In yet another one-goal victory, in yet another game where the scoreboard is closer than the actual run of play, and in yet another game where the Devils' power play actually came through - the New Jersey Devils defeated the New York Islanders 2-1. The NHL.com recap is up with all the links to box scores, event and game summaries, and more.
Some critics may look at 7 out of 10 one-goal victories in this season and argue that this is proof of the Devils' style of play being all trap, all defense, or somesuch. They would be foolish, but the number of one-goal games involving New Jersey is worthy of some criticism. Tonight was another example where the Devils took the lead but couldn't expand it. They wanted a third goal, maybe they deserved one, but once again, they couldn't make it a two goal lead.
All the same, as time ran out in the third, the Islanders got more aggressive with their forechecking and their general attack and they were an less than an inch away from an equalizer in the final minute - only for a jammed puck to glide across the crease instead of the goal line. The Devils, you could say, played with fire and didn't get burned thanks to some heads up plays on defense and generally preventing the Islanders from getting high quality scoring chances all game long. The criticism is that the Devils' offense could ease a defense that is already seeing big minutes at the ends of games by not having to worry about conceding an equalizer.
But again, that didn't happen tonight and so Devils fans should be pleased with the team's third win at home. Soon, they will be .500 at home and that would be good. Check out Lighthouse Hockey later on for Dom's recap from the Islanders' perspective. Read on for further thoughts about the game, why I think the offense didn't get more than two past Biron, thoughts on Patrik Elias' debut, praise for the defense(s), and some video clips from NHL.com
As you can see from the following videos from NHL.com; the goals itself were impressive on their own. Cory Murphy opened his account in New Jersey with an excellent slapshot that slipped through Martin Biron's legs. Here, see it to believe it:
Brian Rolston made the Devils' power play relevant when he unleashed a bomb from the point. You can say that this was the kind of goal you'd expect from Rolston, known for his big cannon and being paid to, well, hit the target with it. And it was on the power play, the one shot out of nine that got through. Watch it with this video, as Biron didn't really get to see it:
While both came in the second period, the Devils looked for more action in the third period, and overall outshot the Islanders 31-24, they couldn't beat Biron a third time. Even on other long shots from other players - something the Islanders' defense was more than happy to concede.
Why? Well, Biron played well enough for starters. Can't blame him on the Rolston goal as he was screened by David Clarkson and the shot from Rolston was like a laser-bullet. His only real mistake was keeping his legs open when Murphy unloaded his shot. What also stymied the Devils were the Islanders' committment on defense to clog the middle. The Devils didn't get a lot of space in the slot, they couldn't get many passes into the slot, and even off the rush, a white sweater was ever present in the middle. Rebounds? Forget about it. Biron controlled them fairly well and the Islanders were in good position to clear them out as needed. Allowing 31 shots isn't exactly an superb performance for any defense; but they should be commended for forcing the Devils to adjust where they shoot.
What also didn't help is that some players had relatively quiet games. Believe it or not, Zach Parise didn't get a single shot on net tonight - 3 misses and one attempt blocked. Travis Zajac was more productive in terms of shots with 4, but he didn't get a really great chance and many of his passes were forced. Dainius Zubrus moved a lot of people around, won 8 of 12 faceoffs, but he only managed two shots on net (and one attempted shot that knocked Brendan Witt right over at the end of the first - link goes to NHL.com video of hit). Rolston and David Clarkson had big nights with 6 shots each; but were many of them truly great shots? Not really. Not all of the Devils' best offensive players were having great offensive nights and so, the offense suffered despite putting 31 on Biron.
I will say that tonight was probably the best performance I've seen by the fourth line all season. Rod Pelley and Ilkka Pikkarainen both got assists on Murphy's goal; and they brought energy without taking a penalty (6 hits combined). If they keep this kind of play up, maybe Lemaire will give them more minutes per game. An effective fourth line, I think, benefits the other three overall. Namely because the other three lines won't have to play as many minutes and the opposition will have to worry about three more forwards to deal with.
Of course, there is Patrik Elias. For someone who hasn't played for 5 months, he looked pretty good in his debut. His first shift - on a penalty kill - saw him take the puck up ice, pull off a dazzling move to beat a defender, and then miss the resulting shot. All the same, he got three rounds of applause for that shift (coming off, that move, and going off). But after then, he started looking like more of himself. He threw some checks, he made some good passes, he had two hard shots on net, and he played 16:01 tonight. I think he'll need some more time to get back into form before he starts producing; but it wasn't a bad debut by any means.
The only real negative mark on Elias is that he was on the ice for the Islanders' lone goal against. A blocked shot by the Devils led to Jon Sim pushing it ahead and the Devils doubling back. While Nicklas Bergfors was about to take the loose puck, Sean Bergenheim took it away from him and slid it across ice through Bryce Salvador's legs. Frans Nielsen was right there to Yann Danis' flank; while Danis slid across the net, Nielsen went to his backhand and the shot was high enough to bounce off Danis go in. Elias was trailing on Nielsen, but he had no chance to catch him. the Isles forecheck really made that whole play happen.
That aside, the Devils handled the Isles' forecheck very well. There were some times in the third period where two Islanders were able to win back the puck; but they ultimately did little with what they won. And with what little they shot, Yann Danis was usually in position to make the stop. Good job by the backup in his second start of the season. That said, a lot of credit should go to the Devils' defense for forcing the Islanders to take 24 mostly-not-so-strong shots and for cleaning up whatever rebounds were there. Even late in the game, they didn't panic all that much and if the Islanders did get possession, they recovered back into position very quickly. Despite a late hit in the first period on a penalty kill that led to a minor, I felt Colin White was one of the top defensemen for the Devils with 6 hits and 22:03 of solid defending. His partner, Mike Mottau, also had a strong game with 25:36 played - he didn't concede much space either. Overall, I was pleased (again) with the performance by the Devils' blueline.
I'm glad that the Devils won. Yet, I can't help but feel the score should have been much more by New Jersey as they really dictated the game up until the very end where the Islanders got desperate and had to turn up the aggression to get an equalizer. But again, the Devils didn't get many great scoring chances despite 5 power plays, 9 shots on said power plays, and 31 shots overall. Top Devils forwards didn't have the best of nights. Moreover, the Islanders' defense did a great job preventing much happening in the slot, the prime real estate for scoring goals. Hopefully the offense will have a better night tomorrow against Ottawa and get a win by more than one non-empty net goal.