Fans concerned about the offense and goal scoring from the New Jersey Devils should feel better after tonight. The Devils faced Dwayne Roloson and the Tampa Bay Lightning and they were victorious in a 6-4 win. Your eyes are not deceiving you, the Devils scored 6 goals and all of them were against Roloson. In fact, Tampa Bay's fourth goal came with nine seconds left to play on simple pass-and-hope play to the top of the crease. It was the definition of a consolation goal, something that made the score look closer than the actual performances dictated.
Truthfully, this game started off even, perhaps favoring Tampa Bay. Both the Devils and the Lightning struggled to get some consistency going. For the Devils, they only got five shots on net at even strength - mostly by the new line of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Ilya Kovalchuk. Of course, their best chances were really wrist shots in the slot put just wide of the net. The rest of the team didn't attack too much outside of a good looking power play. The Lightning didn't fare too much better but they got on the board late in the period when a Marek Zidlicky turnover led to Tampa Bay keeping the puck on offense and a breakdown in coverage. The result was a wide-open Ryan Malone standing to Martin Brodeur's left. Brodeur stops the deflected shot by Viktor Hedman from the point, but the puck bounced right to Malone for the easy score. 1-0, only 8 total shots on net, and there wasn't much reason for Devils fans to be happy. The team looked more like the squad that struggled to do much offensively against Chicago on Tuesday. The Devils, as a team, needed to attack more. Little did we know what was to come at that point.
The game simply got wild in the second period. After Andy Greene impressively threw the puck over the glass after a defensive zone faceoff, we witnessed Patrik Elias feeding Dainius Zubrus with a saucer pass that Zubrus buried to tie up the game. The Lightning hit back with a lucky break: Ryan Malone fired the puck forwards the net - possibly to pass to a wide-open Martin St. Louis on Brodeur's right flank - and it deflects off Zidlicky's skate and through Brodeur's legs. Minutes later, a defensive zone turnover leads to Jacob Josefson throwing it past Roloson's left side for a second equalizer. Malone would respond again by getting behind the Devils in front of the net and scoring on a second rebound attempt to make it 3-2. It was real back and forth action at the time, enough to put a Devils fan on edge. Where was the defensive coverage around the net? Can the Devils keep up? In retrospect, the second question was answered definitively.
The Devils went right to work after Malone completed his hat trick. The equalizer didn't take too long as Ilya Kovalchuk put back a rebound created on a 3-on-2 rush to tie it up. The Devils just started smacking the Lightning around on offense at this point. They draw a penalty on their first extended shift of offense after Kovalchuk's goal and six seconds into the power play, Zidlicky hammers a slapshot through traffic to make it 4-3. The Devils kept on attacking and Zubrus nearly got his second of the night in the dying seconds of the second period, which ended with a one goal lead (after three equalizer goals) and a shot differential of 18-5 in the period for New Jersey. Again, the Devils were not messing around. The second intermission provided no respite for the Lightning defense or Roloson. Tampa Bay was just getting picked apart in their own end as the Devils kept coming in waves. New Jersey didn't want to chance a one goal lead in the third period and they were rewarded with a bigger lead. Alexei Ponikarovsky re-directed a Bryce Salvador slapshot past Roloson for a fifth goal. David Clarkson made it 6-3 putting home his own rebound after an extended shift by the third line. Roloson was then pulled for Sebastien Caron and it was clear that the Devils would win the game - and they did.
It is only after Clarkson's goal did Tampa Bay get their first shot on net since Malone's third goal of the game. The Devils didn't sit completely back, as they still out-shot the Lightning 12-6 in the third period, they hit two cross-bars, and still dominated possession. A 6-4 score normally doesn't indicate domination, but the Devils really rose to the occassion. I believe it happened after Malone's third goal since the Devils just shutdown Tampa Bay completely as they kept firing at and past Roloson. Perhaps you feel differently. All the same, the Devils put up 38 shots on net, scored a power play goal, scored a shorthanded goal, and four more at even strength. New Jersey was clearly the better team tonight, even if it took some time and damage before that showed on the ice. Well done, offense.
