The New Jersey Devils took their opposition tonight, the New York Rangers, beyond regulation. However, unlike their shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the game ended in overtime when Marian Gaborik scored his second goal of the game. The Rangers won 4-3, and the Devils move to 0-0-2 to start preseason. Of course, preseason games ultimately mean nothing, so from that stand point I can't say I'm terribly upset about the score. That's not to say I can be pleased about tonight's game.
That he ended the game with a power play strike off the right post from the high slot was fitting. Not only was his first goal on the power play, but his second capped off the big issue for the Devils tonight in a resounding way. Discipline, rather the lack of it, just undercut the Devils. Look at the game summary from NHL.com, and you'll see 11 penalties for the Devils totaling 36 minutes. It's not as if the refs swallowed their whistles for the home team, they got called too, but 11 penalties is just too many. Even if they did take none in the second period. The Rangers had 7 power plays lasting 12:24, or under a fifth of the entire game. Now look at the event summary from NHL.com, and you'll see that the Rangers put up 11 shots on the 5-on-4 situations and one (which went in) on 4-on-3 situations. Those 12 power play shots made up a not-insignificant 32.4% of their shot total tonight.
That fact becomes much more glaring when you consider the calls themselves. Most, if not all, were quite avoidable. Here's a sample: Zach Parise taking a holding the stick minor on a PP. Vladimir Zharkov tripping up a Ranger when he was beat (and getting away with another when he came out of the box). Matthew Corrente tripping up a Ranger after he got the puck stripped. The worst, in terms of act and resulting punishment, was when Rod Pelley boarded Kurt Sauer from behind in OT. Just terrible stuff mixed in with the general sloppiness of preseason hockey.
I keep saying that preseason is the time for players to get their rust off their game, try new things, and if it goes sloppy, then it's not a big deal. While true, I believe handing an opposition that many chances is unacceptable. I'm sure John MacLean will make that point clear before Saturday's preseason game against the Rangers at the Rock.
Please check out Blueshirt Banter for the Rangers' side. Thanks to everyone who commented in or checked out the GameThread. In any case, I have further thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.
In a rare feat, I would like to praise two Rangers for their performances tonight. Gaborik was instrumental for the Rangers with his two power play goals. He flanked both Eric Gelinas and Martin Brodeur for an easy tap-in for his first; and he just fired a laser from the high slot past Jeff Frazee in overtime. Ranger fans should be pleased with Alexander Frolov. In over 22 minutes of ice time, he set up Gaborik for both of his goals, put 6 shots on net, and was the beneficiary of a Matt Taormina turnover. He benefited in that he took the puck away, went in alone on Brodeur, and beat a strung-out-to-dry goalie with a nifty move.
I would also like to collectively praise the Rangers PK for keeping the Devils' power play unit quiet. Granted, the Devils didn't play with a full roster, but they were inconsistent in getting the puck in deep and setting up shots. They only generated 6 total, though 3 came on 1 of those 4 power plays. That further shows how ineffective it largely was. I wanted to see a better performance on the PP, but I can't say tonight's attempts suffice as improvement. I don't think they're so much lacking a player, but rather a direction. Do they want to cycle down low? Do they want to run an umbrella? Do they want to overload the slot? Who knows. Fortunately, the Devils have 4 preseason games and several practices to figure it out.
Incidentally, Ilya Kovalchuk didn't play on the whole 2 minutes for any of them. If you wanted that, then you got that at least.
This brings me to the Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Ilya Kovalchuk line. It is just one preseason game, but if you wanted to see this line do well, then you have to be ecstatic. This group (seemingly) carried the Devils offense. Combined they got 10 shots on net, played over 23 minutes each (Zajac led the team with 25:30), and each member got a goal for the Devils. Kovalchuk set up a puck for Zajac to unload a blistering slapshot to torch Martin Biron on the first one. Kovalchuk got sprung by Parise, burnt Dan Girardi, and beat Biron on the breakaway for the second. Parise's goal wasn't as powerful, but he actually scored from above a circle. With a slapshot. The puck just drifted through Chad Johnson's legs, tied the game, and ultimately forced overtime. All three did very well tonight. All three communicated well with each other, and didn't get in each other's way. All three brought their A-game like Gaborik and Frolov did. I wouldn't call for this to be set in stone for the regular season yet, but I wouldn't be opposed at all for Parise, Kovalchuk, and Zajac to be on the same line for a few more games.
By the way, Tom Gulitti's first post-game post has quotes from Parise and Kovalchuk about their line's performance and they are heartening. They feel they can do better, particularly with possession. That's a good attitude to have, and I look forward to seeing what an improved ZIP line can do on the ice. (Note: ZIP stands for Zajac, Ilya, Parise - which is better than Zach, Ilya, Travis, truth be told).
