Monthly Archives: February 2012
(headline submitted by @HardipGoDevils)
The Devils dropped their 3rd straight last night, falling to the New York Rangers, 2-0 at Madison Square Garden. Both teams looked tired and sluggish, but a short-side goal by Carl Hagelin gave the Rangers an early 1-0 lead, that they would never relinquish. Ryan Callahan put the game away with an empty net goal with just over a minute to play, to seal a 2-0 victory. The game was eerily similar to the one just a few weeks ago at the Garden, in which New Jersey suffocated the Rangers all night, on their way to a 1-0 victory. Last night it was the Rangers who did the suffocating.
After the 1st period, here is what some of you had to say – What did you like, didn’t you like and best Devils player that period? :
@shmermel – not physical enough, not controlling the puck enough, more and better shots
@markscocco - typical game vs the Rags. We control the puck but kept to the outside, hit a post. they get 1 chance and score on it.
@KozachekVery – solid & intense period. The one breakdown is all it took to get one past Marty on the short side. Tough goal to allow
David Clarkson had a game I’m sure everyone would like to forget, including himself. In the 2nd period, Clarkson was in the penalty box for 17 out of 20 minutes. His ill-advised check on Dubinsky in the 2nd period, in which he left his feet to make the check started a powder keg, which lead to a charging penalty and a fight with Dubinsky moments later.
Thoughts on the 2nd period and what needs to happen in the 3rd period?
@bacon55 – Terrible the Devils need to stick to the game plan and stop getting involved with unnecessary shenanigans
@scubsmcgubs99 – well its plain and simple get more shots on goals they have to remember “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”
@Brian_Cooke - We need to stop looking for picture perfect opportunities and just take some damn shots!
The game didn’t have much in the area of offense, as both teams were held to a combined total of 28 shots, 15 for the Rangers, 13 for the Devils. Both Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist had light workloads, but still made key saves when they had to. The Rangers only had one power play to the Devils 2. The Rangers took a page out of the Devils teams from the past, playing a very stingy trap for most of the game. The Devils we’re limited to just 3 shots in the 3rd period. That is not a recipe for success.
This loss could prove costly for New Jersey, as Ottawa could pick up ground with a win tonight in Boston and push the Devils back into 7th place in the Eastern Conference. It doesn’t get much easier for the Devils as they will also face the Bruins Thursday night at TD Garden.
New York Rangers (39-15-6, 84 points) vs. New Jersey Devils (35-22-4, 74 points)
7:30 PM E.T.
TV: NBC Sports Network
Radio: WFAN 660 AM
Tonight will renew one of the best rivalries in the NHL. The Devils and Rangers always produce exciting games. The Devils own the all-time series lead, and lead this season’s series, 2-1 so far. A Devils win tonight would mark the first time any NHL team defeated the Rangers three times this season. The Rangers won the first game of the season between the two teams at Prudential Center, 4-1 on December 20th. The Devils tried to cling to a 1-0 lead for most of the game after Travis Zajac scored his first of the season, but the Rangers scored three straight goals, plus an empty netter, all of which came in the late second period and third period. The Devils won the second meeting against the Rangers in a shootout on January 31st. Zach Parise scored in that game, and while trailing 2-1 and 3-2, Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson both scored game-tying goals against Martin Biron in the final 5 minutes before winning in a shootout. The Devils also won the most recent meeting, 1-0 at Madison Square Garden. David Clarkson’s first period power play goal was the difference, and Martin Brodeur recorded his first shutout of the season.
So, what will tonight’s chapter of the Hudson River Rivalry give us?
Bump in the road:
After a 9-1-1 run out of the All-Star break, the Devils suffered their first back-to-back losses in regulation this past weekend, after falling 2-1 to Vancouver and 4-3 to Tampa Bay. The Devils didn’t play poorly on Friday against the Canucks, but they couldn’t produce enough offense at the right time. Cory Schneider also robbed the Devils of a second goal in that game. Yesterday was a more frustrating day for the Devils. Adam Larsson struggled in his first game back from injury, and Marek Zidlicky made his Devils debut, but they fell to the Lightning. Martin St. Louis was too much for the Devils to contain. He factored in the scoring of all four Tampa Bay goals, including his sixth career hat trick. The Devils have now surrendered hat tricks to Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul and St. Louis this season. Ilya Kovalchuk has the Devils’ lone hat trick this season.
