The New Jersey Devils had two crucial games at the Rock on consecutive nights. The Devils had two crucial games at the Rock against teams below them in the standings, but not too far behind them. The New Jersey Devils earned two crucial wins at the Rock on consecutive nights.
And they weren't small wins. They weren't close wins. They weren't games where the Devils stole points. In these games, they took the lead, they kept the lead, and ended the game with a comfortable margin. On Thursday, it was 3-1 to the Florida Panthers. On Friday, it was 5-2 to the New York Islanders.
The Thursday night game against the Panthers wasn't the prettiest of games. Both teams had trouble getting pucks on net. The Panthers had 12 shots blocked and missed entirely 4 times, 40% of all their attempts on net. The Devils, who were outshot by Florida, were worse in blowing 57.7% of all their attempts on net with 9 of their shots being blocked and missing the net a whopping 17 times. Yes, the Devils nearly missed as many shots as they did put on net (19). This is compounded worse by the fact that the Devils only managed to get one on net in the entire second period. Yet, that one shot was huge as it was Patrik Elias' beating Tomas Vokoun with a slick move for the game's first goal.
Nevertheless, the Devils didn't do too well in the second and thanks to some heads-up plays by the defense and Scott Clemmensen stepping it up, the Devils came out of that second period 1-0. The Devils' offense added to their total with 2 more beautiful goals: Paul Martin blazed one past Vokoun; and Brian Gionta capped off some excellent passing in the Panthers' zone by directing Elias' pass into a wide-open net. The Devils penalty kill failed again with Michael Frolik getting into the right spot to beat Clemmensen on the power play. Nevertheless, despite the grossly inefficient shooting, the Devils had the finishing to put themselves well ahead such that even Frolik's goal didn't mean much within the larger scheme of things within the game and beyond. Yes, it largely came from the Elias-Zubrus-Gionta line; but it's always good to any unit click together the way they did that night.
Friday's game against the Islanders was a lot different. Whereas the Florida game had a lot of defensive plays being made/offenses failing to capitalize on some plays, this game featured much more offense. Specifically, by the Devils, as they took advantage when the Islanders looked a half-a-step slower. While they weren't efficient by any means, that the Devils compiled 16 of their shots being blocked and 12 missed shots in addition to their 33 that they put on/past Joey MacDonald is a testament to how they came at their opponents.
There were other major differences in the game: Kevin Weekes started the game and was only beaten by a bizarre shot from Andy Hilbert and an tap-in by Sean Bergenheim on his flank. Not really his fault for either of them. He looked good. The Devils' special teams were incredibly effective. The penalty killed them all off, including an incredibly dumb too many men on the ice call right after killing an Anssi Salmela tripping penalty. They even snagged a crucial shorthanded goal late in the second when Brian Gionta put home a loose puck in front to turn a 3-2 game back into a more comfortable 4-2 lead. More impressively, the Devils scored two power play goals. Not content with having 9 hits the night before, Clarkson (who was great in both games in his role) brought home the energy gained from a goal when he tipped in Johnny Oduya's shot on a power play. And that energy definitely knocked the Isles off center as Travis Zajac deflected Jamie Langenbrunner's shot for a second goal. Later on the Devils managed to take advantage of a 5-on-3 where they kept it in the Isles' zone the whole time, witnessed two Isles' players lose their sticks, and finally set up the shot that beat MacDonald. These are the Devils, such a situation is not a "gimmie" for them. That they got it is excellent.
This was also the night where the Parise-Zajac-Langenbrunner returned the scoring sheet after being kept quiet on Thursday: Parise and Langenbrunner had 3 assists each and Zajac had his goal. In addition to that difference, there was a difference of subtraction. If you look at the rosters, you'll notice John Madden didn't play. Mike Rupp centered a line of Jay Pandolfo and Clarkson, which was actually pretty good for the minutes that they played. I certainly hope Madden's injury is minor as I don't know if Rupp being the guy there for a long time is good for the team; but it worked last night. The Devils played very well against the Islanders and the score is certainly a reflection of how the two teams played.
Many differences between the two nights, but the Devils get the same important result: a win each night. And now they sit in third of the division 5 points behind Pittsburgh with a game in hand, and with a small 2 point cushion over Philadelphia. Excellent job by the Devils and these games are proof of what they can do in spite of the injures. Hopefully they use the momentum from these wins to continue rolling on their road trip starting on Sunday.