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Game 67 Recap: Kovaltrick sinks the Islanders

New Jersey Devils vs New York Islanders

(headline by @JerseyGuy276)

Ilya Kovalchuk hat trick…wait a second, didn’t I just write this recap?  Oh yeah, right, I did!  Well (spoiler alert), he did it again tonight!  Tonight, he did it in front of his home fans.  It was the first hat trick by a Devil at the Prudential Center this season (Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul and Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis both had hat tricks for their teams at the Rock this season), and it propelled the hometown Devils to a 5-1 win over the New York Islanders.

After back-and-forth opening minutes, the line that dominated the Rangers on Tuesday, Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk, struck again.  All three forwards contributed to the goal.  Adam Henrique, from the right boards, sent the puck to Zach Parise at the right circle, and Parise fed Ilya Kovalchuk, who missed the net from the left side on the initial one-timer, but punched the rebound home for a 1-0 lead and Kovy’s 27th of the season.  Neither team was able to get many other shots on net in the period, and three of the Islanders’ shots came on a late power play, but Martin Brodeur continued his strong play of late and kept the Islanders scoreless after one period.

So, we turn to some Twitter reaction from after the first period:

@HeavyMetalTeddy: Strong first period. Devs controlled most of the action. They have to remember its a 60 minute game! Don’t let up.

@livelovehockeyy: Best player in the 1st – definitely Kovalchuk!

@jseltmann: Parise/Kovalchuk/Henrique are firing in all cylinders! Keep up the board work and win the battles.

The Devils had a brief power play to start the second period, but it was the second power play that featured the game’s second goal.  Patrik Elias, from the right side, fired a perfect pass to Marek Zidlicky at the point, and Zidlicky, who continues to improve with every passing game, passed to Ilya Kovalchuk at the left circle, and Kovy one-timed the puck past Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov and the Devils doubled their lead to 2-0.  After Nabokov stopped Alexei Ponikarovsky later in the period, the Devils’ defense broke down after a bad line change.  Adam Larsson was the only Devil back on a 3-on-1, but he broke it up, as the Islanders couldn’t get anything going on that rush, but they gained momentum and took over the end of the second period.  They outshot the Devils, 12-5 in the period, and got on the board at 16:21 of the period.  Brodeur, who looked strong throughout the game, couldn’t handle a centering attempt by Andrew McDonald from below the goal line, and the puck banked off Brodeur’s arm or elbow, and into the net, which cut the Devils’ lead to 2-1.  That score held up through two periods.

Let’s look at some tweets following the second period and see what fans thought the Devils needed to do to finish off the win:

@DDougyy: Generate offensive pressure, keep forechecking hard, and block as many shots as possible.

@Lilzmoose94: Tighten the screws on defense and work the puck to the forwards. Get the puck deep and chances will come.

@radametz: Keep the pressure on the Isles and dictate how the 3rd period will be played. Don’t give the Isles anything easy.

The Devils, who struggled early in the season in third periods, managed perhaps their best of the season in their 4-1 win over the Rangers on Tuesday, so they looked to build on that in this game, and I’d imagine most Devils fans agree that they did just that.  Kovalchuk nearly scored his hat trick goal early in the period, but unfortunately, every now and then, goaltenders do manage to stop him.  Before the seven minute mark of the period, Adam Larsson skated from the right point and drove to the net.  He was taken down, and on the delayed penalty, Larsson’s slapshot that Ryan Carter deflected caused trouble for Nabokov and the Islanders.  Patrik Elias had a couple of whacks at it, and the last one beat Nabokov and the Devils made it 3-1.  After that, the Devils kept tacking on goals, so I’m sure you don’t want to keep reading about their other goals.