Still, the Devils jumped out to a 5-0 record post-All-Star break before dropping games to St. Louis in a shootout and Florida. They followed that up by winning four straight games before their most recent hiccup. They’ve also gone 12-2-1 over their past 15 road games, despite struggling at home recently. The Devils are 9-3-1 since the All-Star break overall. Due to the Flyers and Penguins both winning their games over the weekend, the Devils fell to 6th in the Eastern Conference, but remain three points back of 4th place.
Carrying the weight:
Martin Brodeur saw his work load reduced at the beginning of the season, which was also partially due to minor injuries, but he’s carried most of the load recently. Brodeur started Friday, as well as yesterday, and he starts again tonight at MSG. This will be the first time Brodeur has started back-to-back games all season. He’s three wins shy of 650 for his career, which would obviously be a new record, as he’s already the all-time wins leader.
The Devils have limited the opposition’s chances in recent games. Brodeur only made 14 saves on Friday and 16 on Sunday. Brodeur allowed 4 goals on Sunday, which was the first time he had given up more than 3 in a game since January 4th against the Boston Bruins, when he gave up 6 goals. It was only the second time Brodeur gave up more than 3 goals in a game since November 30th, 2011.
The Devils are proving to be a very deep team this season. They have three solid lines that can match up against most opposing lines and three lines that can produce offense at any given time. Consider their third line right now (nicknamed “The Momentum Line” by Pete DeBoer and the “600-pound line” by Alexei Ponikarovsky): Ponikarovsky-Dainius Zubrus-Steve Bernier. Although Bernier only has 4 points with the Devils, including the primary assist on Petr Sykora’s goal on Sunday, he’s helped the third line become a dominating puck possession line. Zubrus has also recorded 12 points in the 13 games since the break. Ponikarovsky has put up 5 goals and 6 assists in 15 games as a Devil. That depth scoring has carried the Devils, as their top line has cooled off recently.
Although he continues to log assists, Ilya Kovalchuk has gone five straight games without a goal, following his first hat trick as a Devil. He hasn’t scored a goal on his last 23 shots. Zach Parise, who had plenty of scoring chances against Tampa Bay on Sunday, did connect with the final shot he took. He hadn’t scored on his past 20 shots. Parise and Kovalchuk’s center, Adam Henrique, has hit a bit of a wall over his last couple games, going pointless and taking a minus-2 rating over the last two games. Meanwhile, Patrik Elias has also cooled off. He hasn’t scored a goal in seven games. His 58 points are second on the team to Kovalchuk’s 60. Petr Sykora has gotten back on track, recording seven points in his last eight games.
The Rangers continue to lead the Eastern Conference, yet much of the past few weeks have featured some significant trade rumors surrounding the Rangers. The most prominent name linked to New York has been Columbus captain Rick Nash. Ranger fans infamously mocked Nash after he scored a goal to tie the Blue Jackets-Rangers game in the dying seconds, chanting “We don’t want you.” Well, by the time this preview is up, the trade deadline will have passed, and barring something very dramatic, Nash won’t be traded to the Rangers.
Marian Gaborik leads the Rangers in goals (29) and points (53) this season. His goal production has cooled off over the past few weeks. At one point in December, he was tied with Steven Stamkos for the league lead in goals, but Stamkos now has 43, which is 14 more than Gaborik’s 29. The Rangers have also gotten plenty of offensive support from their defensemen, as Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi all have 20 points or more this season (in comparison, the Devils’ highest scoring defenseman, Adam Larsson, has 16 points this season).
The Devils rank 12th in goals for, while the Rangers are right behind in 14th. The difference is, while the Devils rank 12th in goals against, the Rangers are the best defensive team in hockey, thanks to the previously mentioned defensemen plus Marc Staal, and perhaps the best goaltender on the planet right now: Henrik Lundqvist. It seems almost factual that Lundqvist will be this year’s Vezina winner. The Devils will have their hands full, as always, trying to beat him.
