The biggest concern I had for the New Jersey Devils for tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators was that the long break between games would cause them to have a slow start and suffer. While the first period had the very essence of "eh," the Devils didn't show a lot of rust. In fact, if anyone was rusty, it was likely the Senators.
The Devils controlled large sections of the game and really made goaltender Robin Lehner earn his money in his second ever NHL start. Lehner had to face 33 shots on net on top of the pressure of it being a close score throughout the evening. He came out looking great as he made several tough saves and got a little luck here and there on other opportunities. Basically, he was the reason the Devils didn't blow the Senators right out from Newark.
Yet, I felt bad for him. Ottawa really didn't do a whole lot to keep the Devils honest until the third period, and so made the game more difficult for the young goaltender. Just look at the shots on net in the game summary. The Devils outshot the Sens 9-2 despite the nondescript nature of the period; and steamrolled them 16-4 in the second period. The Sens idea of defense was something like what we've seen the Devils do earlier this season: chase the puck, somehow get it, lamely dump it away to concede possession, and repeat. The Senators finally woke up, broke that cycle, and actually attacked the Devils in the third period, seemingly quite a bit against the fourth line, but the Devils were up to the task of responding and eventually got the break to go up 2-1 in the third period. It was too little, too late for the Sens and so they wasted Lehner's performance this evening.
My main point is that the Devils did nearly everything you'd want a hockey team to do against an opponent for two periods, didn't get the breaks or goals you'd expect because of strong goaltending or some transient factors, and they kept working instead of getting frustrated that a 16-shot second period didn't yield more than 1 goal. The Devils didn't just let the game happen, they worked and were eventually rewarded for it. Another piece of evidence that this team is turning it around, or at least getting some good fortune.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For an Ottawa based take on tonight's game, please check out this recap by Peter Raaymakers at Silver Seven.
The shot count alone, 33 to 16 total, was a good indication of where the action was for most of the game. The score was closer than the actual performance itself. It's even more in New Jersey's favor when you look at the NHL.com event summary. Here are two key points.
- The Devils out-shot the Senators 28-14 at 5-on-5. Yes, a 2-to-1 margin at even strength. By the Devils of all teams.
- Nine Devils skaters had 3 or more shots on net in this game. Dainius Zubrus led with 4. The following had 3: Henrik Tallinder, Rod Pelley, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Anton Volchenkov, Anssi Salmela, and Nick Palmieri. There are no mistakes, 3 defensemen had at least 3 shots on net this evening. The Devils were bombing away from everywhere and it was a balanced attack.
Needless to say, the Devils were dominant in the Corsi department. According to the 5-on-5 Time on Ice Corsi chart, the Devils finished with a +15. Several Devils hit double digits in positive Corsi. Each player on the Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias, and Brian Rolston line had at least a +14; Travis Zajac also put up a +14; and the eventually double-shifted (didn't happen until the second period, and then Adam Mair suffered in ice time as opposed to Mattias Tedenby) Kovalchuk put up a +10 over 19:34 of even strength time. Excellent possession by the Devils.
Interestingly, the Corsi chart also shows who suffered: the fourth line. Rod Pelley had some great shots on net in the second period, including a sweet one-timer set up by Vladimir Zharkov on a penalty kill that forced Lehner to make a big save, but he was beaten on at 5-on-5 along with Tim Sestito and David Clarkson (who actually did play tonight, I assure you). Sure, the line had it's moments, but they were at the epicenter of one of the few ferocious shifts by Ottawa in the third period (and that line then decided to ice the puck after being worked over - sigh). They were pinned back quite a bit. They were fortunate that a good amount of those shot attempts were missed shots; but it still meant the Sens had the puck where they wanted it. What makes that even worse is that that line didn't see the top guys on Ottawa at even strength. I'd love to say everyone played well, but that's not really true. Pelley's shots were sweet, though.
Speaking of Devils who didn't play well, Jason Arnott didn't have a great night. He came out of this one with a -3 Corsi in addition to missing an empty net at the end of the game and duffing a good chance to score in the second period. Lemaire must have noticed he wasn't doing so well as he only got 12:48 of ice time. At least he went 5-for-7 on faceoffs. That was good.