For an opposition's take, please check out Raw Charge later. For more of my thoughts on this game as well as links to stats and a highlight video, please continue on after the jump.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | 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! One, two, three, four, five, six goals against a goaltender by six different New Jersey Devils players! See them all in this highlight video from NHL.com:
Seriously, Check out the Corsi Charts for Proof of Dominance: My eyes just widened when I got home and saw the Corsi and Fenwick numbers for the Devils. The Devils were a +30 in Fenwick and a +41 in Corsi. I know the Devils heavily out-shot the Lightning 38-20 overall and 31-16 in 5-on-5 play, but I didn't think the difference in attempts was that much larger. Seeing every Devil as a +3 or better (Steve Bernier was the "low" man) in both stats is simply wonderful. Seeing that I wanted the Devils to do maintain much more possession, it's clear that I got what I wanted and then some. These charts just scream: "The Devils flat-out owned this game."
If you are still doubting the Devils' dominance in this game after seeing that the Devils out-attempted Tampa Bay by 41 at even strength, then I don't know what to tell you.
Seriously, the Lightning Offense was Two People: Ryan Malone was a boss out there whenever he was actually in the Devils' end of the rink. He got 6 shots on net and three went in. OK, the second goal was a really lucky bounce in his favor; but he moved real well. How the Devils missed him twice around the net in 5-on-5 situations, I do not know.
The other main man on offense for Tampa Bay was Steven Stamkos. He got 5 shots on net, including a breakaway on a power play in the third period. Fortunately, he did not score any goals.
What was striking is that everyone else on the Lightning really didn't add much on offense. The only other Tampa Bay player who had more than one shot on net was Brandon Segal. Martin St. Louis was held shotless, which is big since he torched the Devils back in late February. Vincent Lecavalier returned to the team and only got one shot on net in the first period. I didn't know Teddy Purcell even played tonight, he only got one little shot on net. In fact, if it wasn't for Trevor Smith's crease-crashing-one-timer at the end of the game, only Tom Pyatt would have been the only other forward to get a shot on net. That speaks to Tampa Bay's lack of offensive depth as much as it does about their own attack.
Malone and Stamkos did all the heavy lifting. Malone even got a hat trick thanks to one good bounce and being left alone twice around the net. Yet, they only got 20 on Martin Brodeur. They were held shotless in the four-goal time period between Tampa Bay's third goal and New Jersey's sixth goal. Two men did what they could and they still were defending more than attacking: Stamkos' Corsi was -5 and Malone's Corsi was -14.
Seriously, There Was One Major Defensive Flaw About the Devils: Overall, holding the Tampa Bay Lightning to as few as 20 shots and pushing them in their own end with the lead was great. They were good in the neutral zone and their clearances were improved from Tuesday's game. The PK was as solid as ever, too. Still, the Devils had a major flaw in this game - defensive coverage around the net. Rather, the lack of coverage around the net.
Malone was totally wide open around the crease to score other two goals he earned. For his first, he was just hanging out on Brodeur's right side, hoping a rebound would come his way. One short one did come, and he scored. For his third goal, he got behind Bryce Salvador and was able to get two attempts at a short rebound on a sprawled out Brodeur. Both were at 5-on-5, both were because Salvador missed his assignment, and it's not like Malone is an elusive being. Someone should have noticed that the big man in white was alone and covered him.
What's more is that it wasn't just Salvador making mistakes. The Lightning were crashing the net and getting bodies open. Malone's second goal was a fluke deflection off of Zidlicky's skates; but if the puck went through, it could have been put into the net by a wide-open St. Louis on Brodeur's right flank. The fourth goal of the game - the consolation goal - came because the pass from Tim Wallace hit Smith in stride past Elias. Had Patrik Elias been closer to Smith in the slot, then the pass gets disrupted and there's no one-timer for Smith.