I wish I could have more praise for the other Devils forwards tonight. Who else on offense really stepped up? Nobody, really. Mattias Tedenby showed some heart, some speed, but ultimately faded as the game went on. I think he still needs to adjust to this level, but that's normal since he is a rookie. Brian Rolston was just OK; while he did have 3 good shots on goal, he didn't really make his mark on the game like I was hoping in the preview. Marcus Nilson stepped in for Jacob Josefson tonight (who is just resting per Lou, as reported by Rich Chere. UPDATE: IIn this post by Gulitti, Tedenby mentioned Josefson had a minor injury. Well then.), and went on to do not so much in the game. Vladimir Zharkov may have gotten the puck forward, but not necessarily leading to shots on net. Truthfully, Rod Pelley was the best non-first-line forward. He was throwing hits (even 5 official ones), winning faceoffs (6 for 6), and did some nice work on the PK. That said, his main mistake tonight was a dangerous hit, and led to the game winning PPG. Still, the myriad of penalties they took helped the Rangers keep up the pressure, keeping the Devils back more, as they outshot New Jersey in every period, most drastically 16 to 9 in the first.
Which brings me to the defense. Even in preseason, it's never a good sign when the team allows 37 shots on net, 35 in regulation. Whereas fans were impressed by Henrik Tallinder and Alexander Urbom on Tuesday, I don't think anyone on the D really sparkled. Matt Taormina amazingly got 22:46 of ice time, one shot on goal, and his one main highlight was turning the puck over in his own zone for Frolov to score. Some may say Colin White shouldn't have passed it to him, but the puck hit Taormina's stick and then he lost it in his skates, giving Frolov the chance to take it away (and put it in the goal). It was not an ideal pass, but it was definitely receivable; I feel the error falls on Taormina there. Eric Gelinas played 20:18 and while he used his size well, he did get flanked by Gaborik and endured Brian Boyle blowing past him en route to his goal. Seriously, Brian Boyle.
I'm sympathetic to both defensemen in that it was their first NHL preseason game. Gelinas and Taormina weren't terrible all night long, but they made a few costly errors that led to goals, and forced their partners Anton Volchenkov and Colin White (who each did good in their own right) to clean up a lot of their messes at other times. I'm not confident in either of them now, but fortunately, they don't have to make the team right now. It is the point of preseason to give the prospects a look and, well, those two got one. Gelinas will go back to the Q and develop, and Taormina may be going to back to Albany regardless given the glut of defensemen trying to make this team. Speaking of, Matthew Corrente was just OK tonight. He was on the third pairing with Rob Davison, so he didn't get a lot of minutes; but he didn't make too many poor decisions. Quiet, not in a bad way, but with a few exceptions. Like that second minor he took wasn't very smart, given it came after a turnover of his own.
I will say that despite being shelled initially in the first period, the penalty killing units got stronger as the game went on. After 8 power play shots on the first 3 Ranger man advantages, they held New York to 4 shots over the next 4. Granted, the last PP was the killer in OT, but it was a 4-on-3 situation (meaning there's so much more ice for the Rangers to control and set up a play) and a really well placed shot by Gaborik. They didn't get broken down like they did on the first power play goal allowed back in the first. They didn't see a lot of action on Tuesday, but they got a lot of time tonight. As a result, most of the team has a couple of minutes of shorthanded time; the leaders were Volchenkov (6:20) and White (6:15) respectively.
As far as goalies go, I can't be too upset. Jeff Frazee came in the third period and was sharp with 7 saves on 7 shots. Martin Brodeur got shelled with 27 shots in his two periods, so he definitely got a work out tonight. He can't be faulted for the first two allowed, but gave up a weak one through his 5-hole on Brian Boyle. Not great, but I don't have any complaints about either. If we're assigning blame for the game, I wouldn't point to the goalies.
Of course, I repeat my mantra that preseason games don't really matter in the end. The performances matter more, and tonight's wasn't very good. If this game did count, then the only real positive of the outcome is that the Devils took it to OT. Otherwise, the loss was deserved. The Devils won't have a lot of time until the next game to focus on improvement, but perhaps that's a blessing. There's not going to be a lot of rest days during the season, so the coaches can get used to making their points and the players can get used to hearing them loud and clear in a limited amount of time.
That's my take on tonight's game, but I want to hear yours. What did you think of tonight's performances? Who do you think did well for New Jersey tonight? Who do you think didn't do well tonight? What would you like to see for Saturday's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.