After the disappointment that was Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Islanders, the New Jersey Devils went out and beat on the New York Rangers. The final score was a decisive 4-1 victory. The Devils actually did most of their damage in the third period, which is a bit of a surprise since the third period has tended to be a sore spot for this season's team. But no, the Devils scored early, scored a second one past Henrik Lundqvist, pushed for a third goal against him in the third, and iced the game with an empty net to make it 4-1. They out-shot the Rangers 11-3, they became positive in team Fenwick and Corsi (+1, +6 respectively), and generally out-played the Rangers. It was the sort of third period performance Devils fans want to see more often - take the lead, extend it, and maintain it to the end. It was a terrific third period.
It was also needed for the Devils to win as they did tonight. While the Devils got a great result, the performance wasn't entirely great. The Devils were horrible in the second period. After a pretty good first period and up 1-0, the Rangers really took it to the Devils on offense. They put up seven straight shots, while it took the Devils over six minutes to get their first shot on net - a cheap one from Andy Greene. New York was unfazed and kept pressing until they equalized and went up 11-1 in shots at around the halfway mark. The Rangers' shots weren't cheap at all; Martin Brodeur had to bail out the skaters plenty of times. The skaters struggled to make clearances out of their own end, which extended the Rangers' pressure, and the defensemen gave up plenty of space on the sides for the Rangers to make their efforts. Offensive efforts ended up going the other way with little for Lundqvist to do for most of the period. Even Brodeur wasn't perfect as one of his clearances got gloved down and Brodeur had to make a big, flashy glove save to prevent it from going into the net. He was only beaten by Derek Stepan on a one-timer in the slot; but it could have been far worse. The Devils only got going in the Rangers' end of the rink with a late power play and the time spent afterward. On another night, the Rangers would have taken the game over in those 16-17 minutes. It could have been far worse than 1-1 after the second period. The Devils were lucky it wasn't.
While the second sucked, I thought the first period was pretty good. The opening was surely great as a neutral zone stop led to Ilya Kovalchuk splitting the defense - made easy by Ryan McDonagh falling all on his own - and beating Lundqvist glove side to snap his nine game goalless streak and to put the Devils up early. The Devils brought their shooting sticks and it was apparent early on that this would not be a repeat of the dreck we saw last Tuesday at MSG. No, the Devils went for attempts and put plenty of rubber on Lundqvist. The Rangers responded in kind and Martin Brodeur was more than up to the challenge. The Devils out-shot the Rangers 11-9 and were up 1-0. It was good. It was unfortunately followed by horrible, which in turn was followed by greatness.
In summary, the Devils didn't play a complete, 60-minute effort. Like most of the Devils-Rangers games this season, it was close for the most part. Unlike most Devils-Rangers games (and plenty of Devils games), the Devils really made their mark on the game in the third period. While the Rangers were a goalpost away from making it interesting later on, the Devils essentially clamped down on Our Hated Rivals and picked up a big win. Overall, I don't think any Devil fan can complain a lot about what transpired at the Rock. I certainly won't.
For an opposition's point of view, Bryan Winters has this recap over at Blueshirt Banter. For more of my thoughts on tonight's game along with links to stats and an embedded video of the game's highlights, 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
Breaking the Streak: Ilya Kovalchuk did not score a goal in his last nine games. Oh, he was trying in those games, bombing away shots on net, making plenty of attempts such that even the stingiest scorer couldn't ignore them all, and making plays. He at least got the last part right with six assists over those same nine games. Seeing him score on the very first shot of the game was fantastic. Mark Fayne and Andy Greene got the puck away in the neutral zone, Zach Parise played him into the zone perfectly, and Kovalchuk just sliced through the Rangers for an early goal. It really set a tone. The Devils fans got into the game immediately; the Devils players must have felt relief now that the team got a goal; and Kovalchuk just went off from there.
Kovalchuk went on to have a monster night with 8 shots on net, 2 blocked, and the secondary assist on Ryan Carter's goal, which wasn't a token assist either - it was a crucial pass. He cut through Rangers players like it was nothing in the neutral zone and he made some good plays along the boards to keep plays alive on offense and to force a defensive stop. The Rangers had no answer for Kovalchuk at times and it showed. The only time Kovalchuk was a non-factor was in the second period and he came to life on the power play in that period.
The only minus for Kovalchuk was his Corsi and Fenwick, which were at -1. That's not really too bad, actually. The Devils did lead in most of the game. Kovalchuk got double-shifted early so he didn't always have Parise and Adam Henrique with him. Most of all, Kovalchuk's most common forward match-ups were Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, and Brad Richards. That's not an easy match-up and Kovalchuk didn't get burned too badly. Overall, I really liked how Kovalchuk played tonight.
