Martin Brodeur led the New Jersey Devils to beat the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, 1-0. That's right, it's a shutout win and it's Martin Brodeur's first of this season. In fact, it's his first shutout win since March 20, 2011, a 3-0 win over Columbus. In that game, Brodeur didn't have to play out of his mind to get it. Tonight was the exact opposite. Brodeur had to be excellent tonight. I cannot emphasize this enough: Martin Brodeur led the Devils to victory over the New York Rangers.
The opening of the game looked as good as you could get. The Devils came out with pace and pressure. They drew a call and David Clarkson buried a feed from Zach Parise in the slot for a power play goal. The first, second, and third lines got pressure on Henrik Lundqvist. Even the fourth line wasn't abjectly terrible. The Rangers came alive late in the first period; but they weren't that threatening. The second period was similar to the first, only the Devils didn't score (they came close) and the Rangers had more opportunities off the rush. But the Rangers either botched them or Brodeur stopped them with aplomb. It wasn't Brodeur's play in net that was impressive in the first two periods, but his play outside of the net. He was putting on a clinic in moving the puck, rarely making an error or putting a puck in an inopportune place. The Rangers kept trying to dump the puck in and forecheck the Devils; but Brodeur neutralized a lot of their efforts.
However, the third period began and it almost went awry for the Devils. They started off slow; not fatigued, but just lacking in the spark. The Rangers didn't have to dump it in so much and they created more shots. The Devils iced the puck too many times early, hurting their cause - even after a timeout by Peter DeBoer. As time went on, the Devils sold out on offense and just switched to a dump-and-change approach. Outside of an one-on-one opportunity by Jacob Josefson, Henrik Lundqvist didn't have to do anything in the third period. Adding to their woes, Bryce Salvador hit Carl Hagelin early and away from the puck, handing the Rangers a power play as they had the run of the game. Even after the kill, the Devils skaters went right back to sitting on 1-0.
Fortunately for them, Martin Brodeur didn't relent. Yes, the defenders did a great job cleaning up loose pucks. But Brodeur was just excellent when it seemed like he was the only one trying to keep the lead. He positioned himself very well; his reactions were on point; and his movement was fluid. Even after Ryan Callahan fell on Brodeur's right ankle in a collision, Brodeur remained strong in net - twisted ankle (so Brodeur said to Tom Gulitti after the game) The only time Brodeur was beaten was in the dying seconds of the game and it required Marian Gaborik to illegally and intentionally plow through Brodeur in his crease so Artem Anisimov can put home a loose puck. Thankfully, the referees correctly called goaltender interference, ruled it "no goal," put Gaborik in the box, and the final 3.5 seconds were just killed off based on position. When you have to cheat to beat a goaltender, it means the goaltender has been superb.
Martin Brodeur made 30 saves to earn his 117th career shutout and a 1-0 win to extend the team's winning streak to five games. Even his biggest critics have to recognize that he was sensational tonight and critical for the team's win. I just hope in the future, his teammates will give him some offensive support and the coaches and skaters can make a concerted effort to not fall apart in the third period. Brodeur essentially bailed out his team en route to two big points in the standings; but that's not a gameplan for anyone to rely on in the future.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition point of view, please check out Bryan Winter's recap over at Blueshirt Banter. Please be nice if you're going over there, and please be polite when you point out that, yes, Gaborik interfered with Brodeur and so the refs didn't really rob the Rangers of anything.
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: Tonight's game featured only one goal and a whole lot of saves. Check it out in this highlight video from NHL.com:
One More Brodeur Note: I've already gushed over First Star of the Game (duh) Martin Brodeur's shutout performance tonight prior to the jump. I only have one additional thought. I hope someone on the Devils coaching staff saves the video of tonight's game so Johan Hedberg can see how a goaltender can effectively play the puck to help out his team's cause. If anyone stands to gain from Brodeur's performance outside of the net, it's his backup.
The Other Goaltender: Martin Brodeur was fantastic, but game respects game and so we must discuss Henrik Lundqvist's performance. The Rangers certainly owned the third period, but for most of the first and second period, the Rangers were the inferior team. Lundqvist was tested early and often. The Devils opened up the game with a lot of shots on net and Clarkson beat Lundqvist with a wicked one-timer from the slot on a power play. Lundqvist had no real chance on the shot and as it turned out, it would be the only one to beat him. The Rangers' goaltender had to come up big and/or lucky in several spots from that goal onward, including a second one-timer by Clarkson in the slot in the second period. Without Lundqvist reacting the way he did or getting stop after stop on Devils' shots, the Rangers wouldn't have had a chance in this game. Devils fans may not be pleased with the hot offense only generating one goal, but that's because Lundqvist played a great game. At least, he did for the first two periods when the Devils actually attacked with the puck on a somewhat regular basis. He didn't have to do much except deny Josefson - the Devils' sole third period shot.
