The New Jersey Devils picked up two points tonight over the Chicago Blackhawks with a 2-1 shootout win. Based on the performance, the Devils deserved no points as Chicago dominated the game from the Devils' first goal and onward.
The Devils played one good period tonight and it was in the first period. Early on, the Blackhawks were prone in their own end to stick-lifts, bouncing pucks, and stick checks that led to the Devils winning pucks. They put out a good effort against Corey Crawford and they didn't freak out when Chicago got a good shift of their own. Adam Henrique drew a hooking call from Brent Seabrook, Chicago's top defenseman with Duncan Keith suspended, and the Devils had an opportunity to take advantage. In what was a sign to come for the Devils tonight, they nearly blew the power play. Turnovers off the rush, bad passes going forward and to the point, and missed opportunities to make a positive play, much less get a shot off the net. The Devils converted that power play despite themselves when Petr Sykora deflected a shot by Henrique. Chicago turned up the intensity in the final four minutes and change, but that wasn't surprising. Chicago's a very good team and, like most losing teams, started pressing more. Still, it was a good first period as the Devils were only out-shot 11-13 and up 1-0.
Less than a minute into the second period, it became apparent that the Blackhawks weren't messing around anymore. They turned a missed shot into a 3-on-1 rush up ice that Brodeur came up big in stopping. That set a tempo that didn't go away until overtime.
The Blackhawks started making the Devils' end of the rink their second home. Their defensive zone play sharpened up and maintained possession against the forecheck. The Blackhawks found seams through the neutral zone to get in and attack. The Devils helped out the Chicago cause by mostly reacting on defense and failing to clear the puck, much less make decent passes in the neutral or offensive zones. When you can't move the puck well, you're essentially slowing yourself down and the Blackhawks took advantage. The Devils were playing with fire and downright dancing with it when Bryce Salvador hooked down Patrick Kane during a penalty kill on a Ilya Kovalchuk tripping call. A massive killing effort got the Devils out of it; only for the Blackhawks to hit back on offense after both minors were up. Shots were 10-4 Chicago and the only reasons why the Blackhawks didn't score 2 or 3 goals were Martin Brodeur and some out-of-nowhere defensive stops.
The third period started off somewhat evenly, but the Blackhawks took over as the Devils had the same issues. Inferior puck movement, inferior possession, and a Chicago team that had a steely resolve. Brodeur was standing on his head, but even he couldn't see through bodies. Seabrook got Chicago an equalizer 8:34 into the third and the Blackhawks definitely pressed for more with six more shots and a drawn power play late in the game. Thankfully, Brodeur was just too good and lucky tonight and Marian Hossa tripped Dainius Zubrus to nullify that late man advantage.
Overtime was a return to some evenness, but that just meant both teams had their moments. By the time overtime ended, Chicago out-shot the Devils 38-22, and the Devils weren't even at 20 at the end of regulation. The Devils' Corsi was -16 and it seemed a lot worse by my eye. It was a far cry from the offensive performance seen in Pittsburgh; and that was a disappointment. I can't say it was a surprise. When the other team owns the puck so much and makes turnovers into opportunities up ice, the game's going to be tilted in one way. Thankfully for the Devils, Brodeur was more than up to the challenge of keeping his out-played team in the game. Anyone who wanted to know when Brodeur would steal a game, well, it was tonight. Even then, the team needed a shootout to get the "W."
After Brodeur essentially stole one point, the Devils were able to take a second undeserved point in the shootout. Even this was filled with drama as the third shooters - Patrik Elias and Patrick Sharp - were able to score. It's rare for the Devils to go beyond three shooters but they made it work with David Clarkson (really, him over Henrique) and Travis Zajac, who scored one of the prettier shootout goals in recent memory. Brodeur denied Hossa after Clarkson was stopped (no duh) and Andrew Shaw hit the post. The Devils faithful were pleased, the players had reason to feel good since they won, and I think all of us had the same thought: "The Devils won a game they didn't deserve. Let's take it and move on."
Of course, I have more to say than just that. Please continue on after the jump to see the game's stats, a highlight video, and more thoughts about tonight's 2-1 shootout win. If you would like to see an opposition's point of view, please read this recap by SamFels at Second City Hockey.
