It was a very strange night at the Rock tonight. The New Jersey Devils hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final time this season and they lost 4-3 in the shootout. Getting beyond regulation was a feat in of itself as the Devils had to come from a 3-1 deficit with 10:35 left to play. They came back to equalize it, they pressed for a fourth goal but it just didn't happen. The shootout was needed and the Leafs were perfect on every shot whereas the Devils only went 2-for-3. I'm sure many Devils fans aren't happy that the Devils didn't get a win over a team that has struggled greatly since the last Devils-Leafs game in February. That's understandable. Given the two-goal hole the Devils were in, I'm fine with the fact that the Devils at least got a point out of the night.
I can understand the frustration with the Devils' performance not resulting in a win. They did a lot right tonight. They knew the Maple Leafs were vulnerable in net and they've been slumping in most aspects of the game. The Devils went on to shell James Reimer with 46 shots on net over regulation and overtime. That's the most the Devils have put on any team all season. They forced Reimer to move so quickly that he was visibly hunching over, catching his breath late in the game during every whistle. New Jersey tilted the ice to such a severe degree that the team's Corsi was +36 and the team's Fenwick was +32. I'm not making those numbers up; the Devils seriously pinned the Leafs back that often. Throw in the fact that they took no penalties, they only allowed 17 shots on net, and everyone but the fourth line and Anton Volchenkov got a shot on net, and there's a lot to like about what the Devils did. The Leafs looked like they were just going through the motions at times and the Devils hit them hard. Reimer and some bad luck prevented a blowout, but getting three goals isn't a bad return - especially since three were needed to tie the game.
However, the Devils shot themselves in the foot enough times in their own end to a point where I can't say the Devils really deserved to win this game. For starters, they really sagged in the second period. After a first period where the Devils plucked the Leafs 18-7 in shots, Toronto started to surge as the Devils got stuck in their own end a few times. At first, it seemed like a lot of sound, fury, and bodies signifying as little as one shot on net. Eventually, Leafs were found open right at the net and things got hairy. Martin Brodeur can only do so much. They scored two quick goals in the second period as a result of their efforts. While they got dominated for much of the third period, Toronto tacked on a third goal. All three goals came on plays where the Devils were caught out of position. I'll explain each with pictures later in the recap. While the Devils held the Leafs to only 17 shots on net, they capitalized on their few breakdowns and it nearly cost them the game.
It was an odd game that saw David Steckel win faceoffs that fired the puck at Reimer; Anton Volchenkov hitting end boards by Section 3 so hard that the goal lights fell off; Tim Connolly show David Clarkson a thing or two about falling down, and Zach Parise winning a referee review after an icing close to the end of regulation. It was a game where the Devils dominated a majority of the game, but nearly lost it altogether outside of that time. Depending on how you look at things, it's good that they did a lot right and got a point for their efforts; but it's also disappointing that they paid dearly for their mistakes and ultimately didn't get the win in a situation they've dominated in all season. "Deserves" has very little to do with sports, so take it as you will.
For the opposition's perspective, Bower Power at Pension Plan Puppets has this recap highlighting how Nazem Kadri salvaged the win for Toronto. I have a lot more to say about the shootout loss 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 Highlight Video: Six goals and a lot of stops by James Reimer. This is your NHL.com highlight video:
The Defensive Breakdowns: Normally, I just refer to the video for any commentary on how goals were scored or allowed by New Jersey. They take extra time to put together and these recaps go up pretty late as-is. I feel the three allowed tonight deserve their very own pictures to highlight what really went wrong. All pictures come from the video at NHL.com.
Goal Against #1 - Tyler Bozak scores off a rebound right in front of the crease. The key picture:
This is right before Luke Schenn takes his shot. Notice that nobody's on Bozak. Adam Henrique is around the slot, presuming that he can somehow force a block. Andy Greene is coming back from the corner and is away from any Leaf. Mark Fayne has his man, and the other two forwards are up top where they belong. Notice that as the shot happens, Bozak has been wide open this whole time. If Schenn felt really confident, he could have intentionally missed the shot in Bozak's direction and have him put in the loose puck. Instead, he forces a shot that forces Brodeur to his left. Since Bozak's open, he can stop the puck and score.
Greene was likely coming off the boards, so Henrique is likely the one who should've hung back. Instead, he puts himself in no man's land. Open man, open rebound, and it's 1-0.
