Hockey can be a funny game in that good performances do not always lead to wins. Sometimes a team can make lots of errors and bad decisions and can pull out a win. The New Jersey Devils did defeat the Washington Capitals 3-2 in overtime tonight; however they played a really stupid game tonight at times. The errors went paid for in the third period, though they were unpunished early on.
They opened up the game with three Devils crashing into the end boards, Alex Oveckin still managed to knock the puck out into the open slot, and forcing Martin Brodeur to make one very tough first save of the night. He robbed Mike Green with the right pad, eliciting many cheers, and making the Devils say "whew." One would think that after such a bailout that the team would want to regroup and calm down. That didn't happen. In spite of the Capitals' tendency to miss on passes and straight up give up the puck at times, the Devils not only manage to not take advantage but make the game harder on themselves. For the first ten minutes of the game or so, we got to witness skaters with wide open shooting lanes passing the puck away. We got to witness some awful decisions with the puck in their own end, such as one play where the puck carrier had two open men on the boards, one in the center with a Cap near by, and the carrier chose to pass it to the middle. We saw a power play that looked good for the first 15 seconds and then did nothing until Ilya Kovalchuk hooked Troy Brouwer to deny a shorthanded opportunity to end it. We got to witness the Devils chasing the Caps around in their own end quite a few times. For a team that looked like a hot mess in their first three games, the Devils were seemingly playing down to their level. It was almost like the Flyers game on Tuesday only without the quick goal.
Unlike that game, the Devils did play better later in the first period. A strong penalty kill ended with Jacob Josefson cutting through Tomas Kundratek. He got plowed by a backchecking Troy Brouwer and Kundratek, but the puck got off to a crashing Stephen Gionta who slid it in five-hole through Michal Neuvirth. It was an impressive play in that it came out of seemingly nowhere and it put the Devils up 1-0. At that point, the Devils looked more like a team that actually played and won their first two games. They got some shots and only finished down 6-8 instead of the 1-6 situation past halfway through the period.
The stupidity returned for the beginning of the second period. It was like the beginning of the first. Instead of a wide open shot in the slot, Brodeur absolutely robbed Joey Crabb on a bang-bang play at the top of the crease. The Caps enjoyed possession and kept making Brodeur work. The Devils would overcome their sloppiness quicker and began to take the period over. Brodeur only had to make one incredible stop on Joel Ward on a Devils PK but he didn't have to be a superhero. The Devils were able to get more stops and push the tempo more and more. With a few late power plays thanks to two lazy trips by Nicklas Backstrom and Jay Beagle, the Devils got a long 5-on-3 and converted on it when Patrik Elias slammed in a rebound. They finished the period with seven power play shots, six at evens, and one shorthanded (Jacob Josefson in a one-on-one) and looked like a calmer team more in control after killing their one penalty within the second (a tripping call on Ryan Carter). The only downer in that second half was Patrik Elias crashing into Neuvirth which ended a power play and would lead to some carry over time into the third period.
It was no big deal. The Devils killed off the extra time from Elias' penalty and proceeded to carry out their business as usual. They managed to get some open shots off rushes on Neuvirth. They made smarter passes through the neutral zone. I'd go as far as to say they were playing pretty well. Then it all came crashing down no thanks to themselves. At 6:39 into the period, the Devils got caught with too many men on the ice. The Devils kill the penalty and then Marek Zidlicky takes a high-sticking call under a half-minute later at 9:03. Seconds after that's killed, Andy Greene gets tagged for a weak tripping call at 11:11. Shortly after an intriguing shorthanded rush by Dainius Zubrus and Gionta that nearly made it 3-0, the Devils touch the puck while changing and it's a second too many men on the ice call. And an abuse of officials call on the bench. Both came at 11:52. That's five penalties in just over five minutes. Three of them were on Peter DeBoer. That's just messed up. It proved to be costly. On the first 5-on-3, the Caps finally get the set-up they want and Mike Ribiero scored on a backdoor play that he wouldn't have missed on in a million years. It's now 2-1, the Caps have hope, and the Devils had no one to blame but themselves for putting themselves in that two man disadvantage.
