Tonight was a fight between a high-event team in the Ottawa Senators and a low-event team in the New Jersey Devils. By the end of the night, the stinger team came out on top. The Devils only out-attempted the Sens 43-38 and the Sens were actually ahead 32-31 in 5-on-5 play. But the Devils' attempts were often on-target as they out-shot the Sens 33-25. They were up against a good goalie, or at least a goalie who has been playing well, in Robin Lehner and they made him suffer five goals against. Five lovely goals against. That the freewheeling Senators weren't able to really let loose even when they were down three goals is a testament to how well the Devils played. Sure, the Devils got plenty of bounces, but they just happened to be in position over and over again to make something happen with them. The result: a decisive win.
The game started off rocky as Marek Zidlicky decided to hook Erik Karlsson on his first shift of the game, but the good times soon came. A cleared puck by Anton Volchenkov bounced past Joe Corvo and Adam Henrique took it up ice. He delayed for an obvious pass to Stephen Gionta, and then the little one finished the play for an early 1-0 lead. The Devils poured on the pressure and got another goal. An incredibly hard shot by Eric Gelinas bounced off the backboards right to Reid Boucher. The rookie put the puck into the top corner for his first ever NHL goal and drive the Sens in deeper. The Devils looked good from all three lines - especially the Travis Zajac line - as they just kept winning pucks down low and turning failed zone exits by Ottawa into more possession.
The second period started off as well as one could hope. Jaromir Jagr presses the issue and draws a hold from Bobby Ryan. While the power play didn't set up much, they made it count right at the end. Zidlicky played Andy Greene into the zone and he gets checked off the puck. Travis Zajac recovers it and finds Jagr in close. Jagr slipped a backhander through Lehner's legs and it's 3-0 early in the second. Ottawa would get on the board when Colin Greening tipped a shot by Mika Zibanejad into just inside the top left corner of the net. The Sens were able to force the Devils to just clear the puck away as opposed to really respond with some offense. The fear was that one bounce, one deflection, one mistake, or one something past Martin Brodeur would suddenly put this game in doubt. Brodeur was doing well but things happen and given recent games, leads aren't always safe.
But then Damien Brunner had other plans. Patrik Elias tried to play him into the zone but Jared Cowen was in position to recover it. Brunner went right at the defenseman, knocked him away from the puck with one incredible (and somewhat legal) move, and then curled the puck in around Lehner with another incredible move. He made it 4-1. It must have sucked the wind right of the Senators' metaphorical sails. It definitely enraged Clarke MacArthur, as he ended the second with a boarding minor and a roughing minor (dropping the gloves) against Volchenkov. The Devils didn't do much with the four minute power play but they maintained control.
Of course, they weren't perfect. Zidlicky got tagged for another hooking penalty against Kyle Turris. The Devils were doing a good job killing it off. Then Patrick Weircioch found Milan Michalek going forward through the middle of the neutral zone. Michalek torched Mark Fayne and Volchenkov and then beat Brodeur with an impressive shot of his own. It became 4-2 and a game again. At least, it did for less than a minute. The Elias line got it in deep and as Elias moved the puck to Brunner behind the net, Gelinas was banging his stick. He wanted the disc. He demanded the biscuit. He got it and beat Lehner with a lovely wrister just inside the corner. An almost instant response to Michalek's goal to make it 5-2. And the Devils kept Ottawa plenty honest as they cruised to a win.
One could argue that this was the fabled "sixty minute" performance the team needs to play with. I can't entirely disagree. They had some stretches in the second period where they got into trouble. But that not only pretty much happens to everyone, especially if they have a lead. Even so, they got out of it thanks to Brunner's second-period-closing highlight-reel goal. And it wasn't like Ottawa ever really bombed away. The team that averaged well over thirty shots per game ended up with much less than thirty after all. The defense was strong overall, the Devils look great on offense, and Brodeur was pretty good.
The only area that wasn't sparkling was the special teams. It did lead to Ottawa's goals of the night. But even those weren't bad. I can't fault any night where a power play as poor as New Jersey's didn't concede anything and actually scored a goal. Neither power play goal allowed was due to a bad breakdown (well, Michalek splitting Fayne and Volchenkov certainly wasn't good) or bad goaltending. If anything, the calls themselves were poor ones to take. Besides, the PK kicked things off with a shorthanded goal. That they can be rationalized so easily makes it clearer that the Devils were simply superior tonight. They earned their big win. Hopefully, it can be something built upon for the future.
The Opposition Opinion: Amelia L called the Senators "uninspired" in her recap at Silver Seven. Well, I'd agree with that with respect to their bottom six.
The Game Highlights: Five goals and plenty of good highlights from this game. Check out this video from NHL.com:
Congratulations: A team's fourteenth win of the season usually isn't one to remember unless something crazy happens. But it will be forever in the heart and mind of Reid Boucher. Boucher scored his first NHL goal tonight. The play began with Michael Ryder - who perhaps got away with a hit away from the play on Chris Phillips - heading through the neutral zone and then leaving it for Gelinas at the point. Gelinas fired a really, really hard shot. It just so happened to miss the net by not much and rebound off the boards almost straight out. Boucher was in the right place and just flicked it up into the net. It was a great put-back. It was something he'll remember, from the goal itself to the Rock chanting "Bou-cher" after it happened. What a night.
But Boucher did more than just get his first. He had a very good game tonight. The line of Andrei Loktionov, Ryder, and Boucher were great at even strength. Those three had a combined eight shots on net, and Boucher had four of them. He could have scored a second goal either when he had a lovely rebound come right to him in the first period (he didn't get all of the shot) or in the third when he tore down the wing and tried to go short-side on Lehner. The winger looked great. He skated well, he tried to help out on D, he drew a call by taking a cross-check from Corvoi in the corners (this means he was in the corners), and he moved the puck when it was the right play to do so. He'll always have the memory of his first NHL goal; hopefully, he'll recall about how well the night went for him.