The One Solidly Good Forward for the Devils: David Clarkson played a great game in his own right. He was a positive possession player through all three periods, even during the near-shotless third period. Clarkson finished at +2 Corsi and he put 6 shots on net out of 8 attempts, leading the team in both categories. Clarkson also scored the game's only goal on a power play that he drew as Stu Bickel held him back illegally in the first period. What struck me about his play was that he rarely tried to do too much with the puck. Yes, he unloaded shots when he got it but he got to good positions away from the puck for those shots. He found spaces in the Rangers' coverage instead of just trying to force shots from bad angles. Clarkson did a good job and, I'm a little surprised to be saying this, I wish more Devils played like him tonight.
Cooled Off: We can officially say that Ilya Kovalchuk has cooled off. He didn't register a point, though his pinch in on the power play played an important role. It led to Patrik Elias feeding Zach Parise, who found Clarkson in the slot for the goal. Yet, that was his one big contribution on offense. While Kovalchuk was certainly skating hard, he wasn't finding the net. He attempted 5 shots and only one got through to Lundqvist. He tried to stickhandle through guys but lost the puck. He misfired several passes on offense and into the neutral zone to give the Rangers possession. In terms of Corsi, he was one of the worst Devils at -10. Kovalchuk has been great as of late, but he wasn't tonight.
A lot of the above can be written about Zach Parise. Parise's point streak remains alive with an assist and he did get 3 shots on net, which was more than what Kovalchuk got. Yet, he was just as spotty with his passing; and he wasn't pushing the play forward either as he earned a -9 in Corsi. Parise definitely cooled off from the good games he was having as of late.
Parise also made one of the bigger boneheaded moves of the night for New Jersey. With the Rangers' net empty, Parise had the puck in the neutral zone past the red line. He had Michael Del Zotto right in front of him, blocking him from the goal. The smart play would have been to dump the puck into the corners. With 10 seconds remaining, it would take a miracle for the Rangers to immediately get it and rush up ice for a last-ditch effort. Instead, Parise attempts a shot and it gets blocked by Del Zotto behind Parise. This created a 3-on-1 rush that would have resulted in a goal except Gaborik bulldozed into Brodeur to nullify the play. It was a very bad decision in a third period full of them.
The good news is that we can expect Kovalchuk and Parise to bounce back. We know they're quality players and they had good games. They just weren't good tonight and it was magnified when the Devils got nothing going offensively in the third period.
Seconds and Thirds: The Elias line (Parise, Elias, Kovalchuk) didn't have a good night in possession throughout the game. Elias was the best one and he finished at -3. However, it didn't seem like such a big deal because the second and third lines were able to get success. John Tortorella gave the Elias line issues by mixing up who'd they see: Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan, and Marian Gaborik were the most common opponents. Yet, this opened up the game for the Dainius Zubrus and Adam Henrique lines. Clarkson got 6 shots on net to lead his group and while Zubrus and Petr Sykora didn't add much more, they got the play going forward. The Henrique line was more visually impressive as Steve Bernier and Alexei Ponikarovsky battled well along the boards. They didn't generate as many shots on net, though; but it certainly gave the Rangers issues in the first two periods.
More Third Period Ranting: At the end of the second period, the Devils were leading 21-15 in shots and were looking pretty good. The Devils faded in each period; but they did so well to begin them that it was enough to give the Rangers pause going forward. Instead, the Devils played the third period like they did against Philly except with far better defense around the crease. The Devils got out-shot 15-1, the team Corsi dropped from +4 to -12, and Martin Brodeur became the main reason why the team got a result at all, much less a 1-0 win. What happened in the third period that caused all three lines to become ineffective and the defense unable to get clears as they did in the first two periods?
I know the Rangers certainly made adjustments as they got away from the dump-and-chase. I know John Tortorella was spitting out the verbals after two non-descript periods. And I know the Rangers did end the second period strong, so the players had more reason to believe they can do something. You know this as well. What about the Devils? I'm still trying to figure that out. Maybe it's a lack of focus? Maybe it really is fatigue from playing five games in an seven-day time period? Maybe it was the Devils not adjusting to the Rangers' adjustments? Maybe it was just a result that what goes up (good play) must come down (bad play)? I don't know. If you do know, please let Peter DeBoer and his staff know because I don't know if they know. What makes it more frustrating is that we've seen the Devils do well in third periods in their recent games against Pittsburgh and Montreal. It's not impossible for this team to play good hockey in the third period rather than sit on a tiny lead and hope for the best. Yes, they got the win, but for the future, these third period breakdowns need to cease or at least become more rare.