The danger of a one-goal lead is that it only takes one event to blow it. It nearly happened on the second five-on-three, but somehow a backdoor attempt failed. Tonight, it was a botched clearing attempt and a shot through traffic. After a long shot by Green was denied with a block, David Clarkson was in position to get the puck out. He didn't skate forward with it, he didn't look for a pass, he just fired it away. That is fine all by itself. Except he did so right to Green at the point. That's a giveaway. Green settled it, fired the puck, and it got through traffic and Brodeur. It was an error we saw a lot of in the first period and this time they paid for it. Ultimately, the Devils didn't so much earn a point in this one as they gave it away. Their parade to the penalty box eventually gave the Capitals the opportunity to get back on the scoreboard, and a later, somewhat familiar error in this game directly led to the equalizer. I can't say the Devils played well enough overall to say they really deserved to win in regulation, but it is a disappointment that they blew the lead the way they did.
Fortunately, the Devils came out on fire in overtime. Green interfered Patrik Elias and the Devils went right to work on the power play. They picked up where they last left off in the second period with the man advantage and fired five strong shots on Neuvirth and barely missed on a few more on the two minutes. It was a strong effort on the power play and the Devils built on that. They only allowed one shot all period, Ovechkin took a tumble late, and the Devils rushed up like crazy on offense. Andy Greene was open on Neuvirth's left flank but a pass missed. The puck sailed around to Zidlicky at the point, who saw Kovalchuk down low in the right corner. The pass came in fast, and Kovalchuk's sixth shot on net and twelfth attempt of the night was a beautiful one-timer that lit the lamp with 21 seconds left to seal the win. It was a crazy way to end a game and secure the second point for New Jersey. The play itself as well as the whole overtime period was a great recovery after a miserable third period and some poor play in the prior two periods. It's great that the Devils are 3-0 but they still have a lot of work to on.
The Opposite Opinion: Over at Japers' Rink, Kareem E. broke down the game into various points, noting that Neuvirth stole a point. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it is the Caps' first point of the season so I won't nitpick.
The Game Highlights: In a game filled with Brodeur robberies, a sweet looking goal by Stephen Gionta, and a sweeter overtime winner by Ilya Kovalchuk, a highlight video is almost a must watch for anyone who wants to recount the night appropriately . Thanks to NHL.com, here is that video.
Sensational Goalies: Both goaltenders should be well thanked by their teammates tonight. Martin Brodeur was the big reason why the Devils weren't down 1-0 or 2-0 early in the game and why they went into the third up 2-0. He was also rather important on some of the Caps' power play shots. The only one of which that beat him, he had no chance on. Likewise, that Green shot that got through sailed through traffic. Given his amazing robberies of Green, Joey Crabb, and Ward, I wouldn't be all that mad even if it was a clear shot. Brodeur has been the most consistently great player on the Devils in their first three games. Too bad the rest of the Devils needed him to be that great.
Neuvirth had a solid game. The Gionta goal against was a bad one to allow, but he was forced to stretch many times to make stops. In total, the Devils did put 35 shots on him and he faced a barrage of shots in the second and fourth periods. He had no chance on the goals scored by Elias and Kovalchuk. Given how his defense occassionally just coughed up the puck or the skaters in front of him would allow an odd-man rush quite a few times, Caps fans have every reason to feel good about Neuvirth despite the overtime loss. I wouldn't say he was the only reason why the Caps got a point like Kareem at Japers' Rink, but that's largely because I think the Devils gave the point away. Still, he played well in spite of that soft first goal allowed.
Wonderful Special Teams: If there's a big positive takeaway from the team tonight, then it has to be the play of their special teams. The power play didn't do very well on their first two opportunites. They got one shot, one hard miss, and a penalty near the end of the first one. Their second one, early in the second after Wojtek Wolski flung the puck over the glass in his own end, yielded one missed shot and one blocked shot. However, they really piled it on later in that period with seven shots on net between the power play for John Carlson's interference minor, Backstrom's and Beagle's tripping calls. Elias scored off a rebound that came from a Marek Zidlicky shot (Aside: somehow Clarkson got a primary assist on it, but I don't quite see him getting a piece of it in the goal's video), which was set-up. The 4-on-3 in overtime was spent largely in Washington's end and resulted in five shots. They came close to cashing in. 13 shots over six power plays isn't anything to sneeze at, especially since they wasted the first two opportunities. They just need to get going more quickly, be more willing to shoot, and stop rotating Kovalchuk and Zidlicky at the points during the play. Yes, I understand they both have right handed shots, but if you're going to set up shots for them, Shaw, then it should the guy with the laser rocket of a shot.