A Thing I Remember Because Confirmation Bias Is Fun But I Liked It So Here It Is: Loktionov returned to the lineup and I really liked his game tonight. While he didn't register a point, I do remember his tenacity on the puck. When it was 5-2 in the third period, Loktionov was up on the forecheck while Erik Karlsson had the puck. Loktionov managed to pester Karlsson for about ten seconds, following the all-world defenseman as he looked for a breakout option. He actually got it away from him, only to be thwarted by his own teammate trying to pick up the loose puck. It was a sign of how things were going tonight; that the Devils wouldn't just hang back with a three goal lead. It was also a sign of why Loktionov is more easily inserted into the lineup over other forwards.
Return with a Bang - And Not Much Afterwards: Gionta returned to the lineup and made his mark immediately on the game. His shot wasn't anything special but it beat a desperately diving Lehner on a shorthanded 2-on-1. That opened up the game's scoring. However, Gionta didn't really impress much otherwise. That goal was his only shot of the game. At even strength, he and Steve Bernier were beaten badly in the possession department. While the expectations for a fourth line are basically "skate hard and don't get beat," I would have liked to have seen less of the play going the wrong way when #11 was out there. That said, he did score his first of the season. For that alone, I'm not going to complain. I just hope things will go better in future games.
Heavy Duty: I was surprised to see that Travis Zajac, Jaromir Jagr, and Dainius Zubrus did not absolutely wreck their opponent at evens. Well, they had a good differential (well, Zubrus did with Jagr and Zajac - not so much with the fourths) but there was no load of attempts. That was strange because it appeared they just owned the perimeter against the Sens. Jagr and Zubrus just won battle after battle. Zajac provided great support to keep it going. Jagr did score on the power play (one that he drew from Ryan) and Zajac helped set it up, so at least they got points out of it. But they did so much good work down low that I thought they had more opportunities. Nevertheless, I continue to enjoy this unit grind teams down.
Milestones: Jagr's goal is the 693rd of his career. He is now only one behind Mark Messier, who is seventh on the all-time goal list. It's becoming ever more likely we will see #700 as he represents the bedeviled "NJ." His goal stood as the game winner so he now owns that record with 122.
MISSING - ONE JOCKSTRAP, IF FOUND PLEASE CONTACT J. COWEN: Brunner's move was aggressive and absolutely lovely. I almost want to do a goal breakdown just to fully process all the moves. He showed off so much skill and it doesn't even happen if he just lets Cowen collect it. He needs to play with that kind of swagger. He didn't have it weeks ago. But now that he's shooting more, getting more involved in plays, and has a few goals, he's definitely more inclined to take initiative. I want him to keep playing like this even when the goals stop going in; he's infinitely more watachable when he does. Tonight, he did score. Making Cowen look like a scrub was a bonus.
OK, More Griping About Discipline: If you want a negative, I wasn't a fan of the discipline at times. I did appreciate the Devils not being goaded into garbage caused by MacArthur. The winger's actions were dumb since A) good things were happening when he was on the ice for Ottawa, B) he's one of Ottawa's top six forwards, and C) even without conceding a PPG, he helped make sure there would be no comeback. That said, the Devils could have been better. Zajac's not-so-subtle block on Michalek and Zidlicky's hooks weren't necessary calls to take. They paid the price for two of those three calls. Someone (I forget who) jumped on the ice before Brodeur got to the bench to wipe out a penalty given to Karlsson, Ottawa's best defender, was just annoying. Still, the Devils did so much good that it's hard to get really unhappy about it. But it's worth noting.
Remember The Truth: Gelinas and Zidlicky wasn't always a strong pairing. But when they got set-up, look out. Gelinas officially only got two shots on net, but he definitely unloaded more than just two attempts. I believe Patrick Weircioch's jersey got a big, black mark from one of Gelinas' shots. Somehow, that didn't count as a block in Newark. (Thanks to Nate for pointing that out.) Anyway, he stood out on offense and my only complaint is that when he gains the zone all on his own on a power play, then he shouldn't pass it away. Otherwise, The Truth stood out on offense tonight.
The Ongoing Controversies in Net: Ottawa's goaltending situation probably got rockier. Just as Lehner was being touted to be someone to take over for Craig Anderson, he had a night like this one. Not all five were necessarily his fault. And it wasn't his fault that his team conceded over 30 shots from a team that doesn't average near thirty, especially in a building where the shot count is usually low. That said, he definitely shoulders some of the blame tonight. I'm sure he'd like Jagr's goal and perhaps Gelinas' goal back. Maybe he'd sacrifice something to go back in time to not bit so hard on Brunner's stick-fakes, too. Not that I follow Ottawa, but I suspect Anderson will be back in action sooner rather than later.
As for New Jersey, it remains interesting. Brodeur had a good game and not just because he stopped Ottawa's first two shots on net this time. With a back-to-back coming up, he would have likely have started one of them anyway. After tonight, I feel that a start would not be undeserved if that makes any sense.
Not A Negotiator: Chris Phillips tried to plead his case to the refs twice after two goals. I'd say he had a point about Ryder hitting him, which made him open. I didn't think Brunner did anything wrong unless making a defenseman look stupid is a penalty. The refs weren't buying it either time. I suppose he should stick to defending as opposed to arguing.
Your Take: The Devils won their second straight game and did it with a big 5-2 score. I'm sure you're happy, so what did you like the most out of tonight's performance? Who do you think was the best Devil on the ice? Who or what did you not like about this effort? Why do you think the Devils were able to get so many shots on target? Can the Devils build on this? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.