After a disappointing game in Pittsburgh, the hope was that the New Jersey Devils would bounce back in their home opener against the New York Islanders. The final result was a 4-3 loss by way of the shootout. While they got a point, it wasn't the desired result. With a five-game road trip through Canada coming up, starting the season with one out of four possible points wasn't the ideal way to go about it.
That said, there are plenty of positives to take from this game. The Devils did play better in general than they did on Thursday night. They still had their fair share of turnovers, but not nearly as many as the Isles, who played their first game tonight. The Devils turned those additional opportunities into attempts and comfortably led in that category from the second period onward. Peter DeBoer mixed up the lines and pairings in the second period and based on how much better the team was in possession, I'd say they worked out. The Devils not only scored once but three times, all from the new guys. Damien Brunner opened the game's scoring and tied it up in the third period. Michael Ryder put home a lovely shot in the second period. They didn't just settle for shots from distance as much as they were able to generate opportunities down low. Had the puck bounced a little more the Devils way, perhaps they would have found that extra goal. They did very well in overtime and while they didn't win the shootout, at least they dragged it to six rounds. These are things the Devils can build on.
This is not to say that I'm totally pleased. The Devils could have gotten a win and they didn't. That usually means that they could be better and there are aspects where they could have done so. That said, my overall feelings about the game would have stayed the same had the Devils won the shootout. Not a great performance, but a step in the right direction. If the Devils continue down their path, then the wins should come. The Devils shouldn't be anywhere near a panic button, so to speak, for two winless games to start the season. Your take may be different, though.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik throws asterisks into shootout games for his recap but he's pleased overall in his recap over at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's the highlight video from tonight's game:
Hey Possession: The Devils led overall in attempts 55-39, 45-32 in 5-on-5 play, 40-28 in close score situations in 5-on-5 play, and 28-19 in tied score situations in 5-on-5 play. That's a big jump over the Penguins game where the Devils only out-attempted their opponent because they were down two goals early. Andy Greene and Peter Harrold led the way from the blueline while Travis Zajac, Ryder, and Adam Henrique did a lot of pushing forward. By eye sight, those five were seemingly constant in the Isles' end for stretches of the game. It wasn't all good as the Larsson wasn't good in general and Jaromir Jagr was essentially an anchor. No wonder he got shifted down to play with Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter from the second period onward.
Amazingly, the Devils did a lot of their damage against the Isles' top line of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Matt Moulson. While they combined for seven shots, they were defending much more often than not. Their Corsi percentage was each below 30%. That's the best way to try contain a top line; force them to do what they're not intended to do. Of course, they still generated seven shots so they weren't that contained all that much But they each were on the ice for at least ten shots on net. Fortunately for them, Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen were a bit better and made the most of some one-on-Brodeur opportunities. They carried the day in terms of production until Moulson appeared in the shootout.
Where I Gripe About the Defense: It would still be in their best interest to work on where they got beaten tonight. The defense left a lot to be desired despite giving up only 26 shots on net. Like on Thursday, there were good defensemen and bad defensemen. While Greene had a very good game and Harrold was usually fine with him (he did get caught on the blueline for a breakaway that Brodeur stopped in the third, that was his one big fault as I recall), the other pairings were frightful. Larsson was picked on almost right from the start, Anton Volchenkov struggled with the puck on his stick, and both had their ice time drastically cut from the second period onward. Volchenkov only got a little more due to a penalty kill in the third. Grabner's second goal, helped by Volchenkov not able to keep the puck in and Larsson not engaging him really made them look stupid. For Larsson, it was the second goal he looked dumb on as Grabner torched an out-of-position Larsson on his way to scoring his first goal.
Marek Zidlicky may have come out ahead in possession but he managed to do it in the most head-shaking way possible. Positioning was seemingly optional for him on some shifts, he gift wrapped a breakaway for Grabner in the third period that Brodeur bailed him out on, he was aggressive to a fault with his pinches, and he was inconsistent in his reaction time. He was difficult to watch tonight. Despite a big possession advantage, I'm again left wondering how Mark Fayne isn't replacing any of these three guys right now.
Where I Gripe About the Goalie: Martin Brodeur didn't have a very good game in my view. I'm not sure how Tonight's Attending Media gave him the third star of the game. Yes, he absolutely robbed Pierre-Marc Bouchard in the third period and he extended the shootout to six rounds. Yes, he had some good saves at times. Yet, the three goals he allowed were stoppable. The first from Grabner was an aggressive attempt to force Grabner to shoot early, which he did and got the puck just under him. That may have been a defensible decision. I'm failing to see what was defensible about Grabner's second goal, a low shot from a not-so-dangerous angle, or Nielsen putting home a backhander through a gaping five-hole from the goal line. That's because they weren't. It could have been worse had Josh Bailey not hit the post in a 2-on-1 or if Bouchard wasn't super-robbed. Had Brodeur given one or two fewer soft goals, then perhaps the Devils would have won this game outright. If I have to type that, then I don't think he was anywhere near one of the three best players tonight. (I would have made the third man Greene, for what it's worth.)