Goal Against #2 - Nazem Kadri deflects a Jake Gardiner shot right in front of the crease. The key picture:
Immediately, the problem is clear. There are five Leafs against three Devils in New Jersey's end. The Henrique line was coming off-ice even though Toronto had the puck. Patrik Elias was able to get on and make the initial rush a 4-on-3 instead of a 4-on-2. Petr Sykora and Ilya Kovalchuk are trying to catch up, but the Leafs totally got in first. Anton Volchenkov and Adam Larsson are in a tough spot and already in this picture, Gardiner is about to receive a cross-ice pass from AHL call-up Ryan Hamilton. It's a 5-on-3 here so the Leafs have options. Gardiner fires and Kadri, seen here below the right circle, just cuts across and gets a piece of it right in front to make it 2-0. The issue wasn't Kadri - I doubt he hits that deflection exactly the same way in motion. It's that the Devils made an ill-advised line change which gave Toronto a great opportunity at all.
Goal Against #3 - David Steckel scores off a loose puck in the third period. The key picture:
This is a bit blurry so allow me to explain. Joey Crabb attempts a shot on net but he puts the puck on the outside of the right post or off Henrique's skate. Whatever it was, the puck goes directly straight ahead to where it is in the picture. Mark Fayne has his man, while the blurry group of two people behind the puck are Andy Greene and Steckel. Ilya Kovalchuk is in the slot but he's in a difficult spot as he's not close enough to the puck to make a play. He could stretch his stick far and it wouldn't be enough. Besides, he sees Greene on Steckel, so you figure Greene would box him out and get to the puck. The problem is that in the next frame, Steckel muscles past Greene. This is how he got to the puck at all. Brodeur's got traffic in front, Kovalchuk can't get to the puck before Steckel does, Greene's literally beaten, and all Steckel has to do is fire at that puck just sitting there. It's in, it's 3-1 Toronto, and everyone's not feeling good.
The point I'm making with these three pictures is that the Devils weren't in good positions or made assumptions on positions that led to goals against. Someone really needed to be on Bozak instead of assuming he wouldn't get a puck on the first one. For the second goal, There shouldn't have been a forward line change as Toronto was breaking out if only to support the defensemen. As for the third goal, Greene can't get out-muscled like that and Kovalchuk had to keep going to the puck instead of thinking Greene had it under control. Yes, the Devils overall had a fine night defensively. Holding an opposition to 17 shots certainly doesn't happen with bad defending. It's just that when they made a mistake, it was significant enough for Martin Brodeur and, by extension the team, to pay the price on the scoreboard.
An aside: Kovalchuk was a -3 and as these pictures show, he was only in the area for one of the goals against. More reason to roll your eyes anyone brings up that someone was a plus or minus whatever.
That Said, Let's Talk About the Goals For: I'm really glad that Jacob Josefson, Zach Parise, and Adam Henrique scored the way they did tonight. Josefson scored his first of the season on a one-timer where just crashed the net and slid it past Reimer. Alexei Ponikarovsky got him the puck and he put the Devils on the board late in the second. I'm very glad he scored if only because he's gotten so close to doing so in recent weeks. Parise's goal wasn't as pretty as he just jammed at a loose puck a little over a minute and a half after Steckel's goal. It's the sort of goal people associate with Parise - important, gritty, intangiblistic, etc. It also snapped a five game goalless streak. Adam Henrique finally scored his first goal since February 17 when he deflected a shot by Greene in the slot which beat Reimer and tied up the game. Given that the Devils only scored five goals in their previous five games, getting three in one game is a positive in of itself.
Of course, some will see that as insufficient as the Devils piled up 46 shots on net. Again, all I can say is that Reimer had an superb game and that's the main reason why 46 shots didn't lead to more goals. The guys in front of him let him down for most of the first and third periods. They simply stopped caring about offense after Steckel's goal as that would Toronto's final shot on net until the shootout; choosing to sit on the lead. (Yes, even in OT, Devils out-shot the Leafs 4-0 and they had two glorious chances to score in OT that just didn't go in. One by Henrique where the pass was just off, and one by Kovalchuk from Parise late in OT.) The goals against Reimer certainly weren't soft. That also mean the Devils didn't need to get a crazy bounce to score.