New Jersey Devils’ projected lineup (barring a last minute trade):
Parise – Henrique – Kovalchuk
Sykora – Elias – Clarkson
Ponikarovsky – Zubrus – Bernier
Carter – Josefson – Boulton
Salvador – Larsson
Greene – Fayne
Volchenkov – Zidlicky
New York Rangers’ projected lineup:
Anisimov – Stepan – Gaborik
Hagelin – Richards – Callahan
Dubinsky – Boyle – Prust
Fedotenko – Mitchell – Rupp
McDonagh – Girardi
Del Zotto – Stralman
Staal – Bickell
(headline submitted by @RAJH7191)
After playing the Vancouver Canucks on Friday and preparing for the New York Rangers on Monday night, it would be easy for the Devils to look past their Sunday afternoon game against Tampa Bay. Well, let’s be honest: they did just that. They played a decent first period, but they looked out of sync for most of this game against a very beat up Lightning team that lost 8-1 in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Marek Zidlicky wasn’t much of a factor in his Devils debut, and Adam Larsson struggled in his first game back from injury.
Just as the Devils looked at the Vancouver loss on Friday, the Devils looked as if they couldn’t connect on some of the plays they tried. Their start in this game was better than their start against Vancouver. Alexei Ponikarovsky made a brilliant play, stealing the puck from Ryan Malone, and then patiently skating in front of Tampa Bay goaltender Mathieu Garon before scoring into an open net. The Devils took the 1-0 lead, but they weren’t able to do too much once they had the lead. Still, they finished the first period with a lead.
Here’s some reaction from Twitter after the first period:
@zerogravityfat: Pretty dominant first, gotta keep this up, stamkos is always a treat.
@NJDevilsFans: Zidlicky looks like he has been playing with the Devils for the season.
@RyanQueler: Loved the 600 pound line. Zubie poni and bernier wearing down tampa bay on the forecheck
@jjennii8: The Devils should just play a man down the entire game if they play like they just did on the PK
Unfortunately, the second period wasn’t as smooth as the first period. Tampa Bay’s frustrating defensive scheme prevented the Devils from connecting with their passes and ability to set up elite scoring chances. The second period then became the Martin St. Louis show. After a terribly slow line change by the Devils, Garon sent the puck up the right side of the ice, past Cam Janssen, to Steven Stamkos, who found St. Louis on a breakaway. St. Louis then beat Brodeur up high to tie the game. Minutes later, he scored again on a rebound after Ilya Kovalchuk was called for a questionable penalty call.
The feedback after the second period wasn’t as positive as the first:
@emanupo: So, if the Devils play 40 min out of 60 and this period is the 20 min of non-play, we should expect a really good 3rd period…
The third period didn’t start well for the Devils. They failed on a power play that carried over after Stamkos took a penalty at the end of the second period. However, less than 30 seconds after the failed power play, Steve Bernier came from behind the net and threw the puck right to Petr Sykora, and the game was tied. Sykora picked up his 15th goal of the season. The Devils’ celebration was short-lived, though, as just over 30 seconds following Sykora’s goal, the Devils broke down again. Adam Larsson chased the puck-carrier on a 3-on-2, turning it into a 2-on-1, and St. Louis found Matt Gilroy, who just had to tap the puck a few inches, and Tampa Bay re-gained the lead.
The Devils couldn’t manage much offense in the following minutes, but Teddy Purcell spun around his shot from the right point and St. Louis deflected it past Brodeur for a hat trick and a 4-2 Lightning lead. The Devils didn’t push back much until a late penalty on St. Louis gave them a power play. After a frustrating afternoon for Zach Parise, who came close to scoring several times, but kept getting stopped or missed, Parise finally got one, as Kovalchuk faked a one-timer, he fed Parise, who left his normal spot on the power play, down low, and assumed duties along the right circle and point. Parise snapped a shot from the right side off the post and in for his 23rd goal of the season to cut the deficit to 4-3. Kovalchuk then led a tremendous rush up ice, but it was too little, too late, as the Devils eventually fell, 4-3.
