In the preview for this game, I wanted the Devils to come out and play with the same effort they put out on the ice against Florida. I wanted the offense to take calculated risks, rush up ice, and put lots of rubber on net. I wanted the defense to play a smart game. Martin Brodeur just had to be himself.
And the sell out crowd at the Prudential Center tonight got exactly that. Martin Biron played nowhere near as well as Scott Clemmensen did on Thursday night; and the New Jersey Devils just kept pouring it on the New York Islanders. The Devils won in an impressive fashion; a classic blow out: 7-1 over an Islanders team that just sank throughout the game.
If you wanted a beat down, you got one as the Devils were just superior in every way. They created more scoring chances. They had more puck possession. Their power play was effective and more productive than the visitors. The passing favored New Jersey tonight. The neutral zone play was tight. The backchecking was solid. The Devils outshot the Islanders 37-19, outdid them on faceoffs 32-25, conceded fewer power plays 3-5, outshot them on power plays 15-3 (!!!), and, oh yeah, outscored them 7-1. The only downside was that there was no shutout; but if you want to complain about that then let me remind you that the Devils won 7-1 - don't complain too loudly.
Thanks to the Atlanta Thrashers defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0, tonight's win clinched the Atlantic Division for the New Jersey Devils. It is their ninth division title in franchise history. Tomorrow's game against Buffalo will determine whether the Devils will come in second or third in the Eastern Conference. Just a giant cherry on the delicious sundae that was this hockey game for the Devils faithful. I advise all the Devils fans to do the Prince's Dance, performed here by the dynamic visonary that was Kansas State's former football head coach Ron Prince. Because with a win like this, how else can one celebrate? I say there is none: walk it out my fellow fans.
Thanks for reading and commenting - especially all of you in the GameThread. Thanks to Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey for passing on the word about the comment-fundraising that went on. Thanks to all the Tweeters who RTed the GameThread call out, including - of course - Steve Lepore. Thanks to the other SBNers who noticed and helped out (looking at you Chemmy). Tonight, short of a few late stragglers, there were 322 comments so that's $48.30 raised. Let's make more happen tomorrow.
For the official stats as well as a neutral recap, check out NHL.com. The Islanders supporters understandably saw this game as an ugly mess to witness. Do check out this recap by Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey anyway for the Islanders-based take on tonight's game. Please read on after the jump for some additional thoughts.
If you didn't get a chance to see tonight's game or want to relive the seven goals the Devils did score (and a few other ones where Martin Biron actually made a tough save on), check out this highlight video from NHL.com:
Check that? Good. All kinds of goals scored. You got your breaks like Dainius Zubrus' goal that kicked things off. You got some deft deflections one by Patrik Elias on the power play and one by Ilya Kovalchuk in the third period. You got amazing, unstoppable shots like Zach Parise's brilliant shot off a rebound while falling down and Brian Rolston's bomb that was the Devils' second power play goal. And you even had goals where Martin Biron looked terrible: Dean McAmmond's sharp angle shot sneaking through in the first period and Patrik Elias' bouncing a puck off Biron's still body at the post in the third period.
Relish it all, Devils fans. There's a lot to be impressed with here:
The power play that Rolston scored on was absolutely brilliant. The puck movement was sensational. The pointmen were excellent with keeping the puck in play - the Islanders only got one clearance. The Devils were patient, taking shots at the right time. Of course, Rolston's rocket was sublime. Best power play I've seen all season from the Devils.
In fact, the power play in general was great. 2 for 5, 15 shots on net. If it wasn't so late at night writing this, you can probably still hear me laughing about this. The penalty killers played great, but they did get caught on Matt Moulson's consolation power play goal in the third period.
Zach Parise led the team in shots with 7 on net; scored a glorious goal and assisted on two others. He was all over the place as usual. Yeah, I think he's ready for some playoff action.
Ilya Kovalchuk didn't have a great first period but as the game went on, he became more and more involved. By the end of the game, he tallied a goal, two primary assists on both power play goals, and put 6 shots on net while being blocked 3 times and missing the net 5 times. Mind you, from how he played, I felt he passed up a lot of shots - looking for teammates with admittedly better looks. Not a bad idea given how poorly Biron was tonight. Yet, these stats make me realize exactly how much he had the puck tonight. If tonight was a sign of things to come, then I think he'll do just fine in the postseason.
Dean McAmmond scored a fluke and was absolutely robbed late in the first period for his second goal. He centered a line with Brian Rolston and Rod Pelley. While the commenters (and myself) thought they were the fourth line, I can't help but think they are more of a 3B line. McAmmond himself had four shots and his linemates had two each. Not bad from a bottom-two line!
