The New Jersey Devils didn't start off this game so well. The New York Islanders immediately swarmed the Devils' defense. The Islanders got the first few shots and scoring chances of the game. The Devils looked a bit off, with their passes consistently just out of the reach of their target. And Richard Park unloaded a rocket of a shot off the rush that just beat Martin Brodeur to put the visitors up one goal.
From then on, the game slowly but surely became dominated by the New Jersey Devils. Like a snowball rolling down a mountain, the New Jersey Devils just went from strength to strength as the game went on. Not that they were perfect, but the Devils had momentum building after the Park goal. The passing improved. The Devils were able to get more shifts in Martin Biron's end than in Martin Brodeur's end. The Devils, get this, started maintaining and keeping possession more often. Their penalty kill was excellent in preventing the Islanders adding to their lead in the first period. They started throwing more pucks into traffic, leading Mike Mottau to get a lucky re-direction in front of the net for the Devils' equalizer.
The Devils put more and more shots on net, leading them to hit the post 4 times - most notably Dean McAmmond's shot off a rebound hitting both pipes and Matt Halischuk hitting the far post that was initially thought to have gone in, but waived off after video review. The Devils' struck ahead on a power play, well set up by Jamie Langenbrunner and Patrik Elias, and finished off even better by Brian Rolston. Yet, it was still 2-1 and the Islanders were still in it. They got 12 shots on net, and they beat the Penguins in the third period from such a deficit.
Then the third period came and it was a veritable avalanche of goals for New Jersey. As a testament (and evidence) to the importance of possession, the Islanders had a mere 4 shots on net. And with a power play, no less. They had as many shots on net as the Devils had goals in the third. When you own the puck like the Devils did, good things happen. Converting 25% of the team's shots on net in the third period, Patrik Elias (twice) Brian Rolston, and Zach Parise poured on the misery for Martin Biron and the Islanders. The Rock could have easily been called High Five City with all of these goals being scored. The Devils won 6-1 with a fantastic third period performance that was the logical conclusion of what they built up after Park's goal. They have now won 3 straight, and get a much needed 3 days off before Vancouver visits next Wednesday.
NHL.com has the recap of the game up, complete with stats and other bits of interest. Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey, like much of the Islander faithful, are probably not happy with the loss. He'll have a recap up later on. I called into Hockey Night on Long Island for their post-game show and gave a few thoughts about the game and the Devils literally from the Rock. That's up as Episode 6, Post-Game Edition for November 28, 2009. As usual, I have much more to say, so please continue after the jump to find that out.
First and foremost, just like with the last Washington game, you need to see the goals in this game. Even if you were there, watch them again. How often do you see the Devils score 6 unanswered goals? The answer is almost never. So savor these highlights from NHL.com!
There's just so much to like. So many goals, scored in so many ways. It's important that the Devils kept looking for the opportunity to score after going up 2-1 or 3-1. They didn't sit on the lead or play it safe on offense, the Devils went forward when they had the chance and they were rewarded. It's an excellent habit to form, in my opinion.
But I fully believe this is all the result of being the dominant team in terms of possession. The Devils got the Islanders into that cycle of clearances-right-to-the-other team that just kept giving New Jersey the space to go ahead and attack some more. That's how 32 shots in the last 2 periods happened, that's how beating the Islanders in shots on net 42-23 happened, that's how Martin Biron had a very difficult afternoon happen, and that's how most of these goals happened. I said it in the preview and I think I was proven right - puck possession makes things a lot easier for the controlling team.
Of course, the only real criticism one could have for the Devils today was how they started the game. The Devils responded well after the Park goal and handled the Islanders' aggressive forecheck well overall. But the first period could have been real ugly for New Jersey if it wasn't for Martin Brodeur. The defense, if not all the skaters, were a step behind to start and Brodeur had to come up big. Again, the Devils did make adjustments and improved their overall performance. That's very good; but the slow start was bad.
