Tonight's game was nationally televised on NBC Sports Network for reasons I have yet to figure out. It wasn't a marquee game, certainly not on a night where two hated rivals duked it out an overrated arena in a city. The New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning aren't big rivals. While the Lightning has done well, the Devils have not. Yet, this was the game that the continent could see and they got to see a real messy one at the Rock. The Devils weren't sharp but the Lightning were down right miserable at times on the puck. Their lack of control helped make the difference tonight as the Devils ended October on a positive note with a 2-1 win.
I cannot stress enough how bad Tampa Bay was at handling puck for large stretches of this game. The Devils' stick checks were very effective. The Lightning struggled to exit their own zone much less enter the Devils' end. Even when the Devils weren't forechecking all that hard, there were plenty of shifts where they managed to take the puck away easily in the neutral zone, if not Tampa Bay's own end of the rink. The Devils could have done a lot more with what the Lightning gave them. 22 shots out of 33 total attempts isn't exactly dominant hockey. There were plenty touch passes, attempted reads, and poor offensive decisions (e.g. Marek Zidlicky driving a puck to the net and choosing not to shoot but to leave it behind the net) that undercut the Devils' attack. But the Lightning made it look like New Jersey was dominating as they only got 17 out of 23 attempts. That's just pathetic, especially when you consider the Lightning were losing for about half of the game.
While the Devils left plenty of offensive potential up for imagination, the two goals they did get started off with the Lightning losing the puck. The first goal was created off Adam Henrique blocking a pass by Matthew Carle at the point during a penalty kill. Henrique recovered the puck and essentially had a give-and-go with Patrik Elias before he finished the play his block started. The second goal was an unassisted breakway by Jaromir Jagr. However, Martin St. Louis deserves a primary assist. Andrej Sustr passed the puck from the right point to St. Louis, who pulled back to the point to see what was in front of him. Jagr applied some pressure and then St. Louis whiffed on the puck. Jagr knocked it away, St. Louis not only lost possession but position, and a 41-year old man went off to the races and won it by beating Ben Bishop high. The Lightning conceded plenty of possession but these two were ultimately the most damaging on national TV.
The Lightning did make a game of it - sort of. After the Devils owned the Lightning for the first fifteen mintues of the second period, Adam Henrique got tagged for hooking on a rare offensive shift by Tampa Bay. The kill worked out well at first but then Teddy Purcell tried to find Steve Stamkos right at the top of the crease. Stamkos re-directed the puck which was stopped point-blank by Martin Brodeur. The small rebound was right there for Stamkos, who just poked it into the net. Now on the board, they attacked more often to close out the period and I, for one, had some concerns. The Devils had a 2-1 lead going into the third against one of the highest scoring teams in the league with two of the top scorers in the league and now had some reason to feel good about themselves. Then the third happened and it was mostly the same Lightning we saw in the first and most of the second periods.
Sure, there were flashes of danger from the visitors. Moments where you wonder, "They do nothing for the last five minutes and all of a sudden they have a wide open man on the right flank about to get the puck." Fortunately, Martin Brodeur was excellent at nearly all of these flashes of danger. He denied Tyler Johnson on a breakaway in the first period. He denied Carle in the slot off a feed from St. Louis near the end of the second. His biggest stop came in the third when he robbed that open man on the right flank, Valtteri Filppula. There were enough of these moments to say that Brodeur was tested and that there were highlights even if they came sparingly in an ugly low-event hockey game. There was some penalty drama at the end- but the Devils held on and now have consecutive wins over good teams. It likely didn't make for great TV but that's not really my or the Devils' concern.
The Opposition Opinion: Kyle Alexander recapped the game for Raw Charge and he wasn't happy at all with the Lightning's lackluster performance. I don't blame him!
The Game Highlights: There were plenty of highlights even if the flow of the game was choppy and dull from both sides for long stretches.
Spoiler - It's Him: Normally, I keep my decisions to myself on naming the Devil of the Month until the actual post is up. Not this time. It's Jaromir Jagr. Tonight showed exactly why that is the case. He kept things moving forward, he put up a few shots, and he battled for pucks along the boards while drawing attention and sometimes won them. His breakaway wasn't quick but it was magisterial from how he immediately knocked the puck up past St. Louis to his lovely finish beating Bishop. He's been a joy to watch the past few weeks and tonight was no different. He may have been joking about his cockiness coming back (source: Fire & Ice) but I really hope it does as he continues to do good things on the ice.
Non-Effort Moment of the Night: Shout out to Eric Brewer just gliding as Jagr stormed ahead on his breakaway. He was on the opposite point when it happened but I'm sure head coach Jon Cooper isn't pleased with his lack of hustle to try and catch the 41-year old man.
Contained: I wrote in the preview that the Devils needed to contain Stamkos and St. Louis. While Stamkos scored Tampa Bay's lone goal, he only had one other shot on net in 20:55 of ice time. St. Louis had one shot on net in 21:40 of ice time and helped Jagr get a goal tonight. St. Louis in particular was creamed in possession as #26 had to do a lot of defending. It's rare that both guys would have such an off night; good on the Devils for doing what they did to make the night more frustrating for them.