Wait, Hold Up, Ryan Carter SCORED??: I know, it surprised me too! Ryan Carter actually had a very good night of hockey. His fight in the first period apparently took out Brandon Dubinsky, which at least meant David Clarkson could focus on playing hockey instead of chirping at him like a dog at a cat. Once Carter got shifts away from the Cinderblock Brothers (Eric Boulton, Cam Janssen) and had a few with Jacob Josefson and David Clarkson, he got going. Carter ended up putting four shots on net, he went 4-for-6 on faceoffs, he finished a +4 in Fenwick and a +5 in Corsi, he drew a penalty on Gaborik by getting slashed, and, oh yeah, he scored a goal on Henrik Lundqvist.
The whole play began with Ilya Kovalchuk taking a Ranger turnover from Dan Girardi in the neutral zone. Kovalchuk played Josefson into the zone with a great pass. Girardi stuck on Josefson, but the young forward was able to get a pass off to Carter. Carter finished the play like a boss and put the Devils up 3-1 with a little over 15 minutes left to play. That goal really shut the Rangers fans up and put the Rangers players into a deep hole. It also capped off a great night by a player who doesn't often get to contribute because he's usually with junk fourth liners.
Marty Was Better: Brodeur played a great game in net. There's no shame at all in getting beaten by a one-timer in the slot. If anything, be mad at Henrique and Fayne for getting beaten behind the net by Carl Hagelin, who got free to make the pass to Stepan in the slot. Outside of that, Brodeur was just excellent on almost every other play. He held onto pucks well. He mostly moved the puck well, though he had a Hedberg-esque moment in the second period that led to a big glove save. Oh, yeah, Brodeur's glove was on fire too. When people talk about how great Brodeur was in net, nights like this are what those people are referencing.
Lundqvist made some tough stops in his own right, but he wasn't dominant as usual. Though, I wouldn't say that Lundqvist lost the game for the Rangers. He had no real chance on Carter's goal, Clarkson's (supposed) deflection could have changed directions drastically to have it gone in, and Kovalchuk just sliced through the Rangers defense. I think he probably wished he had the Kovalchuk goal back, but I wouldn't say they were soft goals. He could have had better support by his teammates. That all said, Brodeur was better tonight.
And Exhale: Brodeur had to be supported on one occassion by the goaltender's best friend, the goal post. On the Rangers' second power play of the night and their only one in the third period, the Rangers appeared to have beaten Brodeur down low. Richards tried to feed Callahan in the slot and the puck just squirted into the post and ricocheted out into the crease. Brodeur dove on it before any Ranger - namely Stepan - could poke it in. It was a scary and important lucky break. Had the Rangers put that in, it's 3-2 with 11 minutes left in the third period. Instead of a Devils-dominated third, the game would have been a lot more dramatic and trying on the Devils and their fans.
The Clarkaround Nearly Struck Again: Clarkson focused on playing hockey this evening and he enjoyed a very productive night. He apparently deflected Petr Sykora's shot in the third period that put the Devils up 2-1. Both live and after looking at the video, I didn't really catch how Clarkson tipped it. Both live and after looking at the video, I don't care so much about who got it as it went into the net. Still, Clarkson was great in the third period. He got 4 out of his 5 shots on net in the third and nearly scored on a wraparound. Clarkson forced a turnover from Stu Bickel on a forecheck and it appeared he had Lundqvist beat on a wraparound. Lundqvist dove as desperately as he could to just deny Clarkson at the post. That's right, not only did Clarkson go for a Clarkaround, but it was the right play and only a great maneuver by the opposition's goaltender denied what would have been a fourth goal against him.
Outside of the third period, Clarkson was just sort of "there." He was OK along the boards, but he wasn't necessarily winning his matchup against Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, and Ruslan Fedotenko. He did get to 0 in Corsi by the end of the game, though.
Glad to See Him Back: Andy Greene returned to the lineup tonight after suffering some back spasms and he was solid out there. Greene got paired with Mark Fayne and the duo drew the assignment of Gaborik, Callahan, and Richards with a good amount of Stepan thrown in there for good measure. Against that tough assignment, both Greene and Fayne were able to repel their attack save for one shift in the second period. They were successful in getting the play forward. Greene was a +8 in Fenwick and a +9 in Corsi. Fayne was the only Devil better at +9 in Fenwick and +10 in Corsi. Each defender got 4 attempts, though only Greene got a shot on goal. They both picked up assists, though, and they featured in all situations. Greene got more ice time, a solid 21:06. I really liked how both defensemen played for the most part.
Almost There: Marek Zidlicky had a good game in my view. He threw his body around, he ended up a +4 in Corsi and a +2 in Fenwick, he did OK against Hagelin and Stepan, and he attempted 3 shots on net. One of them actually did get on net, too. Zidlicky got a ton of power play time with 7:08, and he looked comfortable at the points both in movement and in making passes down low and across to Kovalchuk. I'm hesitating on saying he was great because Zidlicky did trip Prust after the Devils' third power play and he could have done a bit more at evens. However, I think he's starting to mesh with the team and I hope he'll prove his worth in coming games.
