In the post game interview with "The Maven" Stan Fischler on MSG, the term from Bryce Salvador used to describe the New Jersey Devils' 4-2 win over the New York Islanders was "character win." I'd like to suggest a different one: "drought buster." In tonight's win, the Devils scored their first power play goal since January 5 (0 for 23 until tonight), a defenseman scored a goal for the first time since December 28, 2009 (Colin White against Atlanta), and the Devils won their first game at Nassau Coliseum since January 17, 2009 (3-1 win for NJ, ILWT recap).
All the same, I do agree with Salvador's description. Tonight was a gut check. After last night's 3-1 loss to Montreal, the Devils would have to go back to the same place to face the same team who stomped all over them for a 4-0 loss on Monday. Yet, the Devils looked great to start and great to end. Only the second period was poor but thanks to a very big break, the Devils went into the third tied and took control of the game from there on. At no point did I think the Devils were worried about the Islanders' forecheck or their hungry youth or anything from Monday's game. They pulled ahead in the third thanks to a Bryce Salvador strike from the side boards (what you thought he was in the post game interview for no reason?). From then on, the Isles saw a one goal game and were easily shutdown. An empty net goal from Zach Parise capped a deserved victory for New Jersey.
Tonight's win should be seen as a big confidence booster. For the first time since January 14 (a 4-3 loss to the Coyotes, ILWT recap), the Devils scored more than one goal on a goaltender. The fact that they scored on the power play was huge. The defense didn't make too many errors and just held the Islanders down to 22 shots overall, with 3 coming in the third period which was 2-2 for most of it. They beat a team who was just on fire in their own building and they did so without much issue for 40 minutes. The other 20 (the second period) was worrisome, but the Devils pulled out of it.
NHL.com has their recap up with a link to all the boxscores and stats. Check out Lighthouse Hockey later on for the Islanders-based perspective on tonight's Devils win. Read on for my further thoughts for tonight's game.
First, here's the highlight video of tonight's game from NHL.com. Check that out first among anything else:
I want to talk about where the Devils faltered before I get into discussing the good parts of tonight's game. The second period was very poor for New Jersey. They came into it up 1-0, up after a solid period and promptly did nothing with it. To put it simply, the Devils did not make Rick DiPietro make a save. They got 0 shots directly on the goaltender. You see 1 SOG on the boxscore, and that's only because Zach Parise scored a goal. Or, more accurately, Parise fired a hard pass to the slot looking for
Travis Zajac Andy Greene on the backdoor play and the puck deflected off Freddy Meyer's skate and in. That was the power play goal, believe it or not. After all of these chances, the drought ended on a fluke. The Devils scored without actually putting a proper shot on net. Bizarre.
And that goal really deflated the Islanders, who owned that period. From Andy Greene's not-smart hold on Kyle Okposo behind the net, early in the second period, and on ward, the Islanders kept firing shot after shot. Martin Brodeur was big (especially since Yann Danis could have had this start, but he was sick per Gulitti), but the confidence just multiplied among the Islanders with every chance. Loose pucks became heads-up plays for Brodeur needing to make a save. Great that there are big saves, but the flip side is that the other team is getting good chances that require big saves. All the meanwhile, the Devils offense did squat.
Then came Colin White's huge error. Colin White, who otherwise has been solid all season, hits Sean Bergenheim from behind and into the glass. It was a dangerous play and White knows better to do that. There was no need to hit Bergenheim was cut from the hit and that led to a five minute major and a game misconduct. Bergenheim came back later with a full face shield, but White was thrown out of the game. The call was absolutely correct, though I doubt he'll actually get a suspension because who in the world knows how suspensions work in this league.
On the ensuing 5 minute power play, the Devils get scored on twice. Okposo's goal just beat Brodeur, it was a good shot coming off a fanned shot by John Tavares that acted like a pass to the slot. The second goal was a Jack Hillen shot that hit the post, hit Brodeur in the shoulder, and as he's trying to reach for it, Salvador attempts to clear it out but taps it in. Good intentions from both players, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Well, a goal against in this case. Still, White should have known better to hit Bergenheim from behind so he's really at fault here. By the same token, the goals were of no surprise to me because the Islanders controlled the period.
And they did. The Devils offense got nothing on net in that period! Blocked shots, you bet. Missed shots, sure. Dean McAmmond actually busted out on a breakaway during the major penalty kill and proceeded to fire the puck clearly over the net. Come on, Dean, it's a penalty kill. Put it on DiPietro, force a faceoff, get some fresh legs on the ice, and begin play at the other end of the rink. It's pretty hard to miss the net the way he did, from my view. And it was the centerpiece of how bad the Devils were shooting in the second period.
It was frustrating to see from a Devils-supporting perspective; but with the late PPG against, clearly it was more frustrating for Islanders. They got 14 shots on net, scored 2 power play goals, and were stopping everything the Devils attempted without their goalie needing to do anything. Yet, it ends 2-2. All that work and in the blink of an eye, it's tied up. Inadvertently by one of the defensemen, no less.
