The New Jersey Devils defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 this evening at the Rock to extend their winning streak to five games. The score was closer than the actual game itself, as Carolina pulled within one goal with less than five seconds left to play in the game. A consolation goal and nothing more. That said, it wasn't a totally decisive performance by the home team. I'd say the Devils had a slight edge overall in performance but nothing more than that.
This game was interesting in that the Devils looked strong to start each period. They came out skating hard in the first period, definitely shocked the Canes a bit, and put up the first few shots of the game. Then Carolina got back into the action and responded as the Devils got a little sloppy towards the end.
The Devils came out in the second period hustling and bustling and were rewarded Ilya Kovalchuk scored on a nice goal through traffic to make it 1-0. Then the Canes got back into it as the Devils offense only put up the occasional great missed shot, catching the Devils sloppy on a few shifts.
The third period started out at 4-on-4 and the Devils flourished with a goal by Brian Rolston on a rebound and shortly after it ended, Patrik Elias made Jamie McBain and Cam Ward look real dumb on a goal of his own. With a 3-0 lead, it's understandable that the other team would come out fighting. However, the Devils made it easy for them as an Andy Greene error behind the net led to Sergei Samsonov's goal, followed up the goal with two minors, and even though Jeff Skinner killed the second Carolina penalty with one of his own, they were strong enough at 4-on-4 to negate the short power play the Devils did have. Again, the Devils began to look sloppy and if it wasn't for Johan Hedberg, the Devils could have been burned earlier. That said, the Devils did keep Carolina a little honest late and only allowed one more late in a desparate attack by the visitors.
I'm sure many fans are pleased with the win. I think the result is fair. However, Jacques Lemaire should probably get on his team to play more complete periods. Doing well for the first 7-9 minutes or so in each period isn't likely to lead to positive results against the Rangers on Friday or at Carolina on Saturday.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump, as well as links to stats of tonight's game and an embedded video of the game's highlights from NHL.com. If you're interested in the opinion from the opponent's perspective, please check out Canes Country.
Second, the game highlight video for those who missed the game or those who want to see the highlights again:
Picture a Moose Lit on Fire and Wrecking Havoc in a Hurricane: Johan Hedberg stopped 24 out of 26 shots on net tonight. By itself, that's good but hardly stunning. However, I believe Moose fully deserved being named the first star of the game. Several of those 24 saves came through screens, shots up close, and one in the second period on Erik Cole that I still don't know how he got a piece of it. He faced a deluge of shots in the third period, 16, and cannot be faulted on the two that went past him. On this streak, as Hedberg goes, as do the Devils, and it's clear to all observers.
Tom Gulitti reported after tonight's game that Martin Brodeur will be practicing tomorrow. That's great. However, Moose is so hot right now that I'm not worried about him going up against Our Hated Rivals, at Carolina, or both games.
At the 2:20ish Mark of the Highlight Video, You'll See a Defensive Play...: What really stood out to me as the game went on was how Lemaire kept rolling the third line of Vladimir Zharkov, Jason Arnott, and Mattias Tedenby. In past games, Kovalchuk would be double-shifted in place of one of those two wingers, usually Tedenby. That didn't happen so much tonight, as Zharkov got 21 shifts and Tedenby got 18. They were also short shifts, too, so both wingers hovered around the 9-10 minute range. That's not a lot of minutes, but they didn't see the bench as much just to get #17 more minutes because they did well tonight.
Zharkov put up 3 shots on net and was solid at both ends of the rink. He read the offensive and defensive plays all night long and kept his errors to a minimum. Tedenby only put up one shot, but his stickwork continued to dazzle. I didn't catch which Cane he undressed for his one shot on goal, but Tedenby did it while standing still and just beat the guy one-on-one. Also impressive was his one defensive stop as noted in the subtitle here. Go check it out in the highlight video. Tonight's game further confirmed to me that in due time, both players will be quite useful for New Jersey.
Believe it or Not: Anssi Salmela had a good game! Lemaire gave him significant minutes: 19:01 of his total ice time of 20:10 was at even strength. He finished with a +2 in Corsi, put 3 shots on net, and got an assist on Brian Rolston's goal in the third period. He even threw a big hit in the third period on Jerome Samson.
Commence Facepalm: Just as the Devils were killing Colin White's interference minor in the third period, Mark Fraser cross checked Erik Cole to put the Devils back on the penalty kill. This when the score was in the game. Lemaire responded appropriately by benching him after he left the box and played for 21 seconds.
The Goals Against: The first goal against was by Sergei Samsonov, though Andy Greene's really at fault here. After the faceoff, Greene has the puck and decides to fire it around the corner. Not a bad decision in of itself, Colin White was behind the net in position. However, Greene doesn't pass the puck with enough force. So Jiri Tlusty picked it off, fired it into the slot for Samsonov to one-time it past Hedberg. White slammed his stick on the ice, but he didn't make the error. If White wants to feel bad, then he can for the interference minor he picked up shortly after the goal.
The second goal against was more of the result of a bouncing puck and the Canes having the extra skater. Eric Staal collects a loose puck, Salmela goes down, Staal saucers it through the traffic in front to find Tuomo Ruutu right at the crease to put it past Hedberg's flank. In my opinion, there's not really a whole lot the Devils could have done there. And it ultimately didn't matter since it was scored so close to the end of regulation. I'm sure Lemaire's not happy about it all the same.
Big Minute Men: Error aside, Greene got a full night's work with 26:13 of ice time, second only to Henrik Tallinder's 26:58. Greene came out even in Corsi, and Tallinder finished at +4, so both did well enough defensively with the heavy minutes. Not so much on offense as neither registered a shot on net and attempted 3 shots combined (1 missed for Greene, 2 missed for Tallinder).
