What a game. I know some feel the regular season doesn't matter all that much, but games like today's afternoon game between the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins make a compelling argument against that notion. Today's game had it all. It had a lot of physical play. It had a lot of penalties. It had downs (the Devils' power play in the first period) and ups (the Devils' power play in the third period). It had shifts and highlights of sheer amazement. It had events that are simply rare. Of course, relevant to us, the New Jersey Devils prevailed 3-1 to extend their own winning streak to four games while ending the Penguins' own streak.
The Devils opened up the game on the wrong foot. David Clarkson lazily tripped Evgeni Malkin within the opening minute and the Penguins made him pay when Simon Depres' shot went through traffic, off Brandon Sutter's stick, and past Martin Brodeur. It was 1-0 before many fans even got to their seats. The Devils battled back and Pittsburgh was more than happy to help them with three straight penalties. The Devils squandered the six minutes of the man advantage and generated exactly one shot on net across all three. It's one thing to not score on a power play and Pittsburgh's penalty kill has been pretty good. However, the Devils just lost pucks, struggled to get into the zone after the Penguins' first clear, and made poor decision after poor decision. They did play better near the end of the period at even strength, though.
The second period was mostly in control by the Devils. Martin Brodeur was cool in the net and always getting in front of the shots in his 1,200th career game. The Devils cleaned up pucks fairly well so Pittsburgh didn't get many second chances at the net. Offensively, they were able to get forward, win some board battles, and get rubber on Marc-Andre Fleury. Even their power play became effective with seven shots and one big miss at an empty net by Adam Henrique on two opportunities. Unlike the first Devils-Penguins game, the Devils were able to get 16 shots on him in under 60 minutes. The Penguins came on late to get to 8 shots, but the Devils' 12 made their mark. The most important one came from Stefan Matteau. Andy Greene saw the rookie open and hit him with a great diagonal pass through the slot. Fleury slid left to no avail and Matteau slammed the puck in for his first ever goal in the NHL and tied the game 1-1. The Penguins' own power play really put the Devils to the sword late in the second and came close to pulling ahead; but the home team escaped 1-1.
It's important to note that going into the third period, the Devils and Penguins each had five penalties. Referees Chris Lee and Gord Dwyer were active on their whistles against both teams. The Devils, as we know from recent penalty woes, deserved the calls as did the Penguins, who were remarkably aggressive with the body. I can appreciate a physical game, but both teams crossed the line with several fouls in the first 40 minutes. Discipline was lacking this afternoon. Fortunately for the Devils, they somehow displayed more as Lee and Dwyer had much more to call in the third and it was mostly against the Penguins. If Dan Bylsma told his players to stay out of penalty trouble, then the players clearly didn't get the message. The game ended with six power plays for Pittsburgh and ten for new Jersey. That's not a typo: ten.
Now recall how awful and ineffective the power play was in the first period. Three opportunities in a row and only one shot on net. They were better in the second but they had not converted. Adam Henrique's biggest plays earlier in the day included running into Kovalchuk on a power play, falling down in the neutral zone with no one around him, and missing an empty net on an earlier power play. Of course, he gets a second chance on a power play when a Bobby Butler shot rang off the left post and went right to him. Henrique slams it to the back of the net and it's 2-1. After another Pittsburgh penalty - a tripping call by Malkin - the Devils double their lead not long after. Butler gets a cross-ice pass from Greene and rifled a wrister past Fleury for his first goal as a Devil and a 3-1 lead. Yes, the power play that was awful earlier provided the break through for the Devils' win and it came from the likes of Henrique and Butler. Given how today went, it's oddly fitting.
The Devils held on despite a late power play by the visitors - their sixth - and so they exacted revenge for last week's game. In total, the Devils took nine penalties, out-shot the Penguins 28-25, out-attempted them 52-33 in all situations, went 2-for-10 on the power play with 12 total shots, and the Penguins took 13 total penalties in a 3-1 win. The pace was quick in between all of the stoppages, the players played rough, and the action was intense. What a game. I wonder what they'll do for an encore tomorrow night?