It was a rough return for Adam Larsson, who hadn’t played since taking a big hit from P.K. Subban weeks ago. The Swedish rookie didn’t finish as a minus, but didn’t seem to make the right decisions when he needed to today. As for the other addition to the lineup, Marek Zidlicky had an even tougher day. He took a penalty, registered just one shot on net, played 14:25 and was a minus-2. Perhaps the best player on the Devils today was Alexei Ponikarovsky. He had scoring chances all day, and could have scored at least two or three goals, had he not been robbed by Garon from the crease or missed passes.
The Devils improved in one of the areas that haunted them on Friday: the face-off circle. Although Tampa Bay doesn’t have the face-off machines that Vancouver does, the Devils won 27 of 53 draws in the game, although they struggled in the final minutes. That isn’t an impressive percentage, but it helped the Devils maintain better possession of the puck. Even so, they only managed to take 22 shots on Garon. The Devils are amongst the bottom of the league in shots per game, and failed to take advantage of the Lightning’s horrific defense. Tampa Bay entered the day having allowed the most goals in the entire league.
Ilya Kovalchuk assisted on Parise’s goal. The assist gives him 60 points on the season, which matches his total from last season. Ponikarovsky’s goal gives him 11 points in 15 games as a Devil. Brodeur will start again tomorrow at Madison Square Garden, which will be three games in four nights for Marty. That’s not something many of you support.
@babycakes12304: I think Hedberg should be in the net knowing we play the Rangers tomorrow.
I guess we’ll all find out together tomorrow against the Rangers.
New Jersey Devils (35-21-4, 74 points) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (27-28-6, 60 points)
1:00 PM E.T.
TV: MSG +
Radio: WFAN 660 AM
This Sunday afternoon game features the Devils and Lightning. This is the third of four meetings between these two Eastern Conference teams. The Devils won each of the prior two, both of them in Tampa Bay: 4-2 and 5-4. Martin Brodeur will be in net, which comes as a surprise to many, since the Devils also play Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Brodeur has beaten the Lightning 35 times coming into this game. After a horrific performance by the team and Dwayne Roloson on Saturday in Pittsburgh, Mathieu Garon will likely start against the Devils.
Can’t solve Cory Schneider:
The Devils didn’t play their best game of the season on Friday against the Vancouver Canucks, but they certainly had their chances. In total, they harassed Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider all night, with 31 shots, many of which were very good scoring chances, but Schneider had an answer for all but one David Clarkson shot, and had tremendous rebound control all night. Zach Parise led the way with 7 shots on goal. Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson each had 5 shots on Schneider, including Clarkson’s career-high 24th goal of the season.
Other than beating Schneider, though, the Devils played a very good game on Friday, following a ceremony to honor long-time play-by-play announcer Mike “Doc” Emrick. Vancouver had six of the game’s first eight shots, but the Devils outshot them, 29-10 the rest of the way. The Devils held the Sedin line (Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows) to a total of two shots on goal. Martin Brodeur had little chance on either Vancouver goal, and he made some impressive saves, including one where he came out to prevent a Canucks breakaway, Dominek Hasek-style. Brodeur was beat once on a rebound to a pinching Aaron Rome and a shot by Mason Raymond that re-directed past him after hitting Andy Greene.
The Devils had a pair of power plays, and didn’t get much going. That may have had something to do with Kurtis Foster not being in the lineup, as he was held out due to a trade to Minnesota. They also killed off the Canucks’ only power play of the game, so special teams were not much of a factor at all. The one part of the game that the Devils struggled in all night was their inability to win face-offs. As I discussed in last night’s recap, Manny Malhotra dominated the Devils’ face-off men. At one point by my count, Malholtra won six straight draws. The Devils only won three of 21 draws in the first period, and just 19 of 61 all night.
Still, despite their inability to score goals and struggles in the face-off circle, the Devils should feel good about the way they played, and their position in general. Although the Penguins’ win over the Lightning on Saturday jumped Pittsburgh over the Devils, New Jersey is still fifth in the Eastern Conference and is 9-2-1 since the All-Star break. A win over a struggling Tampa Bay team would certainly keep them headed in the right direction.
It’s also worthy to note that Martin Brodeur will face the Lightning, as well as the Rangers on Monday. He hasn’t started games on back-to-back days this season. I personally find it strange that Johan Hedberg isn’t starting on Sunday.
