Only one record was broken tonight, Martin Brodeur is now the all-time leader in games played by a goaltender with 1,030 games. In this 1,030th game of his career, Brodeur was very solid, faced 29 shots, and survived a collision with Jonathan Cheechoo. His saves kept the Ottawa Senators from taking over the second period en route to a 4-2 win by the New Jersey Devils.
First and foremost, tonight's game was vastly better by both the home and away teams than the Devils-Montreal game on Wednesday. The fans were more vocal in their chanting, the intensity on the ice was much higher, and both teams actually tried to win tonight's game. For a neutral, this game had it all - plenty of hits, big saves, fluke goals (one of which was absolutely hilarious), and slick goals.
Now, let's get to the analysis. Despite a 7-2 record this month, the Devils haven't been getting results because they've been the flat-out superior team on the ice. They've been getting them by being the better team for stretches of the game (usually a period or so) and holding on to their leads. Tonight's game would fall into that category. Don't get me wrong, the Devils were much better tonight than they were on Wednesday overall. However, was it a solid, complete effort? No. And the Devils should be thankful it wasn't for the Senators either.
NHL.com has their recap up, complete with links to the boxscore and other stats. Peter R has an excellent recap already up from the Sens' perspective at Silver Seven. Ottawa fans are right to be frustrated about a 0-for-6 performance on the power play as well as the fact that their goals didn't really come from the run of play. Read on further for my thoughts on the game.
Let's start off with some praise. The Devils' special teams were very good tonight. After a miserable power play performance on Wednesday, the Devils were better on the man advantage. OK, Rob Niedermayer took a dumb/cheap (depends on your perspective) high stick to negate a second period power play; and the Devils didn't do much on the power play late in the third. But they did score on their first power play with an excellent set-up by Andy Greene that made it easy for Jamie Langenbrunner to put home. How the Ottawa Senators didn't jump up on Greene or prevent Langenbrunner from getting behind them that close to Brian Elliott is beyond me. Well done and for converting one of them, that is a result and that's an definite improvement alone over Wednesday's 0-for-5 performance.
Apparently, that was the only shot they put on Elliott on the power play tonight. I would have liked them to attempt to put more on net on that third power play, but they didn't have to though. New Jersey was up 4-2 and just by holding onto the puck and cycling, the Senators' chances of a comeback became bleak and so there you have it.
But the real stars on special teams were Martin Brodeur and the penalty killers. They were busy, but they were ruthlessly effective. The Devils took 6 penalties tonight, and even a 5-on-3 disadvantage for 1:22 in the third period. Normally, I'd be screaming about this type of discipline. Yet, I felt that some of the calls the refs made were, how should I put this, "iffy." Ottawa got away with similar behavior - even Cheechoo colliding his knee into Martin Brodeur's head got nothing from the refs; but the Devils seemed to get caught with restraining fouls.
No matter, the killers stepped up and played huge. They remained poised in their own end, they prevented Ottawa from getting to any rebounds, and their clearances were mostly good. Even in the second period in killing off Jamie Langenbrunner's "tripping" call, two Devils sticks were lost and the PK units were still out there getting stops. Solid stuff. They even outletted three scoring chances after killing first and second calls on the 5-on-3, but the attempts on net weren't so good. Even so, they were great; Brodeur came up big on 9 power play shots against (3 from that 5-on-3) and the Devils really roared on the ice after that last big kill. Great work by the PK units for New Jersey.
However, let's go onto a mixture of praise and criticism. Before all this, I advise you to check out the game highlights from NHL.com to get a brief remainder on all the big plays in the game.
The Devils did a relatively good job for the first 40 minutes of the game. The key word here is relatively. Relative to the Senators, the Devils held up well. They kept pace with them in shots (20-22, Ottawa after the second), they battled with the Senators in a physical way (the official stats show the Devils outhitting the Senators 36-27), and the Devils responded to Ottawa's goals with goals of their own. After the Senators would have a few good shifts, the Devils would go out and do the same. Were the Devils great? Were they controlling the game? No, but they weren't letting Ottawa dictate the game either. After all, their first goal was a bizarre fluke from Alexandre Picard from the point that just found it's way in. It's not like they were bossing the Devils around in the first or second periods.
Yet, the second period in particular was just so odd. Brodeur had to be called on to make huge saves; but he was beat off a fluke deflection and hung out to dry on a bad line change by the Devils. In all fairness, Jarkko Ruutu made an excellent move on his breakaway to ensure Johnny Oduya wouldn't stop him at the last moment. In fact, the Devils committed multiple bad line changes, where the defense fortunately recovered or Ottawa duffed the shot. I liken that period to that sandwich cookie you can get at the Mrs. Field's kiosk on the lower concourse. The icing in the middle of the cookie was all over the place, much like the Devils' defense for much of the second period. Sloppy, full of sugar, and making you wonder whether it was a good choice to pay $5.50 for such a filling, unhealthy cookie. Yet, the two cookies (Brodeur and the Devils' offense), ensured that the icing (defense) wouldn't fall onto the ground or on your clothes. Brodeur made some huge stops on the Senators, and the offense put 8 on Elliott to keep them honest. Most notably, Brian Rolston and Jay Pandolfo scored some pretty good goals to keep the Senators down and the Devils up 3-2. Was the sandwich cookie good? Eh, it was OK. Was it a solid period for the Devils? No, but relative to the Senators' performance, it was decent.
