As a humble observer of tonight's skirmish, I witnessed a squad of white with a red logo head into the den of blueshirts and came away victorious. Some may call the venue Penn Station. Some may call the venue the World's Most Overrated Arena. Some even call it Madison Square Garden, which is actually nowhere near Madison Square. But the denizens called it Rangerstown. So shall it be known for as long as we care to call it that - probably long after the hosts dumped the name. Tonight, the New Jersey Devils went into Rangerstown and gutted out a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers. Rangerstown is theirs!
Now, this was a far different experience than most Devils games this season. It was a high-event game and the Rangers held a possession advantage. The Rangers out-shot the Devils 35-28 and out-attempted them 63-51. Good on the Devils to up their attack, but they couldn't slow the Rangers down once they got going later in the first period. That would be kickstarted in part by the Devils' lack of discipline with three first period penalties and three more that yielded five power plays in total. Making matters worse was that Anton Volchenkov became the latest Devil to get hurt and the visitors had to play most of the game with five defenseman and without their top penalty killer. Throw in two forwards seeing less than six minutes of ice time and there were only fifteen skaters playing throughout the game. The Devils coming away with a 3-2 win truly was a real feat.
While many point to this being a "character" win, I think that undersells how the Devils performed. The effort needed some great performances from several players. First and foremost, Martin Brodeur needed to be spectacular. It's seems strange to call a two goal-against night a spectacular night, but some of the stops he needed to make it fit. Chris Kreider was robbed on what was an essentially a breakaway in the second period. He denied a point-blank one-timer by Derek Stepan. He stepped in to deny Ryan Callahan a quick one-timer created by a terrible giveaway by Adam Larsson during a 4-on-4 session. He kept Mats Zuccarello out. He even used his helmet to stop a batted puck. He had more than his fair share of around his net and he kept it out. His one error was leaving the shortside open a bit too much, which gave Marc Staal a window to shoot at in the second period. The second that beat him was Dan Girardi shot that bounced off Larsson's skate and trickled in. While he had two straight shutouts, I'd say he had a more impressive night tonight. After all, he faced more shots (16, and dangerous ones) in the second period than he did in the entire game against Nashville.
Anton Volchenkov left the game in the first period with what is being called a lower body injury. The defense was shortened to five men and with him out, penalty killers had to be better. Well, Andy Greene was an absolute beast in his own end. Rotating partners, long shifts, extra work, and 27:40 of ice time later, he came away further ahead than the other four. His one big mistake was taking down Carl Hagelin during a power play. Even with all of the tough spots, he came close to coming ahead in possession (14-17 in 5-on-5 play), seemed to make the fewest errors in his own end, and cleaned up a lot of messes. Greene continues to be the ace of a blueline that deserves some more respect.
Ryan Carter arguably had one his biggest performances he's had as a Devil. He got beaten in possession but as part of a fourth line, anytime you get a goal from them has to be praised. Carter got two. And on similar shots at that. He flung a forehander low from Henrik Lundqvist's left that got through to open the game's scoring. Late in the second, he beats Hagelin to a dumped puck from Larsson, cuts inside, and fires a rolling puck off his backhand. It got past Henrik Lundqvist. While it was a soft goal, it clearly helped the Devils out. Carter came close twice to scoring a third, but the team wisely limited his usage so those opportunities were it. Without Carter, this may have well been a loss.
Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus each had an excellent night at both ends of the rink. Each came out ahead in faceoffs. Each came out ahead in possession, which is impressive since the Rangers had an edge from the second period onward. The unit of Zajac, Zubrus, and Jaromir Jagr (not as impressive given his two penalties) were another strong point of the team tonight. Both Zajac and Zubrus played significant minutes on the penalty kill and they were very adept in their own end. They're a big reason why the Devils held the Rangers to a whopping five shots on net out of five power plays. Then there was the goal. Jaromir Jagr sprung Zajac and Zubrus for a 2-on-2 in the third period with a great pass. Zajac passed it to Zubrus. Zubrus nearly had the puck knocked away but he held on and tried to put a shot on Lundqvist past a Zajac screen. He didn't as Girardi blocked it. But the puck stayed in front of #8. Zajac popped out to clear the slot, Zubrus powered in, and put home his own rebound. It was the game deciding goal and a just reward for two players who did a lot of unheralded work to help keep the game close.
Yes, the Devils had to dig deep, work hard, give 110%, and follow other sports cliches. But the Rangers arguably did the same. They had the better of the attack. They responded immediately to Carter's goal. They kept drawing calls and pushing forward when those power plays faltered. They forced Brodeur to be great and they were. They kept attacking against a team that really has tried to grind games down into low-event affairs all season long. In my opinion, I think the Devils won this game because the players that shined for them just did a bit more and made a few more plays than their best.
Regardless, the Devils absolutely should feel good about this win. It's a win within the Metropolitan Division. It's a win in a game when things didn't go their way and their opposition was able to actually move the puck through the neutral zone, control the puck on offense, and create some legitimate attempts. It's a win over a hated rival. It's a win where we can say that Rangerstown was taken.
The Opposition Opinion: At the time of this writing, a recap was not yet up at Blueshirt Banter but one will be soon enough as they actually recap all games regardless of result.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a lot of saves by Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist, and five goals scored:
Heat Check: I said after the Nashville game and in the game preview that this would be a heat check for Brodeur. It would be a big test; a real challenge that questions whether he was really hot. Tonight, he absolutely passed it with flying colors. Devils don't win this game without #30 playing this way.