Travis Zajac got the first star of the game with three assists. He had a good game and switched off between Parise-Zajac-Zubrus (which started the game) and Kovalchuk-Zajac-Langenbrunner (which ended it). He was OK, 2 shots on net, solid defensive work, but oddly only 4-for-8 on faceoffs.
The only blemish on Patrik Elias tonight was his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Elsewhere, he was sensational. 3 shots on net, 2 goals, and an amazing 12-for-18 on faceoffs. Elias! 66% faceoff winning percentage in a game! Who knew!
Defense picked up plenty of points tonight. Paul Martin and Andy Greene each had two assists. Mike Mottau and Colin White also got an assist a piece. Here are your primary assists: Greene's second shot of the game was tipped in by Kovalchuk for his goal; White's shot took a rebound that Parise put in; Martin set up (sort of?) Zubrus' goal and got the puck in deep for Elias' second goal. Not bad, not bad at all.
As an aside: Colin White's ice time: 14:44. He wasn't bad, but Lemaire did want him to get some rest. A compromise, I suppose. But the defense played well in general - 19 shots against! - and only Paul Martin surpassed the 20 minute mark with 22:23 played.
Speaking of not bad, Martin Brodeur had a solid game. He absolutely robbed Kyle Okposo shortly after Rolston's goal in the second but he didn't have much to do with only 19 shots against. Actually, his puckhandling was a bit off as he made two costly giveaways that the Isles never cashed in - partially due to Brodeur's response but more to do with the shooter just failing. How about that, Brodeur's so good even when he gifts an opponent a chance, they won't necessarily score.
Most of all: the Devils continued to play hard even after ending the first period 3-0, after ending the second period 5-0, and after being scored on at 6-1. I don't think anyone would have minded if the Devils sat back on some of these leads. It wasn't like the Islanders were playing well enough to really challenge the Devils. That they continued pressing for goals and denying the Islanders much of anything - and got them - is very encouraging going forward. It showed a killer instinct from the team that hasn't been seen in a while.
Perhaps this would have been shorter if I listed all of the criticisms for the Devils tonight. Some of the penalties were a bit silly to take, like Zubrus' hooking minor and the unsportsmanlike conduct call Elias got. While it's a bit petty given the scoreline, I wish Brodeur had his stick on the ice or was down in a butterfly when Matt Moulson got the puck down low. If Marty wasn't standing, I don't think he scores that goal. Then again, it was purely a consolation goal. Brodeur should also be thankful the Islanders didn't stash in an easy one off his two giveaways; but you take the good with the bad, I suppose.
More worryingly was that Jamie Langenbrunner played on the top 6 all night long and registered no shots on net - just one missed shot. I know he was wide open at the net off a 3-on-2 rush but the pass sailed through him. But he had an otherwise quiet night offensively. Tonight, it didn't matter but I really hope he's not entering a slump at this point in the season. I'd like to see him more involved offensively tomorrow. Not necessarily score, but at least get a few shots on net.
As for the Islanders, well, I can't say Biron played well. He didn't. I can understand why he stayed in net for all 60 minutes. The Islanders will play Pittsburgh tomorrow and I'm sure Dwayne Roloson should be the man to play in front of Nassau as he has been the better netminder all season. The rest of the team admittedly didn't help much. Their offense rarely got much pressure going; they only looked good on that play that set up Moulson's goal. Outside of that, Kyle Okposo had the best chance to score was just robbed by Brodeur in the second period. That was really it from the Islanders in terms of creating chances. Their defense? I don't know if anything about their defense warrants mention other than that Bruno Gervais was involved in that bounce for Zubrus' goal. They were just plain bad.
Their discipline was particularly horrific: Penalties to start the first and second periods. The Devils made the Isles pay for Trevor Gillies' totally unnecessary first unsportsmanlike call and Tim Jackman's equally unnecessary roughing call when he tried to start something with Colin White. I know at that point, the game was clearly in New Jersey's favor, but all that did was help the Devils. It just added to their woes. Trying to "toughen" up the game led to nothing in their favor outside of collecting more PIMs for fantasy hockey players.
My point is that the Islanders played poorly and the Devils just outclassed them tonight in an impressive fashion. Given that there is a bit of a rivalry between the two teams and that the playoffs are so close, it's exactly what Devils fans wanted to see. The offense should now have very few confidence issues, the defense has been strong in the past 4-5 games, and once again, no one should be worried about Martin Brodeur. You can't ask for much more, really.
But for now, let's appreciate this great game. Let's hope for a nice finish tomorrow. Please leave all your thoughts, compliments, corrections, complaints, concerns, and feelings in the comments.