The New Jersey Devils managed to do something most teams should not do: blow a three goal lead. Granted, the three goal lead itself did not last long but the overall lead should have been maintained. They did not. A 4-1 lead in the second period ended up at 4-4 at the 12:29 mark of the third period. The Devils managed to find a way to beat the Carolina Hurricanes anyway. Less than a minute after Alexander Semin equalized, the newest member of the Devils hit back. Tuomo Ruutu fired a wrister from above the high slot that went by Cam Ward to make it 5-4. The Devils managed to hold on to beat Carolina in regulation. This helps the Devils' playoff cause while hammering another nail into Carolina's. From a results perspective, well done.
However, how the Devils got this result deserves plenty of criticism. While the Devils didn't allow a lot of trailing skaters to tee off one-timers like they did on Friday, the defense was once again porous. The Devils conceded 33 shots on net and had plenty of shifts just looking lost in their own end of the rink. Bryce Salvador justified all of the criticism he usually gets from fans at the Rock, at home watching on TV, on Twitter, on Reddit, on this very site, and elsewhere. He got over twenty minutes due in part of being stuck in his own end and unable to get off the ice on plenty of shifts. Eric Gelinas was largely benched for the third period and he was not missed. An offensive defenseman who provided little offense in the game and made plenty of bad defensive decisions usually isn't missed. Marek Zidlicky drifted in and out of his coverage. The help from the forwards was down right invisible at times (e.g. Michael Ryder). Some of the attempts at clearing the zone or just getting the puck away was frightful to watch. And the neutral zone play, well, what about it? It was just the center of the ice for both teams, which just made life more difficult for the defenders in their own end of the rink. Ryan's analysis for this one should be interesting.
Then there was the goaltending. Cory Schneider did get lit up by Detroit. That was a game where the goals went through screens, came from one-timers, and two rebounds (with no help). Tonight, the goals against were a fluke bounce, a clear shot from the slot, a shorthanded breakaway, and a turnaround shot from the middle of the ice. Not exactly easy but not exactly difficult either. I was sympathetic for Brodeur on the first and third one. Jeff Skinner threw a puck from behind the net, it went off Mark Fayne, and dropped in. That's just a fluke bounce. The shorthanded breakaway that Nathan Gerbe was created by Damien Brunner deciding to make a lateral pass at the blueline without looking to see if it was even open. Jordan Staal picked it off, put it up for Gerbe, and he made it count. But even on that one he may have had a piece of Gerbe's breakaway - and if he got a piece, then he could've had all of it. The other two goals were further evidence that Brodeur isn't a starter anymore. Jay Harrison (scorer of the second) and Semin (scorer of the fourth) put up great shots. Semin's move just schooled Salvador and Jaromir Jagr. Yet, Brodeur was caught slow on both. He definitely saw Harrison's shot and just didn't come up with the save. I think he did see Semin's shot since he attempted to get his right pad on it - he was just too late. A common sign from him this season and probably in the past few. It's true that Brodeur made an important stick save near the end of the game to preserve the 5-4 lead and the defense did him very few favors tonight. At the same time, he definitely deserves some blame for 4-1 turning into 4-4. He got the "W" but it wasn't because he was excellent.
In my eyes, the offense carried the defense and Brodeur tonight. Ruutu made his home debut count. He took five shots, threw some big hits, made a great pass beneath Harrison's stick for an easy tap in by Travis Zajac, and scored the game winning goal. The Rock chanted his last name. Clearly, a good first impression in Newark. Adam Henrique continued being hotter than something really hot. He got sprung for a close one-on-one with Anton Khudobin and finished it off. Right on the first shift after Damien Brunner converted a power play with goal coming from a rebound off the boards, too. Henrique struck again with a laser to the top left corner in 2-on-2 shorthanded attack initially led by Patrik Elias. Elias laid it off, Henrique used a defender a far-away screen, and his shot was perfect. Overall, the Devils scored five goals out of 31 shots. Shooting that much and certainly scoring that many goals has been an uncommon occurrence for the team this season. It ultimately made the difference.
