The New Jersey Devils have not been a high scoring team this season. They aren't shooting at historically terrible levels like they were in 2010, but they still lag behind pretty much the rest of the league when it comes to scoring goals. Therefore, to win games, you have to keep them close. This not only requires strong goaltending, but strong defending.
The Devils have been getting exactly that in the last two months or so. Among the many changes seen during The Turnaround is the team's improved defensive performance under Jacques Lemaire. Henrik Tallinder has been playing like the guy people expected to see when he was signed last summer. Andy Greene doesn't look out of his depth. A pairing of Anton Volchenkov and Colin White doesn't look good on paper but has been quite effective on the ice. Plus, the forwards have made a more concerted effort on backchecking - to the point where Ilya Kovalchuk knows when to come and help down low to make a play.
Then there is the sixth defenseman: Anssi Salmela. He's come a long way. He was out with a significant knee injury for most of the season, and he struggled when he came back. Then, it was unclear whether Mark Fraser would have his spot or not. Now, Mark Fraser's pretty much out of the lineup because Salmela is playing at a more than just competent level. He's getting games of around 18 minutes and he's been holding up decently with Greene, another pairing that may not look good on paper but has performed well in games. Tonight, he became the hero, furthering his growth this season.
In overtime, Salmela rushed up ice and took a pass in the neutral zone from Mattias Tedenby. Salmela figured he had enough space between him and Radek Martinek to fire a shot. Salmela fired what was a perfect shot. Off the top left corner and in. Al Montoya had played excellent in net, stopping 32 shots prior, but he had no chance on that one. Salmela may have used Martinek's frame to screen the shot, come to think of it. Either way, it was his first of the season and it was as glorious of a game winning shot as one could hope. Salmela's not going to turn into the next great Devils defenseman, but as noted earlier, it was another achievement in what has been a difficult season for the defenseman.
It was also another achievement for the Devils. Another win in overtime, another win in general in a close game. It sure would be nice if the Devils can bust out a win by more than one goal. But one can't be choosy since it's two points in the standings. I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game. For an opposition take, please check out Lighthouse Hockey.
The Highlight Video: Here's the video from NHL.com showcasing all of the goals, saves, and other incidents in tonight's 3-2 overtime win.
The Flow of Tonight's Game: The Devils heavily out-shot the Islanders tonight. Overall, it was 35-15. The Devils out-shot them 24-13 at evens and 10-0 on power plays. In overtime, the Isles didn't even register a shot on net. The Devils certainly made the effort to pound Al Montoya with shots and they succeeded. That the Devils finished tonight's game with an awesome +14 in Corsi should be of no surprise knowing all of this.
Interestingly, the game wasn't just a straight up beatdown by the Devils. They did fairly well in the first period and even managed to score a goal (more on that later). The second period started with a power play, but it all went awry when Blake Comeau deked Brian Rolston out of his skaters en route to a shorthanded goal. The Isles got a lift from this as they started piling on more pressure. The Isles took the lead on a deflection by John Tavares off a howitzer of a shot by Matt Moulson. The Isles pushed further, knowing this was their chance to really put the screws to NJ. While the Devils did out-shoot the Isles 9-6 in the second, the Devils went negative in Corsi, reflecting the Isles' aggression. It was somewhat reminiscent of some of the second period play from the Bad Times of the 2010-11 season.
That the Devils finished at +14 meant they were ruthless in the third period at even strength. The Isles had 6 shots on net, but they went long stretches without an attempt on game. At some point, I'm sure Martin Brodeur wished he had a book to read or something. The Devils swarmed the Isles' end both at 5-on-5 and 5-on-4 looking for an equalizer (achieved) and more (not until OT). I don't know if it was Lemaire who fired up the players in the second intermission, a player who did so, or the players collectively deciding to get their acts together. Whatever it was, it worked and it salvaged another game.
Of course, it helped that the Isles played like abject morons in the third and took 3 minors and a game misconduct.