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: It was the Martin Brodeur Show, starring his glove, his chest protector, his mask, his blocker, his pads, and special guest the post (shootout only). Here's a highlight video from NHL.com:
He's Quite Good: I like Moose, but Brodeur's performance should kill any doubts over who should be the starter. Granted, his last month should have killed it, but tonight was the icing on the cake of doubt-killing. Just look at the embedded video if you don't agree about the myriad of important saves he made tonight.
You Mean Getting Out-Shot by 16 At Evens is a Bad Thing: Yes, it was quite bad. Over all attempts in evens, the Devils were out-attempted by -16 and -18 for all attempts minus blocks. It took over 15 minutes and a goal allowed, but Chicago stepped it up and never looked back on offense.
Several Blackhawks got 2 to 4 shots on net tonight, which is a big positive in of itself. It means no one unit was leading the way while the rest just followed. That said, Viktor Stalberg stood out with 7 shots on net out of 10 attempts to lead the team in both. The guy had a monstrous +18 in Corsi with his linemates Sharp and Marcus Kruger. Kruger and Sharp combined for only three shots on net, so Stalberg was definitely the man making it happen on his line they dominated the Jacob Josefson unit. They also saw quite a bit of Peter Harrold, who was playing in his first Devils game since February 24, and Marek Zidlicky, who was just trying to keep up out there at times.
Interestingly, that Kruger line was the only line of forwards that really dominated possession at evens. The rest of the Hawks were slightly above zero; but those three along with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook really drove possession into New Jersey's end. Again, the Josefson unit got worked over - though the other lines (namely, the Travis Zajac line) had their moments of getting pinned back.
Let's Talk About a Third Period Lead Given Up: Amazingly, that Kruger line wasn't the one that made the play for the equalizer. Credit Dave Bolland, Andrew Shaw, and Bryan Bickell for that. Bickell was the screen for Seabrook's shot along with Zidlicky; Bolland took the loose puck along the sideboards when Kovalchuk lost it from a Niklas Hjalmarsson stickcheck; and Shaw's pressure down low helped create the chaos in the first place. An open Seabrook (Henrique was late getting over, it looked like he realized his target just too late) fired it through the screen to score. Over the whole game, those three forwards combined for 8 shots on net and finished a little bit above zero in Corsi. The line got matched up all over the place, but their most common group was the Travis Zajac line and they held them in check in the time they played against them.
Technically, this was a third period lead blown since the Devils were up 1-0. Given that Chicago very nearly tied it up in the second period and dominated play from then onwards, I don't look at Seabrook's goal as a result of a meltdown or a third period collapse. I saw it as inevitable given how the game was going. As sensational as Brodeur was tonight, a well placed shot through a screen can beat even the hottest goaltenders. If not then, perhaps a crazy bounce or one too many breakdowns in coverage would provide the equalizer. My point is that Chicago was pushing the play to get that tying goal for over 38 minutes. It wasn't like the Devils let up, they were just pinned back. As such, they only got 8 shots on net after the first period and before overtime; they couldn't keep Crawford and Chicago honest enough since getting the puck out was a challenge much less getting it into their end and keeping it.
The Return of Harrold and the Taormina Slide: On a night where 38 shots were allowed, there's not going to be a lot praise for the defense. I'll make an exception for Harrold. He came up from Albany and played because the Devils wanted Adam Larsson to sit a game for some poor performances. While the Devils may want him up for the playoffs, it wasn't like Harrold was anything more than a fill-in. Tonight, he actually did OK given the circumstances. While he was on the bad end of possession at -8 Corsi, he did far better than Matt Taormina if only for not getting caught or beaten at the blueline for an odd-man rush or breakaway. He saw a lot of that Kruger line and didn't completely drown. Still, he got 19:06 of overall ice time, including some spot PK duty. That's not a bad night for a fringe NHL defenseman who hasn't played in the NHL in over a month.
For perspective's sake, Taormina only played 12:12 tonight. Given he got burnt a few times on his positioning and contributed next to nothing on offense, it's clear he had a bad game. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Larsson replaced Taormina on Thursday instead of Harrold.
All the same, I'd like to wish Anton Volchenkov a speedy recovery from whatever's wrong with him.
