Game 75 Recap: Devils’ comeback falls one short in shootout

New Jersey Devils vs Toronto Maple Leafs

(headline by @kmart890)

Three stars of the game:

3rd star: Zach Parise (Goal)

2nd star: James Reimer (43 saves)

1st star: Adam Henrique (Goal)

Sometimes, during a long 82-game season, there are games in which you just can’t explain why things happened the way they did.  Such was the case tonight, as Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer made 43 saves, and one big stop on Patrik Elias in the shootout, and the Leafs stole a point from the Devils, a point that neither team really needed.  Reimer was under siege all game long, but he stood tall and posted a very strong performance, giving Toronto a very rare victory, as the win comes as their fifth in their last 22 games.

When a team, such as the Leafs, are struggling as badly as they have been, the opposing team always wants to score first and pressure them early so their already shaky confidence drops.  The Devils couldn’t do that on Friday night.  The Leafs led the Devils, 7-5 in shots at one point, but here’s something to consider: the Devils finished the game outshooting Toronto, 41-11.  Despite the Devils pretty much taking the game over midway through the first period, it was Toronto and Tyler Bozak that opened the scoring at 13:47 of the second period.  Matthew Lombardi came streaking down the right wing, stopped at the circle, fed Luke Schenn at the point, who sent a shot-pass to Bozak beside the crease, and Bozak lifted the puck over Martin Brodeur to give the Leafs the lead.  Just over a minute later, they doubled their lead, as Nazem Kadri deflected a Jake Gardiner shot past Brodeur.

With just over a minute remaining in the second period, the Devils got on the board.  Off a Leafs’ turnover, Alexei Ponikarovsky, a former Maple Leaf, raced along the boards and from below the goal line, backhanded a pass to Jacob Josefson, who snuck the puck between Reimer’s pads to make it 2-1.  For Josefson, it was his first goal of the season in his 36th game.  He had been playing well early in the month, so perhaps the goal will turn his previously bad fortune around.  For the team, it cut the deficit in half before the second intermission.

The Devils played a very strong third period, but before they could get anything past Reimer, they made one key mistake.  They left ex-Devil David Steckel open, which allowed him to cash in on a rebound of Joey Crabb’s shot to put Toronto ahead 3-1 about halfway through the third period.  About 90 seconds later, the Devils responded.  The captain, Zach Parise, buried the rebound from Bryce Salvador’s point shot, and suddenly it was 3-2.  The Devils weren’t done.  With under five minutes remaining in regulation, Adam Henrique ended a goal drought of his own, 17 games, as he tipped Andy Greene’s point shot to tie the game.

Through regulation and a scoreless overtime, the Devils had outshot the Leafs, 46-18 (18-7 in the first period, 9-7 in the second period, 15-3 in the third and 4-0 in overtime).  Then came the Devils’ 15th shootout of the season.  They had won 11 of their first 14, and Ilya Kovalchuk ripped the puck five-hole on Reimer, as he tried to give the Devils their 12th win in the shootout.  Martin Brodeur had a rare struggle in the shootout on this night, though.  Tyler Bozak beat him first, then Zach Parise roofed his shot on Reimer, glove side, but Tim Connolly responded by also beating Brodeur glove side.  Patrik Elias tried to find room between Reimer’s pads, but failed, and Nazem Kadri pulled a sweet backhand to forehand deke on Brodeur and won the game for the Leafs.  The teams split the season series, with two wins each, and three of the games went to overtime.

First of all, the Devils did not play poorly.  They were a bit sloppy early in the first and at times in the second period, but they played a pretty decent game.  Unfortunately, Toronto cashed in on the few chances they got and the Devils failed to finish off their chances.  They absolutely dominated almost the entire game, which is a good sign.  Honestly, it would have been more concerning if the Devils had won the game, but had been outshot and outplayed, at least in my opinion.  The loss, though, reminds them that no matter how badly a team is struggling, no game is an easy win.  You have to battle every single night.

The Devils had 46 shots, and leading the way, with seven each, were Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson.  Kovalchuk had some point-blank chances, many off Leafs’ turnovers in their own end, but he didn’t bury any of them.  He also had some huge shots on the Devils’ two power plays (the Devils had no penalties of their own in the game).  Clarkson, always a threat against the Leafs, had just as many shots and several tremendous scoring chances.  He didn’t come up completely empty on the night, though, as he did assist on Zach Parise’s 29th goal of the season.

If you could have hand picked three players to score a goal that needed a goal, you may have picked Josefson, Henrique and Parise.  All three entered Friday night in offensive slumps: Parise had no points in five games, Henrique had no goals in 17 games and Josefson was still looking for his first of the season.  If those three players can get back on track consistently, plus the addition of Travis Zajac soon, the Devils should be in decent shape heading into the playoffs.  The Devils also got plenty of support from their defense tonight.  Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene and Adam Larsson each picked up assists, and five of the Devils’ six defensemen recorded shots on goal: Zidlicky (2), Larsson (2), Greene (2), Salvador (4) and Fayne (3).  Only Anton Volchenkov failed to register a shot on goal.

So, yes, losing is disappointing, but there are many positives to take out of the game, and it’s not the end of the world, either.  Also, it’s not time to give up on Martin Brodeur.  He’s the starting goalie for the Devils, and that isn’t going to change this season.

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Posted on March 24, 2012, in Game Recap, New Jersey Devils and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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