While the power play performance turned out to be good, the penalty killers were excellent throughout the night. Yes, the Caps did score a power play goal. It was on a two man advantage created by DeBoer and the bench. It was also one of four shots they got on the power play. You did not misread that. That is not an error. The Capitals had eight power plays that lasted 12:19 tonight and they only got four shots on net. All four came in the third period during the five straight calls against New Jersey; they didn't even average a shot per penalty! That's simply amazing by the PK and amazingly terrible by the Capitals' power play. Sure, their power play units made well more than four attempts but the idea is to get shots to the net and they really didn't do a lot of that despite being up at least one player for over a sixth of the entire game. What's even crazier is that the Devils had four shorthanded shots and the goal by Stephen Gionta was scored just after the Kovalchuk penalty ended, so it was nearly five. The Devils really do have a powerkill and they've been fantastic.
Good Forwards: Jacob Josefson had a good night. He created the first goal while taking some pain, he played 18:52 tonight with over four minutes on the PK, he went 8-for-16 on faceoffs, he made several smart plays in his own end, and he got four shots on net out of seven attempts, which included a shorthanded one-on-one with Neuvirth. Josefson showed off some flair with his stickwork, most notably before he got clobbered on the Gionta goal. Josefson was moved up to the top six later in tonight's game and I have to wonder when we'll see him get a start there. He certainly deserves it over another Swedish forward that I shall remain nameless for this sentence. (It's Tedenby.)
Surprisingly, Stephen Gionta had a busy night. He got a little over two minutes on the PK and didn't look too bad. In fact, he scored his first of the season after one the penalties was killed and he nearly got a second in the third period while shorthanded. Gionta had five shots on net in his 12 minutes of icetime. For a guy who's better suited on the fourth line, that's really impressive.
Woeful Discipline: One too many men on the ice calls is terrible. Two in one game is unacceptable. Two in one game and getting an abuse of officials call for it is Giroux-esque in it's stupidity. The three calls were the standouts amid the Devils' five straight penalties and they were all entirely on DeBoer. I can believe he'll be better in the future, but it really put the Devils in a bad spot. The other five penalties, well, that's on the individual players save for Greene's because I honestly thought that was a weak tripping call. Kovalchuk hooked because he got beat, Carter foolishly tripped Crabb in spite of him being offside, Elias was too reckless going to the net, and Zidlicky just took a dumb minor. That's four legit calls and this comes after four penalties against the Isles and fourteen against the Flyers. I know it's only three games into the season, but the calls against the Devils have to be limited. Giving an opponent eight power plays, including two long 5-on-3s, is just asking for defeat. The PK was awesome tonight as was Brodeur. However, they can't stop everything forever. The best penalty kill is to not take a penalty, I suggest the Devils start there. If any player needs to be addressed for that, then make it Zidlicky since he now leads the team with with four and three them were in the Devils' end of the rink.
Seriously, DeBoer, You Need Actual Forwards and You Need to Play Them: We knew that coming into this season, the Devils would be thin at forward. The top players would have to be leaned on heavily. I get that. However, DeBoer really took it to an extreme tonight. While the large amount of special team minutes affected who got ice time, four Devils forwards played less than ten minutes total tonight. They were Krys Barch (3:28), Stefan Matteau (5:49, not ), Mattias Tedenby (8:07, his only two shifts in the third period came from serving the too many men on the ice calls - he did make one nice defensive play after serving the second one, though), Ryan Carter (9:07), and Steve Bernier (9:49). Needless to say, none of them did anything of note. The five combined for one shot on net (Carter), two attempts blocked (Matteau, Tedenby), a miss (Bernier), a penalty (Carter), and three sitting for the three bench minors (Tedenby twice, Bernier). Again, I know special teams skewed the minutes to some degree, but DeBoer effectively used only ten forwards tonight and later in the game it was only seven.