Icings Are Bad: I want to highlight one other frustration from the third period. About 2:50 into the third, the Henrique line along with Kurtis Foster and Matt Taormina was on the ice for an icing call on New Jersey. The rule is that the offending team can't change their players, so that five is still out there. While the Devils win that faceoff, they couldn't clear the puck to get a change and the Rangers got pressure and two shots on net. 45 seconds after the first icing, the same group ices the puck again and Peter DeBoer used his timeout. It was a good timeout to give his skaters a break and a wake up call since the Rangers were pounding the Devils at that point. 10 seconds after the timeout: they ice the puck. Only after that does that group of five get a non-icing clearance and can change guys and that came after another shot against and the Rangers got in during the change. The fourth line eventually gets out there and as they end their shift, they ice the puck. While the Rangers didn't score, it served to help pin back the Devils, tire out their depth forwards and regular defensemen, and get more pucks on Brodeur. The whole experience should serve as an example of why icing the puck is a bad idea.
Come Back Soon Larsson: The New Jersey Devils went with six defensemen and it became apparent which two didn't really belong. Kurtis Foster and Matt Taormina each played about 15 minutes and they had to take on limited minutes. Tortorella didn't pick on them with a particular combination, but he didn't have to do that at all. No, whoever was going against #2 and #32 was going to get some shooting attempts and do it more than the Devils would when they were on the ice. They weren't getting the puck forward except to pitch it away and they were caught flat-footed far too many times for anyone's liking. Taormina also nearly had a terrible gaffe when he gloved down a rebound from a Brodeur shot early in the third period. The puck landed into space and a Ranger nearly pounced on it to jam it into an empty net; but it fortunately stayed on the outside of the post.
Let's put a number to their performance: Taormina was a team-worst -15 in Corsi and Foster was -11. Keep in mind that the rest of the Devils defense wasn't nearly this bad. Andy Greene was a -5, Bryce Salvador was -1, and somehow Mark Fayne (Greene's partner) was a +3 and Anton Volchenkov was a team-best +4 playing with Salvador. Therefore, it should be no surprise that those four got more minutes than Taormina and Foster. It should also be no surprise that when Adam Larsson gets healthy - which I hope is soon - one of these two will sit and that will make the defense stronger by subtraction alone.
Goal Achieved: That all said, even with Foster and Taormina not doing so well, I did appreciate how the Devils skaters played around their own net. There weren't too many opportunities - some, but not a lot - for the Rangers to get a second or third chance at a puck at close range. Part of that is due to Brodeur's positioning and part of it is due to physics for the puck to go to more advantageous spots for defenders. Defensively, the Devils cleaned up quite a few messes and made the night at least a little easier on themselves and Brodeur. While the Devils did poorly in the third period, it was this effort that ensured only 15 shots against and no goals allowed instead of, say, 24 shots against and 4 goals allowed. In the preview, I wrote that I wanted to see the Devils clamp down in the slot and around the net. I think the Devils did a good job doing exactly that in getting loose pucks and rebounds and preventing them from hurting the Devils - even in the third period.
I'm Not Looking Forward to This Future: Carl Hagelin is a rookie winger for the Rangers and he really showed up tonight. He got 4 shots on net to lead the team in shots on goal; he surprised Brodeur with one late in the second period that forced an impressive save; and he drew an interference call when Bryce Salvador hit him early and away from the puck to prevent him from making a play. Cynics will say he flopped, but it was a legit call. In any case, Hagelin played really well and I really hope Glen Sather doesn't like him. I don't want to see him get even better and cause more problems for the Devils six times per season.
For a more short-term future, I'm not looking forward to seeing Marc Staal three more times this season. Staal was more involved, he played over 20 minutes, and he was a +9 in Corsi.
Special Teams Back to Normal: The Devils set up a great play on their first power play to score. That first power play was effective. On the Devils' second and third power plays, they reverted to their old ways of not keeping possession, passing up good shots for great shots that don't happen, and having to go back to their end of the rink often to get the puck. While the Devils did get 6 shots on net, I felt underwhelmed by the power play. I know the Rangers are good on the PK; and 6 shots on 4:54 of PP time is usually good. I just feel the Devils could have done more.
At least the PK got back to being, well, killer. The Rangers got three power plays, including one in the third period. The Devils held them to only 4 shots on net and they all happened in their two first period power plays. Brodeur, of course, was magnificient. The PK skaters were at their most stout when they needed it most in the third period. The only thing they didn't get was a shorthanded goal and maybe they would have had a chance in the third, but Henrique was hauled down from behind by a defender with no call. Nevertheless, the Devils' penalty kill returned to being very good while the power play left me somewhat disappointed. It seems special teams may be back to normal.
