Henrique's -5) and he did score first in the shootout. I'm leaning towards thinking he had a good night. He clearly contributed to an offensive effort that was inconsistent and lacking at times. Even though the Buffalo game raised expectations and he didn't excel against Anaheim's top two defensemen in Francois Beauchemin and Cam Fowler; it wasn't like he only had 2 shots on goal like Parise or 1 shot on goal like Henrique.
That's my take on tonight's game, now I want to know yours. How much did you love Martin Brodeur's performance tonight? What do you think was his most important save? Which one of his 36 saves impressed you the most? What do you think the defensemen have to do to improve for Sunday's game? What about the forwards, what do they have to do to attack more consistently? Do you have any other praises or complaints about the Devils' performance? Please leave your answers and other thoughts' on tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who read and commented in the Gamethread as well as those who followed the occasional tweet from @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.