The New Jersey Devils got back on the winning side with a strong 4-0 win over Colorado tonight. The Devils played better as the game went on and tonight's result was definitely deserved. For an additional perspective, IPB did a liveblog of tonight's game. For the Avalanche, check with Mile High Hockey - they already have this telling quote.
Also: Martin Brodeur comes back from a 4 month injury and earns a shutout. Are there any doubters left? Anyone think he still has something to prove? Anyone at all?
OK, to be fair, it's not like Martin Brodeur had to be The Man tonight. Colorado's 24 shots on net didn't include many quality scoring chances. Their best bet was a shorthanded chance in the second period where the shooter (I don't recall the name) beats Brodeur high glove side only to hit the post. If only they scored that goal, maybe it would have been more of a "game."
Still, Brodeur didn't have to be a hero for New Jersey and that's a very good. The game was enough to ease him back into playing games, and well, he delivered with a fine performance of his own. The fans definitely loved Brodeur, myself included. The Crazies had a big MARTY'S BETTER banner. He got big cheers when he came out for the pregame warm-ups, when he was announced in the starting line up, and every time he touched the puck for the first two periods. A big save got a lot of applause. Maybe it was a bit much, but consider that we, the fans, haven't seen Brodeur play in the last 50 games or so due to injury. That's a lot of adulation to catch up on!
Alas, the Colorado game plan was definitely lacking. You'd think Tony Granato would tell his team to fire away at Brodeur all night, and specifically take shots at his glove. I don't think the Avalanche took more than 5 shots gloveside all night. And as the game went on, the worse they looked. Even desperate attempts at getting something going were rejected by the Devils.
In contrast, the Devils' defenders had a great night. A lot of credit for tonight's performance should go to the defense. From the first period onwards, they stopped Colorado's advances before they started. They played the man when it was needed, and they played the puck when that was needed. They allowed very few rebounds - if any - to go to any Colorado stick, and they were great at keeping the play alive at the point. Even if it went back over the line, they held steady in the neutral zone. Paul Martin played great in the 23:45 he was out on the ice. But the others were just as good - Bryce Salvador and Colin White had strong nights in their own end. Maybe it had to do with the return of Marty and/or Martin; but whatever it was, it definitely worked.
Like I said in the preview, I felt a better defensive performance would lead to a better offensive performance. And I appear to be right! OK, the Devils looked sloppy in moving the puck in the first period and wasted a power play. But Jamie Langenbrunner did slide a puck through Andrew Raycroft's legs, so no big deal there. As the game went on, the Devils played with more confidence, swarming the net. They got rebounds, they created havoc in the slot, they took shots from the point, they moved it down low. The Parise line were, to use a 1997 term, DA BOMB. Langenbrunner had 6 shots on net, Zajac only had 3 but picked up a goal and an assist, and Parise had 8 shots and THIS goal:
In a word: WOW.
The Devils really put the Colorado defense to the sword in the third. The Avs defenders just kept trying to keep up and just react to the play! They struggled with clearing the puck at times and the Devils made them pay for it. While they didn't have 16 shots on net like they did in the second, the quality of scoring chances were jacked up. I think Travis Zajac and Brian Gionta both missed wide open nets off a down low pass. But Zajac would get his after a brilliant shift where the Devils managed to generate 3 scoring chances, keep the puck in the zone, and kept hope alive - and Zajac put it home this time. The shift itself, I think, was almost as impressive as Parise's goal. Almost.
Overall, the game was fantastic from a Devils standpoint. They were the dominant team tonight and won in a dominating fashion. The defense was great, the offense was great, the crowd was great, and the only thing I can really gripe about were the first two wasted power plays. But, hey, Patrik Elias scored on a later power play and the two bad ones didn't doom the Devils, so it's all good. Tonight was a fantastic game overall.
Oh, and did I mention that Martin Brodeur got a shutout? He's baaaaack!