A new face in town:
It was announced mid-game on Friday and discussed at length previously: the Devils acquired defenseman Marek Zidlicky from Minnesota for Kurtis Foster, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux and a pair of draft picks. If you want to read more about the trade, be sure to read Ross O’Shea’s piece from Saturday. Zidlicky did not arrive in Newark early enough to practice with the team on Saturday, but he did skate at the Prudential Center after practice with fellow Czech countryman and friend Patrik Elias, along with defensive coach Larry Robinson. Zidlicky will wear #2 and is expected to play on Sunday. He gives the Devils a much-needed puck-moving defenseman and will certainly help the power play out.
Speaking of defensemen, the Devils expect to get rookie Adam Larsson back in the lineup for Sunday’s game. Larsson has been sidelined with a bruised back after taking a hard hit by Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban on February 2nd. Including that game, the Devils went 8-2-1 without him. With Larsson, Zidlicky and Andy Greene, the Devils now have three legitimate defenseman who can help create offense, which is something that has been lacking in New Jersey for many years. General Manager Lou Lamoriello has certainly set the Devils up for a potentially long playoff run this spring.
About the Bolts:
The same can’t be said for the Tampa Bay Lightning, regarding a playoff run. The Lightning, who took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, but sit 12th in the conference currently. Despite Steven Stamkos leading the league with 43 goals this season, the Lightning have been extremely inconsistent this season. They have also given up the most goals in the entire league. They gave up 8 goals in a loss in Pittsburgh on Saturday, led by Evgeni Malkin’s hat trick for Pittsburgh.
Nothing has gone right for Tampa Bay defensively this season. Their defensemen have been struggling, they get beat to pucks and sometimes, as Malkin proved on Saturday, beat one-on-one too often. In addition, Dwayne Roloson has not played nearly as well as he did last season. Garon has only been slightly better for Tampa Bay. Even though the Lightning have explosive offensive players, such as Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, they can’t score enough goals to make up for their defensive woes. It’s been a frustrating season for Guy Boucher’s Lightning after the expectations that they had after last season’s success, and playing in a weak division. The Devils can’t look past this game, though, because Tampa Bay can score goals if you’re not careful, and the Devils might have their sights set on Monday night at Madison Square Garden already.
Lightning projected lineup:
Connolly – Stamkos – Malone
St. Louis – Pyatt – Purcell
Smith – Thompson – Wyman
Angelidis – Hall – Wallace
Brewer – Hedman
Clark – Gilroy
Mikkelson – Gervais
Devils projected lineup:
Parise – Henrique – Kovalchuk
Sykora – Elias – Clarkson
Ponikarovsky – Zubrus – Bernier
Carter – Josefson – Janssen
Greene – Larsson (if he plays)
Volchenkov – Salvador
Fayne – Zidlicky
President/CEO/General Manager Lou Lamoriello has made another move. The first reaction I noticed on Twitter was how much the Devils gave up. Mr. Lamoriello stated on MSG that he is not worried what we give up, just focused on what we are getting. The Devils acquired defenseman Marek Zidlicky from the Minnesota Wild. He is 35 years old and has a reputation of being the type of defenseman that can move the puck well and become involved in the offense. During his 7 NHL seasons, Zidlicky has had 5 seasons of 40+ points including a 53 point season in 2003-2004 with the Nashville Predators. In his last 2 seasons with Minnesota, Marek Zidlicky has finished with 42 and 43 points. Not bad for a defenseman. Marek Zidlicky also holds a Nashville Predators record of 35 power play points in one season.
The last two weeks across hockey blogs and Twitter, there has been a lot of buzz about Zidlicky only wanting to come to New Jersey. What a player wants doesn’t always transpire, but in this case it worked out. I personally feel that it is exciting when players WANT to play for a team – it means they are enthusiastic, energized and ready to contribute. What additionally makes me comfortable with this move is Zidlicky’s experience with Elias. These two players have won an Olympic Medal as well as 2 medals in the World Championships with Czech Republic National team.
Marek Zidlicky’s NHL Totals: Games 507, Goals 60, Assists 224, Points 284
(this was my headline. I’ve always wanted to use a Cory Schneider pun like that. So I did.)
