In the recent losses of the last two weeks or so, fans have been "treated" to lethargic periods, poor decision making, tepid offense, and entire games without intensity in losses by the New Jersey Devils. Tonight, this was not a loss due to extraordinarily bad set of hockey. This was a loss due to the New York Rangers' goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist.
The Devils put 42 shots on net and Lundqvist stopped all but one. The shots were all over the place: from the point, in the slot, off rebounds, off deflections, from the circles, from the high slot, and in traffic. Henrik Lundqvist robbed the Devils at least seven times from a wide array of players ranging from Ilya Kovalchuk to Zach Parise to Mike Mottau (TWICE) to even a shot off of Andrew Peters. Lundqvist's glove side was undeniable tonight. The Devils aimed for the high glove side often and Lundqvist rose to the challenge every time. Even when that side was a wide open net, that dang glove just appeared seemingly out of nowhere!
Rangers fans should be thanking, praising, and loving Lundqvist's performance tonight. He and he alone ensured the Rangers win tonight. Outside of that, a four minute surge by the offense gave them the lead that made the score what it was. There is plenty of criticism that can be had for the Devils. That they took this game off or showed no fire or were totally out of sync or got burned by the Rangers - those are not true. Losing to a rival sucks, I don't like the loss, but I cannot honestly say the Devils were bad. They literally ran into a goaltender who acted as a mobile wall tonight.
Check out Blueshirt Banter later where they are likely ecstatic to have got a win and to see Lundqvist have such a big game after what transpired on Thursday. If you want just the stats and a neutral look, NHL.com has their recap up. Read on for my thoughts about tonight's game.
First and foremost, watch the highlights before you immediately comment about how the Devils wasted shots and such. No, Lundqvist literally rose up and was massive enough.
When available, I will post Here is the highlight video from NHL.com as proof:
Now, let's talk about the Rangers' three goals. For most of the night, the Rangers' plan on offense was to try and set up that cross-ice pass down by the crease. Not a bad idea as if it gets to the target man, the goalie has next to no shot to stop it and it's an easy shot. It only really worked once, largely in part of Ryan Callahan bursting off the boards at the right time, noticing Andy Greene's attempted poke check, and then finding the space to the waiting Marian Gaborik. Martin Brodeur had no chance on that unless he was psychic, which he's not, so there.
That goal was huge, not just because it was a power play but it awoken a lion in the Rangers. Madison Square Garden actually started making some noise (really!) and the Rangers looked confident going forward instead of not quite together. The next two goals came quick and they hurt. Mike Mottau cleans up a chance in front created by Callahan and sees Ilya Kovalchuk by the point, so he figures to pass it to him. Only Callahan was wheeling around, blocked out Kovalchuk, takes a step and fires a bomb. Great individual play by Callahan - he was the best Ranger skater tonight with a goal, assist, and 5 shots on goal - and a bad decision by Mottau. He should have either fired it off the boards or skated up looking for someone else.
Honestly, that was only Mottau's real major error of the night - and the guy was smart at both ends all night long. He jumped up on plays smartly, even on the penalty kill, and was robbed twice. If anything, the defense tonight wasn't so bad short a few miscues by Andy Greene among others.
The third goal against, well, the Rangers fourth line just breaks out in an odd man rush. Mottau was back but there was nothing for him to do. Mark Fraser was too deep to do anything when Chris Drury got the puck in the slot. Fraser kneeled and appeared to screen Brodeur, and Drury just fired it over Brodeur's shoulder. Of all three goals, maybe Brodeur should have got that one, but I would credit that more of a great shot through a little screen than anything else. I don't think Devils fans should fault Brodeur too much for tonight's loss.
From then, the Rangers curiously started to slip back into their old ways for much of the game, sensing that was all they needed to do. They were right only because Henrik Lundqvist played as well as he did. Even if Mottau made a better clearance and if the Rangers didn't have that odd man rush, they were still behind the eight ball for much of the game. Call it a short meltdown, but the Devils eventually recovered in the second period.
The Devils were robust in their attack all night long, as they continually outshot the Rangers: 10-7 in the first, 12-10 in the second, and 20-5 in the third. These weren't weak shots on net, no they were strong shots. Jacques Lemaire decided on ZZ Pops as the first line and Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, and Ilya Kovalchuk on the "second" line. All six forwards got big minutes (least among them: Langenbrunner's 18:26) and had plenty of shots. Kovalchuk alone had 8 shots and 25:05 of ice time and all I can really complain about is that he got goaded into being in the box by jerk-extraordinaire Sean Avery late in the game. ZZ Pops had 11 (Parise - 4, Zajac - 2, Langenbrunner - 5); and the "second" line combined for 13 (Kovalchuk - 8, Elias - 3, Zubrus - 2). Honestly, on another night or against a different goaltender, they probably would have lit up the scoreboard several times.
And that doesn't include how good the third line was. Brian Rolston and Rob Niedermayer put 4 shots on net each too, while providing additional pressure down low. Again, I cannot emphasize this enough, Lundqvist was the Rangers' defense tonight. Moreover, Lemaire kept the lines together largely because they did so consistently well on the attack. The only change seen was Andrew Peters being benched in the third and having a winger - usually Zach Parise - double shifted for Dean McAmmond and Vladimir Zharkov.
Elias looked fine in his return from his concussion/concussion-symptoms. He played 22:35, had 3 shots on net, and displayed all kinds of slick moves when necessary. His vision was present, his stickhandling was sound, he made an impact on the ice, and he made the important pass into the slot that Dainius Zubrus dashed home right in front for the Devils' sole goal. Which went high stick side. Not that if the Devils changed the focus of their shots they would have scored more, it really was a point-blank shot. Had Lundqvist stopped that, it would have been pure luck.
What can be criticized about the offense was their power play. No, I'm not going to kill the Devils for not scoring on a 5-on-3. It was a 17 second 5-on-3 and while Rolston losing the puck at the point was beat, by the time the puck was there, the time was up. The Devils needed to win the faceoff there and Zajac didn't (only one of 5 lost for him, he went 13 for 18 overall). The only thing I'll criticize on that was Lemaire calling for a time out before the 17 seconds happened.
No, I'm more concerned about the other power plays the Devils had. Out of 5 power plays totaling 8:09 of time, they got 5 shots on net. In a night where the Devils put shots up at a ridiculous rate and attempted even more (Devils missed 12 times and were blocked 18 times), the power play had to be more rapid-fire. I believe in setting up a shot, but too many times they were looking for a shot from the point where there wasn't one. Sure, the Rangers have the great PK unit with a 85.4% rate and wanted to do better after a bad Thursday night effort. But they needed to mix it up. Maybe a problem of too many talents together in such a short time? I mean, the penalty killers got as many shots! (An indictment of the Rangers' power play outside of the one goal?)
But at the end of the day, Henrik Lundqvist remains the big, giant, massive reason the Devils didn't win tonight. The effort was there, the desire was apparent, and the fire was present on the ice. Yet the short second period meltdown dug the grave and the Rangers' goaltender kept knocking the ladder away from getting out. Everything but a kitchen sink was thrown at Lundqvist and he probably could have stopped the sink too. An unfortunate loss felt worse because it was at the hands of Our Hated Rivals. I hope the Devils don't go into Philadelphia on Monday feeling discouraged about their attempts because all that will lead to are continued struggles.
Thanks to Steve for putting the GameThread together and thanks to you all for the comments. I don't recall any GameThread going over 400+ comments, so a big thanks to all who showed up. Feel free to leave your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and complaints in the comments.