This is a real problem. I know Kovalchuk can handle a 30-minute night like tonight as can Travis Zajac for 25+ minutes. But what if they have a bad night? What if the opposition keeps them quiet? What if they need some rest, something that will definitely come into play now that the schedule is going to feature games every other night until the middle of February? We saw how much more effective the Devils were as a team when they had a capable third line and an actual fourth line. Now, we have that fourth line taking on third line minutes and a fourth line of a guy who won't be here for long, Josefson who gets moved up anyway, and a useless goon. Tonight, the Devils got away with it. In future games, teams will prey on those matchups and make the most of them. We knew they would be top heavy, but DeBoer, Lou, and the organization needs to at least get some guys who can play an entire game. Whether that's Mathieu Darche, acquiring someone in a trade, calling up Bobby Butler, waiting for Adam Henrique, or something else, I think it needs to be done sooner rather than later. Seven to ten active for three periods isn't going to cut it for long.
Who Sits for Larsson?: Adam Larsson remains on the bench. Who on the defense will sit? Marek Zidlicky took another needless minor, but he wasn't so prone to giveaways. He was also rather productive on offense with five shots on net out of eight attempts and two assists. I doubt he sits. The Captain, Bryce Salvador, won't. Anton Volchenkov played the least at even strength with 9:56, but he logged 7:43 with Salvador on the PK. We know Mark Fayne and Greene won't sit. Could it be Henrik Tallinder? As much as I liked him in spots - he boxed out Ovechkin well in the second period even though AO initially had him beat - he did only play 14:11 and nothing on special teams. Could he be the odd man out? We shall see.
Ovechkin Watch: Two shots, four attempts, 22:29 on the ice, and did he really do anything all that impressive? He did move back to left wing. I didn't see much of the aggressive shot machine that commands your fear and respect tonight. His big moments were setting up Green for that massive Brodeur stop at the beginning of the game and falling down prior to the Devils' odd-man rush in overtime that eventually led to Kovalchuk's winner.
It Could Be Worse, Alex: You could have played like Nicklas Backstrom. One penalty, one shot on net, 50% on faceoffs, and a whole lot of "meh."
You also could have played like John Carlson. Yes, he did have four shots on net out of six attempts, but he also managed to take an unnecessary interference penalty and he got caught flatfooted prior to Gionta's goal. His not-really-hard backcheck on Gionta was Del Zotto-esque. It's one thing if he's a call up or a rookie. It's another when the guy is an important part of the defense. He did play over 25 minutes tonight, but his big moments were negative. Oof.
The Kovalchuk Section: What to make of Kovalchuk's night? There were some shifts where he was just "there." There were some shifts where he did all the work getting the puck up ice and making something happen. There were some moments where he carelessly lost the puck. There were some moments where he battled hard to win the puck and get things going. In total, Kovalchuk led the Devils with twelve attempts on net and tied Clarkson with six shots on net. Whereas he deferred quite a bit in his first two games, Kovalchuk was more aggressive tonight. I guess that would explain why Zajac only had one.
Ultimately, Kovalchuk's night has to be seen as a positive. We want him to shoot more and he did just that. We wanted to see that one-timer blast on the power play and we got that several times, even though it wasn't always on target. We wanted him to do something great and scoring in overtime at an angle is exactly that. I'd like to think the consistency with the puck movement and the decisions (e.g. the penalty, deciding who/when to pass) will come. But like the rest of the team tonight, he'll need to work on it.
That's my extended take on tonight's 3-2 overtime win. Now I want to know yours. What are your feelings about tonight's 3-2 win? Are you glad the Devils did come away with the win? Are you more disappointed that they blew a 2-0 lead? Are you pleasantly bewildered at how well Brodeur has been playing? Are you mad or unhappy about all the penalties and mistakes in reads and plays the Devils had tonight? Who do you think had a good night on either team? Likewise, who do you think had a bad night? What one area do you want the Devils to improve upon the most based on what you saw tonight? Will they improve in that area for Sunday's game in Montreal? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to all who followed along @InLouWeTrust on Twitter, those who participated in the Gamethread, and those of you who read this recap.