New Jersey Devils Turn Over Rough Start to Drop Florida Panthers 6-2

Today's equalizer, scored by Patrik Elias. It turned out to be the first of four Devils goals in the second period. - Bruce Bennett

The New Jersey Devils routed the Florida Panthers 6-2 in their final weekend home game of the season. This recap touches on the return of Ilya Kovalchuk, how Florida's turnovers cost them the game, the nightmarish first ten minutes, and more.

For the first time this season, the New Jersey Devils have scored six goals in a game today at the Prudential Center. The victims were the Florida Panthers, who saw their losing streak extend to five games with their fourth in giving up five or more goals. With the help of the Panther skaters, the Devils were able to comeback from an early 0-2 deficit to put six unanswered goals past Jakob Markstrom for a 6-2 victory. So the Devils won their first game at home since the last Devils-Panthers game in Newark, they scored their first goal since April 10 at home, and they

The rout was like a dance in that it takes two to make it go right. The Devils' forecheck was active and when the Devils got an opportunity to shoot. They were assisted by the Florida Panthers themselves. From the second period onward, the Panthers were just brutal in their own end. Breakout passes would get broken up. Pucks were fired into space but in a way for a Devil skater to retrieve it. In a few cases, the Panther just simply lost it off his stick. The Devils turned this game on it's head in the second period with four goals. Three of them were created off turnovers by the Panthers in their own end. It would be cruel to add assists to various Panthers for the goals scored but one is tempted to in this game.

It's worth noting that this victory was a comeback win. The first ten minutes of this game was simply awful by the home team. Within the first minute, they messed up a line change which led to an early odd man rush for the Panthers. It was a sign of things to come. Ryan Carter took an early penalty in the Panthers' end for slashing and a leading pass by Tomas Fleischmann to Marcel Goc led to a quick conversion. On the next shift, the Panthers got the Devils pinned back, the home team couldn't clear it out, and it eventually led to Mike Weaver throwing the puck to a wide open Brian Campbell at the right point. Campbell stepped in, fired one through traffic, hit the left post and the puck fell in. The Devils were down 0-2 and didn't even have a single shot on net. They wouldn't get even one SOG until 8:30 into the period. It was that bad and I wouldn't blame any Devils fan for thinking this game wouldn't be worth it.

However, once the team settled things down, the Devils slowly built up play and started to take the game a little more and more to Florida. Patrik Elias made a great individual effort on a power play rush to score to make it a game. But the Devils really took over in the second period. They out-shot the Panthers 17-4, out-scored them 4-0, and all four goals were scoring chances. After Travis Zajac denied a clearance by Dmitry Kulikov, Patrik Elias buried a cross-slot feed from David Clarkson. That was the equalizer. After Tomas Kopecky coughed up the puck to Alexei Ponikarovsky, the winger threw it down low to Zajac, strolled to the left post, and fed Clarkson in-close for a one-timer through Markstrom's legs. Stephen Gionta kept a puck away from Weaver by the boards, Steve Bernier took it and curled towards the right post for a shot, and Ryan Carter slammed the rebound. After Alex Petrovic failed in putting the puck off the boards and out, Carter took a loose puck, laid it ahead for a rushing Gionta so he can take a shot - slightly deflected by George Parros' stick blade - inside the right post. Again, four goals, three helped by Panther turnovers in their own end. It was a fantastic period. So much so it felt like the first ten minutes of the game were an utter afterthought.

The third period wasn't so calamtous for the Panthers at first. They stopped losing pucks in their own end early on. However, they reverted to their second period ways in time. After a shotless power play where there could have been a few shots, the Devils made it a touchdown on the scoreboard eight seconds after it ended. Adam Larsson took a shot from the left point, which is a moment in of itself. But he never got credit for the shot as the puck bounced off Dainius Zubrus and went past Markstrom. The deflection was fortunate and after that, the Panthers just played out the game. Shots in the third were 10-2 in favor of New Jersey and everyone at the Rock was jubilant at the win.

The game may not mean much now. The Devils' chances at making the playoffs are still very close to not at all. But after such a long winless streak with so few goals at all, much less at home, it was wonderful to see so much success live. Like in the 3-0 win over Philadelphia, the team's effort was rewarded with goals and with goals, a victory. In a way, it's more impressive given their terrible start. It was also a surprising result since Florida just looked second-rate despite having an early lead. But beggars can't be choosers and so we should Florida turnovers to help get the Devils into spots where they succeeded.