The Struggles Continue: Adam Larsson has had some problems since coming back from his bone bruise. His positioning has been spotty, he's had to do more catching-up on opponents that one would like, and his decision making with the puck is inconsistent. Given that he's a 19-year old rookie, having some positioning and consistency issues shouldn't be so much of a surprise. Still, Larsson was picked on, especially in the second period, pretty badly and as a result, he was limited to only 15:11 of ice time. Larsson was a team worst -7 in Corsi and tied for a team worst in Fenwick at -9. His partner, Bryce Salvador, fell along Larsson somewhat (I also didn't like the penalty he took); but it was Larsson's side that the Rangers kept going to in the second and I don't think it was coincidence. I'm sure he'll improve in time.
Especially Good: I really liked what the Devils did on special teams. They got four power plays and 7 shots on net. While the Devils didn't score and they had some early struggles on the fourth one as to what part of the rink they should be in, they did manage to get set up on each power play and get some good looks. Kovalchuk came the closest to scoring. In the first period a cross-ice give-and-go with Patrik Elias worked perfectly and forced a big stop from Lundqvist on Kovalchuk. For the most part, it was good possession and the Devils followed each power play with more offense of their own. This was big in the second period, when the Devils spent most of it in their own end. It reminded the Rangers that the Devils could attack and possibly boosted the Devils' hopes for a big third period.
The penalty kill was solid as ever. Close moment in the third period aside, the Devils only allowed one shot by the Rangers on both of their power plays. In contrast, the Devils got one shot on net - Henrique skated through the Rangers' power play unit to fire a backhander at Lundqvist. That would be mostly it from the PK on offense, but their clearances from their own end were mostly effective and ended up down the Rangers' end of the rink.
By the by, I'd like to thank the Rangers' Brandon Prust for getting too chippy away from the play in the third and the bench for getting six skaters on the ice. They were stupid calls to take and while the Devils didn't score on them, they did take four minutes off the clock while down 3-1.
I Repeat, I Loved the Third Period Effort: I love the Devils' emphasis on aggressive play in the third period. They responded and adjusted to a bad second period with a simpler game on offense. As the Devils were able to get small successes, they built on them and fired away. They took advantage of passes into and from the neutral zone to create two rushes where they scored. They kept taking attempts even after Carter's goal. The Devils got to positive values in Fenwick and Corsi despite leading in the game. The Devils did a great job by continuing to attack in the third, as it really kept the Rangers from doing too much to get back in the game. I hope we see more efforts like that in future games.
Torts Rhymes with Jorts: John Tortorella, head coach of the Rangers, should be credited for getting his team to dominate most of the second period and get back in the game. I still think he got out-coached. He kept shifting his lines and match-ups to little avail late as the Devils kept rolling through them. Peter DeBoer's second intermission and third period adjustments tactically and in the lineup outdid whatever Tortorella did in the second and he was rewarded for it.
In terms of silliness, Torts burned a timeout in the middle of the second period that they were dominant in on an icing call. Giving a breather is understandable but it looks silly in retrospect as the Rangers iced the puck not long after that breather. Ha.
Why, Yes, He Did Play: Brad Richards did make that one pass that almost became a goal on that power play. So, yes, Richards did play in this game. I just wanted to highlight that.
A Footnote: The Devils actually won most of the faceoffs tonight. They went 30-for-59. Carter was good, Elias was above average at 10-for-19, Henrique was below average at 7-for-15, and Josefson was great at 8-for-12.
An Empty Net: Patrik Elias usually prefers to make plays. He's got a good shot and we saw it tonight as he put 3 on net out of 5 attempts. That's a step up over some recent games, where we literally saw Elias pass up good shooting opportunities. Tonight, he rushed up ice and got the empty net goal which iced the game. I don't know who he torched - was it Gaborik or Marc Staal? - when he carried up the ice, but it was pretty cool looking. Anyway, Elias now joins Parise, Kovalchuk, and Clarkson as Devils who have scored empty net goals.
The Crowd: There were a lot of Rangers fans there, though you wouldn't have known it just by listening to them in the third period. To be fair, their favorite team didn't give them a lot to cheer for and they're used to being at MSG, the world's most famous library-like arena. /shake camera to fake crowd effect
One Final Thought: It's great that the Devils beat the Rangers 4-1 and put 3 past Lundqvist. However, the Devils can't get too cocky. They got more intra-division games coming up and they need more performances like the first and third periods from tonight instead of what we saw in the second period. Sometimes, the hardest part about success is repeating it. Let's hope the Devils build on this win.
That's my take on tonight's 4-1 win over Our Hated Rivals. What did you think of tonight's win? Was it a big win? How great were the Devils in the third period? Don't you wish they could do that more often (maybe they do and we don't realize it?)? What did you think of Kovalchuk? Were you surprised at how well Carter played in addition to his goal? Did you think Clarkson really deflected Sykora's shot in the third period? What do the Devils need to do against the Islanders based on tonight's performance? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's 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.