It can be said that hockey is a game of improvisation. Designed plays get interrupted, passes go awry in one way or another, shots that were aimed at the net get deflected away, and so on and so forth. Ultimately, the team that usually wins is usually the team that is more successful in adapting to the ever-changing situations.
I'd say that in a very exciting game filled with mistakes that created opportunities, the Devils clearly were more successful at improvising than the Sharks. They won 6-5 today in a thrilling game that featured constant lead changes and constant action. The crowed at the Rock today was both large, loud, and proud of their Devils. Especially at the end, when the Devils successfully killed the last penalty of the game. This game would have been perfect for national TV, NBC! Too bad you chose the Rangers.
This game was a stark contrast to the last game against Boston. In that game, the Devils did a very poor job in passing the puck, which hurt their offense and themselves overall. Yet, Boston were thwarted in making the Devils pay for their mistakes. In this game, the Devils did a very good job in terms of passing the puck and maintaining possession. However, when San Jose saw opportunity, they took it.
The first opportunity came from the fact that Paul Martin didn't play. According to Chere and Gulitti, he was scratched for the ever-mysterious "upper body soreness." That meant Jay Leach was in and he was paired with Andy Greene. That pairing didn't have a good day. They allowed Rob Blake to spring into space for a long shot for San Jose's first goal. While Leach looked a little more poised, Greene looked shaky all day in his own zone. His biggest mistake was watching a puck slowly slide in the neutral zone. Jonathon Cheechoo saw his chance, took the puck, took it in, and fired a shot that maybe deflected off Greene's stick for the Shark's third goal in the second. Not good. If only Greene had a better game, if only Martin played in the game!
The second opportunity involved a Rolston mistake. Brian Rolston scored a nifty goal down low on a wrist shot to make it 2-1 in the first. That was good. He then followed that up with a hooking call after the faceoff at center ice. That ended up being the only penalty in that period and San Jose took advantage. Christian Ehrhoff fired a pin point pass to Patrick Marleau who deftly fired it in for a quick equalizer. If only Rolston didn't take that penalty!
Later on, the referees made two very questionable calls in a row: a holding call on Colin White, wherein he seemingly asked the refs over and over for an explanation, and a tripping call on Jamie Langenbrunner, wherein he went for the puck yet the refs felt otherwise. That's a 5-on-3, Joe Thornton had all day behind the net to set up the play. Literally, he used his head to gesture where the players should set up. And he was right to do so. He then makes a perfect pass - something Thornton usually does - to Devin Setoguchi who uses the screen for the Sharks' fourth goal. Yeah, Thornton is a pretty good playmaker! Can't do much about the refs, but it was an opportunity the Sharks took advantage of for sure.
The last Devils mistake was a costly turnover during a power play. The Devils were up 5-4 on a power play and they lose it on the breakout! Unacceptable! Joe Pavelski takes it, takes it low, and fires a shot in the far top corner almost perfectly. UNACCEPTABLE! A chance to put the game away foiled, and confidence was restored in the Sharks. During a power play! Brutal! I should hope I don't have to explain why that's so unacceptable and such a mistake!
I felt Clemmensen was really let down on some of these errors. OK, maybe he would have stopped the Blake (challenge him more!) and Pavleski (stand up at the post!) goals; but if the Devils didn't commit those mistakes, the score is more lopsided.
And it really should have been lopsided. The Devils were the better team on the ice, in my opinion. They did more with the opportunities they got. They came partially from a Sharks' Dan Boyle-less defense didn't clean up a lot of the rebounds given up by Evgeni Nabokov. The biggest payback by the Devils for that would be Jamie Langenbrunner slamming one in off a Zach Parise-created rebound. The San Jose defense also failed when they helped set up the screen that helped David Clarkson's turnaround shot in the first period not be seen by Nabokov, but definitely seen by the net.
But the biggest cause of San Jose's errors was Nabokov himself. Brian Gionta drives to the net early and gets one in quickly as the game starts. Nabokov comes out of his crease for a down low shot from Parise, Elias walks into the crease for the ensuing Parise pass for an easy goal. Nabokov's five hole featured as well. It's how Rolston got his goal in the first period. And most importantly, David Clarkson deflected a Rolston slapshot right through his legs for his brace, and more importantly, the goal ended up winning the game. No wonder the gut reaction at Fear the Fin is so subtly negative for Nabokov!
The Devils were excellent on the power play by going 3-for-8. And it was clutch, with all three power play goals coming in the third period. As stated earlier, the Devils did much more on offense and had more scoring chances namely because they did a much better job at moving the puck and maintaining possession. Yes, they were outshot 32-29; but the Devils were more efficient in their shooting; as seen by the score. Could the Devils have done better on defense and in terms of discipline? Of course. Regardless, today it was the offense who had the Devils keep pace and ultimately win the game for New Jersey.
Wow. The Devils just beat the best and second best teams in the league in the last 3 days. They have now won their last 4 and, what's more, the team is on the cusp of having a Hall of Famer return to the lineup. Forget the playoffs, the season so far has been quite special! And today just adds further to the now mountain-sized pile of evidence that the Devils can win against anyone in any game. It's a wonderful fact, really.