The Game 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 Charts | The Time On Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts

The Opposition Opinion: Chris S Roberts has the post-mortem report over at Litter Box Cats.

The Game Highlights: Look at all of the goals! NHL.com has all six them for your appreciation!

Possession is a Team Game: The Devils out-shot the Panthers 33-13 today and it was not even close as to who had the puck more often. Even by eyes and confirmation bias alone, it was obvious the Devils were more in control. Taking only six shots in 46:53 after putting up seven in the first 13:07 really stood out. As expected, the Devils crushed Florida in both Fenwick and Corsi differential: +23 in the former, +24 in the latter. The scorer didn't count a lot of misses (6-2, NJ) and blocks (5-6, Florida) at even strength so most of those differentials were actual shots. That's simply wonderful. Interestingly, everyone on the Devils were positive and everyone on the Panthers were negative.

The least positive Devil was Patrik Elias at only +2 Fenwick differential, but that's more than OK. Elias definitely made a mark on this game with four shots total and the two goals that erased the early 0-2 deficit. His common linemates of Zajac and Clarkson were far higher in possession and played more ice time at evens for some reason. As for guys who were quite high, look at Peter Harrold and Mark Fayne. That pairing only played about 14 and a half minutes but when they were out there, good things just kept happening. Hence, they finished above +10 in Fenwick differential; +11 and +12, respectively. But in possession alone, you can praise the lineup and down the lineup.

On the Florida side, well, it's ugly. Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver played on different defensive pairings and both were -10 in Fenwick differential. They were the worst among the Panthers, but there were plenty who were close. Filip Kuba (Kulikov's partner, -8) and Campbell (Weaver's partner, -8) weren't so great. The line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Greg Rallo, and Nick Bjugstad not only contributed very little to the game, they were -6, -7, and -8 respectively in Fenwick. The "best" Panthers were the top line of Kopecky, Fleischmann, and Goc. In terms of Fenwick differential, they were pretty low and if you throw in blocks, they were just below zero. That trio is their first line for a reason, not that they did much outside of the first ten minutes of the first period.

The Return of Kovalchuk: Ilya Kovalchuk was a gameday decision after all. Peter DeBoer decided to switch him in place of Steve Sullivan and put him on a line with Zubrus and Adam Henrique. He looked like his normal self after being out for several weeks at times. Kovalchuk did get three shots on net out of six attempts, the second most attempts on the team. He was a mainstay on the power play and played over 17 minutes at evens to finish the game with over 22 minutes of ice time. He was even a positive possession player. However, he had some poor moments. He forced a few passes to the middle on offense that only ended on the sticks of Panthers. He wasn't really a factor on the power play. It looks like he got beat by Goc on the first Florida power play that ended in a goal. It's worth noting that he just came onto the ice for Zajac. It wasn't a good time for a change - Florida had the puck at the blueline, after all - and by the time Kovalchuk was on, Goc was speeding into the zone. He could have been better but it's hard for me to be too critical since he hasn't played in weeks. I'll just say it was a decent return and hope for better in the remainder of this season.

The Return of Clarkson Shooting A Lot: Eight shots on net! David Clarkson had eight shots on net! And what's more is that they weren't mostly stupid ones either. He really tore it up in the second period, he passed up on a shot and actually made a great pass that led to Elias' second goal, he scored the eventual game winning goal, pulled a spin move in front that surprised the Rock - or as Jerry called it, "an inverted Clarkaround," drew a penalty before he got a shot on net, and got robbed by Markstrom on a second effort helped by Zajac after said shot. Zajac looked great setting up Elias and Clarkson for shots (the line pounded the Panthers), but given how poor Clarkson looked in recent games, seeing #23 being so active really stood out to me. The only downsides to Clarkson's game today were that he didn't do anything on the power play and he hooked Quinton Howden for a Florida power play in the first period. Other than that, Clarkson played one of his best games in a while. It was quite enjoyable to see him in the second and third periods. I hope we can all enjoy similar performances in the near future.

Your Special Teams: Both teams only got one power play shot on net - and they were both goals. Goc and Elias scored on individual efforts after getting a good pass to go forward. Talk about efficiency.

