Quite simply, I saw one of the best 1-0 games I've ever seen by the New Jersey Devils tonight against the New York Rangers. Don't let the score fool you, for much of the game there was one team attacking and one team just scrambling.
Our Hated Rivals did play - and win - a full 65 minutes against the Kings last night, so I expected some fatigue. However, I didn't think they were slow. They were weak on the puck, susceptible to Devils' pressure all night long. They were unfocused in their own end. If it wasn't for Henrik Lundqvist and some bounces helping them out, the Rangers would have gotten blown out of the Rock this evening.
Most of all, they were just playing stupid hockey out there. Down 1-0 a whole period and they only put up 5 shots on net? They ice the puck on a power play? They go offside the one time Brandon Dubinsky looked like a truck on the ice? They call a timeout with plenty of time before the end of the game after a Devils' icing? No one told anyone that, "Hey, we're down one goal and we only have 13 shots on net. Maybe we should just start throwing everything on net and hope it works." Nope, instead the Rangers stuck to their game plan of, I guess, hoping they get the perfect play off. Naturally, they were held to very little even as time ran out.
The Devils took full advantage of the Rangers' ineptitude tonight and full credit for that goes to the players and the coaching staff led by Jacques Lemaire. Again, it was a close score, but a Devils win wasn't really in doubt based on what was happening on the ice.
I have more to say about tonight's game ranging from who was dominant (take a guess) to the game's atmosphere to who best resembled a pylon tonight. That along with links to the game's stats and a highlight video from NHL.com all come after the jump. If you want to read about the opposition, please check out Blueshirt Banter.
First, the stats of the game: the NHL.com game summary for your boxscore purposes; the NHL.com event summary for your more detailed counts; the Time on Ice even strength Corsi chart; and the Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Chart.
Second, the highlights of the game. There was one goal tonight and it was wonderful. Again, a must see:
One Goal! We Only Need - One Goal!: It's not the classiest thing, but it was what I kept yelling as I left the Rock tonight while holding up one finger (my index finger) in the air. As noted above, if you play stupid hockey and don't try to up the aggression on offense in the third period of a 1-0 game, then you really can lose only by one goal. Even when the Rangers did have a good shift or had an open look, they seemingly botched it with a missed shot or no attempted shot at all. It was a lot of possession leading to an eventual clear. I was expecting the Rangers just to start bombing away in the final 10 minutes since what they were doing wasn't working for the prior 50 minutes. Instead, it was more of the same.
The same included the Devils keeping the Rangers honest by attacking up until the final 100 seconds or so.
No, Really, the Rangers Really Didn't Get Aggressive in the Third: The Devils out-shot the Rangers 12-5 in the first period, which ended 0-0. One would think the score would get the Rangers' spirits up and play a tighter second period. The Devils out-shot the Rangers 10-5 in the second period and scored a goal. Surely, a 1-0 game is still a game for the visitors - especially against a rival. The third period shot total was 6-5 New Jersey. Yes, even in the third period with a lead, the Devils out-shot the Rangers.
The closest the Rangers came to scoring a goal was when Ryan Callahan hit the post in the third period. True to how things would go offensively, it hit the inside of the post and came directly under Hedberg's back. Womp womp.
Proof of Domination, Pt. 1: +22. The Devils achieved a team Corsi of +22 tonight. If you prefer Fenwick, then it's still only a ridiculous +17. The Devils out-shot the Rangers 23-16 at even strength, and in total the Devils had more shot attempts (shots + blocks + misses) than the Rangers, 53-29.
Every Devil except for Brian Rolston (3 SOG) was positive, Rolston was dead even at 0. Three of the four forward lines didn't have a consistently strong game in terms of Corsi. However, one line did and they pretty much drove the team to a +22 night.
I'm referring to the first line of Ilya Kovalchuk (+14!), Travis Zajac (+13!), and Nick Palmieri (+13!). While their ice time wasn't equal - Kovalchuk played 21:11 at evens, Zajac played 18:14 at evens, and Palmieri only got 15:55 - they were just so great when they were out there together. The three combined for 12 of New Jersey's 28 shots on net tonight, after all. In a word: domination. The defensemen behind them really helped out too in both ends, namely Henrik Tallinder (+13!) and Mark Fayne (+11!).
Hero of the Night: Lundqvist was a big reason why this isn't a 4-0 win and I'm not just writing "you got stomped on" in big fonts in this recap. He was not the hero. Johan Hedberg had a strong game, stopping all 16 shots tonight. The Moose was crucial when he needed to be, but he was not the hero. No, it was Ilya Kovalchuk. 5 shots on net, a shot that hit the crossbar after dekeing two Rangers out of their skates, 2 attempts blocked, 3 misses, a +14 in Corsi, and the game's only goal. The dude had no mercy tonight, even attempting shots when he was falling down (either on his own or with "help" by a Ranger). His highlight of the night is obviously this breakaway.
