The Devils won 1-0 against Boston tonight and it wasn't a good game for the Devils. I'I'm sure Stanley Cup of Chowder would agree that Boston played better hockey overall.l. They were more persistent and consistent on the attack. They were stalwart on defense, not letting the Devils cycle all over them in the corners. Whereas the Devils went through long stretches in the game where making a simple pass was difficult enough for some players.
Seriously, the Devils' distribution of the puck was miserable tonight. There must have been a stretch of about 8, 9 minutes in the first period alone where every time the Devils would make a pass it would either bounce off a Bruin, bounce off the receiving players' stick, or have it picked off by Boston. It got to a point where anything resembling a cross-ice pass, even a short one, was likely going to be stopped by a Bruin. And often times it did! If you thought that was the only bad stretch it wasn't! The Devils escaped similar long Bruins shifts in their own end in the beginning and end of the second period! I'd say something about adjustments between periods, but the passing problems were largely team-wide tonight.
The Bruins' trap and their overall team speed was excellent in earning those turnovers. That allowed Boston to pick up many more scoring chances and shots than the Devils. That's why the Bruins outshot the Devils 31-17. It's why the Devils fans in the stands, or at least I was, so worried about what was going on. I think the only time the Devils really did well on puck possession, interestingly enough, was on the penalty kill!
Adding to that, and this was more prevalent in the first two periods, was that the Devils seemed to let the puck go past them. This nearly led to a golden opportunity for the Bruins' offense more than a few times! They learned by the third period, coincidentally that's when the passing actually got better, that you have to go to the puck sometimes. Awful work on puck possession, and given the Devils' style of play, that's, well, just awful.
Fortunately for the Devils, Boston couldn't make the Devils pay. The biggest reason was the man in net: Scott Clemmensen. Boston had glorious chances to score in that period only for Clemmensen to rob the B's on at least 4 occassions. He was the difference maker tonight. And with Martin Brodeur's return coming in the near future, Clemmensen has taken his game to new heights. His rebound control has improved, he looks more poised in net, and he's not going after pucks behind the net like he did back in November. Most impressively and importantly: two shutouts in his last two starts. One against the Devils' biggest rival and one tonight against one of the league's best offenses. Clearly, he was the best player on the ice tonight.
In assigning credit to the Devils' success, some would definitely have to go to the Devils' defense. Their passing was bad; but their work against the Bruins was excellent. Colin White was excellent out there. He prevented a goal and rarely panicked in his own end when Boston seemingly kept getting the puck despite the Devils' efforts. Mike Mottau played very well, even if he did escape a couple of holding calls. Paul Martin made some strong plays despite a few miscues. In a way, given how important the defense was for the Devils, it was fitting that Bryce Salvador, a Devils defenseman, got the game's only goal. Poor Tim Thomas, he truly let a soft one in right between his legs. Between Clemmensen and the defense, they kept the game from being a Boston blowout.
So the offense didn't have a good night. Brian Rolston was largely invisible on offense and in backchecking. I didn't think the Zach Parise line had quite a quiet game, which is surprising given how well they've done recently. Dainius Zubrus worked hard but it didn't lead to much. Patrik Elias missed a few chances but at least he had, well, chances. I have to emphasize that the root cause of this was team's overall terrible job at passing the puck. If you can't move it up ice or within the zone well, how can you control the game or put shots on net or do anything effective? The Devils looked like what we've been used to seeing on some of the shifts in the third period. Not coincidentally, they were able to cleanly pass the puck and move it around the zone without having to force it through a defender or within range of a defender's stick on those shifts.
Hopefully the Devils' forwards and the team's passing game overall can provide a much better performance against San Jose. I think the Devils were a bit lucky that the game ended this way. To think it could repeat against San Jose would be silly. Nevertheless, it's still a win - even if the Devils didn't perform all that well in earning it.