One Henrik: Henrik Lundqvist was called on to make plenty of tough saves his own. Whenever Michael Ryder appeared with the puck, he had a tough shot to stop. Lundqvist had some tough shots to face from distance such as a few from Eric Gelinas and Marek Zidlicky. Then, after serving his second penalty, Jagr broke away and while Staal's backchecking had an effect, he had to stretch to prevent a 3-1 deficit. Of course, Lundqvist gives up a really soft goal to Carter that made it 2-1 so I'm sure he could have been a bit better. I hope his right arm is OK since it took the full force of a shot from Carter in the third period that caused the trainer to come out.
Other Henrique: Adam Henrique didn't register a shot on net but he did a lot of good work off the puck and in terms of possession. Henrique actually was positive on faceoffs (9-for-17) and he helped Ryder and Brunner get their three shots on net. But his PK work was very good. He didn't play as much as Zajac or Zubrus on it, but when #14 was out there, he applied the right amount of pressure and the right amount of
Shorthanded Further: The defense definitely had to have been asked to do more without Volchenkov. Peter Harrold ended up with the most minutes at 28:19. I think Greene would have had more but that penalty he took meant more time for others on the PK and evens. Eric Gelinas was forced into over twenty minutes, which was a big test for him since he's been relatively protected on the third pairing. Adam Larsson had to go back to tougher situations. Marek Zidlicky had to be relied on. While Greene was fantastic, the other four were up-and-down. On some shifts, they would make some great plays to win pucks down low, get clearances, and box out Rangers. Yet, they each had their share of face-palming mistakes. It also didn't help that after Volchenkov was out, Greene, Larsson, and Zidlicky spent time in the penalty box. There was a short scare that Gelinas would be out aswell after he took a puck hard to the side of his head in the third period. I can't say the defensive effort was on point given that they allowed so many shots and attempts, quality of opponent aside. But having only five really hurt. Mistakes are going to happen and I'd chalk up some of them to guys playing more and in different situations than usual.
But what I want to highlight was that the Devils played the majority of this game with only ten forwards. Cam Janssen is Cam Janssen and he's only good for a handful of shifts unless it's a blowout. Mattias Tedenby wasn't good at all. He only played 5:59, all of at evens. His Corsi was a -7 with 4 for and 11 against. In his defense, he did see the Rangers' top line most of all; New York wanted that match up and got it a few times. Not in his defense, well, Tedenby isn't even decent in his own end and in a tight game like this, he could have been a liability. So the Devils were using ten forwards.
No, Jacob: Jacob Josefson had some nice defensive plays. He had to as every time he was out on the ice, he was in his own end given a team-low Corsi percentage of 25% tonight. But he really stuck out like a sore thumb on two occasions. First, he took a really silly penalty in the second period for putting his hand on the puck to cover it. That's officially "delay of game - smothering puck" in the boxscore and it was a minor that could have been avoided. Second, he iced the puck shortly before Girardi's goal. It was a long defensive shift and even though he had Brunner open in the middle, he threw it up ice before the red line. Stepan wins the faceoff against him, the Rangers move the puck around, Girardi and McDonagh combine for three attempts on net, and then Girardi scores. Josefson wasn't the only one at fault for getting pinned back - Ryder and Brunner were no help - but he's the one who put them in that situation. Not surprisingly, it was his last shift of the game. That second moment was costly and I can't blame DeBoer for benching him. I want to see him succeed but plays like that set him back.
Maybe He Was Good After All: Jagr was positive going forward, got a breakaway chance, put three other shots on net, and hit Zajac with a great pass that led to the game winning goal. With that in mind, I see he did better than I thought. I was down on him during the game because of those two dumb penalties. I know the Devils killed both but still - keep it together, man.
Speed Against Was a Problem: At evens, the Devils had the most problems against the line of Kreider, Zuccarello, and Stepan. They helped create two goals and put eleven shots on net. Kreider torched a fourth line that forced an important stop on a breakaway in the second period. Zuccarello tried to be a pest and took Zidlicky into the box with him for it. Stepan came close to scoring himself and led the team tonight with five shots on net. When they were able to build up some speed, they were noticeably difficult for the Devils to stop. The unit of Hagelin, Callahan, and Brad Richards was similarly dangerous due in part of Hagelin's speed and Callahan playing with his usual "I'm a hardworking captain with lots of skill" hustle. The Devils as a team can struggle against quick moving teams, essentially being down to fifteen skaters for most of the game only exacerbated that possibility. The shot and attempt count shows that they did to a degree. Thankfully, the Devils got some puck luck in terms of rebounds and reacted fairly well on them.
Penalty Killing Heroes: The Devils played 8:57 of this game down a man. They only allowed five shots on net, took two of their own on net, and allowed no goals. Important? You bet. Do I want to keep seeing the PK units for four-to-six times a game? Not at all. But the Rangers' power play arguably as poorly as the Devils' own power play so that's another feather in the Devils' proverbial penalty killing cap.
The Game Winning Goal Deserves Another Video: The Lithuanian Freight Train Pulled In to Penn Station...
...and then it departed to a place with a far less stupid name than Rangerstown.
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils beat Our Hated Rivals in their
building town. I want to know what you think. Who was the best Devil on the ice? Who had the most important performance on the ice (not necessarily the best Devil)? How did you think the Devils carried themselves on defense with only five defensemen? How about with essentially only ten skaters? What's with the recent discipline problems? How did you react when Zubrus scored? When will I stop calling it Rangerstown? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter (@InLouWeTrust). Thank you for reading.