Watching this in person was magical. Seeing Anton Volchenkov's clearance bounce off Marc Staal to lay it out perfectly in the neutral zone. Seeing #17 rush up ice to take advantage. As Kovalchuk blazed in, I and Devils fans all around the world just thought "Please tell me he's got this." Then he torched the Crownless King leading fans to be both incredibly excited for the goal and in awe of what they just witnessed.
Kovalchuk extended his point-streak alive to 9 games, continues a goal-scoring streak of 4 games, and remains a beast on the ice. He only made one mistake tonight, putting his stick up high for a puck and getting Wojtek Wolski instead. But his penalty didn't lead to much of anything other than almost a second breakaway right after the penalty ended (Elias cleared it, it went a little long and wide, and Lundqvist played it around the corner to prevent another Kovalchuk highlight moment). Still a beast.
Proof of Domination Pt. 2: Special teams were totally in New Jersey's favor tonight. The refs really let the players play as it was apparent early that holding or tripping weren't going to be calls unless they were massive. Within the final minute of the game, I swore I saw some full-on tackling and the refs just let it go. They were that lenient. The Devils took two minors, both in part of the Devils keeping their cool and the refs not blowing their whistles for much of anything. Dainius Zubrus got popped for interference with a pick play on offense, if I recall correctly; and Kovalchuk hit Wolski with a high stick. The latter could have been easily avoided.
However, both turned out to be no big deal because the Devils' penalty killing units were in full effect tonight. They held the Rangers to nothing across 4 minutes of power play time. No shots on net. They had a few impressive misses, but that's it. The Rangers' power play woes thankfully continued, which surely left John Tortorella more frustrated than usual.
The Devils power play actually looked like a power play tonight. They got a bona fide 5-on-4 power play for 2 minutes for the first time in a couple of games thanks to Michael Sauer grabbing Rod Pelley's stick. New Jersey looked real good on it. 4 shots on net and good possession from both units. The Devils just moved the puck around as they did at 5-on-5, found open looks, and fired away. No, they didn't score, but that's the fault of Lundqvist being so good. I am more than fine with that being the case given how awful the power play has been earlier this season.
Yes, the Devils even out-shot the Rangers 4-0 on power plays despite the visitors having double the minutes for a man advantage. Again, domination.
Maybe They Should Have Worn Orange, the Color of Traffic Cones: Poor, poor, poor Marc Staal. Not only does he look like a numpty prior to the Kovalchuk goal when it was really just a bad bounce, but he got destroyed tonight. He and Dan Girardi finished the night at -16 and -13 respectively. Sure, nearly all of the Rangers were negative in Corsi - Vinny Prospal somehow ended up at +1. That should surprise nobody as the Devils did put up +22 as a team. But that pairing got housed by Kovalchuk-Zajac-Palmieri all night long. I wonder if Staal is going to wake up in the middle of the night with a cold sweat, unable to get #17 out of his head.
Proof of Domination Pt. 3: No, they didn't pile up the Corsi (still was positive) or the shots, but the fourth line had good shifts tonight against the Rangers. Even early in the game. And I've noted how bad they have been when necessary. That even Devils' fourth line looked good to start is evidence to me of how good the Devils were this evening.
Incidentally, I noticed that Lemaire was mixing up the bottom two lines. Vladimir Zharkov had a strong defensive game, Jason Arnott was solid as well, and Adam Mair wasn't a waste at all. Mattias Tedenby did OK in limited action, he got a little power play time. Even Rod Pelley and David Clarkson were threatening in small spurts. When they're clicking and the top lines are clicking, domination tends to happen.
Get a Picture of Him and Call the Milk Carton Factory: Where was Marian Gaborik? The stats say he played a total of 18:04 tonight. Time on Ice says he was a -9 at Corsi tonight. However, was Gaborik really at the Rock tonight? I just want to know.
Something the Rangers was Quite Good At Tonight: Faceoffs. The Devils were not at all dominant at the dot, going 18-for-43 tonight. Travis Zajac had a great game outside of taking draws with 5 shots on net, a +13 Corsi, and significant time on special teams. But at faceoffs, he got wrecked: 4-for-17. Artem Anisimov just kept beating him, as Zajac lost to him the most: 4-for-11 per the faceoff comparison report.