The Opposition Opinion: James Conley hit the highlights of the game in his recap at Pensburgh, noting how their recent penalty problems led to their demise today.
The Game Highlights: Oh, there are so many highlights from this game. It's missing one ridiculous save for some reason but I'll get to that in a bit. Either way, watch this video from NHL.com:
A List of the Wild & Wacky Things I'm Still Trying to Process in My Head: This game included the following:
- Thirteen calls against the Penguins! And they were all legit! Joe Vitale got tagged for two boarding calls. Evgeni Malkin took four minors, two of which wiped out penalties by the Devils for fouls earlier in the play. The last one was given to Brooks Orpik for unsportsmanlike conduct, presumably for yapping at the refs at all the calls. This all yielded ten power plays for the Devils. Keep in mind, the Penguins were (and still are in PIM/GP) one of the least penalized teams in the league. The last time we saw something like this, it was the Devils-Flyers game. What is it with Pennsylvanian teams at the Rock?
- On the Devils' side, the most strangest result from a penalty was Mark Fayne's second. He got whistled for hooking Malkin. The Penguins decided to follow this up down 3-1 in the third period with James Neal slashing Anton Volchenkov 11 seconds after the Fayne call. This was then followed up by Paul Martin hooking Travis Zajac. Yes, the Rock got to witness the rare, non-overtime 4-on-3 situation! The Devils did nothing with it, though.
- Evgeni Malkin beefing with Stephen Gionta all game long. Malkin got tagged for an interference call when he hit Gionta into the boards too early on a dump-in. Yet, Malkin kept dogging #11 all game long. I believe this was the first game between the two players so I don't know what got Malkin's ire up.
- The line of Jacob Josefson, Bobby Butler, and Krys Barch had two strong offensive shifts with possession. They actually pinned back Sidney Crosby's unit in the first period. Josefson and Butler kept things moving as Derek Engelland kept knocking Barch down. In the third, we came ever so close to seeing Krys Barch score a goal in a scrum. I am not making this up.
- Again, Krys Barch came close to scoring a goal by diving face-first towards the action. Seriously.
- Sidney Crosby managed to be as quiet as possible even though he played 22:45 and got six shots on net, the most by a Penguin in the game. Given how frighteningly skilled he is, I'm not going to complain.
- Adam Larsson's big error was a giveaway in his own zone that didn't lead to much of anything. Yay!
- Martin Brodeur making at least three saves on a penalty kill without a stick.
- As Martin Brodeur went to get said stick, Malkin quickly got the puck and not only hit the post on the empty net but also off Brodeur's skates and across the crease and past the other post. If that wasn't enough, a Penguin (Crosby?) was in the Devils' zone at the time of the shot, and the linesman did catch that so the official result of all that is an offside call. So a goal wouldn't have counted. You know what? Let me hit you with a video of it.
The Break of All Breaks in Video Form:
My & the Rock's collective reaction live: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!
The offside call was emphatic by the linesman but it still was a shocking and scary sight. It was the break of all breaks.
Congratulations to Matteau: Stefan Matteau scored his first ever goal as a professional ice hockey player this afternoon and as far as first goals go, it was pretty, important, and pretty important. The importance is straight forward. It tied up the game 1-1 in the second period, a period the Devils were out-playing the Penguins for large stretches and doing everything but score. The prettiness comes in part to how Andy Greene found Matteau. The fake-slapper fooled the Penguins and the resulting pass by the defenseman was perfect. It was crisp, fast, and right on the sweet spot of Matteau's backhand. Matteau goes forehand and the lamp was lit. Very nice.
We didn't see a lot of Matteau today. He only played 6:53. Since he's not a part of special teams, his minutes were more limited than usual. He did get three shots on net, including the goal, so there's no real complaints about what he did. I didn't think he was the First Star of the Game According to Today's Attending Media, though.
