In today's preview, I said that the New Jersey Devils needed a win tonight. They went out there and earned one the hard way tonight. The New Jersey Devils, before an active (as in, loud but not "hot") crowd of 15,000, didn't just beat but they blanked the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0. The shutout is Martin Brodeur's 102nd shutout of his career, leaving him only one away from tying the all-time mark held by Terry Sawchuk. Brodeur and the defense stopped Carolina cold all night long en route to the victory.
Here is the link to the NHL.com recap, complete with links to all the box scores, game summary stats, and event summary stats that you could need. Canes Country will have a recap up eventually, commenting on tonight's game from the Carolina perspective. Needless to say, I can't imagine many Canes fans will be pleased with anything except for Cam Ward's excellent performance in net. Read on after the jump for my recap of tonight's game.
Now, when I say the Devils did it the hard way, it's mainly the result of their offense not getting productive. The only goal of the game was quite literally a lucky bounce very early in the third period. Here's how it went down. When I saw this live (mind you, it was in front of me), I didn't think Langenbrunner got a stick on it - just off his body and in. Based on this video from the NHL Network, I'm still not sure:
A big part of why the Devils couldn't turn those shots and scoring chances into goals was Cam Ward. You certainly can't blame him for the goal here - Langenbrunner went to the net and, erm, redirected a redirection. It's not that the Devils had no chances and didn't shoot the puck. For only the first half of the second period and the few of the dying minutes in the game, did the Devils struggle to get pucks on net when they attacked. They attempted long shots, they attempted scrums in front of the net, they sprung players loose for odd-man rushes, and even got some one-on-ones (Andy Greene notably carried it in himself, but was denied by Ward's stretched out left leg). Ward was impressive in all.
However, the shooting could have gone much better overall. While 29 shots on net isn't bad, I wonder if Jacques Lemaire shifting centers and right wingers around hurt that a little bit. OK, it definitely was good for some players; as Travis Zajac did center Nicklas Bergfors and Matt Halischuk for parts of the game and that alone helped Bergfors get eight shots on net. But Rob Niedermayer in between Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner? Eh. And Rolston seemed to have struggled a bit. At least Lemaire didn't set them in stone all game and made other variations. I'm sure Paul Maurice had fun figuring that out on the fly.
Nevertheless, the Devils did get chances, there were more than a few missed opportunities on offense. Had Ward not been excellent and had the forwards improved their timing/shot selection/luck/etc., the Devils run away with this game, really.
What makes this more frustrating is that the Devils even got glorious, sustained offensive pressure on their 4 power plays. While it certainly is frustrating that the Devils didn't convert on a third-period 1:44-long two-man advantage, the Devils moved the puck around and were patient to look for an open shot. As a result, the Canes PK were pinned back on most of these power plays while the Devils got 8 shots total on man advantages. That's good. Many fans weren't happy, but a 5-on-3 isn't the time to fire pucks without regard to the PKers in front of you. A rather obvious read on offense that many fans struggle to understand. But the Devils can build on puck movement and pressure. Now, the players just need to take the PP to the next level. Past power play goals came right in front, the Devils will do well to try more chances from down low instead of shots coming from the point.
Yet, despite the offensive struggles, the Devils got the job done. And we can say they were much better than the Hurricanes on offense. Check this out, out of the 2 power plays they had, the Hurricanes were held shotless. That's right. Despite an infuriating too many men on the ice penalty and a tripping call on Travis Zajac in the third, despite having a man advantage, the Devils PK stepped up huge and didn't even allow Carolina to even seriously set-up on the power play. No shots on goal for the Canes on either power play. The Devils and Canes both failed to score on these advantages, but at least the Devils made an effort of it - the Canes were simply denied.
This isn't to say Martin Brodeur had a completely easy time out there. The Canes did manage to have a few scoring chances here and there. Brodeur, as indicated by the score, stopped them all. Yet, a lot of credit for tonight's win should also go to the defense. If the Canes cleared the puck, it was usually picked up by a Devil in the neutral zone. If the Canes managed to carry it out, the Devils would often win it back and retake control. In the fewer instances where the Canes actually got into the offensive zone, the defense was very alert and active. Paul Martin and Colin White had big nights in defusing Carolina attacks. Johnny Oduya and Mike Mottau played better games. Andy Greene did quite well, and I would think he should have that #6 spot on the defense cemented by now. The back checking from the forwards was also effective, good job to all forwards involved. The centers owned Carolina on faceoffs, as the Devils won 62% of all faceoffs (10 won out of 15 by Rob Niedermayer - great job, Rob!), so possession was denied there as well.
In general, the team's defensive and possession efforts were the big reason why Carolina weren't able to set-up on offense for most of the game. Despite the Canes putting 26 on net, the Canes were only able to get a few rebounds or second shots. And even then, Martin Brodeur saw them all the way through and made a stop. He was rarely screened and he was in the right position all night long. Vintage Brodeur, really.
I think this is a suitable metaphor for tonight's game. In the final minutes of the third period, the Canes pulled Ward, had a faceoff in the Devils' zone, and went out looking for an equalizer after a time out. The Devils took possession back from Carolina and immediately look for a counter-attack. The Devils turn it up to a streaking Jamie Langenbrunner. He takes it into the zone, he has an empty net to shoot at from a good angle, and...he places his shot squarely on the outside of the post. OK, Parise did have an easier time and did get the empty netter; but that play, to me, sums up the Devils' strong defense coming through as well as the struggling offense.
What this means is that the Devils still have room to improve. The Devils still need work on their power play - even throwing 5 forwards on a 5-on-3 didn't seem to do the trick. And, of course, shooting in general couldn't hurt either. While the Devils' discipline was much better tonight, I feel the need to call out Jacques Lemaire here. This is the fourth time in five games that the Devils got tagged with a too many men on the ice penalty. This is a bench minor because it is the fault of the coaches calling for these changes. Instruct the players, practice line changes if need be, whatever. Get this sorted out, Lemaire. This wasn't happening under any other Devils coach as far as I can remember, and so it falls on you and the other coaches to get your collective acts together and stop this from happening.
Still, in the big picture, this was an important win. The Devils not only won their first game at home, but they also (technically) won by more than one goal and got their first shutout win of the season. I am certain that this has to boost the team's spirits after last night's loss to Atlanta. And it comes with the side benefit of Martin Brodeur earning his 102nd career shutout. Brodeur was great, the defense was great, the offense could use more work, and adjustments, but they'll have 4 days for that. Tonight was the best win the Devils have earned all season long.
Thanks to all who have read this and commented in the GameThread. Everyone, please feel free to offer your thoughts on the game. Let me know what you liked, what you didn't like, and what you want to see going forward. The Devils will now enjoy a long rest before playing Our Hated Rivals on Thursday. For now, savor the shutout win!