Yes, that's my metaphor and I'm sticking to it. Moreover, I believe that second period performance was the best second period effort I've seen from the Devils since the Buffalo game despite it's flaws.
Then the third period came and the Devils played passive hockey for most of the first 15 minutes. OK, I get that the Senators had an extended power play complete with a two man advantage. I get that the Devils did battle for possession throughout the period. But only 3 shots on net? One of which being the most hilarious fluke goal I've seen for the Devils in years? I know this was in the highlights, but it deserves it's own video.
AAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Poor Brian Elliott! The other goals were not totally his fault and he played pretty well, but this was bad. Caught off his line on a routine save and the worst possible scenario just happened! Bryce Salvador scored his first goal of the season and did so in a way to make Ilkka Pikkarainen's first goal of his NHL career look like a goal scorer's goal. Wow. Fortunately for Elliott, it wasn't the game winner. But it did drop Ottawa's confidence as well as make the game even more of a challenge.
Still, the Devils didn't build much on the goal; what really got them going was the euphoria of killing off a 5-on-3 while up by two goals. And now I'm scratching my head. Yes, this is what I wanted to see; but why could we not see this earlier in the game? Or even earlier in the third period? The Devils only put 3 shots on Brian Elliott and that's really concerning given that the entered the period with a one goal lead. Why so passive? Did Salvador's strike put them more at ease? Did they think they could sit on the lead? Was it just that Ottawa was that aggressive going forward (possible, they were down one). Was it something else? The Devils are 7-2 this month and I'm baffled at how they keep getting results with less than 60 minute efforts.
I'm also baffled with Zach Parise. Despite what happened in practice yesterday, Jacques Lemaire had him playing with Travis Zajac all night long. He had an early breakaway that Elliot did very well to stop and throughout the night, he seemed a bit lost. Yes, he had 3 shots on net (more than any Devil); but I think the frustration at him not scoring any goals in this month is starting to set in. Think about it. In that time frame, Ilkka Pikkarainen has scored his first goal; Jay Pandolfo scored his first goal since his injury tonight; and Bryce Salvador opened up his account with a bizarre goal. But Parise? Nope. Zajac was fairly quiet tonight and was beaten plenty on faceoffs (2 for 6). Maybe they do need to be split up for a few games.
Also, now that I'm looking at the stats, I'm also baffled with Nicklas Bergfors only playing 9:26? Was he OK? I mean, Pikkarainen got more time (10:14) than him. Given that he put up no shots and he was most notable coming out of the box for second call on the 5-on-3, getting the puck, closing in on the keeper, and whiffing on a shot; maybe he wasn't. Better luck tomorrow, I suppose?
Nonetheless, some other Devils not named Brodeur had a few good games. The fourth line looked good, as Pelley and Pikkarainen combined for 9 hits and McAmmond picked up an assist on Salvador's goal. Patrik Elias had a solid night with 2 shots, an assist, and a fantastic night at the dot in going 7 for 8. Andy Greene and Salvador were both monsters on the penalty kill, with Greene killing 5:02 and Salvador killing 4:57; they were mostly steady on even strength to boot outside of the second period. Despite taking 3 minors tonight, Langenbrunner was instrumental not only on the power play goal but in setting up a screen for Rolston's slap shot. And speaking of, don't look now, but Brian Rolston now has a 4 game point streak as he scored a goal with his trademark blistering shot. He very well could be earning his money and that is a very good thing.
Yet, I'm sure you're left with all of these ramblings about tonight's game with one question: Can the Devils keep succeeding without playing a consistently good performance all game long? I'd love to say no, but this month has proven this mostly wrong. Maybe I'm demanding too much and the Devils only need to do just a bit better than the opposition to succeed? I'm not sure. I really hope the Devils can play better throughout each period to not only win some non-ugly (or inconsistent-effort) games so we don't have to find out the hard way.
The Devils conclude a 5 game homestand with a 4-1 record and now go on the road for their next 3 games. Tomorrow the Devils will play Atlanta. Maybe a change in scenery will have the Devils give a better overall effort. After all, their most complete game this month was in Buffalo. Here's hoping they'll do that.
Again, congratulations to Martin Brodeur for now being the all time leader in games played. Thanks to Steve for putting up the GameThread and thanks to the commenters and readers in said thread and for this recap. Again, check out Silver Seven for their side of tonight's game. Please share your thoughts and feelings about tonight's game in the comments.