Left: A happy Patrik Elias. Right: A happy Ilya Kovalchuk. Center: The game winning goal scorer Marek Zidlicky, who's probably happy. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
I will describe this result in just three words with a phrase from English soccer commentators: smash and grab. The New Jersey Devils defeated the New York Islanders 2-1 in a rather dramatic fashion. Just as the game was getting bleak and it looked like another 1-0 shutout loss at Nassau Coliseum, the Devils shocked the Isles with two goals. In a matter of 14 seconds, the Devils took a lead. After the remaining 1:25, the Devils took both points and left the Isles with nothing.
The New Jersey Devils put up a better effort against the New York Islanders than they did on this past Sunday. But the effort didn't lead to a result anything like what we saw on Thursday at the Rock. The Isles goaltender Anders Nilsson was literally big on many of the shots and the Devils just couldn't get more than one past him. The one that did - an angled wrist shot by Ilya Kovalchuk - hit the post. When a wide open John Tavares rifled in a one-timer off a cycle past Johan Hedberg, things looked grim for the Devils. Even with 11 minutes left in the game and loads of shots on net, Nilsson looked like he would not be beaten. He gave up very few rebounds, he positioned himself well on most shots, and he was just big. Nilsson shut out a lackluster attack on Sunday, but he proved himself against a much better attack by the Devils.
Nilsson was on a shutout streak that last 118:20. One second later, that streak was ended by David Clarkson. Clarkson held possession and true to his nature, he created a shot on net. It was low and Nilsson looked like he was in a good spot to stop it. The only hole was a tiny one just between his glove and body. Fortunately, that's exactly where the puck bounced into and it's 1-1. The game just got interesting late and it appeared that the Devils would at least get one point out of the game should they hold on.
Pierre Alexandre Parenteau, better known as a P.A. Parenteau, decided to make it more interesting. The Isles dump the puck in shortly after the faceoff and Bryce Salvador and Parenteau are chasing after it. Salvador gets in front of Parenteau, who decided to cross-check him right in the numbers on his jersey into the endboards. It was reckless, it was dangerous hit, and I hope it's something the league will take a look at tonight. It was also a penalty for boarding and so the Devils got a power play that would run through the end of regulation. The Devils' power play got better and better with each opportunity this evening and just having a man advantage in a 1-1 game late is a big benefit. If the Devils could get a few shots, then maybe they could beat Nilsson again.
They would only need one. Patrik Elias got a rare faceoff win, Zach Parise collects the puck and gets it to Ilya Kovalchuk, and Kovalchuk slides it to Marek Zidlicky on the other point. With traffic in front, Zidlicky fires a shot and it gets past Nilsson. Yes, Zidlicky's first goal as a New Jersey Devil could be a power play winner! What a surprise! What a shock! What a reversal of fortune! I don't think Nilsson saw it due to Travis Hamonic's position. I don't think any Devil deflected it. All that mattered was that it was in the net, Islanders head coach Jack Capuano reacted like all other Isles fans, and the Devils were in a spot to win in a matter of seconds after spending most of the game at 0-0 or 0-1.
Even if the Devils didn't get any past Nilsson, which looked like a real possibility 58 minutes into the game, the Devils did out-play the Islanders. They out-shot them 35-24. They out-attempted them at evens with a massive team Corsi of +23. The Isles had some great chances, but Johan Hedberg stopped all but the Tavares one-timer. New Jersey was better on special teams. The Devils made Nilsson work for his NHL paycheck. A 1-0 shutout loss would have looked and felt bad, but the Devils' performance certainly wasn't poor. They would have just been beaten by a goaltender playing incredibly well. It sucks, but that's hockey sometimes. Fortunately, the Devils got a break, got an opportunity, and got a screen on a shot. And so they had them all the way - to take another famous phrase.
Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey laments how it all went down in his recap. That's understandable. As being on the beneficial side of a heartbreaking turn of events, I'm a bit more upbeat. For that and further thoughts on this game, please continue on after the jump.
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 Game Highlights: For some strange reason, the game highlights video at NHL.com is only 15 seconds long and doesn't feature an actual highlight. Strange. So here's a highlight video from MSG:
A First: Marek Zidlicky's power play goal was not only his first as a member of the New Jersey Devils but his first of this season.
