Earlier on Tuesday, I wrote a post advising everyone not to panic with the slow start. I'm sure few will heed my advice, but I'm asking you to bear with me a little longer. Yes, much of this game was not so fun to watch, but this was about as tough a situation as the Devils will be in all season. It was the second half of a back-to-back after an exhausting OT game, it was on the west coast, and it was against a pretty good Vancouver team. Given those circumstances, coming away with a point is hardly the end of the world. Given how badly they were outplayed for much of the game, it's damn near a miracle.
The first and third periods had some back and forth chances by both clubs with Vancouver tilting things a bit for stretches of each period. I thought the Devils were okay in those frames. The second period, however, was largely a horror show for the Devils. Despite going up 2-0 about 7 minutes in with a goal against the run of play, the Devils were lucky to escape the period tied at 2. Overall, the Canucks were the better team and got themselves a deserved ROW from the game.
Highlights of the contest, which included a few nifty saves from the two stars of the Canadian media sideshow surrounding this game, are here courtesy of NHL.com:
Back and Forth First Period: The first period featured some good chances from both teams fairly early. Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo were both forced to make some big saves for their teams early. First, Luongo on a Dainius Zubrus point blank shot off of a sweet Jaromir Jagr feed, then Schneider on a rebound by
Daniel Henrik Sedin. Vancouver would then take over play a bit and put the pressure on New Jersey. The Devils started to make mistakes left and right and I counted four different defenders who turned pucks over in rapid succession for NJ. This stretch was punctuated by the night's requisite dumb Marek Zidlicky penalty (a slash).
The Devils were actually able to kill that penalty off and stem the tide a bit after that. The forwards generated some chances, and they would eventually break through with the Czech connection of Zidlicky to Elias to Jagr. It was certainly a sweet goal with Zidlicky entering the zone and finding Elias, who fed a great pass to a driving Jagr who found the back of the net. That would be the final shot of the period so the Devils had to feel good going into the intermission.
Ugly Second Period: The Devils actually started the second well, putting up four of the first six shots on net. It would pretty much all come apart from there, save for Elias' fluky goal against the run of play to make it 2-0. The Devils were outshot 12-3 over the last 15 minutes of the period, and it didn't really feel that close. The Canucks netted two goals in the onslaught, the first a Daniel Sedin shot which was redirected in by fan favorite Anton Volchenkov, and the second after Clowe couldn't skate to the bench after blocking a shot, leading to an Alexander Edler goal while the Devils were temporarily outnumbered. All things considered, the Devils were lucky to escape the period tied, as Schneider stopped a breakaway amidst jeers from the Canucks fans late in the period.
Improved Third Period: With nowhere to go but up, I felt the Devils actually put up a decent effort in the third. The first half of the period was actually pretty slow, though the teams would trade failed power plays during that time. The Devils probably should have had a 5-on-3 when Elias was hooked/interfered with driving for a puck, but alas, it went uncalled. The Canucks power play was a little more effective, but the Devils were able to kill it off. After that the Devils generated a few good chances, but things would quiet down again until the last five. For a stretch, the Canucks had the Devils hemmed in pretty well, but Schneider was able to keep the door closed. The Devils responded in the last minute-plus after a Canucks icing and generated some chances of their own towards the end of regulation. Time would expire, though, and both teams would collect a point.
Short OT: The Canucks controlled the abbreviated extra frame for the most part, and Jason Garrison would end up putting in the winner through a screen given by Mike Santorelli. According to Schneider, he never saw this puck until it was in the back of the net. Game over, Devils lose.
Other brief thoughts:
One Good Line: The Elias-Zubrus-Jagr line was very good tonight. For all of the talk of the two Czech wingers not having chemistry, it sure didn't look that way. They had a lot of crisp passing all night, and they drove play forward big time. On a team which was thoroughly trounced in shot attempts (-15 at 5v5), Zubrus, Elias, and Jagr finished +8, +11, and +8 in Corsi, respectively. Jagr and Elias both finished with a goal and an assist, and Zubrus looked strong in general as well.
Schneider Was Pretty Sharp: Cory had some big saves and looked in control all night long. Hard to kill him on any of the three goals with one deflecting off his own defender, another one point blank on the doorstep, and the third a shot he never saw through a screen. Overall strong in his Vancouver return, but a loser from a narrative perspective as his former mentor/co-starter gets the win.
Pretty Much Everyone Else Stunk: Perhaps I'm painting with too broad a brush here, but it's hard to find a good game from the rest of the bunch. Defenders were turning pucks over left and right, and forwards were doing little to support them in the defensive end. Damien Brunner had a lousy game, pretty much disappeared halfway through, and was on for all three goals against. Ryane Clowe had a disaster of an outing too, with a team-worst -17 Corsi. Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac were non-factors, to put it nicely. Shoutout to Pete DeBoer as well for putting Bryce Salvador out on the power play in the third (among his 27 minutes of TOI).
I suppose I'll try to dish a little qualified praise: I thought Fayne was pretty decent in his return, but he had a bad turnover at the blue line that tangentially led to the second Canucks goal. Andy Greene had some good plays, including a great push to lead a nice rush in the first, but he was also pinned back at times. Zidlicky was the quintessential Zidlicky, with a nice assist and a whole bunch of ugly otherwise. Olesz had a few nice moments in his debut, but the fourth line was hemmed in a lot too.
Final Thoughts: Like I said, the Devils were outplayed in this one. They were out-shot and out-attempted big time, with the second period accounting for the bulk of that deficit. Very few players had a good night out there. That said, this was always going to be a tough game, and looking at the run of play, one has to be happy with salvaging a point. Yes, the Devils are now winless in four games, but their three points are good enough to put them here in the division standings for the time being:
FOURTH PLACE WOOOO!