That late PPG was very lucky and that at least sparked the Devils for the third period. You cannot go a whole period with that ineffective of an offense in a hockey game and hope to still come out winning. Even outside of the major penalty to White, that was just poor. The Devils basically weathered the storm and were fortunate to get an equalizer late. On another night, the opposition would take full advantage of that and the Devils would most likely not get a crazy bounce like that. That was bad.
Fortunately, the other two periods were quite good. The Devils started off the game well, with every line hustling and pushing forward. The Islanders on the other hand were sluggish. Yes, they hit the post twice: once on a three-on-two where Mark Streit's backhand hit the outside of the post, and then during their first power play, Trent Hunter tipped a shot that hit the post squarely. However, the Isles didn't build on that at all. Those two chances were isolated as anything else. The Devils were more than up to the task of getting the puck in deep and setting up a shot from any line: from the ZZ Pops line all the way down to a unit featuring a center (Ben Walter only played 3:04, so someone else was stepping in), Nicklas Bergfors, and Vladimir Zharkov. ZZ Pops stood out most of all, when Bryce Salvador kept the puck in after a good backhanded chance by Zajac, dumped it in to Zajac, and he gave to Jamie Langenbrunner for a powerful slapshot for the game's first goal.
And after the first period, the Devils basically picked up where they left off in the third period with the same effort. Only this time, the Devils would score 2 goals and the Isles didn't even hit the post. In fact, it was better than the first period. In the first, the Devils outshot the Islanders 13-5; but in the third, it was 14-3. The Islanders took well over 10 minutes to get that first shot on Brodeur. When the Devils went up 3-2, they didn't let up - even Zharkov and Bergfors were getting late game shifts to get the puck deep and possibly put some more on DiPietro. Every time the Islanders had the puck going forward, they would either be stopped by the Devils defense or miss the net entirely. Moreover, they just looked sluggish. Yes, the team that didn't play last night looked tired. The empty net goal was clear evidence of this. It's 3-2, the Isles have pulled the goalie, and in the neutral zone, the puck squirts up north to the benches. Zach Parise skates like crazy to get to it first ahead of two Islanders players. Parise found a seam and let it rip to seal the win.
Needless to say, if I'm an Isles fan, I'm not really happy with how the team played. I felt Kyle Okposo stood out with his 4 shots on goal, his power play goal, his power play assist, and the one minor penalty he drew. He did well. The rest of the team was just "there."
As far as players on the Devils, well, I have a lot of praise to give out. Yes, I know he had a hand in the second goal against, but he was aware all night and he played very well after White got ejected and the ensuing major penalty. He was smart with his hitting, he made good decisions with the puck. His dump was perfect in setting up the first goal, and his shot from the sideboards ultimately won the game. He had a good night. The defense as a whole did very well for their first and third period work alone. They made a few poor clearances in the first, but by the third they were the closest thing to a wall. Mike Mottau and Andy Greene were calmer than milk when they had the puck and Johnny Oduya had a solid game. With White's ejection, it was great to see them step up.
Among the forwards, the ZZ Pops line was relentless. The unit got 3 goals and a combined 11 shots on goal. Zajac had 3 primary assists and the only area he wasn't good in was on faceoffs (6 for 17). Langenbrunner was skating like he was Parise, he was everywhere he needed to be tonight - he picked up a goal and 2 assists. Parise got a brace, played very physical, and was aggressive when he had the shooting lane. Sure, the two goals he scored weren't great - one was a fluke redirection and the other an empty net - but the effort was there.
Honestly, the effort was there for all the forwards and most of them did something notable in tonight's game. Rob Niedermayer went 12 for 19 at the faceoff dot, including the crucial one against Richard Park that set up Salvador's goal. Nick Palmieri was more involved in the game, notably screening DiPietro on Salvador's shot. Brian Rolston had his wheels on tonight and meshed well with Palmieri on his line. Zharkov and Bergfors provided good pressure from the "fourth" line. Overall, the passing was pretty good for the most part and my only real complaint on the offense was that their accuracy sucked in the second period (I'd bring up the blocked shots stats, but I wonder if the guy at Nassau is too generous with them as apparently NJ was blocked 26 times and 23 times for Islanders shots.)
I'm pleased with the performance overall and I'm glad to see a number of long-standing droughts broken for the Devils. A win on Long Island, a power play goal, a goal from a defenseman, and a revenge win over a local rival. All weren't perfect (well, OK, Salvador's was), but that the Devils accomplished them at all won't deter from the among of confidence and good feeling provided by them. Now they get a much needed two day rest before traveling north for a back-to-back away set against Ottawa and Buffalo.
Thanks to Steve for the GameThread, and thanks to all the commenters and readers. Please leave your thoughts, statements, concerns, questions, and other feelings about tonight's win in the comments.