After a bad loss, you'd want to see your favorite team do better in the next game. While it wasn't a great performance by any means, the Devils did exactly that in defeating the Calgary Flames 3-2. The score flatters Calgary a bit, as their second goal came literally at the last second of the game. Given the timing of the goal, it was nothing more than consolation. My thoughts come after the jump. For other thoughts: IPB did a liveblog in their traditional style, and Matchsticks and Gasoline should have something up later as a recap for the opposition view - in the meantime, check out their GameThread for initial thoughts.
To be fair, the game was a little rough for New Jersey. I'd describe the first period as inconsistent. Some shifts, the Devils looked primed to score. Other shifts, you were dreading the inevitable Flames goal. In between those, both teams sort of cancelled each other out. Ultimately, a defensive gaffe made the difference for the game's first goal. With the play just outside the right circle, about 4 Devils were facing in that direction. Olli Jokinen broke away from the group in time to take a pass from David Moss. Johnny Oduya reached for the pass to no avail, Martin Brodeur slid wonderfully across the crease but also to no avail. Given the circumstances, I feared of a repeat of the Islanders game. Why did no one pick him up? It was even strength, he's in white, a Devil on the ice should have noticed him, right? Not good. Was it going to be one of those games?
In addition to this worry, there some of the penalties the refs called against New Jersey. OK, some of them were legitimite calls, but from where I was sitting (Section 1), some of those holding (Rolston, Rupp) and hi-sticking calls (Shanahan) were weak. All the more frustrating when guys like Jordan Leopold seemed to make it his duty to hug Devils when they dumped it into the corners. Granted, if I saw it on TV, perhaps I'd have a different view of it. Nevertheless, the Devils endured seven power plays against. Giving up the first goal at home due to a defensive lapse and getting penalized throughout the game? Calgary had many chances to really make the Devils, and their fans, miserable!
Why didn't they? Two answers, and the first one is one you should know if you know anything about the Devils in the last 15 years: Marty. Brodeur was big tonight, a perfect example of why he is the legend that he is. Should Scott Clemmensen or Kevin Weekes be in net, do the Flames still only have one goal through 59:59 of the game? I don't think so. Brodeur's glove was in fine form, his covering of the puck was strong, and he had no real chance on the first and maybe not on the second, where Curtis Glencross potted in a rebound. Brodeur was a big reason why the Devils stayed in this game.
The second are the penalty killers. After the first period, despite the number of shots allowed, the defense calmed down and looked more stable positionally. Niclas Havelid, for example, did much better tonight than he did on Saturday - playing with Colin White, mind you. But the defense came up huge on special teams. The penalty killing units were just excellent tonight!
The Flames were held to only 14 shots on the power play; the Devils managed to put up 12 in 3 fewer advantages. That's only 2 shots against on average and that's not bad at all. Moreover, the penalty killers got this game going for New Jersey. Colin White saw a chance to take it in, gave it to Jamie Langenbrunner, and was fortunate that it went in! The PK units were great, especially after their last game where they killed nothing, they were only defeated by a chance rebound at literally the end of the game (and honestly, White should have kept that puck down to begin with - outside of that dumb move, he had a good game).
Poor Miikka Kiprusoff! Kiprusoff met most of the tests, but he really fouled up on that first one against. It was just a shot that just bounced off his pad and in! He really should have gotten in front of it instead of freezing up. After the Langenbrunner goal, the Devils' tactic became "shoot, shoot, and shoot some more" for the rest of the period. Shots from angles, shots from the point, shots off rebounds, you name it, the Devils attempted it. They got rewarded on a power play when Brian Rolston had a rebound and nearly the whole net to shoot at - no problem for him. (Aside: Havelid got an assist on it, his first point as a Devil!)
But Kipper's downfall was that third goal he gave up. And I think he did give it up. It was a goalmouth scramble, and from where I sat, Kiprusoff really should have covered it up. I still don't know why he didn't try and smother it. I don't know what he was thinking - or what his defense was doing - but Zach Parise grinded into the pile and saw Kiprusoff wasn't really well set up. He made him pay for it for his 39th of the season!
Mike Keenan, I presume, was so unhappy about this, he pulled Kiprusoff! Now, at the time, it was the beginning of the third period and it was 3-1 New Jersey. Plenty of time left for a team with the offense that it has to get back in it. I guess he wanted to send a message or something.
Unfortunately, the Devils' took this message as one to "let up on offense." Despite a power play that defines the phrase "everything was great except for the shot," the Devils didn't push for too many chances to test Curtis McElhinny. They really should have, maybe they would have closed this game out with 4 goals much earlier! Instead, they seemingly chose to have the defense and Brodeur carry out the win. Fortunately, the Devils didn't let Calgary do exactly what they wanted in the neutral zone. Brodeur and the defense did well to withstand what advances they did make almost to the very end. And by that point, it didn't matter. On a different night, New Jersey really could have been made to regret that. If anything, Sutter should praise the team for the win, yet warn them of their "slowed-down" third period performance.
So could tonight's performance be better? Sure. Fewer penalties, a more vigorous third period, a better start, and a better job at preventative defense given that the Devils allowed 37 shots on net. Was it a bad game? Not at all. The special teams play was much more effective tonight - especially the penalty kill; the offense did better tonight during the run of play outside of the third period; the defense wasn't constantly behind their opposition; Jamie Langenbrunner was big tonight (7 shots on net, 1 goal, 2 assists); Mike Rupp hit some people; Martin Brodeur was great; the Devils didn't allow too many rebounds at Brodeur; and the Devils came back to win the game. Some negatives, but more than a few positives.
In short, the Devils did better tonight. Now, let's see if they can improve further over Phoenix on Thursday and extend this home game winning streak to 9.