Injuries aren't predictable or fully preventable. An unexpected event like losing the edge while turning or in motion can cause one to lose control, fall down, and slide into the end boards. That's what happened in the third period. Ilya Kovalchuk drove into the zone, got away from the defense, attempted a shot, and then went hard into the boards shoulder-first. The referee blew the play dead as Kovalchuk was down but he quickly got up and went to the bench under his own power while clutching his right arm. He did not return for the rest of the game. Kovalchuk's injury casts a pall over the 2-1 win by the New Jersey Devils over the Florida Panthers.
As of this writing, it is unclear what the exact injury is or how long Kovalchuk will be out for. In this post-game post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Devils head coach Peter DeBoer actually revealed that it was a shoulder injury and he could be out for "at least a short time." That kind of a response from a coach and organization that is so tight-lipped about injuries is telling. I fear it's not going to be "day to day" for Kovalchuk. He will be missed no matter how long he is out if only because he plays a ton, he's adept at carrying the puck into the zone, he's an excellent offensive player, and his role is not at all easily replaced. A great example of that was the horrid five minute power play the Devils had in the third. In any case, when further information comes out about Kovalchuk then we can discuss and lament the news in a separate post. For now, let's focus on the game.
As far as performances go, it wasn't a pretty one. The New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers were sitting at two to three shots for most of the first period until the Panthers realized how passes should work and got several shots on Martin Brodeur late to make it 2-7 in shots. The Devils were just so fundamentally bad at making passes to each other, they didn't adjust to Florida's aggressive forechecking on the breakout, and the constant dump-ins rarely were won by the Devils, much less led to offense. The team's closest chances to scoring weren't even shots on net. Kovalchuk hit the crossbar on a turnaround shot. The second came late in the first period. Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique had a great give-and-go that was only thwarted when Henrique lost the puck trying to go around Scott Clemmensen. It was an ugly period all the way around.
The Devils did adjust in the second period and their offense actually showed up after going shotless for over 16 minutes. Their first shot of the period got into the net when Patrik Elias re-directed a Travis Zajac pass to the middle of the ice. From then on, the Devils were able to get more pressure and shots on Clemmensen. The Devils struck again when David Clarkson followed his own shot, noticed that Clemmensen never held onto it, and just jammed the puck in before he took a tumble. The Devils racked up 12 shots in a far better effort than their first period.
At the other end, the Panthers got possession without many attempts, much less shots. Their best performing line of the night: Jonathan Huberdeau, Drew Shore, and Peter Mueller combined for three of Florida's five shots on net. Their first power play of the second period was good looking at the end. But in between Martin Brodeur making two big stops on Huberdeau, it was a whole lot of nothing for the visitors. The Devils defense largely played a good game and just got in the way of a lot shots. However, they got a lifeline when Martin Brodeur pulled a Hedberg. He went behind the net to play a puck, he delayed a bit, he whiffed, and Tomas Fleischmann was able to recover it. He threw it to the slot for an easy tap-in for Mueller. This was the last shot of the period for Florida so the team surely had to feel good about that.
You wouldn't know it by their third period. Similar to the first period, there was just a lot of passes gone awry, dump-ins that didn't lead to much, and pucks bounced off the board to varying effects. The Devils out-shot the Panthers 11-6 and it's not like the six from Florida were all that great. The period was known more Kovalchuk's injury and the foul play of Florida. I already went over Kovalchuk's injury, but there were two more incidents. Not long after Kovalchuk was out, Tim Sestito was viciously cross-checked from behind by Colby Robak. Sestito had to be helped off to the ice and the Devils got a five minute power play. The Kovalchuk-less power play squandered it and even spent quite a bit of time defending. It was hideous. The two teams played out the game and the Devils hung on to win by keeping a six-skater Florida team at bay for a little over a minute. The only event of note was Bryce Salvador getting taken down at the end of the game, resulting in a post-whistle fracas. It was an ugly end to an ugly game that's beauty lies in Zajac getting two points, Elias and Clarkson scoring, not falling apart despite a gaffe from Brodeur, and winning a game.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Faceoff Comparison | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Report | The Time on Ice Corsi & Fenwick Chart | The Time on Ice Even Strength Head to Head Ice Time Chart
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Litter Box Cats, Ryan Meier claims the Panthers had the right effort but the wrong result in his recap. I guess?