That's why I can't say I'm pleased with the performance. It's more likely that the Devils aren't going to drop five goals on an opponent on a regular basis. Henrique isn't always going to provide two goals even though he's done so in each game in this back-to-back set. Special teams won't always score goals. The results were met. I'm very glad the Devils won this game. The Devils needed to take care of business. I understand it is a results-oriented business. But in the next two days off, the coaches and players needs to really look at the process. If they can't clamp down on defense and keep relying on the inferior goaltender, then results like this aren't likely to continue. Since the Devils will continue to need results, how the three goal lead was botched needs to be addressed and corrected in the future. This cannot become status quo.
The Opposition Opinion: Bob Wage has this brief recap over at Canes Country.
The Game Highlights: Plenty of goals in this one, including some real beauties. Here's the video from NHL.com:
One More Thing About the Lead: I understand 4-1 turned into 4-2 quickly since Carolina converted the power play Henrique scored his shorthanded goal on. Nevertheless, Carolina showcased how to respond to it: keep attacking. Harrison's power play goal helped, obviously. But the Canes pushed and got a gift from Brunner during a third period power play. Gerbe finished it to make it a one-shot game. Semin's individual move that led to the equalizer was amazing. But even if that got stopped, the Canes had the right approach and perhaps could have scored an equalizer later on. Get possession going forward, look for longer shifts to tilt the ice, don't concede much, and make the most of an opportunity. While the Devils certainly didn't turn off the offense, their lack of control in the neutral zone and their only helped the Canes' cause. Keeping a team honest is very good and the Devils did come close to a fifth goal earlier than Ruutu scored it. But they forgot the fundamental part of trying to hold the opposition back. That's how it happened in the bigger picture; the events just put it on the scoreboard.
The Traded Players: Ruutu was an obvious star of the game. Plenty of shots, plenty of "in your face" play, a killer primary assist, and an important goal. He was also one of the team's better possession players in 5-on-5 play. The Devils didn't do so hot - having a lead will do that, but Ruutu's 12-13 was better than most. That goal was his first since January 25. The only negative from #15 was his high-sticking penalty in the offensive zone. The Devils killed that one with no issue, though. So the newest Devil had a very good game.
What about Andrei Loktionov, the young center the Devils dealt for Ruutu? He had a good game - for New Jersey. He was one of Carolina's worst possession players in 5-on-5 play, out-attempted 9-16 and out-shot 4-9. He was the closest Cane to Henrique when he scored on his mini-breakaway in the second period. Loktionov played quite a bit (over 16 minutes) and played with several different players (e.g. Semin, Drayson Bowman, Skinner). But he was just out of sorts for the most part. That helped New Jersey considering plenty of other Canes did better in the attempts department in 5-on-5 play.
Speaking of Looking at Process, Not Results - the Power Play: On most nights, the Devils going 1-for-2 on the power play is considered good. The Devils did do this. Brunner put home a puck that rebounded off the end boards and past Khudobin. However, the same man who converted the power play was largely responsible for giving a shorthanded goal back. Those who don't like him on the point received a massive new reason. I still don't know what he was thinking trying to make that pass. I don't think he was. Compounding that error was the fact that the Devils conceded another shorthanded opportunity on that very same power play. Carolina out-shot the Devils on that second man advantage 3-1 and got a goal from it. It was hideous as the Devils couldn't break out without issue, much less get set up. They even had issues on the power play they did convert on. The rest of the league probably knows that the Devils' power play doesn't handle pressure from aggressive penalty kills well at all. It may be too late to put something new together, but they can at least address it player by player a little more. They can start with not throwing turn around passes across the blueline from the side boards without looking.
Other Standout Devils: While Mark Fayne got victimized for a fluke first goal, he was a Devils defenseman I didn't dislike tonight. The numbers at 5-on-5 would agree; things generally went well for the Devils when he was on the ice. I liked his willingness to shoot. He ended up with four shots on net.
