Beating a hated rival is always a reason for a fan to smile. You get bragging rights. You get to keep them down in the standings. You get to feel good knowing that your favorite team went into a tough game and came out with a positive result. The New Jersey Devils played Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers, at The Rock this evening. They beat them 3-1 in a game that should have most Devils fans smiling.
And why not? Last year's overtime hero in Game 6, Adam Henrique, scored the game's opening goal five minutes into tonight's game. After the Devils weathered the storm brought by eight minutes of shorthanded play, they got back into it at evens and David Clarkson made the most of a Rick Nash fumble to make it 2-0. Aside from the penalties, it was the sort of first period any Devil fan would take against Our Hated Rivals. The Rangers upped the pressure in the second period but Martin Brodeur was massive in denying them, the skaters cleaned up most of the rebounds, and they attempted to counter-attack to limited success. Seriously, the Devils just passed up opportunities to shoot or just otherwise missed. But it ended 2-0 and that's where one would want to be.
Early in the third, the Devils took quick advantage of an Aaron Asham hooking penalty. Patrik Elias found Andy Greene at the left point, his shot was stopped by Henrik Lundqvist's pad, and David Clarkson pounced on the rebound to make it 3-0. A second Devils power play had some nice looks but shortly after it ended, Brad Richards found Chris Kreider wide open on the right side and Kreider sniped a shot shortside to make it 3-1. Yet, the Rangers just couldn't sustain a lot of pressure, even with a power play after an absolute robbery by Broduer on Carl Hagelin. Attempts at an empty net by (in order) Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk, and David Clarkson were thwarted - the last one resulting in a closed-hand-on-the-puck call by Michael Del Zotto. It sealed the 3-1 win and made a lot of Devils fans happy.
Interestingly enough, there were many people leaving with minutes left in the third period. It wasn't a majority of the crowd and it was a mix of Devils and Rangers fans heading to the exits. Maybe they had a train to catch or something; but I think it was because they knew what the result would be. In some way it summed up the feeling of the game. Even though the game was still very much a game, the Rangers just weren't going to get that fortunate bounce, break, or beauty of a chance to score another goal. There were people confident enough in the Devils - or lacking in confidence of the Rangers - that they were willing to leave before the end of a game between two hated rivals. That's telling, even though the Devils really didn't dominate the game. All the same, the win is worth two points but the feeling of defeating Our Hated Rivals makes it that much sweeter.
The Opposition Opinion: Bryan Winters at Blueshirt Banter praises Martin Brodeur in his recap of the game. That's how good Marty was tonight, even the Ranger blog is giving him love.
The Game Highlights: Henrique! Marty! Clarkson! Marty! Clarkson again! Marty! All that and more in the NHL.com highlight video of this game:
Let's Talk About Score Effects: If there's going to be a criticism of the Devils tonight, then it's likely their shooting. That is, they didn't do it enough. They only got 22 total and were out-shot at even strength 21-14. That looks pretty bad but I wouldn't get too annoyed about it. The reason for that is score effects. It's the notion that a team with a lead isn't going to attack as much because the losing team is pressing the issue out of necessity. That's what we saw in the second period, where the Rangers out-did the Devils 9-4 in shots and 8-5 at even strength in the third period. Would I have liked to seen more Devils shots? Absolutely. But getting outshot with a two goal lead for two periods is something that shouldn't be surprising.
Come On, Shoot, You're Open So Shoot Come On Awwww...: That said, I am annoyed that the Devils had more opportunities to shoot but didn't. I noticed this mostly in the second period. Either the Devils would have an odd man rush but instead of the puck carrier taking a shot or going forward with an open lane, he makes a pass which can kill. For example, Dainius Zubrus had a two-on-one opportunity germinating in the neutral zone and his decision to pass it way too early just went to the defending one. It killed what could've been a great moment in the second period to really put the screws to the Rangers (and get Kovalchuk going production-wise). More irritating is that when the puck carrier makes a good decision and a good pass, the receiver then makes another pass despite having space to shoot and the opportunity is lost. I noticed Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias as the biggest offenders in that regard.
But the larger lesson really applies to the rest of the team. Sometimes, you just got to take the shot. Even if it was going to go right into Henrik Lundqvist's chest, it would at least force an offensive zone faceoff and a chance for a safe line change, which can be helpful in that second period. Most of all, it would have better represented the action in that period. Yes, the Rangers had more dangerous attacking moments but the Devils could have had some more of their own if other forwards were a bit more selfish. Seriously, Devils forwards, when you get a pass across or to the middle, they want you to shoot. We want you to shoot. So shoot.
Clarksonned: David Clarkson is making me look a bit foolish, though it's one I'll take. I said last weekend that we should temper our expectations of him, that he was just on a hot streak. That's going to be a little harder with two goals tonight and nearly picking up an ENG for a hat trick. He only had three shots on net but when two go in, you can't help but be happy about his performance. The goals themselves were akin to a poacher. The puck bumbles around Rick Nash's legs, Clarkson darts in and puts it in the net for his first. His second came off a rebound where he was the first one to it, he was in close, and he had enough time to respond. They were good goals and they helped make the difference tonight. As did his won battle along the boards before the first goal.
Chant the Name!: Adam Henrique scored the second straight goal in the ongoing Devils-Rangers rivalry five minutes into tonight's game. It was a beaut of a one-timer. Elias just backhanded it out to a mostly open Henrique (so close, Marian Gaborik!), who just slammed it to the top corner. The popular "Henrique" chant ensued after the goal celebration and it felt so good to do so. Elias' pass was great and it was the first of three assists for him. Needless to say, this line appeared to do quite a bit of good work. I'll have to check the Corsi on that, though.