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, there were some highlights in this game. Truth be told, the two Devils' goals were pretty sweet:
The Status of Sestito & Salvador: Gulitti did report after the game that the Salvador said he was OK because he wears knee braces (also: he wears knee braces) and that he thinks Sestito will be fine. Sestito's status remains to be seen.
Adjustments Made: I have to give Peter DeBoer credit. The team looked out of sync in the first period. Breakouts were held up as it took time for the other skaters to realize that, say, Anton Volchenkov isn't firing a 60-foot pass from behind the net. Passes went stray, undercutting any offensive effort. Dump-ins were rife and not successful. When you can move the puck effectively and maintain possession, then it shouldn't be a surprise to end up with only two shots on net regardless of the opponent. Whatever he and the staff did in the first intermission worked very well. The Devils were able gain the zone with the puck, win battles, and make passes happen in motion. As a result, they got twelve shots and two goals. I'd even say it helped keep the Panthers to only four shots on Brodeur in the second period, even though three were real close ones.
Now, I don't know what happened in a third period that yielded only four even strength shots on net to the Panthers' five but they had a lead at that point and it worked.
Parrot: Scott Clemmensen got the start tonight and I wish the Devils were more aggressive at crashing the net. Clarkson scored his goal by doing just that and Elias was heading in the slot for his. Clemmensen didn't look confident in his positioning and he had to look behind him a few times when trapping the puck. He even left rebounds on iced pucks. He did make a few important stops, like getting a piece of Kovalchuk's shorthanded shot on net and denying Matt D`Agostini on a late rush. But I'd like to think that if the Devils kept shots low on him and got bodies more in his zone, then they could have found a third goal. Alas, they got what they needed tonight.
Two Errors and That's It from Marty: Martin Brodeur made two errors tonight and both were with playing the puck. In the second period, he delayed on a dumped-in puck before throwing it to Salvador. He lost it as three Panthers converged on him. The Devils got out of that jam. The second error, well, it gave Mueller his easiest goal of the season. Other than that, Martin Brodeur played as well as one could expect out of him. The long stretches between Florida shots didn't fade him. He made two big stops on Huberdeau and a beautiful leg stop on Quintin Howden in a two-on-one situation. In the third period, he didn't have to do much. If it wasn't for the error, he would have had a shutout for sure because Florida was just lame despite it being a one-shot game. Oh well. He'll just have to settle for his 666th win of his career.
The Debut of D'Agostini: Matt D'Agostini was thrown into the lineup at right wing tonight. For a guy who just joined, he wasn't so bad. He mostly played with the bottom six - most common teammates were Ryan Carter and Sestito - and came out good in possession with a +3 Fenwick & +4 Corsi. D'Agostini got two shots on net in the second period, and one of them was a one-on-one with Clemmensen. His speed made that entire play possible and Clemmensen just shrugged the shot off. I nearly thought he was going to score when he got behind the defense. Still, 9:30 of ice time, 8:30 at evens, and it was a decent enough debut.
Super Kill: I swore I saw one shot by Florida on their first power play of the night. The scorer thought otherwise (maybe it was a miss?) and so the Devils held the Panthers to nothing on their power plays. We almost had a power-kill moment when Kovalchuk took a bouncing puck away from Filip Kuba (the Devils enjoyed playing against Kuba, you can see him standing about as Clarkson drove to the net for his goal tonight) and went in on a one-on-one. alas, Clemmensen denied him. Still, the PK had a solid night in terms of results though I felt they were a bit messy near the end of the first one.
