The New Jersey Devils didn't achieve a third straight win tonight, losing to the Florida Panthers 3-2 in overtime this evening. That's disappointing. In a season riddled with regulation losses ranging between tight and an outright blowout, an overtime loss isn't so disappointing.
The Devils continued to show improvement in their on-ice performance in Sunrise, Florida. The Florida Panthers came out strong in the first period, outright swarming the Devils on shifts, and yet the Devils hung with them and kept the shots even in the first period. The Devils battled back from a 2-1 deficit in the third period to tie it up and even continued to attack when it was tied at 2-2. The Devils didn't wilt in tonight's game despite a big win last night. No, they didn't win, but they got a point out of it - which is a lot more than what the Devils are normally used to getting in losing efforts.
I'll go into more detail about what I thought of tonight's game, as well as explain the headline, after the jump. Please check out Litter Box Cats for a round-up from the winning team's perspective and eventually the scoring chance count from the game.
First, here's the highlights video from NHL.com. Pay attention to the game winning goal at the end:
I'll explain the headline. One-shotted is literal in this case. The Panthers had one shot on net in overtime, the game winning goal by Dmitry Kulikov. In fact, both teams combined for one shot on net in this overtime session. Overtime was even in that one team would try to get the puck forward, fail to establish possession to get a shot on net, and then get back on defense to stop the other team. Florida wound up having the first - and ultimately last - meaningful shift in overtime thanks to Kulikov. As Cory Stillman got it down low, Kulikov took the risk to jump up on the play to keep possession along the boards. Yes, a defenseman moving the puck around behind the net as so Florida could get some fresh guys out there. Kulikov kept Henrik Tallinder away from the puck, got it over to a fresh Stephen Weiss, Kulikov stays on and wheels to the center point, gets the puck and has a wide open seam to shoot. He waltzes on into the high slot and picks the corner on a shot to score.
One shot. End of game. The Devils were one-shotted.
It was a great shot to end a great shift by Kulikov. Both Tallinder and Mark Fayne were gassed and couldn't go to the bench for a change since they were pinned back. Ilya Kovalchuk attacked the right point, but I have no idea why Travis Zajac wasn't even in the high slot much less trying to get to Kulikov. If you're looking for someone to blame on that play, then I ask you to ask yourselves: Why was Zajac was down low instead of where he's supposed to be given his position?
To really hammer home the significance of that one shot, consider this fun fact. According to the official play-by-play of events, the previous Florida shot came at 5:57 into the third period, a Stillman slapshot from 45 feet away. Yes, the Devils held Florida to no shots on net for over 17 minutes straight in this game. The Devils pretty much controlled meaningful possession from that point on until that one powerful cycle by Florida in overtime. I can't say the defense flopped tonight.
With a shot total ending at 35-22 per the game summary, it's hard to argue that the Devils' defense was poor. It was even in the first period, but as soon as the Panthers went up 2-1 on their second power play of the night, the shots were largely coming from New Jersey's sticks. To me, it looked like Florida was having a ball out there early, but as time went on, they weren't as energetic and the Devils made the most of what they had even after they tied the game up at 2 goals apiece.
This isn't to say no defenders made any errors or that Martin Brodeur had to come up big. It happened, just not like the games against Tampa Bay. Colin White, for some reason, took himself out of position by going after Stephen Weiss - giving Evgeny Dadonov a lane to glide into and pick a corner on a shot for Florida's first goal. White would also take a really dumb cross-checking minor 5 seconds before the end of the second period right in front of the refs. Speaking of penalties by defensemen, Tallinder got caught with an obvious trip on a Panther in the first period and Mark Fraser got tagged for a weak slashing call in trying to stop a scoring chance by Florida. I can forgive the latter, but the former just makes me shake my head.
Still, other than that, I can't say the defense was really a constant weakness. Again, they limited Florida's shots after that first period; they did a good job in cleaning up loose pucks; and even Anssi Salmela looked poised out there. The only line that Florida had that seemed to have stormed him the most were Michael Frolik, Weiss, and Dadonov. According to the event summary, Weiss had no shots on net, but help set up Dadonov for his 4 shots on net and Frolik's 3 shots on net. Martin Brodeur had a good game, the goals that beat him weren't bad ones at all - especially since two of them came on a power play.
