The word "solid" is a commonly used one in sports. It's basically, "good but not great." On a standard grading scale, it's a 'B' - not an amazing result, but nothing to be ashamed or unhappy about. With respect to sport, it's short for a team having made a few mistakes, but there can be no real complaints about the performance overall. In a single word, the New Jersey Devils were solid this evening. They earned their 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. They didn't dominate them or crush them in any sense; they just worked hard and got a result. I repeat: they were solid.
I'm emphasizing that five-letter word because it's not really one I or anyone else could have appropriately assigned to the Devils over the last two months on most nights. The Devils have been miserable in third periods; giving up leads or getting games iced right before their eyes. Disaster strikes them during their power plays on a seemingly regular basis. Players go hot and cold to the team's detriment. The goaltender can't bail out So on and so forth.
Tonight, none of that didn't happen. The power play was actually effective and nearly converted. The Devils essentially rolled with three forward lines and they were each effective in their own way. The Sabres and/or Martin Brodeur bailed out the Devils when they had a breakdown in their own end. Most impressively, the Devils held onto a third period lead. They came close to scoring four goals, they didn't get them, and as it turned out, it didn't matter. That alone is reason enough to be pleased about this win.
Sure, there were moments where the Sabres nearly made it a game. I'm sure Sabres fans are wishing Toronto thought better of a goal taken away due to a high stick by Luke Adam. I'm sure Sabres fans wished they made the Devils pay for their penalties more than once. I'm sure Sabres fans wished they could build on that one power play goal Thomas Vanek did score. The Devils and perhaps some good bounces made it difficult as possible for Buffalo to get back into the game and their efforts were rewarded with a lead made safe. That's solid hockey and that's something to smile about if you're a Devils supporter.
As usual, I have more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump. Please check out Die by the Blade for any Buffalo coverage.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Summary | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlights: This NHL.com highlight video showcases all four goals as well as some nice saves.
Sykora's Brace: When a player scores three goals, then he has achieved a hat trick. Petr Sykora came very close with scoring two goals as well as getting robbed or missing the net on a few other situations. Scoring 2 goals in a game is a good feat too; in soccer, they call it a brace. For lack of a better term, I'm using it here. Clearly, Sykora's goals were important and evidenced of his good night which consisted of 3 shots on net (2 in the net), and 2 misses.
The first goal he scored was an accident. Ryan Miller just completely misplayed Sykora's shot. Miller got a piece of it, not all of it, and as he scrambled back with his stick, he thought he could stop it in time. He didn't and so Sykora's first goal was really the result of a goaltender error rather than on a great shot. A goal's a goal, so I'm not complaining. Besides, Sykora's second goal was on a great shot. Dainius Zubrus worked down low to help get a puck go free for Patrik Elias to get it behind the net. Elias sees his old friend driving to the slot and hits him with a simple pass. Sykora hammered the puck past Miller's right side and it's 2-0 early in the second period. A beautiful goal, something Miller won't be wishing he had back - he had no real chance at it. That second goal held up, so it turned out to be the game winner.
While Sykora did come close a few times to get that third goal, it wasn't all glitter and gold for him tonight. The Elias line got wrecked in possession. Sykora was a -5 in Corsi, far better than Zubrus (-9) or Elias (-10). In their defense, they did see a lot of Buffalo's top line: Jason Pominville, Vanek, and Jochen Hecht. That's not just a unit that features Buffalo's top two scorers but top scorers in the entire NHL. That's not an easy match-up, and given that the Devils were winning for a majority of this game, maybe it's to be somewhat expected. I suppose you could say that Sykora being better than his linemates in Corsi is a further sign of his good night. I only bring it up to show that he wasn't necessarily dominating every time he was on the ice. Still, great goals and good effort overall.
Seven-Ten: With Sykora's two goals, the Devils now have 7 forwards in double-digits in goals. That's some depth.
Fun with Corsi: If you check out the Corsi charts, you'll see that the Devils have a wider range of values than the Sabres. Whereas the Sabres skaters ranged from -2 to 3, the Devils skaters ranged from -10 to 8. The Devils had their match-ups and stuck to them, I suppose.
