Tonight was the last home game at the Rock for the 2013 regular season and the New Jersey Devils gave the fans something to cheer for: a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. As with many games over this past season, the Devils definitely looked like the superior team on the ice. They had a big edge in shots, 32-18. They had a big edge in attempts with a +20 differential without blocks in 5-on-5 play and a +19 differential including blocks. They had a far easier time getting into Pittsburgh's end than the Penguins did themselves; the Devils really had the better of neutral zone play tonight. Like most games this season, the Devils did all this and somehow ended up on the wrong end of the score. Unlike most games, the Devils fought back and eventually won the game.
Granted, the Penguins and Devils had nothing to play for tonight. The Penguins already secured the #1 seed in the East and the Devils know that this would be their last home game of this season. Not to take away from how well the Devils played, but I'm certain Pittsburgh would have brought a higher "compete level" if the stakes were different. That said, good on the Devils for pouncing on a team with a good forecheck, good positioning in the neutral zone and at their blueline, and being able to push forward. I suspect the Penguins got great shots out of their 18, but it seemed to be feast or famine for them - not a lot of extended zone time for them.
The Penguins would go up first when Matt Cooke jammed in a loose puck right in front. Brandon Sutter made the intial pass to the slot, Brendan Morrow made the initial shot, and while Peter Harrold, Adam Henrique, and Ilya Kovalchuk were just sort of "there but not really," Cooke just did the simple thing and got a goal. The Devils otherwise played a good first period, but like so many other games, they were down. The hole was made deeper in the second period. After the Devils got a clearance during their second penalty kill of the night, Kris Letang carried the puck up to his blueline and made a brilliant pass to Jussi Jokinen. The pass caught Larsson on the wrong side of Jokinen and like a defensive back or a soccer defender caught behind on the back shoulder, he was beat. Jokinen pushed ahead and made Johan Hedberg look silly with a great shot. Disappointing, but it was hard to get that upset since the game meant so little.
However, the Devils would make a game of it late in the second period. After two straight blocked attempts by Anton Volchenkov, Patrik Elias recovered the puck at the blueline. He found Travis Zajac closer to the net. As Zajac turned towards the net, David Clarkson and Douglas Murray were right in front of Marc-Andre Fleury. The goalie couldn't see what was coming and the Devils got on the board. An early penalty by Pascal Dupuis, one of Pittsburgh's penalty killers, led to a great 30 seconds of power play work by the Devils. They maintained possession, they created good shots, and they were rewarded when a give-and-go with Clarkson and Elias in the right corner found Clarkson in a great position. He put the puck low, it got through Fluery's five hole, and the game was tied. Pittsburgh struggled to attack and the Devils eventually broke through after a breakout led by Steve Sullivan. It wasn't quite a 3-on-2 but Sullivan hit Ilya Kovalchuk with a great cross-ice pass - thanks to smart decision by Andrei Loktionov to touch it - as they entered the zone. Kovalchuk drove to the left dot and fired a low one at an angle. It beat Fleury's right pad. I thought Loktionov touched it, I know Nate (he ran @InLouWeTrust tonight) did, and I know a lot of people did. But no, it went off someone else's stick and the goal was Kovlachuk's. Fitting for both teams, the Devils managed to get the puck in deep against Pittsburgh late and so the score would stand 3-2.
Believe it or not, the fans at the Rock were cheering en masse in the last minute of the game or so. The atmosphere became more like a usual Devils game when Clarkson did tie it up and while the game ultimately will mean nothing after about 6:30 PM on Saturday, the sentinment was clear. They wanted the Devils to win. They wanted to get the result. They wanted that break through goal. And they did. The players cleared to thank the fans with a salute. A nice gesture, made better by doing the thing the fans wanted: a win. It may be hollow in your eyes but I would be lying if I didn't leave the Rock smiling and in a good mood from the victory.
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: Laura Z recapped the game at PensBurgh, noting the Penguins were 19-0 when leading after two periods. Now it's 19-1. She also noted that Kovalchuk's shot went off Brandon Sutter's stick.
The Game Highlights: There are video highlights of a Devils win from NHL.com. You should watch the video:
My Eyes Told Me #71 Was Doing a Lot: And the stats signify it was a lot that didn't lead to much for his team. Evgeni Malkin is an all-world talent and like most all-world talents, your eye draws to him naturally. It appeared to me he had the puck a lot and tried to make things happen on offense. Yet, he was frequently denied easy passage into the Devils' zone. He had pucks knocked off his stick. He had passes go astray due in part to pressure. His most dangerous moment was when he was all alone in front of Hedberg during a second period power play. Yet, he lost control of the puck and a late Devils stick forced it to deflect the second effort into the mesh. As it turned out, Malkin had only one shot on net - it came in the third period - and finished a -8 in both Fenwick and Corsi differential. It really wasn't a good night for the Pittsburgh ace forward.
Speaking of Possession: Wow, did the Devils smash the Penguins in attempts tonight. They out-shot them in 5-on-5 play 29-15 and if you add in misses and blocks, the differential only gets worse for Pittsburgh. The dominance wasn't distributed equally, but it's worth nothing that only Andy Greene's Corsi differential was a negative number among the whole roster. Given that he saw a lot of Malkin, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang in his 19 minutes or so of even strength ice time, I think a -1 isn't so bad.