Was It Good? Pt. 1 - The Powerplay: At first glance, the answer to this question is "no." The Devils actually allowed a shorthanded goal, a play started by a blocked shot on Ilya Kovalchuk, continued by Blake Comeau screaming up the boards with the puck, and finished when Comeau torched Rolston with a deke and got around a diving Brodeur. A great individual effort by Comeau and a terrible backchecking effort on the PP.
It wasn't the only shorthanded situation. On the next Devils power play, another shot block on Kovalchuk leads to another rush up ice by Frans Nielsen and Kovalchuk trips Nielsen to kill off the PP. On the third one, Mark Fayne gives up the puck right to Michael Grabner at the blueline, who then goes down on a breakaway and forcing a nice stop by Brodeur.
Oh, and on top of all of that, the Devils got 5 chances lasting 8:11 and didn't score. David Clarkson's goal was after Jack Hillen's hooking minor.
However, the big mitigating factor is that they put 10 shots on net, they were solid shots on net, they set up more attempts than just 10, and the units got better as time went on. The Islanders are also a pretty good team at penalty killing and their moving box forced the Devils to move it from point-to-down-low just to catch them off guard. They looked their best on the last power play, when Nielsen was given 10 minutes for a misconduct. Nielsen is one of the Islanders' top penalty killers (and had a good night with a +6 in Corsi) and the Devils took full advantage. The Isles were lucky they didn't strike then.
Overall, I'd say it wasn't great if only because they finished -1. They weren't awful but they were fortunate that they got repeated opportunities to get it right. Perhaps.
Jacob Josefson and His Line Was, As the Cool Kids of 1996 Would Say, "The Bomb:" Sometimes, I'm right about something. In the preview for this game, I said to keep an eye on Jacob Josefson. Well, he deserved your attention tonight because he played great. He had a great Corsi of +8, verifying what people saw was great movement going forward. Out of his two shots (and 3 misses), he picked up his first NHL goal and his second NHL assist this evening. Unfortunately for future storytelling by Josefson, the goal itself was a fluke. He just fired a puck from behind the net and it re-directed in off of Montoya's skates. At least it broke the no-goals-scored-in-the-first-period streak. The only downside to Josefson's night was faceoffs, as he went 5-for-13. Even that's noteworthy in that Lemaire put him out there for 13 draws tonight.
What I didn't expect that his whole line would enjoy a great evening. Mattias Tedenby was even better going forward with the puck. He had the highest Corsi for any forward on the ice at +10, put up one shot on net, took one shot to the head by an Islanders defenseman in the third period (no call because punches are legal?), and had two assists. David Clarkson was switched up to play with the rookies and he stood out. He jammed a loose puck through Montoya to tie the game in the second period, one of his 5 shots on net this evening. Clarkson finished at a +8, got the primary assist on Josefson's goal, and didn't get whistled for one penalty in a game where the Isles performed a lot of infractions on his teammates. Smart play for him.
At this point, you may be wondering who did they pick on at evens to get such high Corsi values? The line they saw the most was Matt Martin, Josh Bailey, and Blake Comeau. Defensive pairings were mixed, as they faced two pairings for the most part: the pairing of Andrew MacDonald and Travis Harmonic, and the pairing of Milan Jurcina and Bruno Gervais. I guess Jack Capuano couldn't set one pairing on them given how well the Josefson line did. If Corsi's any indication, half of both pairings had a negative effect on possession - which, of course, helped New Jersey.
Was It Good? Pt. 2 - Ilya Kovalchuk's Performance: Again, first glance would indicate "no." He played over 26 minutes, got no points, and two of his attempts led to shorthanded offensive situations for the Isles.