Also: you'll notice that the Devils as a team finished at -1. That's really impressive given that they were winning for 50 minutes of this game. The Sabres had every reason to push hard, especially in the third period, to get back into this one. They got one past Brodeur before the halfway point through the second, they badly wanted to get a consecutive win for the first time in a long while, and their top line was finding offensive success against the Elias line. Yet, they only out-attempted the Devils by one at even strength. They only out-shot the Devils 18-17 in evens, 23-22 overall. The Devils really clamped down on them in the third period with only 6 allowed and not many more attempted. If nothing else, this speaks to how well the Devils played overall tonight.
One Assist, One Unofficial Missed Shot, 22 Saves: Martin Brodeur had a very good night. For the first time in a long, long while, Brodeur only allowed one goal. And that one goal can't really be pinned on Brodeur. It was on a very short rebound during a penalty kill that went right to Vanek at the crease. Vanek kicked it to his stick and chipped it in on his flank. Maybe Anton Volchenkov could have covered him better; but it's a PK,
The last time Brodeur accomplished that, it was on November 23 against Columbus - and that goal was literally a bad bounce against NJ. The last time the team allowed one or no goals against was on November 25, their next game, at Long Island; so it's been a long, long while for the Devils as a whole. While 22 saves isn't a lot, Buffalo tried to get Brodeur moving and surprise him with looks. It may have fooled the Devils defenders, but not Brodeur. He made a great stacked-pad save to rob Pominville in the first period; he didn't panic when white jerseys were left alone in front of him; and he handled the puck very well. After all, he did spring Sykora into the neutral zone that led to the team's first goal. He even took a chance at an empty net - missing only by a foot or two to the left. #30 looked good, felt good, and played good. Good.
Did Kovalchuk and/or Parise Make a Statement Tonight?: Sort of. Let's talk about Kovalchuk first. I know he wanted to prove a point after being unhappy with himself on Monday. Well, he didn't get a point and he even only played 20:49. That's not for a lack of trying. He got 3 shots on net, had 2 attempts blocked, and missed the net 4 times. No other Devil had as many attempts as Kovalchuk tonight. And Kovalchuk had every right to make those attempts. The Buffalo PK allowed him space on the power play which yielded 2 shots on net, a post, and some close misses. I thought he had more on net, but the scorer saw otherwise. He wasn't too shabby at evens; Kovalchuk was present on the forecheck and was a positive possession player at +5 Corsi. Given that Kovalchuk isn't always a positive player when it comes to Corsi or Fenwick, +5 from him is pretty good. As with the team, I'd say he was solid tonight.
Parise's night was more productive. Parise tipped Mark Fayne's shot at the point, which made it 3-0 New Jersey before the game's halfway mark. Parise finished the night with 4 shots on net, 1 attempt blocked, one unrecorded but incredible back-check that prevented a 2-on-0 in the slot in the second period, and a +7 in Corsi. His main mistakes were a silly minor penalty in the first period and telegraphing a pass on two odd-man rushes in the second that yielded nothing. Not too bad as far as mistakes go. That Henrique line saw Buffalo's unit of Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, and Brad Boyes the most and had the better of that matchup. Parise had a very good game; it was more of what I want to see from #9. Were Parise or Kovalchuk particularly dominant? No. Did they make a big statement? No. They played good hockey and that's good enough.
The Return of Adam Larsson: Larsson returned from Sweden after attending his grandmother's funeral. He came back and it was almost like he never left in the first place. Larsson played 20:04 overall and did OK. His one awful defensive zone giveaway only resulted in a whistle for offside in the first period. For the most part, he was calm and collected. What surprised me was that he didn't have a good Corsi value at -7, which is a bit odd given he played mostly with the Henrique line, who had a good possession night. Maybe he got beaten on by other Sabres? After all, he did see a decent amount of time against Pominville, who had 5 shots on net all by himself. Either way, I wasn't unhappy when
The Possible Last Hurrah (for now) from Matt Taormina: As Henrik Tallinder has been out, Matt Taormina has been making a statement to the Devils about his game. Peter DeBoer certainly thinks well of #32 as he was given 20:33 of ice time, including 2:53 of time on the PK. Taormina may not have been big and he may have been protected since his most common forward match-up involved Matt Ellis, Zack Kassian, and Luke Adam. Still, Taormina and the guys he was with usually won that battle as evidenced by Taormina's team-leading +8 in Corsi. Taormina also had 2 shots on net and one attempt in the slot blocked away in the second period. While Larsson got the love in the three stars of the game, I think Taormina was a better defenseman. Possibly on the whole team tonight, though I really liked how Anton Volchenkov didn't completely drown against Buffalo's top line as well as some of his five blocks. I hope that when Tallinder comes back, Taormina sticks around. If the Devils don't think he's a NHL defenseman after this run, then I'm not sure what else he needs to do to prove it.
