While it's only been 4 days since the back-to-back losses to the Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins left Devils fans scratching their heads about their favorite team in black and red it has seemed much longer. Since that loss, lines have been switched, Alexander Urbom was demoted, and Olivier Magnan-Grenier was called up (henceforth referred to in this post as OMG).
Since the end of the second period of the Boston loss there has been a heightened frustration among not only Devils fans like me and you, but also the players, the coach and the general manager. Whether it was bad shot selection, bad luck or running into a hot goaltender, the supposedly offensive gifted forwards of the Devils couldn't find the back of the net.
In tonight's game, while we didn't get the offensive explosion that everyone was looking for, the Devils were still able to grind out a 3-0 victory against the Montreal Canadiens with the help of a few lucky bounces and some well-timed penalties on Montreal that resulted in four second period power plays. After dealing with Hasek-like performances by Craig Anderson, Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller the Devils were able to sneak some pucks by Canadien goaltender Carey Price.
You can view the NHL.com game recap here and the boxscore here. Fire & Ice and NJ.com are updated with game recaps as well. If you want to read about the loss from the Habs perspective you can read the game recap of Habs Eyes on the Prize. After the jump you will read some of my thoughts on the game and view video highlights of the game.
First, if you want to look at the goals again (or for the first time) you can view the video from NHL.com below, which will be posted when it is available.
In looking back at John's preview this morning, in his goals he stated that he wanted the Devils to start off with a lead and they certainly complied with his request. Off a scramble in front of the net Zach Parise knocked home his second goal of the year, which was largely a result of the hard work by the line of Parise, Travis Zajac and Dainius Zubrus. In the early going that line was the most effective of the revamped Devils lines. The second line of Patrik Elias, Jacob Josefson and Ilya Kovalchuk didn't do much early, generating just one good pass or a decent shot per shift before shifting to the defensive side of the ice.
The only chance that Kovalchuk generated was on a steal with Adam Mair and Tim Sestito (either double-shifting or just got caught on a change) which generated a breakaway chance that Kovalchuk couldn't place on net. The fourth line got barely three minutes each, especially David Clarkson who only played about 2:30 in the first period after getting into an early fight with Travis Moen.
The line I was most concerned about -primarily from a defensive point of view- was the third line of Rod Pelley, Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. The group played better than I expected with Pelley playing with great energy and even though it seemed that Montreal was trying to get the Tomas Plekanec line out there against the Arnott/Langs line the Montreal top line was unable to exploit a group that has struggled so far defensively this season.
One of the interesting things to me was that even though you could make the case with being outshot 10-3 (plus the Devils blocked 7 shots) that Montreal dominated play in the first period it didn't seem like they really outplayed the Devils. If you watched the game, you probably noticed that Montreal had an extra attacker in the offensive zone. Who is that? The referee that's who. Three different times the referee somehow blocked the puck to help the Canadiens keep possession active in the offensive zone. You see something like that happen every once in a while but three times in the same period? Despite the shot differential, I though the scoring changes were relatively even.
The second period started off with the Canadiens buzzing around in the offensive zone, but an early goaltender interference call sent former Devil Brian Gionta off the ice for two minutes and while the PSE&G Powerless Play wasn't effective it helped change the flow of the game. This resulted in some back and forth play for much of the second period until the Devils had the good fortune of four power plays, included a 5 on 3 for over a minute. In fact, Montreal had better opportunities on the first power play than the Devils did. A potential 2 on 1 was broken up by Parise playing defenseman on the power play to stop the shorthanded opportunity.
The Devils scored their second goal of the game because of the power play, but not actually on the power play. Eight seconds after the expiration of a questionable penalty call on Tomas Plekanec, Jason Arnott was able to find the back of the net from a deflection that went off of the glove of Dustin Boyd. The Devils were able to generate this chance based on the first power play unit keeping the Montreal penalty killers on the ice for the entire power play. One thing that I was looking for from the Devils was some puck possession on the power play and they did OK in that regard.
After watching the second period it's clear that Matt Taormina is the top defenseman on the power play. I had thought that after all of the practice time they had, Andy Greene would regain a chance to be on the first unit, but it's clear that Taormina has earned the trust of John MacLean and will occupy that spot for the foreseeable future.
The Devils evened up the shots on goal by outshooting the Canadiens 8-5 in the second period and had many more quality scoring opportunities, and led 2-0 after the second period. Considering the second periods the Devils have had recently, I think every Devils fan was optimistic heading into the third period.
Early in the third, after killing off a carryover penalty, the Canadiens came out buzzing again and had the Devils a bit on their heels. That ended when Taormina took a wrist shot off the faceoff that he got up high and was able to get past Price to put the Devils ahead 3-0. Devils fans didn't get to breathe easy as the team had to kill off two penalties in the middle of the period, but once again the penalty killing unit was strong and didn't give the Canadiens a chance to get back in the game.
Marty was good, and while he was helped out by some lucky bounces, like Gionta's puck that Marty blocked with his face, Brodeur kept the puck out of the net. He challenged the few breakaways that came his way and was solid. Classic Marty Brodeur 'there is no way we lose this game' effort when the team needed it most.
Winning a game 3-0 with three rookies on your defense? Yeah you get an A. The defense kept it simple, pushed the puck out of their own zone quickly and didn't try to do too much. OMG had a solid first game, letting a few guys get behind him into scoring chances but Andy Greene and Brodeur bailed him out. OMG played 16:12 in his debut which is much more than I thought he would play. Thankfully, it was a game where you didn't notice the defensemen a lot, which is always a good thing. Greene also played a very good game, and maybe his season will begin to turn around. The Corrente/Tallinder pairing was solid and Corrente might be up in New Jersey for a while if he continues to play the way he has. Colin White was once again the unsung hero. White made up for some of Taormina's errant passes and provided a strong physical presence.
Besides the Parise/Zajac/Zubrus line the rest of the lines were merely OK. I do like that MacLean stuck with the lines pretty much throughout the game, and I would expect to see a similar lineup in Saturday's game against the Buffalo Sabres.
One of the most interesting facets of the game to me was how proficient Travis Zajac and Rod Pelley were in the faceoff circle. Winning 11 of 16 battles Zajac abused the Motreal centers, especially Plekanec beating him 5 out of 7 times. Pelley won 5 of 6 defensive draws and has really stepped up his play early in this season.
I would prefer Arnott/Langenbrunner be on two separate lines but as long as the team is winning I can live with it a few more games. The Elias/Josefson/Kovy line didn't generate much, but once they get a bit more comfortable with each other I think there is a lot of potential there. I also like the idea of getting Josefson/Kovy paired up.
In summary, the Devils played a solid game. I was expecting a little more offensive cohesion out of the new forward lines and that only really happened with the top line of Parise/Zajac/Zubrus but the end result was two points and a much needed win for the Devils.
Thanks for reading. Please share your thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Remember, keep the language clean.