Sometimes, a goaltender can steal a game. In a nutshell, that’s what Cory Schneider did to the Devils on a night where the Devils dramatically outplayed the defending Western Conference champions. The Devils weren’t completely crisp with their passing throughout the game, and they were sloppy at times, but for the most part, it was Schneider that handed the Devils just their second regulation loss since the All-Star break. Vancouver also blocked more shots (and intercepted more passes), and won more face-offs than the Devils (42-19).
Vancouver also got off to a strong start to this game, which may have surprised the Devils, since the Canucks played an intense, close game in Detroit the night before. Vancouver outshot the Devils, 6-2 at the beginning of the game, including their first goal of the game, which came from Aaron Rome’s rebound shot off a Chris Tanev shot. Following the goal, the Devils registered the final six shots of the period, but Schneider stopped them all.
On the first shot of the second period, Vancouver doubled their lead, on what would be the game-winning goal. David Booth dropped the puck back to Mason Raymond from the right circle, and he beat Martin Brodeur cleanly. Later in the period, though, the Devils would get on the board. Patrik Elias faked a shot on a 2-on-1, and sent it across the David Clarkson. The puck appeared to re-direct past Schneider after hitting multiple players’ skates, including Clarkson. The goal was reviewed, but it counted. That was the only puck that beat Schneider all night.
Over the final two periods, the Devils had 23 shots to the Canucks’ 10, but Cory Schneider simply dominated the Devils. His rebound control was excellent, as the Devils were unable to get to the few rebounds he allowed. The Vancouver defensemen also got their sticks in passing and shooting lanes to restrict the Devils’ offensive options. When they had chances, they were either couldn’t connect on a pass or had it knocked away by a Canucks player. The microcosm of their frustrating night was when it looked as if Ilya Kovalchuk would have himself a breakaway, but he couldn’t settle the puck down. Schneider finished with 30 saves.
Although the Devils played a decent all-around game tonight, especially when you consider that they shut down the Sedin-line for most of the night (Sedin-Sedin-Burrows were held to two combined shots), they were exposed in an area that has haunted them many times this season: their inability to win face-offs when they need them. Of course, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson have all missed significant time this season, but Zajac’s loss hurts the most. Zajac, when healthy, is one of the best face-off men in the league. Besides Zajac, the Devils don’t have anyone who can be counted on to take face-offs.
Patrik Elias leads the Devils, as he’s taken 1,042 draws this season. He’s only won 43.8% of them. Adam Henrique has won 48.9% of his draws, Dainius Zubrus is at 43.6% and Josefson is barely over 47%. It’s also worth noting that Pete DeBoer has David Clarkson take many of the face-offs on the power play, yet Clarkson’s face-off percentage is a mere 39.4% this season. On the flip side, Vancouver centers dominated the face-off circle all night. Including the Devils power play late in the second period, center Manny Malhotra won six consecutive face-offs during the game tonight, and 12 of 18 overall. Ryan Kesler won 12 of 20, Henrik Sedin won 7 of 10 and Cody Hodgson won 5 of 6. The Devils simply had no answer for the Canucks’ centers.
Despite losing a severe majority of face-offs, the Devils’ forecheck made up for that, as they pressured the Canucks in their own zone all night. That led to tremendous scoring chances. The Devils took 31 shots on goal, but many of them were high-quality chances. Zach Parise led the team with 7 shots, followed by Clarkson and Kovalchuk, who had 5 each. Vancouver also blocked 15 shots. The Devils also failed on both of their power plays (partially due to their lack of face-off success), and they didn’t really get anything set up on either chance.
One of the Devils’ best power play defenseman, Kurtis Foster, was traded during the game. He didn’t dress tonight, but he, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux and a pair of draft picks were sent to Minnesota for defenseman Marek Zidlicky. Zidlicky will likely assume duties on the first unit of the power play. He’ll likely make his Devils debut on Sunday against Tampa Bay.
(headline by @BonzoHammer)
It was Doc Emrick who coined the phrase “they don’t ask how, they ask how many.” With this Friday being Doc Emrick Night, perhaps it was only fitting that the Devils leave Toronto with a back-and-forth win on a crazy overtime goal, but hey, a win is a win, right? They played a tough, at times physical and certainly intense overtime thriller that ended with a crazy goal from an unlikely source. Regardless of how it happened, though, the Devils have the second-highest point total in the NHL and actually creep closer to the Rangers for first in the entire Eastern Conference.
