One could argue the New Jersey Devils deserved more than one win in this recent week of games. They certainly played a lot of fantastic hockey in their last two but were undone by bad goaltending among other issues (e.g. not being able to stop one line in Columbus, the whole first period in Pittsburgh). It's true in the NHL and it's true in life, "deserves" doesn't mean much. Tonight, they got fantastic goaltending in spite of not playing so well against the Tampa Bay Lightning. But they did enough to score and get a 3-0 win that they may have not deserved.
One could argue the Devils acted as if they were from Toronto. After a sloppy first period that nearly saw the Devils go up but only to find the post twice, the Lightning realized they were the rested team for the second period. They started hitting passes cleanly. They were able to find space to carry pucks into the neutral zone. The Devils skaters struggled to get the puck out of their own end, much less cleanly and with possession. It kept giving Tampa Bay more and more opportunities to attack. I kept muttering to myself "Burn this shift," as the Lightning kept swarming. Martin Brodeur was simply sensational with all kinds of stops. From simple open-shots to absolutely robbing Martin St. Louis in the slot with his glove. He was only beaten on a close shot by Alex Killorn - and saved by the post. The Devils capitalized on one of their few chances in the second; Damien Brunner scored on a breakaway set-up by Eric Gelinas. In the third, the Devils had a few minutes of dominance that yielded two goals for Dainius Zubrus and Brodeur held on with 13 more stops. The Devils were out-shot 33-19, out-attempted 58-34, and found a way to win 3-0. The Bolts arguably got Leafed.
One could argue the Devils did enough to get a result in spite of the disparity in possession and shots. Brodeur played very well and bailed out the Devils plenty of times. Yet, the Devils skaters did manage to accomplish some good things. The Devils did hit two posts early in the game and had a number of pucks just go wide. Whether the Devils scorer caught them all is unknown. While the second period saw the neutral zone go one way, they were starting to punch back a bit prior to the Brunner goal. The play itself exposed Tampa Bay's defense, which was exploited later in the third as Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder were sprung for one-on-ones of their own. The five minute stretch in the third that resulted in two goals for Zubrus was simply dominant hockey from whoever was out there in red. New Jersey figured out they needed guys around the crease because Tampa Bay wasn't fully covering them and they got rewarded. While I can't credit the defense for an overall good game since they conceded 33 shots, the penalty killers were fantastic. And while they didn't score an empty net goal, they managed to hold Tampa Bay to two shots out of four attempts in four-plus minutes of 6-on-5 hockey. They should have done much better overall, but it wasn't as if the team lucked into three goals and relied on Brodeur on all other times. Though, it felt that way in the second period.
One could argue that it's good that the Devils won the game at all. Points are what's necessary and they got them. I'll go into more detail in the weekly division snapshot, but the win puts them one behind third place Carolina. They could have helped themselves out a lot had they won either of their other two games, but they remain in the mix in a messy Metropolitan Division. Given that the crowd had to brave a snowstorm to and from The Rock - and it wasn't that bad of a crowd given the inclement weather - they were sent home happy. The team can worry about the "how" in the next few days, but we may want to appreciate the "what just happened" a bit more.
The Opposition Opinion: Raw Charge will surely have something up when they figure out what just happened.
The Game Highlights: Two more goals for Big Z, a breakaway finished by Brunner, and plenty of Brodeur stops. This is your NHL.com highlight video:
Shutout #124: Brodeur definitely earned this shutout. Again, the Lightning controlled the majority of play in the second period. When the Devils got up 3-0 in the third, the Lightning just kept throwing everything forward. It's not exactly confidence-inspiring to read he guessed on a breakaway attempt by Nikita Kucherov in the third. But it was clear to anyone who paid attention that Brodeur was vastly better in the crease tonight. He didn't leave many big rebounds for the opposition. He appeared to be in control of his movements. He held onto pucks as necessary. Brodeur was fabulous and he had to be given how little the skaters were giving him in support at times. Well done, Brodeur.
And Let Me Address the Controversy Ahead of Time: Cory Schneider is the statistically better goaltender and should definitely be the main man in the long run. But he was bad on Friday night. while Brodeur was bad in Columbus and could be bad in the future, he was fantastic tonight. If we're going to reward good performance, then surely the guy getting a shutout should get the next non-back-to-back game, right? But if we want to see Schneider, then should we be unhappy about this shutout? Should we lament that Brodeur was good so he keeps getting games? My answer is no. Like with goalscoring, I don't care much about the "who does the job" as much as I do about "getting the job done." Feel free to disagree. All the same, the correct answer to "Who should start on Wednesday night?" will likely come by Thursday morning.
Swarmed: Martin St. Louis played 22:03 tonight. I thought he played so much more because he kept flying around on the ice. It appeared to me that whatever good things were happening for Tampa Bay, he was out there. He only had three shots on net and surprisingly was only on the ice for ten of Tampa Bay's 42 attempts in 5-on-5 play. Don't misunderstand; St. Louis looked fantastic. It's just that he wasn't the only one.
