I am ardent believer that a not-so-good-looking win is superior to a "good" loss. I don't have the pretension of "playing beautifully" or that it is better to be "attacking" and lose rather than "hold back" and win. This is a results-oriented business and on that alone, I'm glad the New Jersey Devils defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-2. It is the first regulation win over Tampa Bay this season and makes the season series 3-0-0 in the Devils' favor. All thanks to a Jamie Langenbrunner tip on a shot by Andy Greene with 38 seconds left to play. Don't tell me there's no drama with the Devils. In any case, the win is especially nice to have with a more intriguing opponent coming to the Rock tomorrow in the Detroit Red Wings.
That all said, this was definitely not a great win for the Devils. I felt their performance could have and should have been better, especially on offense. I'll explain further after the jump. NHL.com has their recap up with links to the boxscore, highlights, and more stats. For the Lightning perspective, check out Raw Charge later (tomorrow morning?) for a recap. Needless to say, given that the game was won with a
On a quick, pre-jump note, Tom Gulitti reports some potentially bad news. I didn't notice during the game, but Colin White wasn't available for the last 8 minutes of the game. According to Gulitti he left due to "lower body soreness," and he is questionable for tomorrow. I honestly felt he had an OK game, a few hits, a few takeaways, and good positioning. He's been part of the "big 4" since the loss of Johnny Oduya and Paul Martin, and his presence will be missed if he is significantly injured.Let's cut right to what I found most frustrating about the game: the offense. It wasn't exactly a great game for Tampa Bay either. Both teams struggled to put shots on net, with Tampa Bay coming up ahead 24-19. But extra attention should be pointed to the home team first. The Devils' offense was particularly frustrating to watch. Tepid would be the nicest way I could describe their effort. In the first period, their forecheck was looking good, the Devils maintained more possession, and I felt they were just a bit off in their shooting. No problem there; but in the second period, they basically fell flat. I think they went 14-15 minutes with only one shot on net in the second before registering a few near the end. That's simply unacceptable.
After 40 minutes of hockey, the Devils had a whopping 11 shots on net and were down 1-0. Thankfully, the Devils' defense and Martin Brodeur held up well after Vincent Lecavalier's wraparound goal in the second. Yet, New Jersey completely forgot about concepts such as "aiming shots at the net," "taking the puck in yourself on an odd man rush," and "setting up in the opponent's zone" throughout the second. Antero Niittymaki had to stand on his head in the last Devils-Lightning game; but tonight, he just had to wait until the Devils actually threatened with a shot!
Thankfully, the offense was gifted three straight power plays by the Lightning to in the first half of the third, and even they took advantage. Brian Rolston let loose with a bomb right after Rob Niedermayer won the faceoff, which proved two things. First, winning faceoffs in your opponent's zone is very beneficial. Second, Brian Rolston's slapshot is a legitimate threat. While the Devils didn't do much with the second power play, Nicklas Bergfors was the target of a Tampa Bay giveaway to the slot by David Hale (good work by Vladimir Zharkov for forcing that play). While he was gifted the scoring chance, Bergfors did well for taking full advantage and putting the puck through Antero Niittymaki's goal. Despite 40 minutes of "not much," the Devils went up 2-1.
Yet after that, Tampa Bay decided that they should respond with some aggressive offense and got the Devils into a dooming cycle of clear-line change-clear from their own zone. So the Devils contributed next to no offense after their second goal and the Lightning were attempting to do the same with mixed results. Sometimes, this works for New Jersey. Tonight, it didn't. Eventually, Tampa Bay got the benefit of a power play of their own (Mark Fraser with a hook) and they, get this, set up a play. It was a beautiful quick series of passes that left Steve Downie all alone on Brodeur's flank for the easiest goal he'll score for a while and the game's equalizer. Of course only then did the Devils wake up and try to make some plays happen (most notably Matt Halischuk nearly putting in his own rebound, but was denied by a desparate Bolt defender).
Then the tip from Langenbrunner came in and that was the game. Yet as a final piece of evidence of how poor the Devils' attack was tonight, the Devils could have scored on the empty net but Patrik Elias missed. Need more proof? Check this out. Not one Devil had more than 2 shots on net. Not Parise, not Zajac, not Elias, not anyone. 2 was the max for any one player across the team. Here's another ugly stat: the Devils had 19 shots on net, 9 shots blocked, and 14 miss the net entirely in tonight's game. That's right, the Devils didn't even put half of their attempted shots on net. That's really unacceptable against any team, in my view.
I'm writing all this now and even I'm wondering how in the world they pulled off this win. I'm looking at this highlight video and I'm still amazed the Devils pulled this one out. I can't complain too much about the defense or Martin Brodeur; but the offense was really a sore spot tonight. I almost want to say that they won in spite of the lack of shots on net.
I do have to give credit to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not that they should categorize their effort as great, or feel that they were "robbed." They didn't build on much of anything after the Vincent Lecavalier goal and outside of Steve Downie's goal, their power play was easily snuffed by the Devils' PK. Taking three straight penalties in the third period - one about a minute in, one right after Rolston scored, and one after the second penalty was killed - is definitely worthy of criticism. The awful, awful give away by David Hale definitely sticks out like a sore thumb. And despite Tampa Bay relying heavily on the their top two lines, they put up only 24 shots on Martin Brodeur.
But after a poor Boston game, their defense held up fairly well. They were very poised in their own zone, and especially on their blueline. It was very noticible that the Devils had to dump the puck a lot tonight, especially in the second period, because a Tampa Bay player was always on a Devil attempting to enter the zone. A few of them made big plays that saved some goals (I believe it was Krajicek who ensured Matt Halischuk's late drive didn't result in a goal off the rebound?). After reading about how poor they were, I felt they did pretty good tonight. And while he didn't get a lot of work, it's not like the three goals against were Antero Niittymaki's fault. He had no real chance on Rolston's blast or Langenbrunner's tip in; and while the Bergfors goal went between his legs, he was really hung out to dry on that one. I felt he was OK.
On the Devils side, I do have to give some credit to the call-ups from Lowell. Vladimir Zharkov and Matt Halischuk were flying out there, looking to leave a lasting impression on the Devils coaches. If not to convince them to stay up in New Jersey, then to convince management that they will be ready for the NHL very, very soon. Halischuk came close to scoring and he looked poised out there. Zharkov was good on the forecheck and forced a turnover that led to Bergfors' goal, earning his first assist in the NHL. And I do mean earn, you could easily tell that he was giving his all out there on the rink. We'll definitely see him in Devils red sooner rather than later. Rod Pelley got back into the lineup and threw 5 hits in 10 minutes to show that he can handle playing on an "energy" fourth line, as well as try to keep his job. On defense, Mark Fraser was steady in the 11:17 he played, but he took a dumb hooking call late in the game. Matthew Corrente looked solid but only got 6:17 because he was in the box twice for fighting - he wanted to show he can be "tough" when necessary. Corrente has been OK in limited minutes so far in his call up, you can get a sense that he can develop into a very strong defenseman in the future. They all stood out in my eyes tonight in one way or another. It'll be a tough decision to see who goes down as Jay Pandolfo and Johnny Oduya come back.
Again, this was not a great win, but it was a win and that's the important thing. No rest for the weary, though; as Detroit comes to the Rock tomorrow night. Thanks to all the readers and commenters out there. I'll have to comment a bit less as using my phone sometimes makes me miss some of the action as I frantically tap at the keys during breaks in the action. Still, I appreciate those who read and participated. Please leave all your comments about tonight's game in the, well, comments.