The Devils did not get off to a great start. In fact, the Toronto Maple Leafs had six of the game’s first eight shots on goal, but as he has so often recently, Martin Brodeur made the saves he needed to make to keep the Devils in the game. Perhaps it was Dion Phaneuf’s tripping penalty midway through the period that sparked the Devils. They didn’t score on the power play, but just nine seconds after the power play expired, Adam Henrique backhanded a quick pass to a cutting Petr Sykora, and Sykora’s fired one off Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson’s pads, and Sykora followed up the rebound Gustavsson allowed and backhanded it in for a 1-0 Devils lead. That marked the 9th consecutive game in which the Devils scored the game’s first goal, which sets a new franchise record.
The Devils kept rolling after Sykora’s goal. Patrik Elias found David Clarkson skating up the right side, and Clarkson powered his way to the net and wristed the puck through Gustavsson’s legs to double the lead. The Leafs responded right away, as Tim Connolly deflected Cody Franson’s point shot past Brodeur. However, the period’s most highlighted event occured when Dion Phaneuf cleanly checked Zach Parise to strip him off the puck. Immediately following his hit on Parise, Phaneuf drilled the Devils’ captain again, and appeared to target Parise’s head. Zach was slow to get up, but suffered just a cut to his nose, likely from his visor. Phaneuf was not penalized for the hit, but was given a major when he accepted a fight with David Clarkson moments later. The Devils outshot Toronto, 13-9 in the period.
Here’s some of your reaction about the first period:
@Devsfan55: didn’t like Phaneuf’s dirty hit. Loved Clarkson… Goal and sticking up for Zach.
@glund625: what a great period! Great job by Clarkson defending his teammate and getting [another goal].
@NonAmericanHero: I enjoyed David Clarkson sticking up for his teammate after scoring a goal. Now can he get an assist for the gordie howe? (Unfortunately, he didn’t)
@JamCanssen: Everything Clarkson did, from the falling to the scoring to the sticking up for Zach and fighting Phaneuf
@jseltmann: like 2 goals. Don’t like weak PP and giving one back or zach getting hit up high.
The Leafs, desperately fighting to hold onto the 8th and final playoff spot in the conference, came out and played a better second period. That didn’t mean that the Devils didn’t have scoring chances. The top line of Zach Parise-Adam Henrique-Ilya Kovalchuk was absolutely dominant every shift they had, it seemed. Kovalchuk hit the side of the net on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush, then went in on a breakaway, only to be stopped by Gustavsson, then Kovy fed Adam Henrique on a 3-on-2, but that was also shut down by Gustavsson. Then, Kovalchuk’s shot rebounded right to Parise, but he shot it off the post. Parise couldn’t bury a second rebound and the Leafs survived. Eventually, Matt Taormina turned the puck over at his defensive blue line, and Clarke MacArthur capped off a passing play by the Leafs to tie the game. With under two minutes remaining in the period, Dainius Zubrus kicked the puck to Alexei Ponikarovsky, who slid to the slot and ripped a shot 5-hole on Gustavsson to give the Devils their lead back. Zubrus kicking the puck to Ponikarovsky also amazed Chico Resch, for the record. The second period ended with the same 3-2 score.
And some more Twitter reaction to the 2nd period:
@FasterHockey: Another bad defensive play leaves Marty on an island for a goal. Sloppy play is keeping the Leafs in it instead of breaking
@radametz: Devils seemed to be lacking some energy to start but looking much better following the “Poni Show”.
@Liv133: Like: Poni getting the lead. Dislike: we’re sloppy. We can’t keep the puck on our sticks. And we’re blowing gimmie chances!
In the third period, it was all Toronto…and the Henrique line. The Leafs only edged the Devils in shots by one in the period, but they controlled play for most of the period. Had they connected on more of their neutral zone passes, they might have scored earlier and more often in the period. Brodeur also made some of his best saves in the third, including saves on Joey Crabb and Tyler Bozak from short distance. Still, with Gustavsson on the bench and under 45 seconds remaining, the puck came dangerously close to the net. Patrik Elias tried to clear the crease, but the puck ended up on Phil Kessel’s stick, and that’s the last guy you want to shoot the puck. He banked it off Brodeur’s left skate and into the net to tie the game. That sent the game to overtime.