Nonetheless, the trio of Clarkson, Zajac, and Elias did quite well and generated a goal. Zajac was particularly impressive with five shots total, which is great on it's own and even greater considering Clarkson got three at evens. The duo of Loktionov and Kovalchuk did quite well as well and generated a goal with Sullivan, who also did well. Anton Volchenkov amazingly played 18:18 at even strength - he's usually around 12-14 minutes - played quite a bit against Malkin, Iginla, and Chris Kunitz, and he came out the best with a +12 Fenwick and a +15 Corsi. Yes, lots of good things happened when A-Train was on the ice. It feels weird typing that as well. The only guys not named Greene who weren't so great in possession were Adam Henrique, Dainius Zubrus, and Jacob Josefson. They weren't bad per se, just not so far ahead of zero like the rest of the skaters.
One More Possession Notable: Take a bow, Chris Kunitz. Not only did you not take any shooting attempts tonight in 18:17 of total ice time, but you were not on the ice for a single Pittsburgh shot in 5-on-5 play. 15:44 evens, nothing by your team. While Mark Eaton, Deryk Engelland, Jokinen, and Dupuis got ripped apart in possession, you, sir, got served.
The Debut of Gelinas: Eric Gelinas played in his first NHL game tonight and by my eye, he was OK. It's hard to not notice him given how large he is. He didn't really use his size all that much, but maybe he didn't need to. Gelinas played a tentative game, which is understandable given it's his first in the NHL. He didn't get really beaten too badly; the first goal against certainly wasn't his fault. Gelinas played mostly with Peter Harrold and the pairing went pretty well. He saw a lot of Brandon Sutter and Sutter came out ahead few times with shots, but nothing too dangerous from what I recall. Offensively, Gelinas did get one shot on net through traffic and had two that missed, which wasn't bad. In terms of possession, he finished a +3 in Fenwick and Corsi differential in playing 15:11 at evens which isn't too shabby. I wouldn't mind seeing him on Saturday but if nothing else, he's shown a glimpse of what he can do at the next level. I think it's worth taking another look this coming fall.
The Ups & Downs of Kovalchuk: Ilya Kovalchuk had a strange game in my opinion. There were plenty of attacks snuffed out early because he tried to force a lateral pass only for a Penguin to intercept it. There were plenty of times he could have shot it, did so, but missed the net as he had four misses. Of course, on other shifts, he kept pucks in play, roamed all over the ice to really throw off the Penguin defenders, and got a great bounce on what would be his lone shot on net of the game to eventually win it. Definitely a net positive, but there were times I felt his timing was off.
Larsson, You Shot It!: Four shots on net for Adam Larsson! That's a game-high for this season. He's now up to 28 shots on net in 36 games.
Larsson, You Got Torched!: Kris Letang's pass to Jussi Jokinen was sublime. It also caught Larsson unaware of exactly where Jokinen was at the blueline. The pass was placed such that by the time Larsson turned around, Jokinen would have two to three strides on him provided that Jokinen didn't blow it. Other than that, I felt #5 had a much more controlled game and was far more active on offense than he has been all season.
Moose: Johan Hedberg got beat on a second effort by Cooke that may not be really his fault, a great shot by Jokinen that made him look stupid, made a couple of key stops to make the fans cheer, and his one error in playing the puck was playing it just before it got to the goal line outside the trapezoid. (Aside: Thanks, Iginla, for wiping that away 12 seconds later) Good night? Bad night? I say it was a Moose night. Take it as you will.
Super Elias: While Patrik Elias only got one shot on net, he kept making things happen all night long with his linemates. His pass down low to Zajac was smart and his pass to Clarkson from the corner for the PPG was fantastic. The latter didn't have a lot of room for error, but he hit it perfectly. I know much will be made out of his post-game comments but the reality is that what he says now won't mean anything when negotiations will begin. Among all of the decisions to make this summer, what to do with Elias will be among the most difficult. Tonight showed exactly what Elias can do: push the play forward, play against good players, and make great plays that can lead to scoring chances and goals. Tonight showed why the fans want him to stay. Time will tell whether that happens.
So Long: It was very enjoyable watching the game unfold as it did with the Devils winning. While the results during the season didn't turn out, tonight certainly did and I'm going to miss going to games. Sure, my sleep schedule will benefit from not banging out recaps in the middle of the night and my wallet will appreciate not springing for train tickets so much. But I'm going to miss my fellow fans in Section 1, be they regulars who endure what I have to loudly say (Note: I'm louder at Red Bulls games if you can believe it. Also, more obscene.) or randoms who show up in various seats. I'm going to miss Earl's Dance Party in the second period, which was always fun whether the team was doing well or I was thinking Earl should run the power play. I'm going to miss fans trying and sometimes failing to get chants going. I'm going to miss Baumann showing up somewhere in the lower bowl to lead the "Devils" chant. I'm going to even miss - to a degree - people yelling "SHOOOOOOOOT." I'm going to miss the experience of going to games. Sure, it'll all be back in October, and maybe the break will have some benefits, but the four and a half months until preseason will feel long at times. So long, Prudential Center. I'll personally see you in June but not for a game.
One Final Point: But let's be clear. ILWT isn't stopping. We didn't during a lockout, why would we now? I'll explain later on Saturday morning.
What did you make of the Devils' come-from-behind win? Would you agree the Devils really beat on the Penguins? Do you think the Penguins would have upped their effort if the game wasn't meaningless? Who would you say was the best Devil tonight, and why? Who was the worst in your eyes, and why? How would you rate Gelinas' NHL debut? What will you miss the most about going to Devils games now that it's over for this season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread. Thanks to those who followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter; Nate ran it tonight and I thank him for keeping those up-to-date on the game's details. Thank you for reading.