As for Carolina, it should surprise no one that Joni Pitkanen played 26:22 tonight (Corsi: +4) and Joe Corvo put in 24:20 (even Corsi). Pitkanen was mostly good save for one play at 4-on-4 early in the third period. Corvo was more of a factor on offense as he bombed away all night long, putting 6 shots on net usually through traffic on Moose. Interestingly, Pitkanen and Corvo got their assignments switched during the night. They had significant even strength time against the Zajac line and the Elias line.
One forward definitely logged a lot of minutes: Eric Staal. In 25:22 of ice time, Staal finished with the primary assist on the consolation goal, even at Corsi, 2 shots on net, and going 11-for-20 on faceoffs. Not a totally quiet night, but he didn't dominate.
A Welcomed Return for a Guy with Flippers: Canes fans can be pleased with Jussi Jokinen. 3 shots on net, 6-for-8 at the dot, and the best Corsi in the game for either team at +6. The only thing he did wrong was embellish a hook by White near the end of the second period, which tagged him for diving. Ha.
Seriously: Calling White for hooking and then calling Jokinen for diving was ridiculous. Sure, the Devils excelled at that 4-on-4 situation (not so much the second one). However, it's either one or the other. Either White hooked him enough or Jokinen sold a minor infraction. Both shouldn't have been sent to the box.
Team Corsi Favored New Jersey: Yes, the Devils finished the night at +3 Corsi. While Carolina poured it on in the third period - understandable since they were down by as much as 3 goals - even strength shots finished at only 22-20 for Carolina. That the Devils had a slight edge in Corsi is evidence that the game wasn't strongly in favor of one team or another. That seems right, but the score only matches up with that on a late, late, late goal.
Over the whole team, the Devils came out even. Only four Devils finished in negative Corsi: White (-2, played against toughs), Kovalchuk (-1, played against toughs), Dainius Zubrus (-3, worst on Devils tonight), and Elias (-2). Rolston on his line was even. The stand out Devil was Nick Palmieri at +5. He had a good game, as he forced his way through Canes players several times going forward tonight. He picked up an assist on Kovalchuk's goal and surprisingly only had one shot on net. Strange, I thought he had more. The only real misstep for him was whiffing at a puck at the blueline with an empty net.
As for the Canes, while some players did well, others got picked on. The pairing of Tim Gleason and Jamie McBain got picked on a little bit as they finished at -5 each. Jiri Tlusty had a poor night outside of his assist, he finished at -7 Corsi. Jeff Skinner ended at -5 at evens. The rookie was nondescript tonight with no shots on net in his 17:25 of ice time, he ended up in his end more often than not, and killed his team's second power play when he hooked White.
Caaaaaam Waaaaard: Section 2 was heckling Cam Ward in the first and third periods a little bit. Truthfully, I feel Ward was OK - he didn't really lay an egg on the ice. I don't think he saw the shot by Kovalchuk that beat him. The Rolston goal was off a rebound, someone should have done their job in the slot. I'd like to think he'd like the Elias goal back but I can't fault him too much. He got caught in the middle when Elias deked out McBain. It forced Ward to go laterally to his left, but Elias fired it hard against the grain to make the shot go under him in the other direction. It was more Elias made Ward look silly than Ward making himself look silly.
Sick Goal, but Other than That...: As noted above, Elias didn't have a good Corsi value. It doesn't surprise me as he had an off game until that 4-on-4 situation to start the third period. His passes sailed wide or went to the other team. He hustled but seemed to be in the wrong position. His line got beaten on a few times by the Staal line plus Corvo's 6 shots. However, scoring a goal that posterized McBain and Ward makes the rest of his performance more forgivable. Here's a video of it:
I think McBain's jockstrap may still be at the Rock.
You Better Believe This Cane was Chewed Out by Paul Maurice: The puck may have rebounded perfectly to Brian Rolston in the slot. However, Joni Pitkanen looked terrible when I looked at the video again. He was in the slot but didn't react quickly or properly enough. I'm sure Maurice is thinking: "Brian Rolston scored on a one-handed shot in the slot" over and over and over.
Hey Ovechkin's Goal Count, Look Behind You: Kovalchuk's goal in the second period was a great shot and Palmieri really helped on the screen. The goal is Kovalchuk's 20th of the season and puts him just 2 behind Ovechkin (provided he doesn't score any more as of this writing, he has one against Anaheim - his 22nd).
Lastly, the Devils Didn't Do This: They didn't draw calls! That was what I wanted to see, and they didn't really do it. Yes, there was the one by Skinner on White. However, that was more of a screw up by Skinner than White doing anything to force him to foul him. It killed a Carolina power play, it didn't give the Devils much of a power play (though the scorer still gave them 2 shots on net for it).
This goes back to what I was saying before the jump. While the Devils did come out with their skating legs, the team's intensity withered as time went on each period. That allowed the Canes to get back into the game and to do so cleanly. Had they kept skating hard and utilizing their energy to keep possession, perhaps they would have forced the Canes to make more errors through infractions. A few power plays would have at least stemmed the visitor's eventual fightback in each period. Instead, the Canes were able to compete without getting too dirty and the Devils had to whether a few storms. Thankfully, Hedberg was excellent; plus the PK units prevented the Canes from taking advantage on the power play, unlike the last Carolina game.
Going forward to the tough back-to-back ahead, the Devils will do well to make an effort to play stronger for more than just the first 7-9 minutes of each period. That is what I would like to see them improve. I want to know what you think. What do you want the Devils to work on for Friday's and Saturday's game? Were you pleased with the Devils' performance? Who did you think had a good night and who did you think had an off night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone in the gamethread for commenting; and, most of all, thank you for reading.