Second Period Mayhem: One of the dumber parts of tonight's game was how the fracas not long after Parise's tip-in goal. Eric Boulton boarded Andrej Sekera in his own end. After that whistle, the next thing you know, gloves were being dropped, face washes were given, verbals were being spit at across arms and bodies holding players back. It was a bizarre scene, if only for Larsson and Patrick Kaleta tangling. The result of all of this: Boulton got two minors; Cody McCormick got a roughing minor to cancel out Boulton's; and game misconducts were handed out to Bryce Salvador, Cam Janssen, Paul Gaustad, and Kaleta. Nobody was thrown out of the game; but among that group, only Salvador kept playing regular minutes since he was, you know, a defenseman on this team.
PK Not Perfect, Still Shining: The Buffalo Sabres entered tonight's game with a hot power play; 7 goals in their last 5 games. They can now claim 8 over their last 6. I already explained the goal, but if you check out the video, you'll see it came not long after Pominville whiffed on an empty net opportunity. Their power play shortly after the second period fracas was their best. Yet, the Devils PK did their usual deal. They held Buffalo to only 5 shots on net across their 4 power plays; they got a shorthanded shot on goal; and they pressured the Sabres appropriately to win pucks. They bailed out two silly penalties, Parise's minor and a bench minor for too many men on the ice (which wiped out an amazing save by Miller on Sykora). The Devils PK remains fantastic, even if they weren't perfect this evening.
The Power Play Did Not Suck: No shorthanded shots allowed, 5 shots across 2 opportunities, and a Kovalchuk slapshot that hit the post in the second period. It may sound like I've lowered the bar for praising the power play. Well, you're right. The bar was lowered; but they were above it tonight. Yay.
Wherefore Art Thou, Tedenby?: Mattias Tedenby got his minutes cut tonight. He was playing regularly with David Clarkson and Travis Zajac for two periods; yet he only got 9 seconds in the third period. Tim Sestito - yes, the Tim Sestito - replaced him on that third line. While his most memorable moment was an amazing-looking slapshot in the slot that he missed the net on in the third period, Sestito wasn't a liability. He finished a +3 in Corsi (2 missed shots), while Tedenby amassed -1 (0 shooting attempts) in his two periods of play. Clarkson and Zajac both finished positive as well, so all of that ENERGY didn't bring either player down in the third period. What does that say about Tedenby that DeBoer is willing to give Sestito his spot in the third period of a 3-1 game?
Buffalo Tidbit: Pominville and Kassian each had 5 shots on net this evening. Those two, on separate lines, represented 43.4% of all of Buffalo's offense tonight. Pominville is Buffalo's top player, so I can't really fault the Devils for doing that - especially it means holding Vanek to only one other shot on net. Kassian, on the other hand, did he really threaten to score?
Toronto Does Not Always Hate the Devils: Before Parise tipped in a goal to make it 3-0, Buffalo thought they scored prior on a deflection of their own. Luke Adam deflected a puck past Brodeur's right. Or did he? The referee on the ice waved it off, claiming Adam's stick was too high. The officials went to Toronto for review and, believe it or not, they agreed. Remember this in case you feel the War Room in Toronto or the NHL has it out for New Jersey. That all said, I feel a little sympathy for Buffalo fans. If Adam's stick was high, it wasn't by much given the replay shown at the Rock.
It's Worth Mentioning Again: The Devils held onto a third period lead. They matched Buffalo shot-for-shot and could have more if it wasn't for some shots pulled wide. It was - what else? - a solid effort defensively and even on offense at times. I would have liked more SOGs, but I can't complain given that the Devils weren't giving Buffalo anything easy. They really defended their lead. It feels so good to write that for a change given the last few games.
That's my take on tonight's victory; now I want to know yours. Who on the Devils impressed you the most? Who disappointed you the most? What would you like to see different for Saturday's game against Pittsburgh? Isn't it great that the Devils actually took a lead into the third period and maintained it? Please leave your comments and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented and read the gamethread, as well as those who followed @InLouWeTrust during the game. Thank you for reading.