However, Kovalchuk did attempt a lot tonight. He put 5 shots on net, he had 8 blocked, and 2 missed. The guy attempted 15 of New Jersey's 67 total attempts tonight. If only some of those big blasts didn't get deflected away or high. If only he didn't get blocked so many times. If only Montoya didn't stand on his head. Those are the only ifs as to why Kovalchuk didn't get on the scoreboard. Believe me, Kovalchuk was a factor. He definitely made the effort, it just wasn't rewarded.
Incidentally, he got a +4 in Corsi along with Travis Zajac, who had 2 shots on net and went 11-for-17 on draws. Nick Palmieri busted out some moves, hustled well, and put up 3 shots yet only got a +1 in Corsi. I noticed later in the game that this line got switched to Tavares' line, which benefited New Jersey in my opinion. Getting back to the question: I think Kovalchuk was good and contributed to the team's effort tonight even if he did go pointless. It happens.
One Islander Line Was Good: The line of Michael Grabner, Frans Nielsen, and Kyle Okposo was the visitor's best line. They all went positive in Corsi: +1 for Grabner (4 SOG), +6 for Nielsen, and +5 for Okposo. They initially did very well against the Zajac line, and continued to do so against the Elias line. While they didn't register any points, they got the puck going in the right direction - forcing Mark Fayne and Henrik Tallinder to work in their own end quite a bit.
However, like the rest of the Isles, they shot themselves in the foot in the third period. The penalties kept them off the ice together; when they were together on the ice, they didn't do much; and then Nielsen took himself out for 10 minutes for what apparently was berating an official. Given that the Isles were heavily out-shot and getting pinned back for most of the third, they really could have used this line to continue doing what they were doing in the second. Instead, they put themselves into situations where they couldn't. I repeat: the Islanders played like abject morons in the third period.
Al Montoya Stood on His Head: Close shots, long shots, shots through traffic, rebounds, the guy had a lot to do. He got beaten off a bad break, not covering the puck amid traffic, and a sweet, sweet shot. Only the second one could be pinned on him, but even then you have to wonder why an Islander team seemingly predisposed to taking penalties in the third didn't just tackle Clarkson or something. Even though they lost the game, the Islanders owe Montoya at least a steak dinner and a spot on next season's roster. He's been excellent for them and he was the key reason the final score wasn't, oh, 5-2 in favor of New Jersey.
Was it Good Pt. 3? - The Elias Line Tonight: Call it confirmation bias, but here's what my eyes saw. Patrik Elias attempted a lot of fancy moves and passes from said fancy moves which nearly all failed. He attempted several cross-ice passes that either went astray, got picked off, or handcuffed his target. He was fine going forward until he crossed that blueline, where upon he seemingly played with a brain freeze. To me, he had an off night. As did Brian Rolston, who got undressed by Comeau for the shorthanded goal and was a non-factor in general. Dainius Zubrus at least played well enough. He used his size well, put a few nice shots on Montoya, and was near-perfect at the dot. One out of three ain't good.
Yet, the numbers tell a different story. As much as Elias' passes were off and Rolston in general wasn't doing well, all three had positive in terms of possession. Their Corsi numbers are as follows: Elias was a +5; Rolston was a +4; and Zubrus was a +2. Zubrus was indeed superb on draws by going 5-for-6, but even Elias enjoyed a relatively good night by going 6-for-11. In fact, Elias finished the night with 5 shots on net and a secondary assist on top of his positive Corsi value. At this point, I'm confused on how to answer this question. Feel free to give your take in the comments.
Scary Moment of the Night: Fayne's giveaway to Grabner on the Devils' third power play of the game, their first in the third period. It was almost like a pass right to him. Given the 2-1 score, I was prepared for heartbreak. Thankfully, Brodeur bailed them out. Fayne otherwise had a good night, in all seriousness. That was just a major "oops" by the rookie defender.