The third period can be summarized by this tweet:
@JO310JO: Toronto pressured and kept grinding away! That’s why its tied now!
Overtime didn’t really last very long. While the Devils’ 10-3 shootout record suggests they might have just wanted the five minute 4-on-4 period to pass, they pressed on their first shift in overtime. Ilya Kovalchuk nearly ended the game seconds in as he one-timed a cross-ice feed, but he had to reach for it and didn’t get all of the velocity he’s capable of on the shot. Just seconds later, Adam Henrique sent the puck back to the point and Mark Fayne slapped one wide of the net. That was your game-winning goal. How? Well, Gustavsson reached out for it (it wasn’t far wide of the net, as it probably would have either hit the post or side of the net had Gustavsson missed it), and the puck somehow found its way through the Swedish goaltender and off the far post and into the net. It’s Fayne’s fourth goal of the season, and first since November 16th in Buffalo.
With the Devils win and Rangers loss to Pittsburgh, the Devils pull to within seven points of the Atlantic division and Eastern Conference lead. That’s still a big deficit, but the two teams play each other three more times this season. The Devils took advantage of a weak performance by Gustavsson, but did allow the Leafs a critical point, as they chase down a playoff spot for the first time since the lockout in 2004-05.
Game notes: David Clarkson scored his career-high 23rd goal of the season tonight, and also his 9th goal in 17 career games against his hometown Maple Leafs. The Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk line produced 15 shots on goal tonight, led by Kovalchuk’s 7 shots. Alexei Ponikarovsky has 10 points in 13 games as a Devil. Martin Brodeur won his 22nd game of the season and against the Leafs all-time tonight. He had 23 wins all of last season, and is now three wins shy of 650 for his career. Obviously, no other NHL goaltender has ever reached that number.
New Jersey Devils (34-20-4, 72 points) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (29-24-6, 64 points)
7:00 PM EST
Radio: WFAN 660 AM
Tonight marks the third match-up between the Devils and Maple Leafs. Both teams have gotten a win, both wins have come on the road, with the Devils coming away victorious in their last meeting, 3-2 in overtime back on December 6th at the Air Canada Centre.
Devils Need to Stand Ground:
For a team that finished near the bottom of the standings last season and had many wondering if they would make the playoffs this season, the Devils have answered the nay-sayers thus far. With their win against the Canadiens on Sunday afternoon, New Jersey now stands at 4th place in the Eastern Conference, and are now tied in points with 2nd place Boston. They are 8-1-1 since the All-Star Break, and the push to the playoffs is looking bright Devils fans!
Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk are becoming a duo that is hard to reckon with. The Captain has been leading the way, scoring 7 goals and 5 assists in his last 12 games, while Kovalchuk has 6 goals and 12 assists since the All-Star Break. And how can anyone forget the play of Martin Brodeur? The future hall of famer has also answered doubters who thought his storied career might be coming to an end. Brodeur is 9-3-1 in his last 13 starts, with a 1.75 GAA and a .929 SV%.
Projected Devils Lineup:
Parise (C) – Henrique – Kovalchuk (A)
Sykora – Elias (A) – Clarkson
Ponikarovsky – Zubrus – Bernier
Boulton – Josefson – Palmieri
Taormina – Foster
The Latest on the Toronto Maple Leafs:
After starting the post All-Star break with a 5-0-1 record, the Maple Leafs have hit the skids recently, going 1-5-0 in their last six games. They sit currently at 64 points and are barely holding on to that 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. To make matters worse, Joffrey Lupul, their second leading goal-scorer, injured his ankle against Vancouver over the weekend, and missed practice yesterday. He is however, expected to be in the line-up tonight.
Projected Leafs Lineup:
Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
Kulemin – Grabovski – MacArthur
Lombardi – Connolly – Armstrong
Boyce – Steckel – Brown
Phaneuf – Schenn
Liles – Franson
Komisarek – Gardiner