You’re still reading, huh?  Well, about a minute after Elias’ 23rd goal of the season, Kovalchuk one-timed a puck from the high slot that beat Nabokov.  That was his third of the game and 29th of the season.  It was the hat trick of hat tricks for the Devils this season, who got another one from Kovy on February 14th in Buffalo and one from Zach Parise in Washington last Friday.  After a brief delay as the ice crew cleaned up the “head gear” that was thrown to the ice (Islanders announcer Howie Rose did actually say “head gear,” by the way), play resumed, the Islanders buzzed again, and threatened for their second goal.  They got some help when Bryce Salvador shot the puck directly out of play, which is an automatic delay of game penalty from the defensive zone.  The Islanders took a bench minor for too many men on the ice, so the play evened up, 4-on-4.  Minutes later, Zidlicky found David Clarkson in front of the net, and Clarkson buried his 27th goal of the season to make it 5-1 Devils.  That score held as the final.

So, the Devils their second straight and third of four to improve to 81 points in the Eastern Conference.  As many of you pointed out to me, that matches last season’s total, and there’s about a month to yet in this season.  If the Devils continue their current pace, they should reach 100 points.  Right now, they remain sixth in the conference, as the Ottawa Senators beat the Rangers, 4-1 and the fifth place Philadelphia Flyers crushed the Florida Panthers, 5-0 tonight.  The Flyers are two points ahead of the Devils, and the two teams meat twice over the next few days, following Saturday’s game on Long Island.

To summarize tonight’s game, the Devils controlled play for much of the night, and allowed for their puck possession style to wear out the Islanders.  They were certainly outshot by the Islanders, 30-20 overall, as the Devils had just 11 shots on goal through two periods.  Ironically, they actually had more shots through two periods in last Sunday’s loss (12) than tonight.  The shots tonight were better scoring chances and the team played a better game tonight.  It wasn’t perfect, and the Islanders looked as if they were going to come back during the second period, but that’s why Brodeur’s play has been so important recently.  He stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced.  Of course, I must bring up the topic of face-offs again.  When the opposition is starting to generate chances, winning face-offs can certainly go a long way towards gaining momentum back.  Tonight, the Devils won 30 out of 49 draws in the game, led by Jacob Josefson’s 9-for-11 effort.  Obviously, that’s a very good sign for the Devils.

Game notes: There’s a lot to get to in the stats department, so here goes: first of all, Marek Zidlicky picked up his first and second points as a Devil.  His first point was an assist on Kovalchuk’s power play goal in the second period.  His second game on Clarkson’s 5-1 goal in the third period.  Then there’s Zach Parise.  He picked up a pair of assists tonight, which leaves him with exactly 400 in his career.  It took him 487 career games to reach that milestone.  Parise is now one point shy of his fifth 60-point season, all of which would have come over his last six seasons (he only played 13 games last season).

Kovalchuk, meanwhile, now has four goals and an assist in his last two games, following his nine game goal-less drought, which started after his previous hat trick in Buffalo.  Kovalchuk sits at 398 career goals, and as @theScoreTicker points out, Kovalchuk could become the 15th player in the history of the NHL to reach 400 career goals before his 30th birthday (he’ll turn 29 on April 15th).  Jacob Josefson, who entered the month of March without a point since February 4th’s 6-4 win in Philadelphia, picked up his third assist in five March games tonight.  Patrik Elias recorded another multi-point game.  Elias has recorded points in 50 different games this season.  Ryan Carter and Adam Larsson eached picked up assists on Elias’ goal.

Last, but not least, tonight was Martin Brodeur’s 649th career win.  He may or may not reach 700 regular season wins in his career, but he is now one away from 650, which is an incredible milestone.  He’s actually two wins away from having 100 more wins than any other goaltender in NHL history.  I don’t know about you, but that’s an unbelievably amazing statistic to me, even with the shootout wins included.  His first chance at 650 will likely come on Saturday against the Islanders…and yes, that will the final meeting of three meetings in a week between the Devils and Islanders.

