After the 4-1 win over Carolina, the New Jersey Devils traveled to Dallas on Sunday in advance of tonight's game against the Stars. However, the Devils would not get a rest. Head coach Jacques Lemaire did hold a practice on Sunday. Then he held another one on Monday. Then he had a morning skate on Tuesday. As Rich Chere reported before tonight's game, Lemaire wasn't happy and he let the players know about it.
"You've got to be blind not to see it. They couldn't make a pass. They couldn't do nothing,"
This was most definitely the case in tonight's 1-0 win over the Dallas Stars. While the shot total remained low, 23-19 in favor of NJ, the Stars certainly looked like the superior team for most of the game. A good way to check for that is their puck movement. Dallas was able to make crisp passes, put them on target, and do so going forward. That's why they were able to move through the neutral zone so easily and get as many shot attempts as they did When the Devils attempted to move the puck, it tended to bounce if not outright miss, which tended to handcuff the target to control it. That slowed the Devils down and helped make a stingy performance by the Dallas defense look even better.
However, the Devils were no slouches in their own end, racking up blocks, getting in Stars' faces in their own end. Perhaps the Devils had a own-blueline trap going, because they were more successful there than in the neutral zone.
The Devils pulled off the win because Johan Hedberg was great when Dallas did get a one of a few great opportunities to score, the Devils tightened up in the third period, and they got a fortunate deflection by Nick Palmieri from an Ilya Kovalchuk shot that broke his stick on their fourth power play of the night. A literal broken play led to a fitting goal for a night of ugly hockey. As a fitting ending, the Stars pulled their goalie with a minute left, got held outside of the Devils' zone for most of it, and iced the puck twice at the end of the game to truly end it.
While they got the win tonight, Lemaire doesn't have much of a reason to be happy and I don't blame him. I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For a take on this game from a Stars perspective, please check out Defending Big D.
The Game Highlight Video: I'm going to be frank. There's not a lot and there really shouldn't be.
It Was a Bad Game. Why?: This should be the big question the Devils faithful and the media will be asking. After 7 straight wins, how come they played so badly?
Let's go over the badness first. The Devils were poor on the breakout and their passing general left a lot to be desired. The Devils shot themselves in the foot with a too many men on the ice call, Patrik Elias high-sticking Mark Fistric, and Mark Fayne tripping Jamie Benn. OK, the Fayne call was weak, but the other two could have been avoided. They had four power plays but really only looked good for about half of the PP time they got (7:17, 4 opportunities, 7 shots on net). The Devils didn't look to initiate a lot of the play until the third period where they got 3 of their 4 power plays; and they were more than a little lucky on some of the shots Dallas got. In terms of Corsi, the Devils were negative across the board with a few exceptions and the team finished at -10. The Stars had the puck in shooting positions more often and so they attempted more shots at even strength.
I think these are some of the reasons as to why Lemaire was/is/should be angry about tonight. Dallas was the better team despite losing. So why did the Devils falter?
If you didn't like the idea of Lemaire running practices in between games, then you'll look to that and begin to question whether Lemaire's working them too hard. If you felt this was a trap game, something I suggested in the preview, then perhaps it's nothing more than the Devils escaping against a desperate team on their home ice. If you feel it was just an off night for both sides (how else did Dallas botch so many chances), then it could be that. Personally, I think we're seeing what happened to San Jose a few weeks ago. They were on a long winning streak, but went into New Jersey after winning a game despite their performance. While the Sharks did well in NJ, they didn't get the result. Basically, all good things must come to an end and I think we may have saw the first signs of that.
Whatever the reason, the Devils should not accept this kind performance just because they won. They won't win many more games if they do. If they want something to work on, make it passing. With more accurate puck movement comes more opportunities for offense - more like what we have seen for most of the last two weeks.
These Guys Weren't Bad At All: You got to give it up for Johan Hedberg and Kari Lehtonen. Moose had the more difficult time despite facing fewer shots, but he was more than up to the task. He denied Jamie Benn in the slot, Jamie Langenbrunner on some loose pucks, and He also may have gotten some help on Brian Sutherby's rebound from Anton Volchenkov on the goal line along with Brendan Morrow putting a shot way wide on a 2-on-1 during a power play. Plus, he only was scary once when he left his net. Good night for Moose, he earned his shutout.
I feel a little bad for Lehtonen. He had an otherwise fine night and was beaten by a deflection right in front of him. Trevor Daley was on Palmieri as best as he could. That's not a bad goal allowed on either party. Other than that, Lehtonen moved very well in his net and saw most of the Devils' shots. Granted, that's a bit of an indictment on the attacking performance, but the goalie can only make the stops on the shots he gets. And Lehtonen made them. Both goalies did well.
This Also Wasn't Bad Against What Was Really Awful: The Devils' penalty killers have prevented goals scored on 18 straight kills. That's really impressive. What's more is that they held Dallas to a measly 1 shot on net across 8 minutes of power play time. Either the scorer in Dallas is incredibly picky about shots or the Stars were just a cold mess on the man advantage.
Based on what I saw, it's the latter. Seriously, it was significantly worse than the Devils' power plays tonight. At least they got possession and got some shots before the eventual goal. They resembled a man advantage at times. The Stars just went "derp" when they went up against 4 Devils skaters on the ice. Dumping it in didn't work, carrying it in didn't work, nothing seemed to work. The Stars managed an odd-man rush on their first PP when the Devils got caught changing and they missed the net. They seemingly had a brain freeze for those 8 minutes. I'm still baffled by what I saw in retrospect. I know they are missing Brad Richards. It definitely showed on the power play. Even without him, 1 shot on goal in 8 minutes is a terrible output. Kudos to the Devils PK units against the seemingly horrible Dallas PP units.