The rest of the Devils were just OK. The rest were at 50% except for Dainius Zubrus going 3-for-4. Still, Zajac's poor night at the dot contibuted much to the team losing in that stat heavily. Rangers fans can boast about that. Fortunately, the Rangers didn't do much of anything with those faceoff wins. So Rangers fans probably won't boast about owning faceoffs tonight. Oh, well.
The Return of Volchenkov: He was physical, he defended the slot well, and the only time I got nervous with him was when he moved the puck across or into the slot against a Rangers forecheck. He got a +2 in Corsi while playing 17:31 evens (19:38 total). I'd say his return was pretty good, nothing eye-opening special.
His return was huge in helping out the rest of the defense. None of the Devils' 6 defensemen had to log big minutes tonight. The lowest total ice time among Devils defenseman was Anssi Salmela at 17:43 (all at evens) and the highest was Tallinder at 21:19 (Greene was close behind at 20:13). This helped the unit in that no one got overworked and everyone was relatively fresh by the end of the game. That they all finished positive in Corsi shows that none of them really had a bad game.
As a quick aside, Fayne had 4 shots on net including a one-on-one with Lundqvist in the third period that required a last moment, desperate stick-check to deflect the puck high instead of at the goalie.
Lemaire Was Kind of Like the Special One Tonight: OK, OK, he's not Jose Mourinho (either in real life or on Special1TV) and it's not a reference just because it was a 1-0 win. No, it goes back to the tactics and gameplanning and clearly Lemaire's was better. The Kovalchuk line ripped up Ryan Callahan's unit along with Staal-Girardi and the rest of the Devils just had to be pretty good and keep up the momentum. As a result, the Devils kept applying pressure on the Rangers, which helped make it more difficult for them to respond with a much needed equalizing goal.
What was so beautiful was that the Devils did not sit in a 1-2-2 all game long. The game was quick and out-right wide open at times, and the Devils kept coming out ahead because their lines were well set. No modification to the top two lines who have been at varying levels of effectiveness for the last month or so, some changes to the bottom two, and exploiting match-ups where necessary. The Devils just applied pressure without having to hang back and the Rangers succumbed to it more often than not. Again, Lundqvist was the main reason the score stayed so close. If only the skaters in front of him played with some sense and direction both from themselves and the coach. Among all of the missteps, I'm flabbergasted that Tortorella kept putting out (or getting caught with) the Staal-Girardi pairing out against the Kovalchuk-Zajac-Palmieri line. I'm sure Lundqvist is as well.
John Tortorella may not want to admit it, but the 1-0 victory by New Jersey proved without a shadow of a doubt that Jacques Lemaire is vastly superior to John MacLean. It's not even a question anymore. On top of that, Torts out-coached. If he doesn't like hearing that, then he can feel free to verbally "come at me, bro." Or go take it out on Larry Brooks. Whatever.
The Game Atmosphere: At the risk of coming across as smug, there was a large Rangers representation at the Rock. Yet, I didn't really hear too much of them. Granted, I chirped all game long (e.g. "You just got out-worked by Rod Pelley, you really suck."), but the Rangers representation kept their yaps shut for the most part. That the Devils were the superior team on the ice really helped. However, the Devils fans made it clear that this was their house early and often. Loud "Let's go, Devils!" chants were a common staple; the loudest to my ears came after the Kovalchuk minor. At that point, I felt that the crowd was starting to think the game was in the bag. The "D-E-V-I-L-S" chant was in full effect. There was a fun trade off of "Rangers Suck" chants near the end (and deserved if the Rangers fans behind me had anything to say about it).
Despite the mixed crowd, the atmosphere was solidly pro-Devils. You may say "But, of course, John. It was a home game, after all." Yet, past games featured some mixture of support based on how the game was going. Tonight, Rangers fans who want to claim that they rocked the Rock would be fools and liars.
By the way, the best way to defuse a "Let's go, Rangers!" chant is to yell "All the way to ninth place" after "Rangers." It works better than responding with "You're mispronouncing Devils." (P.S. Maybe there's something to that more than just being snarky. I'll take a look at it like Derek Zona did with the Stars.)
One Last Stat: Tom Gulitti noted it in this post-game post: the Devils are 8-0-1 in their last 9 home games and are now above .500 in terms of points percentage. You've come a long way, Devils.
And you did it with a 1-0 game win that was as dominant as one could hope for over Our Hated Rivals. Beautiful.
Now I want to hear what you think. What did you think of tonight's game? Are you shocked at how dumb the Rangers were tonight? Who do you think had a good game but flew under the radar tonight? Do you think the Devils will have some energy for Saturday's game against Carolina? Please feel free to leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone in the Gamethread for commenting tonight, and thank you for reading.