Florida would have one additional power play which not only didn't yield a shot for them, but a good look for Fayne that he Rolston'ed. New Jersey would have two more power plays in the third period that didn't lead to much. Both got no shots on net and perhaps a bit too much passing. That said, the Devils were up 5-2 for the first one and up 6-2 for the second one so it wasn't as if they were critical. Plus, the end of the first power play in the third period did get the puck deep enough that eventually led to Larsson taking a shot that got deflected into the net. Credit the penalty killers as well as fault the power plays. Again, it takes two to make a thing go right. Or wrong. Or whatever.

Excuse Me, I Just Keep Going Forward: The CBGB line looked strong in Philly and they looked good again. The trio contributed two goals today and both involved good awareness and hustle to win pucks and turn them into goals. Gionta successfully boxed out Weaver from the puck, Bernier kept it going, and Carter was in front to knock it in. Carter immediately went to the boards as Petrovic went to play the puck and thanks to Petrovic not getting enough force on it, he was there to get it on-side and make a quick play for a charging Gionta. They were again positive in possession and they combined for seven shots. If this means the line is heating up, then don't throw water on them. I wouldn't start them against the other team's top line though, but DeBoer learned from that and instead deployed them mostly against Howden, Scottie Upshall, and T.J. Brennan and so they succeeded.

Incidentally: Scottie Upshall played today. He did not play a puck with a high stick.

Should've Been Something: Gionta was checked into the Florida bench in the third period by Kulikov, one of the few things he did right this afternoon. Seriously, Kulikov was picked apart today. Anyway, as Gionta was exiting the bench, he just tumbled to the ice. He was definitely pushed coming off the bench. I couldn't ID who did it live but thanks to Greg Wyshynski posting a video he found of the play at Puck Daddy, it was Brennan. Amazingly, the ref did not issue a penalty. It certainly wasn't sportsmanlike behavior. It could have hurt Gionta if he fell on a body part or at an odd angle. Thankfully, Gionta wasn't hurt and even laughed off the incident per this post-game report by Tom Gulitti. It still should've been a call at a minimum.

The Two Goals Against: With only 13 shots against and 22 attempts against, Brodeur probably should've brought a book today. That said, he probably wished he had the Goc goal back. It was an open look and while Goc took a great shot, Brodeur's glove just wasn't there in time. He didn't see Campbell's shot thanks to a screen by Howden. The only really dangerous shots he had to deal with since those goals were a penalty shot by Howden and getting caught behind the net on a dump-in that led to, well, nothing. Maybe he should've asked his defense to give up a few more shots so his own save percentage didn't tank. I think he'll be fine with the result anyway. I think it'll also be fine if he starts on Sunday because of the light work load this afternoon.

Personally...: Last season, Matt Evans won tickets for a suite for opening night for the 2012-13 season. It was his first Devils game at the Rock and, well, he was given a great reason to comeback. Unfortunately, the owners locked out the players, and the two sides bickering prevented any of that. Fortunately, there was a season and the Devils did him right by giving him tickets in a suite for a game. This was that game and as such, some of the other writers and their guests came to be in said suite. If you've never been in a suite before, then you really should jump at the chance. They're expensive but the views are wonderful from the side, the seating is comfortable, and the amenities are sweet. But the biggest takeaway was actually watching a game with Matt, Karen, Jerry, and Mike really made the experience even better. I don't watch many games in such social settings but today, I'm very glad I did. We even took a group photo:

4-20-13_ilwt_group_photo_medium

Again, if you can, do it. You'll enjoy it. The Devils ringing up six unanswered goals on a hapless opponent admittedly helps.

A Final Point: Sorry for the lateness of this recap. I went across town to Harrison to witness even more goals being scored. It may be too late for the Devils but witnessing a net being struck by a ball or a puck never gets old and is rarely unexciting.

That's my take on today's game, now I want to know yours. Which one of the Devils' six goals was your favorite? Which Devil did you think had the best game, and why? Which one of the Panthers' defensemen did you think was the worst and why (and there are multiple candidates)? Do you think the Devils can carry this play into Sunday's game against Our Hated Rivals? Thanks to everyone in the gamethread and on Twitter via @InLouWeTrust for following along. Thank you for your patience and readership.

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