Everything else was great. The penalty killing units were on the top of their game, holding the Islanders to a mere 2 shots on net across 4 power plays. The power play units were also great and let me emphasize watching the Rolston and Elias goals on the video. Those are perfect examples of why players on the PP don't just fire away when they have the puck for a second. They look for an open man who is set-up for the shot. With a man advantage, someone has to be open and the puck is moved around to get someone open in a good position. Those two goals are perfect examples of this idea; both goals were set-up well and the players in question were in a great position to fire it home.
Speaking of Rolston and Elias, they were magnificient together! Rolston followed up a strong game in Boston with another great performance today. While he only had 2 hits today, he had 7 shots on net again, scored 2 goals, and picked up 2 assists with 19:20 of ice time. While one can't expect a 4 point game from any player all the time, any Devil has to be pleased with this kind of effort from Rolston. Elias had a huge game with 4 shots on net, 2 goals, 2 assists, and 18:22 of ice time. The only downside to his performance was winning only 3 out of 14 faceoffs, but I tell you, Elias is back. In this post game post, Tom Gulitti noted that the two are playing very well together and that's an excellent sign. There very well could be great chemistry between the two forwards, which gives Lemaire an easy decision to make with respect to putting together a second scoring line he can count on. We should all hope Rolston and Elias continue to produce.
But in a 6-1 win, lots of players have had good games. The defense was actually led by Bryce Salvador, who played 25:34 and looked real solid in doing so. Yes, Andy Greene played "only" 22:36 and Mike Mottau played "only" 23:02, but both contributed on the score sheet with Greene's shot leading to the rebound Parise smashed home and Mottau equalized the game early in the second period. Zach Parise had his usual game - 5 shots on net, a goal, and 20:30 of solid play. Travis Zajac was the Devils' best faceoff man, winning 12 out of 19 draws today - the only Devil to have won more than 50% of faceoffs. Mark Fraser again got 15:29 as a sign of Lemaire and the coaching staff trusting him more and more; and Matthew Corrente got 12:27, another sign of a young defender starting to grow into the system. Matt Halischuk very nearly had a few goals today, but he was denied by the iron (especially on the third one, nullified by video review). He was named the game's third star by the media, perhaps as a sign of recognition of what could have been. At least he drew a minor from Jack Hillen (a minor the Devils scored on, thanks to Richard Park taking a second minor during the PP).
I'd like to highlight the two forwards from Lowell. First, there was Ilkka Pikkarainen. Back after a conditioning stint, the fiesty Finn played a great game. Yes, he only got 6:58 of ice time but he made the most of it. He hustled, he threw four hits, he moved the puck decently enough, and he drew Jack Hillen into shoving him and saying some nasty things - earning Hillen an unsportsmanlike conduct minor. The Devils scored on the ensuing power play, so credit to Pikkarainen for playing well on the fourth line today. That was exactly what I want to see him do on the fourth line. Throw some hits, bring some energy, and draw a call here and there.
Second, there was Vladimir Zharkov. Today was his first NHL game and did he make a mark with 5 shots on net. Seriously. He had as many shots on net as Parise did - only Zharkov had McAmmond and Halischuk as his primary teammates and Zharkov did all this in 14:40 of ice time. One of his shots forced a highlight-like sliding save from Biron and another led to a McAmmond rebound that struck iron. According to this postgame post from Gulitti, Zharkov was rightfully praised by the fellow teammates. After all, he came real close to getting his first NHL point; if he continues plays like this, he'll get that sooner rather than later.
There was a lot written here, a lot of praise for the Devils, because they won in such a big fashion. They didn't just ride momentum to take a lead, but they did it to just overwhelm the Islanders. It's the team's third straight win and now they have some deserved rest. Today, they showed the Islanders what exactly they can do when they grow to dominate possession and keep building off good shift after good shift. Hopefully, the rest of the league paid attention as well.
Thanks to all the readers and commenters. Please leave your thoughts about today's big win in the comments.