Zidlicky had another solid game at both ends of the rink. He won his match-ups, he played well alongside Anton Volchenkov, and he even put three shots on net. His goal was the most important part of his performance, of course. However, unlike the last player who wore #2 for New Jersey, it's increasingly clear Zidlicky can be relied on to take regular shifts at even strength.
The Equalizer as a Metaphor for Clarkson's 11-12 Season: The play that led to tonight's equalizer sums up what Clarkson is all about. He wins a puck behind the net, gets past his defensemen, sees an open teammate so he decides to actually pass the puck, collects a rebound on the shot by Alexei Ponikarovsky, goes around the net, gets position on Andrew MacDonald who has been chasing him this whole time, turns, shoots, and it just somehow gets in the net. Puck possession, only passing when he can't create a shot himself, and, well, creating his own shot off using his body positioning even if it didn't seem ideal. All that and the shot improbably ends up in the net, either off a bounce (his body or the goalies) or just in a place no one expected. Story of Clarkson's season. All it was missing was a wraparound attempt, and it wouldn't surprise me he would have thought about it when going behind the net the first time.
Bombs Away: The first period only featured 6 shots on net by the Devils. The second and third periods saw the Devils put up 29. They got them from distance, in mid-range, and in close. They went straight ahead, angled, and otherwise. They went for jams if they thought they could get at the puck. Say what you want about how the Devils didn't score until very late in the game, but you can't say the Devils didn't put in a good offensive effort. The only thing the Devils didn't get was a breakaway, though Zach Parise almost broke through a shorthanded rush up ice in the third - which still resulted in a shot on goal. The Isles' idea of defending was bending without breaking, and it only sort of worked. Yes, the Isles rarely left Devils open in dangerous positions and there weren't a lot of odd man rushes allowed. At the same time, the fact that the Devils pressed hard on the Isles from the second period onward showed that they weren't so successful. 35 shots against really doesn't indicate good defending.
Among the shots, a good chunk of them were taken by the Devils' top three scorers. Kovalchuk had 7 on net out of 14 attempts and one that hit the post (so close to scoring, he'll just have to settle for the game winning assist). Parise put up 6 on Nilsson out of 9 attempts. Clarkson had 5 - 4 on Nilsson and 1 in the net - out of 6 attempts. In addition to those three, Ponikarovsky put 4 on Nilsson out of 7 attempts. That those four forwards put up so many shots on Nilsson and attempted so many belies which lines were really driving the offense. The Elias line featured more attempts from Petr Sykora than anyone else and only 1 of his 6 went on net; and the fourth line created a few shots for Steve Bernier. But it was really the lines centered by Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson that enjoyed the most success going forward tonight.
How Do You Leave That Man Open: I was irked after the Islanders scored in the first. Johan Hedberg was having a very good game tonight. Even when hung out to dry by an Islander open in the slot or on a breakaway allowed (even if it was by Michael Haley), Moose came up big. Yet, he couldn't come up with all of them. John Tavares was wide open coming off a cycle and hammered a one-timer past Hedberg. It was a great shot. There wasn't much Hedberg could do about it given it was a one-timer at a close range. That didn't irk me. What did it was how the goal was score. John Tavares, the Islanders' leading scorer and offensive machine, was wide open for that shot. It's not like Tavares snaked around and suddenly got to a space no one was aware of. He just moved away from the side boards. How he was left open, I could not tell you.
In a game where the Devils otherwise defended pretty well against the Islanders, as they didn't allow too many extended possessions and only 24 shots against, that was just plain bad to see. As far as finger pointing goes, I have to say that one falls on Dainius Zubrus. Sykora dove late on Tavares, but he came from the slot - where he was supposed to be. Zubrus was behind Tavares to begin with and couldn't do anything when he got the pass. I would have much rather let him leave the point man open for a pass than to let it go to John Tavares. I know it was one play but given how Nilsson was stopping everything, the margin for error was small and the error for Tavares was just far too large.