The Frustrating-at-Times Power Play: The Devils had seven minutes of power play time in the third period and got seven shots on net. Ordinarily, I'd say that's good. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that their first power play of the third was pretty good. But the Devils really looked out of sorts on their five minute power play. Yes, they got a few shots on net. But they really didn't have to let Florida burn off a minute or so thanks to useless dump-ins and a long sequence when the Panthers' entire PK were attacking against the Devils. It's like this team doesn't understand they were up a man at times. Without Kovalchuk, we got to witness Adam Larsson and Salvador on a power play and it worked about as well as you'd expect. The only real notable offensive plays for those five mintues was Andrei Loktionov firing a shot through traffic that got through to the goalie and Clarkson going high and wide on a glorious opportunity in the slot. Thankfully, the five minute kill by Florida didn't come back to haunt them. I understand 5-on-4 isn't as easy as it looks but boy did the Devils try their best to squander an opportunity to put the game away. Watch as they do much better in Ottawa on Monday just to add to the frustration.
Positive in Possession? I'll Take It?: Even though the Devils' possession was stuck in Yuck City after the first, they clawed their way up to +1 Fenwick as a team and -6 in Corsi because the Devils got 14 blocks (Salvador and Larsson led the way). Even strength shots were even at 17 each, so it follows that the possession numbers be close.
In terms of stand out players, again, the unit of Huberdeau, Shore, and Mueller were their best line. They also combined for seven of Florida's 17 even strength shots on net. Fleischmann's takeaway aside, he didn't do so well in the possession department along with his regular linemates Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky. Kopecky got blocked on all four of his attempts; and among those three, only Goc got a shot - and only one shot - on net. The blocks made their Corsi OK, but they were solidly negative in Fenwick. The Loktionov line saw them the most and did pretty well against them.
As for the Devils, well, the goal scoring line actually did the worst in possession. Zajac was housed with a -7 Fenwick and a -9 Corsi; Clarkson took nearly all the shots on the line with four at evens but still finished a -3 in Fenwick; and Elias was a -4 in Fenwick and -7 in Corsi. Good thing they scored twice. Kovalchuk, Loktionov, and Henrique were having a positive game until Kovalchuk got hurt and the lines got muddled. Andy Greene and Adam Larsson each had great games in terms of possession.
Wear A Visor: Shawn Matthias got hit in the face with a shot in the second period. As far as I can tell, he wasn't wearing a visor. He did return to the game and kept playing regularly. It was still another reason why visors should be (will be?) mandatory.
Defensive Stalwarts: Given that the two teams only allowed 17 shots on net, I'm sure both coaches are pleased with how their defenses played. The Panthers didn't look totally inept save for Robak going incredibly over the line with his Kaletaesque cross-check on Sestito. While the Devils were able to break in, they cleaned up the many messes from their goalie. The Devils' defense was strong in their own end. Greene and Larsson were very good and I liked Salvador's performance even though he got pinned a few times. As much as I want Mark Fayne back in the lineup, I can't point a finger at any one defenseman and say he must sit for a game. Not after a night like this one. I'm sure the offensive failings with respect to passes and dump-ins on both sides made it easier for the D, but it was they who collected those loose pucks and got it out for the most part.
Suspend Robak: Robak's hit on Sestito is absolutely worth a disciplinary hearing and a suspension. The cross-check from behind on Tim Sestito in the corner was and is not necessary, it was and is a dangerous play, and it should be punished as such. If there's nothing from Shanahan on this, then why even have a Disciplinary Committee?
One Last Point: Every win counts and these two points help the Devils stay within the top eight. They are still in seventh due to Toronto winning, but they have a four point cushion over eighth. So while a 2-1 win over Florida has the dark cloud of Kovalchuk being injured, it did have value in the standings.
That's my take on tonight's game. Given that Ilya Kovalchuk got injured in tonight's game, I humbly ask you to not post any rumors or conjecture here about the injury. It is news so let's stick to actual news sources. Also, a game was played tonight and that's worth discussing in the comments to this very post. What did you think of the Devils' effort overall? Does Brodeur's error undercut the impressive saves he made tonight? What would you want to see different in future games other than an offense showing up for all three periods? Would you agree that the defense did very well and therefore there should not be any changes made? What did you think of D'Agostini's first game as a Devil? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter through @InLouWeTrust tonight. Thank you for reading.