As for other forwards, while Jagr got victimized by Semin's sweet move, he played a good game. While he ended up distributing more pucks for other players - Zajac had three shots, Ruutu had five - he was still strong on the puck, pivoting around defenders. It's no surprise he was one of the few Devils to end up over 50% in Corsi percentage tonight. Speaking of, I liked what Zajac was doing for the most. He was active, he played with more swagger on offense, and he ended up being rather productive. He had a goal and two assists tonight. I'm pretty confident that we'll see Ruutu-Zajac-Jagr for the next few games. I'm looking forward to it.
Standout Canes: The Staal brothers are great players. The secondary assist for Eric Staal was fortunate as it was from Skinner's fluke. Jordan Staal was very strong tonight. He got two assists and was very strong in possession like Eric. The two of them were together in the third period; I would think they'll be together more often in the future. I'd also like to tell those who set up the pre-game starting lineups at the Rock that it's S-t-a-a-l, not S-t-a-l. Given how much #11 and #12 roamed around, everyone got to know their names real well.
On a night with 33 shots taken, the two guys who combined for 12 definitely made their mark. Skinner and Semin each had six shots and each scored. They were positive in possession. While both aren't exactly known for defense, they didn't get picked upon too much. Both put enough rubber on target to do the picking themselves.
Lastly, I was impressed with what I saw out of Ryan Murphy. The Canes conceded 31 shots, including 17 in the second period. But Murphy was often getting the puck out and leading breakouts himself. Since the Devils' neutral zone coverage was lax, this led to plenty of attacks for Carolina. Unsurprisingly, he was very favorable in terms of possession. The young defender did this plenty of times to a point where he kept getting more and more shifts since he was Carolina's most effective defensive player tonight. By the end of the night, he got 26:51 of ice time. He's going to be very good for a Carolina blueline that could use it.
Hot Henrique & Two Others: Henrique remains hot. While he was dragged down a bit by his line whenever they were called upon to play defense, it's hard to be critical when he provides two goals. They were fantastic goals, too. He actually tipped away the puck in the neutral zone to Ryane Clowe, who fed him for the score. It was a makeshift give-and-go, really. He found treasure in trash since Jon Merrill retreated to the corner with the puck due to a heavy forecheck and the rookie just lobbed it out.
As for the rest of Newfoundline, well, they weren't so hot. Clowe was OK, he was actually seen trying to make plays on defense. Ryder was once again not good. He was once again doing more observing than acting in his own end of the rink. It's hard to defend in a 5-on-5 situation when one of the five isn't really helping. He had a couple of shots but he seemed worthless. Unfortunately, there's not much Peter DeBoer can do. He's an offensive player who's ice cold right now. His goalless streak is daunting. His shots haven't been all that strong either; it's not like he's getting robbed every night. Ryder's not good enough to play more minutes with other players. His lackadaisical defensive effort at best means he's not contributing in other areas. And there isn't another right wing in the system or on the roster who can really replace him. I guess hope that some of the hot luck Henrique has rubs off him? I'll take caring a little bit more on defense first, though.
Speaking of Wingers: Dainius Zubrus? Brunner? Any one of you three (I'm including Ryder) want to put in a better effort overall? It would be helpful since Henrique isn't going to be hot forever.
One Last Note: Henrique's second goal sent Khudobin to the bench in place of Cam Ward. Ward unfortunately gets the "L" since he conceded Ruutu's goal, the eventual game winning goal. I guess he was more of the problem than the guy who gave up four goals out of 23 shots or the guys in front of that guy since he got the bad result. If that seems silly, then it's no more silly than arguing Brodeur's performance was OK because he got the "W."
Your Take: What do you take away from this game? Can the Devils address their recent defensive and goaltending woes before their road trip? What would you do? Who do you think was the best Devil tonight? Do you feel a little better about the Devils acquiring Ruutu at the trade deadline now? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed the sparse tweets of @InLouWeTrust and those who commented in the gamethread. Thank you for reading.