Shake Your Head: Viktor Hedman was absolutely terrible tonight for Tampa Bay. He played 22 minutes, spent most of it trying to recover pucks from the Devils' attacks either after shooting attempts or attempted passes, leading breakouts that were more or less broken at times, and conceded plenty of possession from the blueline on offense. He had no attempts on net all night long. Like St. Louis, he was demolished in terms of attempts for and against and he helped make it easier for the Devils at times. Unlike St. Louis, his errors did not yield in a goal against. Still, while the Devils' own effort wasn't sharp in terms of keeping the puck going, they did what they could to take advantage of Hedman's foibles. It's another reason to be glad the Devils got this win as he's another key player who had a bad game.
Looking Good, Feeling Good: I liked how most of the Devils' forwards pressed and jumped on pucks in general tonight. While they only generated 22 shots and two goals, their possession and aggression helped Tampa Bay make mistake after mistake which kept them out of the game for long stretches despite a close score. Travis Zajac, Damien Brunner, and Dainius Zubrus did quite well. I liked what I saw from Jagr (duh) and Patrik Elias. Adam Henrique had a solid game in my eyes and his shorthanded goal was sweet.
The only forward I wasn't real happy with was Michael Ryder. He tended to drift here and there. He had a few poor decisions with the puck. He only took one shot on net and it came on a third period power play. Ryder's most significant moment was hooking Alex Killorn in the third period. Given that Tampa Bay only had a handful of good shifts in the third, handing them a power play was really dumb. The Devils' PK did well for the first minute and then had to rely on Brodeur and missed shots to escape the second minute; Ryder's error was bailed out. I'd like him to follow Brunner's lead and take more initiative with the puck in the future; though I understand those opportunities weren't necessarily there.
Few D Complaints: While Tampa Bay wasn't a shooting the puck a lot, they are one of the highest scoring teams in the East. The Devils' defense handled them quite well. I can't complain about the defensive performance after a night where the opponent was held to 13 shots at evens and only four shots out of three full power plays. Sure, there were some hairy moments and some breakdowns but that's going to happen in most games. More importantly, the Devils recovered very well just before an odd man rush or a puck-carrier heading into the slot got their shot away. The backchecking was well done and the defensemen got plenty of zone exits. At least, it looked a lot less like an adventure compared to Tampa Bay's rearguard trying to move the puck out. All six defenders did pretty well in their own end.
If I were to have a complaint about the defense, it's going to be in how they handled their offense. Eric Gelinas was really off in the first period, missing passes and mishandling pucks; but he recovered as time went on, Peter DeBoer kept giving him shifts, and at least provided two shots out of five attempts. Marek Zidlicky didn't give the puck away freely but he did make some odd decisions to pass up or skate past good shooting lanes which helped end the Devils' attack. Adam Larsson had a shot that was deflected onto the post in the second period but that was his only shooting attempt. Even so, I could be really nitpicky here in some of these. Again, the Devils held Stamkos, St. Louis, and the Lightning to under 20 shots and held a possession advantage in a low-event game. The D was good overall.
Nothing Soft: I wouldn't call Stamkos' point-blank rebound poke a soft goal allowed. While 16 saves isn't a lot, Tampa Bay forced Brodeur to be great on a few of those shots - and he was. I really think it was his best performance to date this season. Even with a Moose-like moment in the second period that didn't end up in the back of the net.
The Neutral Zone Matters: That really should be the big takeaway in general. The Devils weren't always great at getting through it but they didn't settle on just dumps-and-chases, they tried different approaches and found success with lob passes, passes off the boards, and so forth. The Lightning were abysmal and it only made it easier for the Devils to defend against a high-scoring team as well as get through a defense that has been quite solid this season. Own the neutral zone and the game can be easier to accomplish. I hope the Devils can move more fluidly and effectively through it in future games, but it wasn't a problem since Tampa Bay just plain stunk at it.
Last Point: Discipline could have been better. I'm not sure how Ryan Carter and Sustr got matching minors for high-sticking but it was unnecessary for #20 to react to. Ryder's penalty was bad. I wasn't a big fan of Anton Volchenkov's interference call but the PK got a goal and allowed nothing (plus Adam Larsson got some PK work) so I'm not that upset by it. I don't know how you take a too many men on the ice call at the end of the game. Thankfully, Henrique won the faceoff to ice the final three seconds.
Your Take: Apologies for the recap but the trains come when they want to come, not when I want them to. Alas, the Devils won a second game in a row. Are you pleased with the result? More importantly, are you pleased with how the Devils got it tonight? Which Devil were you most impressed with tonight? Which Devil were you least impressed with? How surprised were you seeing the Lightning fail to break out over and over at evens? What should the Devils work on as they prepare for a back-to-back set this weekend? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to all those who commented in the gamethread and follow @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.