Your "Huh" Moment: Eric Boulton sprung Jacob Josefson for a one-on-one with Lundqvist in the third period. The pass from Boulton was pin-point perfect. I didn't know Boulton could do that. It was that good of a pass. Well done.
No, the threesome of Boulton, Josefson, and Cam Janssen should not be kept together. They were often defending and Josefson's far and away better than Boulton and Janssen when it comes to hockey.
Can't Count on It: Apparently, the scorer at the Rangers game called the hits 52-24 in favor of the Rangers. Sure, the home team threw quite a few checks; but the Devils really weren't holding back either. I can buy the Rangers having thrown more hits; but it's clear to me that the scorer has a very different definition as to what constitutes a hit if he or she thinks the Rangers more than doubled-up on the Devils in contact.
Third Time's the Charm: Taormina was high-sticked in the third period by Ruslan Fedotenko in New Jersey's end and it wasn't called. Play continued and Brodeur had to make a save. During the Rangers' one power play in the third, Henrique was hauled down from behind by a Ranger and play continued. The Devils PK rushed back into position and, I believe after a missed shot, got a clearance.
So when the Rangers got that late 3-on-1 and Gaborik drove right into Brodeur, I was glad that referees Dan O'Rourke and Dean Morton made the right call by ruling the play as goaltender interference. Gaborik had no intention and made no effort to stop before contract. He skated in low and led with his elbow, which contacted Brodeuer first. He was not pushed by Anton Volchenkov, Gaborik's momentum was his own. Volchenkov may have touched him, but given that Gaborik was separate from everyone else when Brodeur was knocked into his own net, it's clear to me that he just charged the net on purpose - Volchenkov didn't help him. Brodeur didn't even come out to take the charge, he just received it while in the crease - where he can't be contacted - and got pounded into the net. This happened before Anisimov put the puck in the net. It was a penalty and so the play died. It was clear cut goaltender interference based on the NHL rulebook (Related: here's a page at NHL.com with video examples for compare and contrast) and I'm glad they got that one right after two pretty obvious should-have-but-weren't-called events in the third period.
Rangers fans won't be pleased at reading any of that, but hey, I wouldn't be pleased either if my favorite team only played well for 20 minutes in their own rink against a team they supposedly were unlucky against the last time these two met and lost. Oh well.
Picture Update for CONTROVERSY: Harrison Mooney has a video of the Gaborik goaltender interference penalty over at Puck Daddy. Here's a lovely picture from the video that shows the point of contact:
So, how can Anton Volchenkov be intentionally pushing Gaborik into Brodeur if his hands aren't behind him and they are on his own stick? Did Volchenkov, who is on Gaborik's right, force Gaborik to lower his left shoulder and put into Brodeur, who is clearly in his crease? And you may want to watch the video; another angle will show Greene's not pushing Gaborik in either. There is some snow in the area, but it's definitely not slowing down Gaborik to barrel into the goaltender who is in his crease and is therefore not allowed to be hit. I'm sure some Ranger fans will argue otherwise, but in my opinion, this picture shows that, at least, Volchenkov didn't force Gaborik into hitting Brodeur. Thanks to Harrison for getting this video up on Puck Daddy.
Standing Upgrade: Five in a row during one of the toughest stretches on the schedule so far this season; in a word: wow. With a game in hand on Pittsburgh, the Devils are currently in fifth in the East, only one ROW behind Pittsburgh, and only two points behind Philadelphia. This may be temporary, but it definitely is a sight to see. If the Devils can play smarter and more competent hockey more often in the third period, then maybe the Devils can hang around here instead of fighting to stay ahead of eighth place. We'll see.
One Last Thought: It still feels really good to beat a hated rival. It almost feels as good as the relief that comes after holding your breath, biting your tongue, gritting your teeth, crossing your fingers, or whatever else one does when they're helplessly watching a team hold on to a precarious lead for the final 100 seconds or so of the game.
That's my take on tonight's game, now I want to know yours. What do you think of Martin Brodeur's performance this evening? What do you think is causing the team's problems in the third period? Are you concerned that Parise and Kovalchuk didn't have such a good performance, or do you think it'll take a couple of bad games for it to be an issue? Were you surprised to see David Clarkson have a strong game? Who on the Rangers impressed you the most? Aren't you glad the refs did make the right call on Gaborik at the end of the game? Other than "playing better in the third period," what do you think the Devils need to work on before their next game on Thursday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter; and thank you for reading.