Friday is a rather big game, and the Devils did very well with a substantial result over the Penguins last night.
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IPB live-blogged it, which is useful if only because they revealed that it was Sidney Crosby who missed that wide open net in the second period. An easy scoring chance if there was any one. Frank D had his post game thoughts right up last night and he's largely right, and it help explains why I feel good about tomorrow's game against the Rangers.
For starters, from Frank's initial comment, the Devils were physical. Bobby Holik just crushed people and earned praise for it - both from the cheers from the fans at The Rock and from Sutter via Gulitti:
"That's what Bobby does," Sutter said. "Bobby is in his game when he's doing those things. He's playing his game."
It's not just Holik dropping pain bombs. You wouldn't know it from the official super stats as both teams are listed with 6 hits each. Seriously, Tom Steinel, only 6 hits apiece all game? Were you watching this one? Did you not see Parise or Zubrus crash into the endboards? Did you not see Colin White and Bryce Salvador regulate foolish Pens on defense? Did you not even see Brian Gionta hitting Crosby to the point where Crosby grabbed and held him down? My point is this, the Devils need to make sure the fact that they are playing Our Hated Rivals won't psyche them out. They need to keep their momentum and confidence up. And a good way to do that is to lay a few people out early; let them know you're not going to be an easy opponent.
The game itself was a game of battles for the puck, defensemen and backchecking forwards getting into the faces' of the offense to stop chances and force a turnover. The Devils largely succeeded in this, as evidenced by the result and the shot total (32-27). They'll rue the fact that the Pens got 17 blocks on them; but taking shots at ill-advised times is a common theme for the Devils. That they generated so many shooting chances and got 32 on net despite the 17 blocks is telling of how much they've done. And that's the second thing that makes me feel good. I know the Rangers are going to collapse and put four behind the puck almost every time on defense. Yet the Devils have shown the tenacity to get rubber on net regardless of how things are going; and that's a good thing to have going for you in advance of facing a defensive squad like the Rangers.
What's more is that the Devils have done an excellent job against the opposition's top players. Sidney Crosby was held to 0 points and only 2 shots on net. Evgeni Malkin was held to only 3 shots and an assist on a pass to Matt Cooke that I don't know how he made with 2 Devils literally on him. Before the Penguins game, the Devils held most of the Canadiens' big guns quiet save for Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov assisting on the lone goal that they scored. And in the Flyers game prior to that, only Mike Richards of their fearsome threesome got a point in assisting Scot Upshall's power play goal. This is to the credit of Scott Clemmensen's great play as of late and the Devils skaters on defense. They have not been intimidated by the best players on the other team and should the Devils do to the Rangers what they did against Pittsburgh - you won't see Scott Gomez, Nikolai Zherdev, et al with a lot of space.
Lastly, the Devils aren't just riding high with confidence but players are still hustling and hungering out there for more. Take Zach Parise. He truly was better than Crosby on Wednesday, with a mind-boggling 9 shots on net and a sweet deflection for the go-ahead goal. Want another example? Take Travis Zajac. Sure, his goal was a gift from Dany Sabourin's big mistake in going for that puck. But if he isn't driving to the net and willing to fight off a defender, he doesn't score that seemingly easy goal. A third example? Why not Brian Rolston. Yeah, Rolston. He didn't put up any points, but he looked good with Jay Pandolfo and John Madden, managing to put up 4 shots on net and keep things steady at the point on the power play. If he keeps it up, those shots will turn into goals.
The Devils are confident, Clemmensen has been playing very well, they have done well against the oppositions' biggest weapons on offense, and they can been physical. So what if the Rangers have been haunting New Jersey since 2007? I got every reason to be looking forward to tomorrow night, and I'm looking for a win.