In my preview, I was concerned that this would be a banana peel game for the Devils. The only team that slipped were the Coyotes. The New Jersey Devils just outclassed them to a score of 5-2. The Devils looked very good overall, they opened things up early, continued to make it happen, and they played a good, consistent game against a struggling opponent. The crowd was loud, "Mickey Mouse Club" chants were ever present, everyone except for the Phoenix fans (and the 4 girls in Philadelphia Scott Upshall jerseys along with a Ranger fan in a Prucha sweater) had a great time, and the Devils won their ninth straight home game - a franchise record.
Oh, and Martin Brodeur got his 550th win of his career. According to Dan Rosen at NHL.com (and a lot of quotes from opposing forwards), he's intimidating. Brodeur was definitely solid tonight. Not perfect, but he did play pretty well. Watch him intimidate a tied career wins record on Saturday!
Basically, it's almost what one would expect when a highly ranked team like New Jersey faces off against a low ranked opponent like Phoenix. I'm thankful that the game was what it was! For an additional thought on the game, IPB liveblogged the game and were very pleased with the effort. For the other side of this contest, Five For Howling should have something up later. From the comments in their game thread, tonight wasn't pretty for Phoenix fans.
I was dead wrong in thinking Bryzgalov would get the start. Apparently, he had the flu so Josh Tordjman got the nod. And he got Parise'd on the first shot of the game. Zach's 40th goal of the year, 18 seconds into the game, and it was a beaut!
Yeah, when that's the first shot you see - it's likely going to be a long night. And it was for Torjman! Note that the first goal originally began from a forced turnover. The Phoenix Coyotes were just poor on the puck all night long! The Devils' stickchecking was on point, and the 'Yotes were just making bad decisions on their first and second passes coming up ice. The defense for Phoenix was quite poor. Ed Jovanovski was made to look like a paper tiger tonight. It's no wonder Tordjman saw so many shots (36), and a good chunk of those were very high quality shots. He did come up big on a few of those.
Alas, it was far from enough. The Devils kept getting goals through the run of play. A deft deflection of a pass by John Madden beat Tordjman, something that may be he should have had. Patrik Elias busted a long even-strength goalless streak by finishing a 2-on-1 from Brian Gionta in a fantastic fashion. Dainius Zubrus got on the board, to the delight of 2MA, with a good shot from the slot. And Travis Zajac capitalized on a Devils 5-on-3 power play by putting home a nice rebound. Nothing "garbage" or "lucky." Just good heads-up play from the forwards and even better finishing. The Devils' attack just tore through the Phoenix defense and fired away on Tordjman.
The thing is, I think the Devils could have had more. Elias could have had 2 goals, Parise too, Gionta had a few chances, etc. Again, Tordjman did have to come up big in a few cases. In others, like Gionta's, the Devils missed. But chances kept coming for New Jersey. In a massive contrast, while the Phoenix Coyotes got 28 on Brodeur, most of them weren't quality chances. Granted, they did make Brodeur pay early on a Zubrus double-minor in the first period. Petr Prucha's shot was poorly played by Brodeur, who was then left out of position. Paul Martin tried to kick it out, whiffed, and Scott Upshall had the net. Two gaffes from two Devils who don't make too many.
Yet, despite it being only 2-1 in the first, the Coyotes couldn't build on it. I mean, their next big scoring chance came when a Coyotes cross-ice pass luckly hit a Devils' defender's skate and it headed towards the goal. Marty, of course, saved it. They basically thwarted themselves with their poor play. A perfect example of how poorly the Coyotes played of this came near the end of the second period. The puck is dumped into the endboards and Niclas Havelid gets body position to protect it, looking for some space. Two Coyotes (I think it was the Prucha unit) go after Havelid and end up trying to reach for it through Havelid. A third Coyote player comes in from the other end to help. Yet, Havelid was able to knock it loose, get loose himself, and move the puck for the eventual clearance up ice!
I don't care if it is Nicklas Lidstrom in that spot. You should be able to get the puck when you have 3-on-1 to a defenseman up against the boards! That was poor decision making, poor battling, and poor positioning all rolled up into one. Mix that in with the turnovers and it's a recipe for a big loss.
Basically, when that play happened, I knew the Coyotes weren't going to win this. Of course, the 4-1 score at the time also clued me into it. So, the game got a lot more physical, more nasty, but it didn't change much. The Devils kept powering up ice with shots on net. They kept winning the battles, and the box score reflect this. Phoenix got a second one late from Steven Reinprecht, mostly due to that fact that Reinprecht broke away from Elias (I think it was Elias) and had all the space to hit Brodeur on his flank. But just like the last second goal by Calgary on Tuesday, it didn't matter. The game was New Jersey's at that point.
Now destiny is next for the Devils. A game in Montreal with a goaltender who has done exceptionally well against Montreal with a shot to tie the all-time career wins record, currently held by a Montreal legend. With tonight's big win, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little confident about it!