Come On Kovy: Tonight was also a bad night for Ilya Kovalchuk. His line got whipped in possession by the combination of the Kane line (Kane, Hossa, Andrew Brunette) and the Bollard line. Kovalchuk in particular was off his game tonight. He lost pucks heading up ice. His passes were off the mark or his linemates just didn't know how to take them. Pucks coming at him hit his skates more than his stick. He took a tripping call that wasn't really necessary. Most of all, he only got one shot on net out of five attempts. Yeah, one. Kovalchuk did not play like the Kovalchuk we're used to seeing. It would have been a big help tonight if he was who he has been for most of this season given that the offense seemingly dove into a pool of molasses during the first intermission.
On Special Teams: It was great to see Sykora re-direct a puck past Crawford with 10 seconds left on the power play since most of the 1:49 prior to Henrique's shot was terrible. Kovalchuk lost pucks. Zidlicky lost pucks. The Devils just made poor decisions and Brodeur was forced to make not one, but two shorthanded stops. The first opportunity was the summation of all the ugliness we've seen from the PP save for a shorthanded goal followed by a conversion. Ugly, but I'd take it. The second one never really got going and the power play in OT wasn't too bad. All told, the Devils got 4 shots on net and while they did score one goal, I couldn't help but feel there was a lot that left to be desired.
The funny thing is that Chicago fans wished their power play was as effective as the Devils' tonight. The Blackhawks got no shots on net. They had four opportunities and got no shots on net. Granted, they were crushing the Devils at even strength; but that's rather inept. The Devils have been fantastic on the penalty kill; but seriously, no shots on net in 6:24 is really hard to pull off. In fact, they had a 5-on-3 for over a minute, they called a timeout to set it up, they got set up, and they still got no shots on Brodeur. That's some incredible ineptitude. A lot of passes and nothing got on target. As miserable as the Devils' power plays have been and were tonight, Chicago demonstrated power play failure at a whole new level.
A Quick Note on Faceoffs: The Devils won in this department by going 31-for-55. OK, that's not huge, but it's better than most games this season. Travis Zajac was positive by going 9-for-16 (can't say much more good other than that shootout goal with only 1 shot on goal and a -10 in Corsi); Henrique and Ryan Carter were good in spot duty by going 4-for-6 and 3-for-3, respectively; and Elias had a good-for-him night by going 9-for-19. Most of the Devils' offense was bad tonight, but faceoffs weren't a major issue.
Was There a Devils Forward You Liked: I actually liked Zach Parise's game tonight. He got 4 shots on net to lead the Devils and he very nearly ended the game in OT with a back-handed shot out of nowhere. He didn't get wrecked in possession with a zero Corsi value; and he skated hard to the net repeatedly. Zubrus was better in possession at +7 and Elias wasn't too shy about shooting with 3 shots. While Parise didn't get the goal, I liked his effort at times. Too bad not too many of the other players did.
Nice Moment: It was sweet that Zajac scored in his first shootout back from injury. It was a great goal and it decided the game. I can't say I really liked how he played in regulation; but he did play a role in stealing this game.
Is It Time to Change the Lines: Well, they were modified from the Pittsburgh game. It's not like the Josefson unit is new since those three have played with each other before. The only other change was moving Henrique to wing and Sykora down to the fourth line, where he wasn't too bad. I would hold off and see how things go against Tampa Bay. Tonight's tepid post-first-period attack could be just a bad night more than just players not fitting in well with each other. If the Devils still get beaten hard in possession and make getting shots like squeezing blood out of a stone, then sure, Peter DeBoer should change them.
One Final Thought: If you thought the Devils leaned hard on their veteran defensemen - like with Zidlicky playing 29:15 - then check out Chicago's blueline. They iced seven defensemen and three of them played less than 10 minutes. Steve Montador returned to action to only play 4:20; Sean O'Donnell played 7:54; and Dylan Olsen got 6:46. Yes, tonight, the Devils saw Seabrook and Johnny Oduya play a bit over 29 minutes tonight while Nick Leddy got over 22 and Hjalmarsson got over 26. With this in mind, it's frustrating the Devils couldn't keep possession enough to really test their fatigue. Sure, they're not bad defensemen in general (Seabrook's a monster) and they had good games tonight. In retrospect, it wasn't just my imagination that I kept seeing #7 and #27 over and over.
That's my take on tonight's game. What about yours? How impressed were you with Martin Brodeur? Why do you think Chicago just bossed the Devils around after the first period? What did you make of Peter Harrold's performance? Did you like any Devils skater tonight? Who disappointed you the most? What do you want the Devils to learn from this game going into their next game on Thursday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's shootout win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread as well as those who follow @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.