As ugly as 16 saves out of 20 looks on the boxscore, I don't think Brodeur was bad. The Devils were weak around the net and in their own slot. Fortunately, nobody on Tampa Bay not named Malone took advantage when the game was still up for grabs. The Devils can improve there as I believe these errors were due to a lack of awareness (maybe communication too?) not talent. Tonight, the offense more than made up for those mistakes - but they're still issues to work on. Other than that big area, there's not much I can really complain about regarding the defense. After all, they held the Lightning to nothing in between Malone's third goal and Clarkson's goal based on the NHL play by play log.
A Question in the Middle of the Recap: Compared to most of this month, wasn't it great to see a game where the Devils didn't have to lean on Brodeur to keep the Devils in it? I think it was a nice change of pace along with, you know, six goals scored on a goaltender.
So About that Zajac Line: Last season, John MacLean started off the season with Travis Zajac, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Zach Parise together. After five games, they were split up and not too many fans were unhappy with that. Tonight, they were put together again - and I think they did quite well. While Adam Henrique was part of that 3-on-2 rush that Kovalchuk eventually scored on, the Zajac line got a lot done on offense. Parise was bossing around the Bolts with 7 shots on net, 1 blocked shot, and 3 misses. He didn't score, but he came really close. Kovalchuk only had one shot on net out of 5 attempts, his goal. This doesn't mean he was bad; no, he handled the puck very well tonight. He was more or less a distributor tonight. He kept plays going, he helped Parise get to 7 shots out of 11 attempts, and he even picked up an assist - choosing to dish it off to Zidlicky instead of take control on a power play. Zajac is starting to look more and more in-form with 2 shots on net out of 4 attempts and was a monster at the dot by going 14-for-18. The unit, like the rest of the team, was quite positive in Corsi and Fenwick. I liked their performance tonight and I hope to see them together for a few more games.
The Return of the Shot Machine: David Clarkson snapped a nine-game goalless streak with his goal in the third period. It came off a hard-working effort where he got into space, followed his shot, and banged in his own rebound. You know, the sort of thing we like to see from Clarkson. He didn't just snap a scoring slump, but he got back into his role as a shot-machine. Clarkson had 6 shots on net as he whipped his competition - his most common line was Tom Pyatt's at evens - in possession. I enjoyed seeing that and I hope he can continue it. It makes New Jersey's depth in lines stronger and more dangerous to play against.
The Return of the A-Train: Anton Volchenkov came back into the lineup and had a very nice game on defense. He played 18:18 of the game, returned to his usual spot on the penalty kill, he led the skaters in Corsi with +20, and he wasn't shy about throwing his body or his shot around. OK, his shooting is still questionable as all three of his attempts were blocked tonight. Still, I liked what I saw from #28. I'm glad to see this train return to service.
The Return of the Shorthanded Goal: Zubrus scored the Devils' first goal, finishing off a great pass by Elias on a shorthanded rush. It was great for him as he hasn't scored a goal since March 2. It was great for the team as it not only got them on the board, but the shorthanded goal was the Devils' 15th of the season, which leads the league. It's notable that Tampa Bay is second in the NHL behind New Jersey in shorthanded goals allowed.
By the way, do I have to say that the Devils' penalty kill was awesome? OK, then, they were awesome. Moving on.
The Return of the Power Play: While the Devils got a PPG against Chicago, that whole power play situation wasn't good. Tonight, the Devils were far better on their power play. They got 5 shots on net on four opportunities. That doesn't look so good on it's own, but those four opportunities only lasted 3:33. Plus, they scored a quick goal off a faceoff. Even when they didn't, they were able to set up well in Tampa Bay's end. They did have a 5-on-3 situation, off what I thought was a cheap call on Eric Brewer during a Devils powerplay. While they didn't convert it, they did keep the puck and had some good looks. Also, the Devils were up 6-3, the two man advantage wasn't exactly critical. Still, I really liked how the power play looked against a team with a relatively poor PK tonight as opposed to how they did against a team with a relatively poor PK on Tuesday.
