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New Jersey Devils Lose Close Game Against New York Rangers, 3-2

This loss sucks namely for two reasons.

The first is that it's the RangersSteve touched on this in his quick wristers recap, and I agree with him that losing to the Rangers is always bad.  Especially tonight because it could have been a win.  Outside of the penalty killing, the New Jersey Devils played better across the board than they did on Saturday.   The passing was much better, the breakouts were improved, Martin Brodeur played better overall, the power play wasn't a waste of time (1 for 5, 5 shots - not great, but not awful), and the defense actually asserted themselves instead of letting the Rangers dictate the game (and they kept Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky fairly quiet).   No, the Devils weren't perfect in all aspects.  Mistakes were made, truth be told.  But they were vastly improved over Saturday's loss to the Flyers.   If this was a loss against, say, Vancouver in the middle of, say, January, I probably wouldn't feel so bad or distraught over the loss.  Not that I would be happy about it, by no means, but it wouldn't hurt as much.

But because it's the second consecutive loss to a hated rival at home to start the season, this 3-2 loss to the Rangers sucks. (link goes to recap).

The second reason, the sad reality is that the Rangers - Matt Gilroy on one of his six shots - got one through Brodeur that he wished he had back; and the Devils just could not equalize in the following 22:10 of the game.  It's not that they didn't try, just that they could have executed a little better than they did.    If you want the Rangers' perspective, Blueshirt Banter is where you want to go.  My further thoughts on the game come after the jump.

The first period was quite promising for New Jersey.  The Devils struck first when Rob Niedermayer put this shot past Henrik Lundqvist.  Yeah, you read that right, Rob Niedermayer. His linemates of David Clarkson and Jay Pandolfo set up Niedermayer perfectly in the circle and Niedermayer just beat Lundqvist cleanly.  Considering that Michel Rozsival took an interference penalty less than a minute later, a goal and a power play so early is a great way to start the game.

However, nothing ever comes easy as the Rangers struck back with a power play goal.  The penalty was a Ilkka Pikkarainen hook that, well, it was on the other side of the rink in a scrum, let's assume he actually did hook someone.  (Aside: Pikkarainen was OK in limited action, better than Andrew Peters at least.) Michael Del Zotto opened his NHL goal scoring account off a rebound that was so simple, I'm sure Kryzysztof Oliwa could have scored on it.  Martin Brodeur made the initial save, everyone but Del Zotto was to Brodeur's left and the puck went in the opposite direction.  Easy for Del Zotto, impossible for Brodeur to stop, and it's 1-1.

But then the Devils got onto another power play thanks to Brandon Dubinsky holding a Devil in his own zone. This time, the Devils re-took the lead with this excellent, excellent power play goal that only video does it justice.

Yet, the Devils got burned on another power play later in the first.  This was controversial as it all started with Chris Drury going knee-on-knee on Paul Martin. Intentional or not, it was a gutless act, and thankfully - as Gulitti reported tonight - Martin is OK.  Paul Martin continued playing.   After the game, Martin and Drury both claim no intent, but Johnny Oduya rightfully felt otherwise during the game and went right for Drury.  Amazingly, Oduya got an extra minor for his jumping on top of Drury and making him feel the fury.   Yes, the play by Drury that could have caused an injury and was about to be whistled for a penalty was erased because Oduya was sticking up for his teammate - a rare instance where I see it as justified.

Anyway, Rob Niedermayer got beat on the ensuing faceoff by Ryan Callahan, Michael del Zotto fed it nicely to Ales Kotalik, and Kotalik's shot just hit the post and in to beat Brodeur.  Like Niedermayer's shot just beat Lundqvist, Kotalik's just beat   That's 2-2 and a little later, that's the period.

Now, at this point, I'm still feeling confident in the Devils chances because the Rangers have yet to do anything of note on even strength.   I went into all the goals in detail and truth be told, both goalies surrendered 1 goal they had no chance on and 1 goal where they were just beat by a good shot.  Still, with a 9-7 shot advantage and the crowd clearly cheering for the Devils, I felt good about the Devils retaking the lead if only because this first period was way better than any of the three from Saturday night.   