The Streak is Alive...Somehow!: Ilya Kovalchuk's shot where his stick broke was deflected into the net by Palmieri, so that extends the point streak for Kovalchuk.
However, he and his line had a poor night. Palmieri's goal was the only shot he had on net, though he had an incredible miss (over the net) in the second period that was set-up by, who else, Kovalchuk. Travis Zajac had a good night in terms of killing penalties, a great night at the dot by going 10-for-13, and a miserable one on offense with 1 shot on net in 20:58 of work. Kovalchuk was at least attempting to push ahead on that line, but to little avail with only 2 shots on net.
In terms of possession, they were brutalized by the line of Morrow, Mike Ribiero, and Jamie Langenbrunner. Kovalchuk and Palmieri were a -11 and Zajac was a -10. They also drew a top pairing of Stephane Robidas and Alex Goligoski, who did well against them in the run of play. Their Corsi was through the roof: Robidas had a +15 and Goligoski had a
The Newest Star: Though, it wasn't the perfect debut for Goligoski in Dallas. Sure, when he was on the ice, good things tended to happen for Dallas early and often. He sprung Scott Ott for a one-on-one with the goaltender that he blew. His breakout passes were strong all game long. He only got credited for one shot on net, but it created a nice rebound that Langenbrunner put right into Hedberg.
However, Goligoski took two minors: tripping Kovalchuk in the first period and high-sticking Vladimir Zharkov right off a faceoff in the third period. The Devils scored on the latter one and I have a feeling Stars fans are going to feel a bit miffed about that. They shouldn't. He had a good 23:34 tonight and came out incredibly well against a top line. The only time he looked lost was when Kovalchuk tried to blow by him, but that should be forgivable in that it's Ilya Kovalchuk. It's not like Adam Mair torched him.
Actually, These Guys Didn't Eat It Tonight: The line of Brian Rolston, Patrik Elias, and Dainius Zubrus was the best one for New Jersey at evens. They were the only Devils to finish positive tonight, while causing the only negative Corsi defensemen on Dallas. Mark Crawford mixed up his match-ups between the Karlis Skrastins-Fisric pairing and the Trevor Daley-Jeff Woywitka pairing.
Rolston in particular had a nice offensive night in a Devils performance devoid of it for stretches at a time. He had 5 shots on net, 3 blocked, and 2 misses. Rolston along with Elias (2 SOG, 2 blocked, 2 misses, drew a hook from Steve Ott) finished a +7, while Dainius Zubrus ended at +5. Zubrus didn't get anything on the board, but he did go 7-for-10 on faceoffs. Big Z can feel good about that. As further evidence of how good they were, Lemaire put them out on the ice for the final minute of the game. They didn't get the empty netter, but they actually got stops in the neutral zone for the first time all game.
The Ex: Langenbrunner had a good game. There, I said it. As noted earlier, his line pinned Kovalchuk's quite a few times. The former Devils captain got 2 shots on net and missed 3 times, while finishing at +8 Corsi - the best among Dallas forwards this evening. He didn't do too much on Dallas' 4 power plays, but neither did most of the Stars.
The Brightest Star: Jamie Benn returned from a shoulder injury tonight and he shone on the ice. He had 3 shots on net (including a wide open shot in the slot in the first period), threw some hits, put the puck over the net when he had the upper half free in the first period, got an offensive zone faceoff late off a lob, and drew a penalty among his 20:25 of ice time, which included both power play and penalty killing time. The only area Benn didn't do so well at was faceoffs, going 3-for-8; but Mark Crawford made the right move
Tedenby Did Actually Play Tonight: Believe it or not, he had more power play time (3:48) than even strength time (3:16). The PP time was enough to get him more than Zharkov, who did quite a bit in his 6:56 of ice time: 2 shots on net, solid penalty killing, and drew a high sticking penalty. Given that the fourth line was a waste - unless you think the non-call on Adam Mair being cut by Tomas Vincour's stick led to a "make up call" - I'm not sure why those two didn't get more minutes. Especially after it was apparent that Kovalchuk wasn't going to be entering Beast Mode tonight.
Quick Words about a 1-2-2: I know Dallas only got 19 shots on net, but if the Devils trapped tonight, then they made the wrong choice to do so. From what I saw, Dallas had no issues getting through the neutral zone. The only clamping down the Devils were doing was at their blueline and in space before then. Even that wasn't true all game long.
Lastly: I want to give a shoutout to Andy Greene. He played the most minutes among all Devils defenseman with 22:40, including 3:59 on the PK. Greene eventually drew the Morrow-Ribiero-Langenbrunner line along with some of line centered by Steve Ott (He played over 20 minutes, seriously) which had Benn on it. Another night of tough competition and he came out at only -1 in Corsi. That's really good. Granted his breakout passes weren't much better than anyone else's on New Jersey, but he deserves credit for being the big minute man and not drowning.
That's my take, now I want to read yours. What did you think of tonight's game, other than that it was difficult to watch at times? What's the one thing you want to see the Devils work on the most before the game against Tampa Bay? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you to all the commenters in the Gamethread and thank you for reading.