Game 56 Recap: Sabres get ‘Kovaltricked’

New Jersey Devils vs Buffalo Sabres

(headline by @Dan_PF)

Over the course of the season, you guys have been tweeting and talking about how the Devils needed to play a solid, 60-minute effort.  I think it’s safe to say they played a solid game for most of the night tonight.  They still had occasional breakdowns, but they also have a goaltender named Martin Brodeur, who’s pretty good, and he cleaned up when the Devils needed him.  They also have a guy named Ilya Kovalchuk.  Tonight, he earned his 12th career hat trick, but first with the New Jersey Devils.  He was simply dominant tonight, and he continues to carry the Devils up the Eastern Conference standings.  The Devils have played eight games since the All-Star break and Kovy now has four 3-point games during that stretch.

The first period started out slowly.  The Devils were a bit sloppy early on, but neither team really threatened in the opening minutes.  Buffalo eventually generated a few chances, including a pair by Brad Boyes, but Brodeur stood tall.  Marty made 8 saves in the first period.  The Devils also had 8 shots in the first period, Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller didn’t stop all of them.  Thomas Vanek went off for tripping late in the period, and the Devils cashed in on the power play.  Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias spent most of the power play playing catch and throwing the puck across the ice.  It didn’t work on the first chance, but once they entered the zone a second time, they worked a pretty tic-tac-toe play and Kovy buried it into a mostly open net.  It was Kovalchuk’s 23rd of the season.

The Devils played a strong second period.  Their puck movement was spectacular at times.  Parise-Henrique-Kovalchuk looked fantastic all night.  The third line of Ponikarovsky-Zubrus-Bernier was also very strong.  The Devils played well defensively for a majority of the period, but a tough break resulted in Buffalo’s only goal of the night.  Jason Pominville banked the puck to the front of the net from below the goal line to the right of Brodeur, and it appeared to go off of Vanek and in, but it actually deflected off Dainius Zubrus, who attempted to clear the puck.  The goal tied the game, but Buffalo’s lack of discipline gave the Devils another chance to re-take the lead.  Buffalo took four minor penalties in the second period alone, and seven on the night.  After late penalties by two Sabres defensemen, Christian Ehrhoff and Mike Weber, the Devils took a 47-second 5-on-3 power play into the third period.

Buffalo didn’t give the Devils much in the first minute of the third period.  The Devils were forced to dump the puck in with the two-man advantage, and couldn’t create anything with the 5-on-3, but they were able to strike 5-on-4.  Kovalchuk fed Petr Sykora, who sent it to Adam Henrique, who returned it to Sykora.  Sykora then wristed one far-side and it tucked right under the far corner to give the Devils a 2-1 lead.  The significance of Henrique recording an assist on that goal is that he took sole possession of first place in the rookie scoring race.  Henrique picked up another point as he came down the right wing, and fed Kovalchuk, who was crashing the net, and Kovalchuk deflected the puck past Miller to double the Devils’ lead.  The rest was up to Martin Brodeur, who finished with 29 saves on 30 shots.  Kovalchuk completed his first Devils hat trick when Zach Parise unselfishly sent Kovy the puck with the empty net.  After his first empty net shot was blocked by a Sabres defenseman, Kovy found an opening between two Buffalo defensemen and iced the game.  The Devils won it, 4-1.

Game notes: Brodeur continues his strong play.  He’s 7-3-1 with a goals against average around 1.80 and save percentage over .920 in his last 11 games, including a shutout.  Kovalchuk now has 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists) in 8 games since the All-Star break.  He has cracked the top-10 in scoring league-wide and had 10:24 of ice-time on the power play alone tonight.  Parise’s assist on Kovalchuk’s third goal gives him points in seven of eight games since the break.  Patrik Elias also has points in seven of eight games since the break and 8 of his last 9 games overall.  Adam Henrique also recorded his first multi-point game since January 10th in Calgary.  Henrique scored his first point, via goal, against the Blues last Thursday.  Parise and Kovalchuk each had 7 shots on goal tonight.  David Clarkson has 5 shots on goal and Alexei Ponikarovsky had 3 shots.  Clarkson recorded an assist on Kovy’s first goal tonight, giving Clarkson points in six of the eight games since the All-Star break.  The Devils are 6-1-1 since the break.

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