Justification: I was baffled as to why Bobby Butler wasn't with the Devils to start this season. He's been in the NHL before and was leading Albany in points. Today, he showed the masses and the coaches why he belongs. Butler only had one shot on net out of three attempts, but an unrecorded shot hit the post that led to Henrique's goal and he gave the Devils insurance a little later. Through the game, he was forechecking hard and appeared to do fairly well going forward. It was the sort of game you'd want someone in the bottom six to have. I'm hoping his foot's OK after he inadvertently blocked a slapshot from Ilya Kovalchuk. He did skate out on his own power to center ice for a post-game interview after being announced as the Second Star of the Game According to Today's Attending Media.
It Just Wasn't Your Day, Evgeni: On the one hand, one can't say Malkin had a bad game. He did have five shots on net, he drew three calls, went 7-for-11 on the draw, and . However, he didn't convert on that empty net late in the second period - even though it wouldn't have counted. More importantly, this happened to him:
Malkin = owned.
Oh, and he took four penalties, two of which negated power plays for his team and one that the Devils scored the game winning goal on. Womp womp.
Brodeur Played His 1,200th Game; Feel Free to Feel Old: Brodeur had a very good game today. He had no chance on Sutter's goal and from then on he was near perfect. His only error was going after a stick thinking the Devils cleared the puck and one intercepted pass that he stopped anyway. He saw a lot from Malkin (5 shots), Sidney Crosby (6 shots), and three from Neal. Incidentally, the Penguins were top heavy with their offense; but again, the large amount of special teams really skewed minutes for both sides. Brodeur was solid as solid can be and his glove surely has Malkin talking to himself on the trip back to Pittsburgh. A great way to hit a milestone.
As an aside, I felt Marc-Andre Fleury had a good game. His pad movement was particularly noticeable. His left denying an in-close chance for Zajac in the third really stood out to me.
Andy Greene is Hot: Two primary assists and solid defending over the 15:14 he played that wasn't on the power play. I think it's fair to say he's the best defenseman the Devils have right now. One could argue he was really the best Devil today. Onwards and upwards, Andy.
Other Devils Thoughts: I liked Kovalchuk's performance today. While his two points were secondary assists, he was legitimately involved in the play. He logged a ton of ice time at 30:01, but I wouldn't sweat on fatigue since 15:22 of it was being at the point on the power play. He got three shots out of seven attempts (actually eight, but Butler's foot denied him one); I hope he'll be a bit more accurate tomorrow. I wasn't a huge fan of Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, and Henrique early; they seemed to leave a lot opportunities go to waste. They got better as the game went along and both Elias and Clarkson did rack up four shots each as evidence of improvement. I was surprised to see Marek Zidlicky register six shots out of ten attempts; he really bombed away on the power play. I felt Bryce Salvador had a good outing, though I'm loathe to see what the Corsi will show. CBGBs were quiet. The PK was perfect after Sutter's goal in terms of goals; but they did allow 12 shots against so I wouldn't say they were all that and a bag of chips.
Strong Crowd: The snow wasn't an issue at the Rock. It was clear around the arena well before the game started, roads in the area were clear, and most of the main train lines were open and operating as usual. While the state did receive a significant amount of snow, it wasn't nearly as bad as New England or eastern Long Island. As a result, most of the sellout crowd actually showed up. And they had a lot to cheer, boo, and marvel at today.
The Streak: It's now at four. Let's see if they can make it five.
That's my take on today's win. What did you think of the Devils' performance today? Who was the best Devil today? How shocked were you to see so many Penguins go to the box? Were you relieved as well as ecstatic that the Devils power play actually showed up and converted twice? Were you relieved that Malkin's attempt at an empty net failed and it wouldn't have counted anyway? How did you react when he absolutely robbed Malkin late in the game? What do you think the Devils need to do - other than take eight minor penalties - for tomorrow's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about today's win. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.