Lemaire on the Second Period: In this postgame post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Jacques Lemaire gave his take on why the second period went awry. Emphasis mine on this too-good-to-ignore-quote:
Lemaire’s explanation for his team’s poor second period: “After the first I told them they played a good period. That’s a mistake I made. I won’t do that again. We dropped a bit. I could see that they probably were satisfied with the first period because in the first we played really, really well. We weren’t skating as much and the Islanders, they come in, they never stop. If you drop your intensity, they will come. In the first, it wasn’t working for them, their passes. They were in their way most of the time, but in the second, their passes were better. We were a little late and they started to move the puck around. They had a lot of good chances.”
Keep that in mind, future head coaches of the New Jersey Devils. Sometimes, positive reinforcement works against you.
A Message for Jack Capuano: According to this postgame article by Katie Strang of Newsday, Isles head coach Capuano wasn't happy with the number of penalties called on the Islanders. He claims they got "no respect."
Really, Jack? First off, a quick video review will show that all of those penalties were legit calls. The refs swallowed their whistles to start the game, but they eventually blew them so much because your team would not listen to the repeated warnings. The Isles got caught and the players have no one to blame but themselves for that. Even with 5 minors and Nielsen getting 10 for jaw-jacking at the refs inappropriately, they got away with so much more. For example all being Tedenby getting punched in the back of his head after torching an Isle down low (I didn't catch the number, and thankfully for your squad, neither did the refs).
Even so, the power plays didn't defeat your team tonight. They certainly didn't help. But the Devils went 0-for-5 on them. Penalties aside, what was more germane to the defeat was that the Islanders were outshot by 20 tonight. The Devils led in attempts 67-33. Attempts, Jack. Your team didn't even come close to trying to attack and win the game when it was 2-2. Your goaltender had to play out of his mind just to bail out MacDonald and Gervais, much less keep a swarming Devils team in the third period and overtime. The second period went fairly well for the Isles, yet they did not build on it in the third.
My message is simply: don't whine about the refs or blame them. The Islanders were the second best team on the ice and were fortunate to get into overtime, much less lose there. Blaming others is a great way to lead the Isles to lose more games and to prevent solving problems with the offense, defense, and overall team discipline.
Defensemen Ice Time without SH TOI: I want to make one final point. Since the Devils didn't play a significant amount of time shorthanded, the defense's ice times look a little weird. Colin White and Anton Volchenkov didn't play all that much because they got only 7 seconds of penalty killing time. That's why they finished with 16:38 and 14:53, respectively. The Fayne-Tallinder pairing did most of the work but didn't dominate it. Fayne got 22:24 of overall ice time but that's boosted by 2:46 of power play time; while Tallinder got 20:43.
Fittingly, the pairing of Greene and tonight's hero, Salmela, were in the middle. Greene finished with a +11, the highest Corsi value out of any skater on both teams tonight. He made the most of his 18:48. Salmela had 18:52 of time and earned +6. The play got much better with Greene on the ice, but Salmela wasn't a dead anchor. Again, as I stated at the top, Salmela's come a long way from looking lost next to Greene to communicating well and moving the puck up ice decently across from him. Of course, scoring the game winner helps his cause as well.
A Hot Crowd: The game was an announced sellout, and the crowd was quite vocal in supporting the Devils. The early goal helped, as did the Devils going 8-3 in shots in the first. They got quiet in the second period, as the Isles scored 2 and pinned New Jersey back more than a few times. However, they were re-energized by the vastly improved play in the third period. Good work by the crowd to make their presence felt. Especially for the Supporters. I was sitting at the other end of the rink from the Supporters Section this evening but I definitely did hear them out a couple of times throughout the game. If I was closer, I could confirm whether they brought the thunder. Though past experience leads me to believe that they did. The atmosphere was great and another dramatic win will certainly add to it in future games.
What did you think of the Devils performance so far? What's your take with respect to the three "Was it Good?" sections? How impressed were you by the line of Josefson, Tedenby, and Clarkson? Did the second period trouble you? What would you like to see different in the Devils' gameplan or performance in their next game? Please leave your answers and other thought on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you to all of the commenters in the Gamethread and thank you for reading.