Where I Gripe About the Other 41 Year Old Man on the Devils: Jagr was bad tonight. He tried to muscle his way down low with some degree on offense. However, his decisions on passes weren't always smart. Jagr was responsible for several giveaways and he didn't always backcheck on them. I know he's not much of a defender but I don't see how he's going to get prime time if all he does is float above the circles. In terms of possession, he ended up at -12 among all attempts in 5-on-5 play. To put that in perspective, the only forward who finished below 50% tonight was Gionta at -2. He was a black hole. With one shot on net in over 14 minutes of play, I'm not sure why he was chosen for the shootout, but sure enough, he didn't score. It's clear he's playing his way into form but it was hard to watch #68 tonight.
Where I Point Out that Not Every Team Has a Grabner: Michael Grabner's speed made him the most dangerous player for the Isles and not coincidentally their best player. He turned loose pucks into chances and his teammates hit him with multiple killer diagonal passes to play him into the Devils' end. This will lead to pointing out that the Devils are slow. But I want to note that they were exploited by their positioning more than just straight up speed. When players are caught flat footed, even non-slow guys are going to be behind the play because they have figure out what just happened and react, which usually involves turning and desperately trying to make a move. With a guy like Grabner or even someone charging hard like Chuck Kobasew last night, those guys don't have chance. The Devils aren't going to suddenly become super-quick even if they signed The Flash, so it's imperative that they communicate about where the Isles are approaching off the puck (the far side from the bench was common) and the defenders, whoever they may be, drop back in anticipation instead of stepping up.
Where I Point Out Some Good Devils from What I Saw: I really, really liked Greene's game tonight. He was quite good for over 24 minutes at both ends. I really, really liked Damien Brunner charging to the net as needed. He's not the biggest or strongest but he managed to get in position for two goals. He put up two other shots, so he's clearly . I'd like to keep seeing him with Patrik Elias. I liked Steve Bernier's performance. When he was moved up a line to play with Andrei Loktionov and Dainius Zubrus, I felt he did quite well winning pucks and keeping plays going. He did well in the situation.
Where I Point Out Josh Harris Saying Four Words: Thanks to a bunch of readers on Twitter, my brother, and the Associate, Josh Harris used the phrase "In Lou We Trust" twice in an intermission interview on TV. Specifically in reference to his approach to the hockey side of the business. That's the right call and thanks for reading, Mr. Harris!
Where I Point Out the Crowd: The crowd was what a home opener should be. Hot, excited, and boisterous. They wanted to see something good, they got an exciting game, and the Devils played well enough to keep them involved. I could hear the Diablos all the way from my seat in Section 1 when the other sections weren't making noise of their own, so they were doing work.
I absolutely loved the crowd's reaction to the goal song, too. It was mentioned in passing somewhere (I think a comment on Tom Gulitti's Fire & Ice) that the goal song was changed. It did not change in preseason and very few people knew what it was changed to. The masses had the same reaction as I did to the sudden usage of a crummy Bon Jovi song (Aside: I lived in New Jersey my whole life, I don't get why I should like this guy or a boss. E-Town Concrete's from New Jersey, that doesn't mean we need to put them on a pedestal, though Mandibles is a good tune.) that the fans had no say in deciding: "Yaaaaaaaaaaaay - wait what is this, this is awful BOOOOOOOOOOOOO, &c." And it happened after a goal against that came from a botched glove save by Evgeni Nabokov. That's definitely a goal against worth jeering, even if he did get the last laugh in the shootout.
I know there's a vocal group of Devils fans on the Internet that wanted to see Rock and Roll Part 2 go away, but tonight proved the vast majority didn't want a change to the goal song. Especially a change without any notice and only began for this game and not any of the three preseason home games where it could have been tried out. And that's a majority ranging from hardcore season ticket holders to casual fans. Out of a sold-out crowd, I'd say it was well over half of them. Instead of just taking what the powers that be demand they take, the crowd stood up for their collective selves and made their disagreement literally heard. The disapproval returned for the second and third goals, with many fans deciding to sing along to Rock and Roll Part 2 anyway. I should know, I led it in my little area and other sections did it too. We all had fun, likely much to the dismay and of the snobs who are still either clutching their pearls, replacing cracked monocles, or missing a pacifier to
suck use. Media snarked/cried about it; but they're the same people who thought Brodeur was the third best player on the ice tonight so who knows what game they were paying attention to. I hope management did pay attention (or read this site, which I think at least one man of importance does), heard the ticket-pass masses, and make the appropriate change for October 19, which should also be a hot crowd.
Where I Point Out A Small Error: I think was the first game for one of the graphics people. From the scoreboard in the third period:
Yeah. Better luck next time.
Where I Point Out Earl's Dance Party wasn't Axed: Good. Earl is an institution that should not be sullied.
Where I Point Out That Saturday's Post Will Be A Bit Late: Since the Devils scored their first of the season tonight, I will do a goal breakdown. But that will be up likely tomorrow early afternoon instead of the usual 11 AM sighting.
Where I Say It's Your Turn: What did you think of tonight's performance? Was this an improvement of Thursday's game and if so, is it enough to be encouraging for the future or does the team still have some ways to go? What did you make of DeBoer's adjustments from the second period onward? How would you like the Devils to adjust for speedier opponents or teams given the personnel they have? When will Jaromir Jagr get his groove? Would the Devils have won this game if Brodeur was better? What was up with Larsson-Volchenkov or Zidlicky? What do you want to see from the team going forward into their upcoming road trip? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.