Say What?: As noted already, the Devils out-attempted the Isles heavily at even strength. The Devils finished regulation at +13 Fenwick and +23 Corsi. Nearly every Devil finished positive in Corsi except for one: Bryce Salvador at -4. If there was a weak link among the blueline tonight, it was the pairing of Salvador and Adam Larsson (finished even at 0 - like Eric Boulton). Both Salvador and Larsson saw the most shots against at evens. They struggled with the Isles' more speedy players like Michael Grabner, Nino Neiderreiter (who took a bouncing puck through Larsson's legs for a breakaway), and David Ullstrom. They were pretty good at clearing the puck; but they weren't effective at getting stops and turning it into offense. The only reason why Salvador got more ice time than Mark Fayne and Volchenkov was because of the 3:53 he played on the penalty kill. Salvador got the fewest amount of minutes at evens and I don't think that's by coincidence. It seems that pairing has had some struggles as of late; perhaps it'll get better soon - like tomorrow.
Growth in Special Teams: The Devils strangely got better and better on both of their special teams as the game went on. The Devils' power play was sloppy and ineffective on their first opportunity, but with each successive chance, they got more possession, more shots on net, and converted on their last one. The Devils finished the night with 6 power play shots, which is pretty good for 6:07 of work. This progression occurred on the penalty kill, too. The Isles looked threatening on their first power play and Johan Hedberg had to make a big save. Yet, the two shots they got on that power play were the only ones they would get tonight. The Devils kept the Isles at bay for most of their second power play - they may have gotten a shot off just after the end. On the third, the Devils out-shot the Isles 2-0 and completely clamped down on the Isles. Overall, it was status quo for the penalty kill, and I liked how the power play got better over time.
Sigh, Boulton, Sigh: Boulton's mark on this game was high-sticking Michael Haley right after a faceoff. Sure, Haley sold it, but it was an obvious stick to his face. Amazingly, that did not result in being benched. He got two shifts each in the second and third periods, in fact. He did nothing on them.
The Undisciplined Game: The Devils' three penalties were quite foolish. Boulton's high stick, Ryan Carter boarding Jay Pandolfo, and a too many men on the ice cal were each avoidable and unnecessary actions. However, the Isles may have topped that as Mark Streit hooked Volchenkov from the puck in the Devils' end of the rink (and behind the net) and Parenteau boarded Salvador just after the Devils tied it up. Who won? I don't know, but I hope the Devils are a little smarter in the future.
Wince at These Numbers: If it seemed like the Devils were getting killed on faceoffs, that's because they were. The Devils won 16 out of 47. Josefson was the only Devil to win more than 3 draws tonight, much less get over 50% by going 6 for 10. Elias went 3 for 16, which makes his faceoff win on the Devils' game winning power play that much more impressive. Henrique went 3 for 7 and Carter went 1 for 5. Ick. Fortunately, it didn't really hurt the Devils as they still marched into the Isles' end and forced Nilsson to be great over and over.
Credit Given: Nilsson played an excellent game and I don't think he really should be placed at fault. Even if he got the shutout or only allowed one goal, the Devils weren't making it easy for him. Nilsson came up with big stops and didn't allow very many rebounds. He held on to a lot of pucks and wasn't intimidated when the Devils tried to poke at potentially loose pucks in his realm. He did more than what anyone could reasonably ask of a call up goalie. While the Isles got pinned back quite a lot, they definitely had their moments on offense. The line of Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Parenteau definitely threatened and actually did score tonight. That's a very good line and difficult to defend against. Haley had a very good game in his return. In general, I thought the Isles did a good job at counter-punching, turning blocked shots and loose pucks into rushes up ice. They definitely tried to keep the Devils honest when they were up 1-0; they just couldn't quell the on-rushing onslaught of shots. While I thought the Devils were the better team, the Isles didn't play too poorly in their own right. After 3 games in 7 games against this team, I can honestly say I'm glad I only have to see them one more time this season. And, thankfully, it's in April.
We Heard: A lot of Devils fans were at Nassau Coliseum. So much so that some of the chants of "Let's Go Devils" and "Mooooose!" got picked up by the broadcast microphones. Well done, fans. You have every reason to go home happy about this one.
A Final Thought: A game really isn't over until it's over. Tonight was proof of that concept.
That's my take on tonight's win, now I want to know yours. How did you react when Clarkson scored? How about when Zidlicky scored? What did you think of the Devils' performance? Did you think they played well and deserved to smash and grab two points from the Isles? Or did you think they weren't so good and were fortunate to get something out of this game? What do you think they need to improve upon before tomorrow's game based on what you saw tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's 2-1 stunning come-from-behind win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented and read along in the gamethread, as well as those who followed the tweets from @InLouWeTrust. Thank you all for reading.