Since the Devils had the shot advantage overall, they also held a big shot advantage at even strength: 28-18 per the event summary. As a result, the Devils were quite positive in Corsi. Based on the Time on Ice chart, the team was a +7 tonight, which is good. Sure, they were down for a significant portion of the game, but they kept up their pressure even after the equalizer. That's definitely good. Only Patrik Elias' line with Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus was negative (as was Mark Fayne). If only 4 players out of an entire roster was negative at Corsi, then it goes to show who had the more effective possession throughout the game - and it was New Jersey.
I'd say the unit of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zajac, and Nick Palmieri was the top unit for New Jersey tonight. Kovalchuk may have had only 2 shots on net tonight, but he was a force in getting the puck forward. His +12 Corsi might be his best all season. Palmieri really had a good game: in 11 minutes of icetime he got 5 shots on net, a Corsi of +8 and put back a Zajac-created rebound for his second career NHL goal and the first goal of the game. Zajac, overtime coverage gaffe aside, had 5 shots on net to go with a Corsi of +5.
David Clarkson also had another fine game. 4 shots on net, a Corsi of +6, some power play time (2:26 to go with 13:14 of even strength), and the game's equalizer. He actually scored it after attempting a wraparound. Scott Clemmensen stopped the initial attempt, but Clarkson was able to jam the puck a second time to go up, off Clemmensen's back and in. Not the prettiest equalizer, but that Clarkson got it the way he did was important. The Clarkaround may make a return soon. You may not like it (it's not really that great of a shot), but it's another sign that Clarkson is playing more like what we're used to seeing soon. That's a good thing.
Moving from good to bad, let's talk about special teams. The Panthers have the worst power play conversion rate in the league and they score on their first two power plays. Needless to say, I'm not really pleased with the PK units tonight. I've mentioned the Dadonov goal already. The second one - the result of a Brian Rolston slash in his own end - was more or less a great finish resulting from fine puck possession. The Panthers moved the puck around like they were Tampa Bay, finding seams, getting looks, and making it all happen quickly. Eventually, Michael Santorelli found Dennis Wideman up in the slot, who put the puck home. While Zajac over-committed at the point and White and Brodeur were caught in no man's land, it was almost a matter of time before Florida would find an open man in a good spot. They found him in Wideman, and his shot was true. The Devils did kill off the last two power plays and did a better job later on. Fine, but Florida did their damage by that point. Getting lit up for two by one of the worst power play units in the league is sigh-inducing. As were the penalties taken by the Devils other than Fraser.
New Jersey's power play was frustrating at times. The first and third ones of the night had good possession but they couldn't find a good look to the net, which is why they passed the puck so much. That's not so bad, but it doesn't lead to goals. The second and fourth ones were just wastes of time. The Devils did manage to get 7 shots on net (and one Brian Rolston shot that may have hit the outside of the post) on their 8 minutes of power play time. Yet, I don't think they really challenged Clemmensen or threatened Florida so much. Possession is good, but when you're down a goal or it's tied, you need to turn that possession into more dangerous shots. Credit the Panthers PK for being so patient and in position, of course. I just feel the Devils could have done more with these.
Here's another frustrating tidbit: Adam Mair played 2:29 on 4 shifts. I'm almost convinced Mair's getting in these games and doing nothing because benching him so guys can double-shift (namely Kovalchuk based on his 19:45 of even strength time) won't hurt Mair as it would for, say, Mattias Tedenby. If this is going to be the plan going forward, then I hope Tedenby gets moved down to Albany so he can play. Even then, Jacques Lemaire can find the extra minutes elsewhere. It's not like Tim Sestito is the reason why Clarkson has looked better as of late. Not that the Devils needed Tedenby tonight, but it would have been to New Jersey's advantage to have 12 forwards play instead of just dressing 12 and playing 11.
Nevertheless, the Devils got better as time went on, they put a lot of rubber on Clemmensen, and despite their woes on special teams, they managed to get an equalizer in the third period. They lost on one shot in overtime and while it's nothing to be happy about, it's preferable to losing by 2-3 goals and knowing New Jersey can't make up the difference. Earning a point is definitely a one step beyond losing outright, and the Devils earned that tonight.
That's my take on the game. Now I want to hear yours. Did you think the Devils deserved to get a point? Who do you think did well tonight on either side? What would you like the Devils to do differently for Monday's game against the Islanders? Please leave all your answers and other feelings about tonight's game in the comments. A new Talking Red will be recorded tomorrow, so you have that to look forward to as well. Thanks to all the people who read and commented in the Gamethread; and thank you for reading.