Who Brought the Shots: Again, only four Devils didn't register a shot on net tonight: the fourth liners and Volchenkov. I don't think anyone minds about that since, hey, the other fourteen Devils got 46 shots on net. Kovalchuk and Clarkson led the way with 7 apiece. Pretty impressive for supposed coasters. How they didn't score on some of them, I do not know. Behind them, Bryce Salvador, Josefson, Patrik Elias, and Henrique each had 4 shots on net. Parise and Fayne both had 3 each and the rest were one and two shotters. I point this out because it shows how the offense came from all over the place. The defense got rubber on net, all three lines contributed, and they didn't let up even when they tied it up. It's something I love to see and while it didn't have the complete intended effect, it will if the Devils can do it more often.
Even Strength Supremacy: The Devils went +36 in Corsi tonight. Yeah, the Devils were the better team at evens by far tonight. Everyone on New Jersey was positive except for Petr Sykora and Eric Boulton, who were both at zero. Parise looked the most marvelous with a +25 with Kovalchuk's +18 and Fayne's +17 running second and third on the team respectively. It definitely didn't hurt that Parise saw Crabb, Conolly, and Steckel more than any other Leafs forward (good on DeBoer to keep that match-up going). For the most part, everyone won their match-up and you could see it in the run of play too. Toronto's top pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson were picked on all night long, forced to react far more than prevent. Their top two lines, while weakened due to injury, provided only occasional support in their own end.
What's interesting is that Peter DeBoer shuffled his lines in the third and he still found success in possession. He broke up Parise and Kovalchuk for a few shifts, and re-united them on others. Henrique was rotated to different lines, as was Clarkson and Josefson. We even saw the heavy line of Zubrus, Ponikarovsky, and Clarkson a few times. DeBoer wanted to get something going but the funny thing is that he possibly didn't have to do it since the Leafs were about as strong as a wet paper bag in the neutral zone. Still, the shuffling kept things going and two goals were scored in the process so I guess it worked. The massive gap in attempts doesn't lie.
BOOM: Volchenkov's hit on Grabovski was big and really amped the crowd up another level as the Devils clawed back into the game. I don't think the hit was the difference maker, but it was a pretty sweet hit. It was also his second most impressive hit as Volchenkov hit the end glass so hard in the second period that the attached goal lights fell off. A-Trains are tough, I tell you what.
Face Off Oddness: Elias and Josefson were killed at the faceoff dot. The veteran went 6-for-19 and it got to a point where Clarkson and Zubrus took some draws in his place. Zubrus went 3-for-6 and Clarkson went 5-for-7. Josefson was very bad at 1-for-6. The good news is that Henrique was above 50% at 6-for-11, Ryan Carter won all four of his draws, and the team only was down 27-29 in wins. I'd like to think the two extra wins account for Steckel knocking the puck at Reimer off two draws in the first period, but that's a bit silly.
I Guess If You Want to Blame Marty for Something, There is That Shootout: Neither goaltender looked good in the shootout. Reimer got frozen by Kovalchuk and Parise on his shots and just was in the right place to deny Elias' shot. Of course, since the Leafs scored on all three shots, some blame goes to Brodeur. In my opinion, it's not so much for Kadri's game winning strike. That was just an excellent move. No, Brodeur really should have stopped Connolly's shot as Brodeur challenged him with the glove, Connolly fired it there, but Brodeur only got a piece of it instead of all of it. I also think he needlessly made the first move due to Bozak's stutter-stride instead of holding true. He could have done better in both spots.
Truthfully, it's a bit difficult to point a finger at Brodeur given that he's been the one guy being excellent night-in, night-out. Even tonight, he robbed Phil Kessel in one of his few events of the night (only 2 SOG and less ice time than Steckel - yep), and did so more dramatically on Matthew Lombardi in the second period. That said, he could have done better in the shootout. If he's going to slip up, a shootout is far better than having it happen in regulation, though.
One Last Thought: For all of the talk about how Toronto has struggled, I would like to point out that the Devils are 2-1-1 against the Leafs this season and those two wins went to overtime. They may be looking to tank now, but they've played the Devils close in the two games in Toronto. Even though the shot differential and the Corsi provides evidence that one team really owned this game, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that this one was close at all. At least the Devils won't see them anymore until next season.
That's my take on tonight's game. What did you think of the effort by the Devils? Were you impressed they got 46 shots on net and out-did them in Corsi by +36? Did the defensive miscues override the good things the Devils did tonight and leave you concerned going forward? Should we just be happy with a point in a game where the Devils were down 3-1 with 10:35 left in the entire game? Or should we lament a lost point? What should the Devils repeat from tonight's game in Pittsburgh? What should the Devils look to improve upon based on tonight's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you to everyone who read and commented in the Gamethread as well as those who follow the occasional tweets from @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.