Consider this trio: J.T. Brown, Nate Thompson, and Kruchev. They played about 11 minutes together and they made the absolute most of it. They combined for eleven shots on net. They were Tampa Bay's best players in terms of possession at 5-on-5. They rolled through Anton Volchenkov, who was pinned back more than any other Devils defender, Marek Zidlicky, and Jon Merrill. Zidlicky and Merrill took shifts with A-Train and by my eye, either pairing itself wasn't that strong - especially in the second period. Given that they're not a big-minute line by any means, their dominance in terms of possession and production (by way of shots) represents how good Tampa Bay was overall. When a "depth" unit makes that much noise in addition to the line with the star, then the skaters were putting in excellent work. Fortunately, Brodeur denied them just as he denied St. Louis.
I will also credit the Lightning defense to a degree for the swarming. When they were pinned, they got into trouble. (Some bad bounces also hurt them, such as pucks going off skates.) But when the Devils struggled to get the puck out in the second period, they didn't let the Devils get much breathing room. They collected the puck well, smartly moved it up to prevent a big change, and held the points very well. Even when they had to retreat, they managed to re-start the forward movement very well. Matthew Carle and Radko Gudas were notable in that they each had four shots on net. Of course, they were also notable for being too far apart when Gelinas hit Brunner with that pass prior to his goal. Again, I credit them to a degree.
Super Killers: The Devils' penalty killers were great tonight. The Devils took three calls - all legit - and they conceded only three shots on net. The Devils skaters from Volchenkov all the way to Tim Sestito just stymied the Lightning's power play. Whether it was winning a puck from the boards, getting a stop at the blueline, or getting to a loose puck first, the Devils often collected the puck and dumped it away. The Lightning rarely got a chance to really set up for a good shot on net. Well done, PK units.
Good Forwards for NJ: While the Devils only got 19 shots on net, there were a few forwards I did like tonight. I really liked how the Zajac line played after a quiet first two periods. Jaromir Jagr looked especially up for the third. He fought so hard to get that little bit of space with the puck to make a play. I think he, more than others, wanted to help his goalie and he did it with two big primary assists. Zubrus was just as big and his goals were crucial. It made the most of the Devils' third period surge and gave themselves plenty of breathing room. There were a lot of calls for "Zuuuuubrus" during the four-minute-plus; fans wanted to see him get the hat trick. But he didn't get a shift. He didn't take one in the minute prior, actually. I hope he's OK. All the same, on a night where the Devils got creamed in possession in 5-on-5 play, this unit thrived.
I really liked what I saw out of Michael Ryder. His idea of defense leaves a lot to be desired, which was seen plenty of times throughout this game. However, he wasn't brought in to defend, he was brought in to attack. He led the Devils with five shots on net. I can't complain about that. I was hoping he'd beat Anders Lindback on a one-on-one in the third to cap off what would have been a good night for him.
Not So Good Forwards for NJ: After an amazing night in Pittsburgh, the line of Steve Bernier, Patrik Elias, and Damien Brunner didn't do so well. Yes, Brunner got a breakaway and nearly scored up-close in the third. That's all good for Brunner from an offensive standpoint. The problem was that this trio weren't attacking a lot. In 5-on-5 play, they were on the ice for six attempts on net and their opponents doubled them up. They were out-shot by at least five at evens. That unit got a lot of the St. Louis line as well as the combination of Valterri Filppula, Teddy Purcell, and Killorn (again, he came the closest to scoring but hit a post). Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Brunner scored the way he did. I'm glad he nearly did it again in the third. I hope he keeps going to the net. But Elias, Bernier, and Brunner weren't in the Lightning's end enough to make that a possibility. I hope they'll do better in the next game.
The fourth line played a bit more like what you would expect from the fourth line. I didn't see anything too obscene but they didn't amaze after a great night in Pittsburgh either. Sestito and Jacob Josefson (who I think hit the first post) look good on the PK but not much elsewhere. Cam Janssen was held to 2:35, which makes me hope a Devils forward gets healthy soon to replace him. Since this unit doesn't play a lot anyway, it wasn't as big of a deal as the Elias line not having a collectively good night aside from the Brunner goal.
Backup Reminder: Anders Lindback is Tampa Bay's backup. The Devils dented his already low save percentage (88.7% overall) with a 84.2% shot tonight. I point this out to those who think the Devils do not score goals against backups. They certainly did tonight.
Toys for Tots: Toy drive is on Wednesday night at the Rock. Please remember to bring a new, unwrapped toy to the game.
Your Take: The Devils got a much-needed win over Tampa Bay tonight. What's your reaction? Do you think the Devils were fortunate to win they did? Who impressed you the most among the Devils? Who on the Devils did you think struggled the most? How did you react when Brodeur got the shutout? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to those in the Gamethread and those who followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.