The Return of the Rookie Scoring Lead: Henrique fed Kovalchuk the puck for his goal and he was a key part of the play that led to Clarkson taking a shot and putting in his own rebound. His two assists puts him back on top of the rookie scoring race. I liked his game tonight as opposed to Tuesday's game. He did well in between Ponikarovsky (1 G, 3 SOG) and Clarkson (1 G, 6 SOG) and having him spell Zajac for a shift or two was a good move, too. Perhaps that should be the plan going forward until Zajac is fully acclimated on the team. Tonight makes me feel that way, at least.
The Second Game of the Call-Up: Peter Harrold was called up a few days ago on defense. He did better than Matt Taormina in the Chicago game so he got to play tonight. I liked what Harrold brought to the team tonight. He was mostly solid in his positioning on defense. He didn't make too many mistakes even when he did see the likes of Stamkos and Malone for a few minutes at even strength. He was confident with the puck as he got 3 shots on net. He had a good performance in the 18:27 he played. It'll be an interesting question for the coaches as to whether to keep giving him favorable ice time or to put Adam Larsson back in the lineup. We shall see.
Faceoff Wins All Over the Place: The Devils' centers were on fire on faceoffs. Elias went 10-for-14 which was big; in fact, one of them led to Zidlicky's power play goal. Zajac was monstrous at 14-for-18. Josefson went 7-for-10 while Henrique went 6-for-9. Great job, centers! The wingers who filled in didn't do so well, but that's no big deal. The Devils went 39-for-57, which is a nice change of pace.
Your Moment of Heh: After Zidlicky's goal, Roloson headed to the bench and Caron went onto the ice. Lightning head coach Guy Boucher wasn't happy, spit out some verbals that I can't fully use here, and Roloson went back into the net. I got it wrong live about the change. In retrospect, maybe Boucher should have let the goalie change go. It's not like Caron was going to do much better against the fierce attack by the Devils.
First Star: Patrik Elias got the first star of the game from tonight's attending media. He had a very good game. His line drew the top defensive pairing from Tampa Bay (Brewer and Hedman) as well as the Stamkos line. The Elias line won in possession by a more-than-comfortable margin. Elias himself had two shots on net, helped Petr Sykora get three, and Zubrus get two - including his shorthanded goal. As noted earlier, he was fantastic on faceoffs. His only real miscue was being late on Smith in the slot; but that goal against didn't matter then or now. I'd say that's first-star worthy on a team with six different goal scorers.
One Final Thought: I'm the most happy about the Devils' commitment on offense. They didn't sell it out until late in the game when it didn't matter. They responded incredibly well in the second period after a uneventful first period. All four lines and the defense had a hand in the offense tonight, and the numbers clearly show that the Devils just stomped all over Tampa Bay. They didn't just attack to get back in the game, they kept at it to get a lead and extend it.
It not only kept rolling their confidence forward, but it just weakened the Lightning defense. In the first period, they were getting interceptions making stops. As time went on, they did a lot more chasing, they lost more battles along the boards and behind the net, and they made desperation moves to keep the Devils from scoring. That didn't always work. Tampa Bay's defense sorely missed Mattias Ohlund tonight as the Devils worked over Hedman, Brewer, Brett Clark, Brian Lee, and Brendan Mikkelson really badly. It was all made possible by the Devils' commitment to attack, attack, and attack some more. While it's not always going to result in nearly out-shooting the opposition 2 to 1 or scoring six goals, it's definitely preferable to what has been seen over the past few weeks. Keep it up, Devils, and there won't be too many worries about the offense.
That's my take on tonight's 6-4 win. Now I want to know what you think. How do you react when the Devils kept scoring in the second and third periods? Which Devils skater impressed you the most? Do you agree with the decision that gave Elias the first star of the game? If not, who would you give it to and why? Would you agree the Devils' main issue tonight was defensive coverage around the net? Can the Devils attack like they did tonight in the future? Do you agree that the Devils dominated the Lightning despite a not-so-dominating looking score? Don't you wish tonight wasn't the last time the Devils would see Roloson in net? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's 6-4 win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread as well as those who follow @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.