A King of the Second Best Team at the Rock: Lundqvist got beat on a point-blank one-timer, a loose puck in the slot, and a rebound. I almost felt bad for him. But I remember who he plays for so I really don't.
Solid Defending: The Rangers did have a few glorious scoring chances but they came few and far between thanks to a good team defensive game. The Devils didn't have to chase the Rangers all over their zone so much; they battled for pucks and won them; and the skaters cleaned up a lot of rebounds. It wasn't perfect by the defense. Sure, it wasn't fun seeing Rick Nash blow past Andy Greene on the first shift of the second period. Adam Larsson had a bad giveaway in the third that he ultimately blocked out the chance. The decision to close in on Richards heading into the zone left Kreider open for his brilliant shot-and-score in the third was poor. But for the most part, I really don't have a lot of complaints. After witnessing games with awful periods and that terrible Pittsburgh game, it appears the defense has righted itself.
Larsson did very well and had the fourth most minutes on the team's blueline. Bryce Salvador didn't look like a pylon. Greene and Mark Fayne were their usual selves for the most part. And I liked how the forwards dropped into the slot or swarmed to the play to either deny a loose puck or keep the puck moving out of their zone. Given that the Rangers have averaged over thirty shots per sixty minutes at evens, keeping them to 21 at evens and 25 overall is quite good.
The Gracefulness of Brodeur: While the Devils defending was good for the most part, there were moments where the Rangers surely were going to score. Martin Brodeur and one post denied nearly all of them. Nash took it hard to the net and was denied once by Brodeur and a net being dislodged by the aforementioned going hard to the net. He was later denied on the first shift of the second by waiting a bit too long after going around Brodeur so the puck sailed across the crease. It appeared to go off the right post; hence, the angle it took. After that post, it was Brodeur stopping all five of Gaborik's shots, including a point-blank rebound late in the second. It was Brodeur's right pad smacking a shot from Marc Staal down instead of in on a second-chance during a first period power play. It was Brodeur's glove that snagged plenty of shots, most notably a one-timer right in front by Hagelin. Brodeur was only beaten by a perfectly placed shortside shot by a wide open Kreider for his only notable moment in 6:52 of ice time tonight. I don't think many would fault him on that goal (maybe I would in the summer, but not now). He was fantastic.
Some of those saves (and Nash's miss) were fortunate, but he really was in the zone. And when a goalie is in the zone, it's almost picturesque to see him. There's a grace to it even though it is soundly rejecting the other team's advances. While he didn't get the shutout, even tonight's attending media were so impressed that he received the first star of the game. I don't disagree. There was no way the Devils win this game by comforable margin without his performance this evening.
Hustle Plays: I'd like to note that I appreciated the hustle by one (1) Ilya Kovalchuk and one (1) Stephen Gionta. While both didn't put too much on net, they made plays, won pucks, and got the puck going in the right direction as needed. For Kovalchuk, things went much better than they did against the Islanders on Sunday. For Gionta, it's further evidence that he belongs in this league.
Faced Off: As I watched the game, I thought the Devils won quite a few faceoffs. As it turned out, I was wrong. The Devils were 26-for-58, or 45% on faceoffs tonight. Jacob Josefson (9-for-13) and Travis Zajac (8-for-15 after starting off really well) were positive, but Gionta (2-for-7) and Henrique (6-for-18) were just beaten badly. As it turned out, no one Ranger really dominated. Stepan (10-for-18) and Richards (11-for-20) were good but it wasn't automatic for them. Chalk it up to matchups spreading out the wealth for New York.
The Strength of Special Teams: The Devils survived the first period with an absolutely wonderful penalty killing effort. They took two tripping calls (the one on Steve Bernier was questionable, it looked like Ryan McDonagh just skated into his stick) and a double-minor for high-sticking (Greene) in the first period alone. The Devils clamped down and went to work. Other than one glorious leg stop on Stepan, the Rangers just got two other shots on net in those eight minutes of power play time in the first period. Eight minutes, three shots. Not only that, the Devils penalty killers created three shots. They were aggressive but not to a point where they got caught save for one or two moments. They won pucks and cleared them out with authority. They also killed a third period penalty to Marek Zidlicky and allowed nothing on that one too, much in the same way. I didn't like seeing them down a man for eight minutes, I could've done without Zidlicky's high-sticking call, and I know the Rangers' power play was ice-cold going into this game. Nevertheless, the Devils were sensational on the PK. Salvador and Anton Volchenkov were as good as one could expect. Fayne and Larsson spelled them well. Kovalchuk, Elias, Josefson, Zubrus and Gionta were effective against the Rangers' pointmen and in support.
As for the power play, well, five shots over three real chances (the Devils just played out the one at the end of the game) isn't too shabby. The first one didn't really get going, but the second one scored a goal, and the third one put up four shots. They did take some advantage against a Rangers' PK that was giving up goals and so that's another plus for the Devils performance tonight.
One Last Point: The Rangers seriously missed Dan Girardi tonight. Michael Del Zotto most definitely missed him.
What did you think of the Devils performance tonight? How impressed were you by Brodeur's play in net? How about Clarkson? Who else on the Devils did you think had a good game? What about the Devils' performance do you think they need to work on? Will they follow Clarkson's lead and try to shoot more in the future based on what happened tonight? Doesn't it feel good to see the Devils beat the Rangers? 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 though @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.