The New Jersey Devils failed to win at home in their first two tries against divisional opponents, and a visit from the Atlanta Thrashers proved them no better in the Brick City, as Atlanta defeated the Devils 4-2 in front of a fairly accurate 14,187 at the Prudential Center. The NHL.com recap is up, complete with links to all the stats you need such as the box score, game summary and event summary. The Devils seemed to be having a somewhat opposite day from the three-game southeastern road trip, which the Devils went 3-0 on. Whereas in at least two of the games they struggled to generate much in the first period, they played their best period of the game in the first and went down from there.
Bird Watchers Anonymous should have their recap up in a little while, and should have plenty good to say about their young hockey club. They looked hungry, and clearly saw a Devil team taking them lightly and took advantage. The Devils seemed like a team that just expected young goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to cave in after getting 15 first period shots and not putting the puck in the net on any of them. Aside from Pavelec, Rich Peverly turned out to be the hero of the night for Atlanta, getting two power play goals to power Blueland to their third win in four tries (3-1-0, 6 points) while the Devils (3-3-0, 6 points) had a three-game win streak snapped.
As mentioned earlier, the first period went scoreless. The Devils had the only power play of the period, when Evander Kane went off for roughing, but failed to convert. The Devils ineptitude on the man power advantage proved to be a theme, as New Jersey went 0-for-6 and generated very little in the way of quality chances. The Thrashers countered going 2-for-3 on the power play, tiring out Jersey's penalty kill by playing organized and to the outside, eventually getting passes into the slot to create chaos and get goals for Peverly.
Anyway, the Devils did control the tempo for much of the first, though you saw the Thrashers start to fight back toward the end of the period, where Martin Brodeur had to make some good saves for the first time in what seemed like forever. The Thrashers continued this momentum into the 2nd period, where they outshot New Jersey 9-5, and came close on a short-range breakaway for Slava Kozlov that Johnny Oduya had to knock away in desperation.
Despite all this Atlanta momentum, the Devils managed to get the game's first goal. After Travis Zajac just missed on a combination play, the Devils reset, and Bryce Salvador and Jamie Langenbrunner both made great passes to a streaking Zajac down the center of the ice, and he made no mistake (one of the only times tonight a Devil would do so) ripping it past Pavelec for his 4th of the year.
Atlanta tied it about six minutes later, when the Devils took what seems to be becoming an annoying regular occurrence - a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. Brodeur was able to stop a shot by Maxim Afinogenov, but Rich Peverly was right in the slot, in perfect position to get the rebound and put it home to tie the game. The teams continued to duel evenly to the end of the 2nd period.
Early in the third, the Thrashers began to wrestle control from the game, and you saw the Devils pretty much get the wind knocked out of them on a fantastic play by rookie Evander Kane. Kane absolutely undressed Cory Murphy at his own blue line, passing it through him and then darting around Murphy and ripping one past Brodeur to make it 2-1. Murphy was not heard from again the rest of the night, and only played 3:49 more of the game. I will be very surprised if we see Murphy again tomorrow night against the Carolina Hurricanes. You simply cannot let that happen to you if you want to play in the NHL. He looked silly.
The Devils dug a deeper hole when Colin White went off for a trip of Nik Antropov. It was Rich Peverly doing it again. He made a pass to an uncovered Antropov right in front of Brodeur, who drew attention to his big frame and passed it back to Peverly, who shot it past Marty to make it 3-1. Peverly's pair of goals gives him 4 on the season, and certainly makes him a player to watch on an Atlanta team that most don't seem to think will be competitive. They certainly looked like the better team in the third.
That isn't to say New Jersey didn't have plenty of chances. The Devils had three 3rd period power plays, including an 8-second 5-on-3 that they couldn't convert on. They outshot Atlanta 10-6 on the way. Just when things seemed completely hopeless, a bizarre play created the Devils' final goal of the night. Bryce Salvador (who had two assists on the night) chopped at a puck at the blue line and it popped through the zone to where Jamie Langenbrunner could miraculously chop at it and center it to a streaking Zach Parise, who had an open net to make it 3-2. It had been noted before the game that the ZZ Pops line had trouble scoring at even strength early on in the year. Well, they got two of them 5-on-5 in this game, but very little came offensively for the Devils beyond them.
The Devils got a gift of a power play at 15:42 when Zach Bogosian went off for holding. At this point, Jamie Langenbrunner proceeded to have a terrible, awful, no good, very bad shift that may have cost the Devils a potential comeback. After lazily missing an easy pass that went out of the zone, Langenbrunner completely missed the net on a shot on the next go-around. The puck bounced out of the zone and right to the Thrashers, who went on to create chaos and shots in front of Marty Brodeur, who for some reason, felt it necessary to flop around the zone, as if in some sort of forced desperation.
Brodeur got caught eventually way out of his crease when Langenbrunner inexplicably got caught sliding into his own goalie, which created a pile up and a loose puck in front and an empty net for Chris Thorburn, who fought Andrew Peters after the Zajac goal, to make it 4-2 Atlanta. You need your best players to be your best players, and in this case, the Devils captain and their future hall-of-famer in goal need to be called out for a very poor shift.
The Devils fought in desperation to tie it up, pulling Brodeur with less than a minute to go, but failed in their efforts to fall to the Thrashers 4-2. Both teams are playing tomorrow, with the Thrashers traveling to Buffalo to play the Sabres, and the Devils with a chance for some much needed redemption at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. I'm planning on going, and I assume Fischer is as well, so we shall talk to you tomorrow about that, and hope for a better day than today.
On that note, I do want to thank our captain, John Fischer here at In Lou We Trust for his gracious offer of his season ticket for tonight's game. It may not have been the way we wanted, but all hockey is undeniably perfect, and the chance to see a game from his seats was well appreciated.