If the Devils could limit the penalties against them and continue pressuring the Rangers, then surely they'd pull ahead.   The Devils, as mentioned earlier, were clearly doing a much better job moving the puck up ice and maintaining their positions on defense.

Unfortunately, the Devils - or the Rangers - didn't keep the penalties down.  By the end of the game, each team was given 9 penalties, 6 power plays for the Rangers, and 5 for the Devils (including an abbreviated 5-on-3).  Both team's penalty kills did much better as none surrendered any goals from then on.  Even worse, though, the Devils were the ones to make an ultimately fatal error. 

The second period featured some more penalties (3 for each), but it was really an up-and-down affair as both teams put 12 on each other.  I felt the Rangers looked a little sharper and then it happened. After trading chances and rushes and so on and so forth, the Rangers got a break.  Matt Gilroy got one low and through Brodeur somehow and that was pretty soft late in the second.   Gilroy had a good game and has to feel good about his first NHL goal.  From that point, the Rangers dominated much of the remaining time until Callahan ran Brodeur.

But again, I was still hopeful because the Devils weren't giving up in terms of intensity.  OK, they were clearly rattled after the Gilroy goal and there were a few shifts beforehand where the Devils defense looked real confused.  But it was only 3-2, the team had a power play to build some momentum, and we can see what they are made of tonight.  Would the Devils come out with the fire to propel themselves to get an equalizer?

From where I was sitting, in the third period, the Devils did bring the fire.  They threw hits, they out-hustled the Rangers, and they didn't relent on offense.  In the first half of the period, Brodeur made some big saves to keep the score at 3-2 and the game was fairly even from my vantage point.   As the third period wore on, the Rangers stupidly decided to bunker down, essentially they asked the Devils offense to try and beat them.  I say that's stupid because it's a tactic that can (and on some nights will) burn a team with the lead; especially when the attacking team keeps pressing the defense, who keeps icing the puck so they stay out there. 

But despite that (and icing it three times by one tired unit), the Rangers escaped with the win tonight.  The Devils forwards weren't afraid to take shots from whereever or attempt killer passes across the rink.  Yet, some of these shots missed, some were blocked  (a few important ones by Dan Girardi), and some were just stopped by Lundqvist. 

We can praise the Devils' three lines - yes, the bench was shortened and hence ZZ Pops played 22 minutes - for not giving up on a puck, fighting hard to win possession back.  It's great to see after a game where the Devils didn't even get to do much of that.  We can even praise the team for playing much better after an awful first game.   But again, it wasn't enough and that's simply not enough against a hated rival.  They couldn't put home any scoring chance that would have gotten that game-tying goal.  I wonder if there was a crucial chance to do that.  According to Gulitti, Brian Rolston is claiming responsibility for blowing a shot on a diagrammed play on the short 5-on-3 power play in the third - a slapshot that was hard but way wide and high.  Fair enough, but the Devils couldn't convert on later chances. 

As a result, one could blame Brodeur solely for the Gilroy game, but blame should also be given to the team for not getting that equalizer after having a little more than a period to work with and the opposition just bunkering in their own zone, allowing the Devils to set-up on offense in the final 5-6 minutes of the game.   I firmly believe that a ZZ Pops line firing on all cylinders and/or a second line where all are on the same page (Zubrus was pretty good, Bergfors and Rolston were just there - maybe they just need time?) would have gotten that goal.  In theory, though.

We can take solace that this was a vast improvement over Saturday's game and that it's only 2 games into the season.  Did the Devils play a great game?  No, but they weren't out-played by the Rangers.  They just couldn't get that equalizer.   Should we worry about the team in general, should we jump out of a metaphorical window?  I don't think so.  If they play horribly on the upcoming road trip, then I'd begin to worry. 

Still, because it's a loss against the Rangers, this loss just plain sucks.  Feel free to add your thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.