Let's get back to some praise with Colin White. He surprisingly showed up in warm ups and more surprisingly played tonight. That's why Alexander Urbom didn't play tonight. I guess his bruise really was a minor injury because I thought White played like he usually did. He got 31 shifts of 18:34 of ice time, he saw a lot of time on the PK with 3:12, and even came out positive in Corsi with a +2. Not bad on a night where the Devils defense was mostly like a concrete column (Because they were so solid - get it? Wocka wocka wocka? Fine, the jokes will cease).
Some will point a finger at him for not doing anything to Alexei Kovalev on the one goal Ottawa did score this evening. I won't since it was a 5-on-3 kill and White has to be aware of what's in front of him - not his blind spot, where the goalscorer was. Maybe he should have been more aware or assumed someone was at the post. Nevertheless, Daniel Alfredsson threaded a cross-ice pass down low and found Kovalev on the backdoor for an easy goal. It wasn't like White made a big error, he just got beat. Even if you do point a finger at him on that, he was rarely out of place the rest of the night. Again, I thought he did all right, which is a little more impressive since he hasn't practiced or played in a while due to injury. Hopefully he remains healthy and continues to have good nights.
Since I brought up Ottawa's goal, let's talk about the Devils' goals. First, here's the highlight video from NHL.com. Please watch it not only for the goals but for the several amount of stops by Lehner.
Nick Palmieri had an efficient night. 11:53 of ice time, 3 shots on net, and a good goal. It's the 100th goal scored by the Devils this season and he showed a lot of composure on the play. He handled Andy Greene's shot as well as you could have, he put a close shot on Lehner, and when the rebound came out, he moved back a little bit to get enough space to put it over the goaltender. Nice work by the rookie.
Dainius Zubrus got the game winner and was a bit more of a good break than Palmieri's strike. Zubrus displayed his good puckhandling skills to curl around down low and position himself as he did in the circle. How he's positioned there is important as his facing the goal gave him an option to shoot or pass it. The fortunate part was Chris Phillips. He's a solid defenseman and he leads his stick out to force Zubrus to make a decision. Fortunately for Big Z, the puck caromed up off Phillips' stick, arced over a hunched Lehner, and into the net. The goal was Zubrus' first goal since the Islanders' game, so good for him. It gave both Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston assists to keep his point streak alive. That line remains hot, as evidenced by their Corsi and their production.
However, that line contributed two of the three minors the Devils had to kill tonight: Rolston lumberjacked a Sens' stick in the first period, and Zubrus high-sticked Chris Campoli in the face during a penalty kill. Ultimately, Zubrus' minor was costly given that Kovalev scored on it (which was then the Senators' fourth shot on net). The PK units were quite good despite the 5-on-3 goal. They killed off the other two penalties and held Ottawa to only 2 shots on net among all of their power plays - including none at all on their first one. That part of special teams remains fine. The power play, not so much for most of their sole man advantage, though they did start well and ended with a shot on net.
Nevertheless, I keep going back to how Robin Lehner really prevented a blow out tonight. The Devils stormed the Senators early with shots, they dominated the second period regardless of what the score was, and the only rust I was worried about was Martin Brodeur as he only faced 4 shots (and Milan Michalek crashing into the net) at 5-on-5 in the game's first 40 minutes. Hockey is a flowing game and it's dangerous when it's only in one direction - as it was in New Jersey's favor (or a change. Even with their improved performance in the third period, the Sens still only attempted 35 shots total. Kovalev had 5 shots on net and he was pretty much it for the Sens' offense. Not even Alfredsson got a shot on goal in this game. The Sens were fortunate that the score was this close because they didn't generate a lot on their own. It was the only way they were going to win given how things were going.
The Devils, on the other hand, generated lots of offense. Bucket loads, even. They attempted 52 total shots; hit one post (Elias on a 2-on-1 with Zharkov); missed one wraparound (Kovalchuk in the third period after torching Filip Kuba); missed an empty net (Arnott); and forced Lehner to be great several times even on shots from Rod Pelley. Lehner and some luck was the reason why the Devils didn't win this in a decisive 4-1 or 5-1 fashion.
At least they did win it. The performance certainly deserved the two points for the home team.
One final note: everyone who showed up at the game, you were quite brave to do so. I hope you all were able to get home safe and sound amid the snow and the ice outside.
That's my take on tonight's game. I want to know what you thought about tonight's performance. Did you think the Devils had a great overall performance like I did? What do you think the team should work on next game? Wasn't it impressive to see the Devils dominate someone else in the second period? Did you think White had a good game as well? Please leave your answers and all of your thoughts and feelings about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to the commenters in the Gamethread, and thank you for reading.