Your eyes are not deceiving you. For the first time since February 19, the Devils won a hockey game by more than one goal. This ends a streak of 9 games where the game was decided by one goal, either within regulation or beyond it. What's more is that the Devils did it in spite of 2-0 lead built up by the Atlanta Thrashers in the first period. They came back to win and didn't need magic late to get the desired result at the Rock.
Granted, the fourth goal was an empty net goal at the end of the game. It very nearly ended at 3-2 (and thankfully not at 3-3, but the refs saw the puck was deflected by a high stick - so the goal was waved off). But with a streak of closeness this long, I don't think beggars can be choosers. Besides, it was a long time since the Devils actually got an empty net goal. I want to say the last one was on January 22 against the Flyers, but I could be wrong.
What's also remarkable about tonight's victory was that it was not the result of excellence across the board. Most of the major components in New Jersey's performance was flawed in some way or form. The defense did well to hold Atlanta to only 20 shots on net and 35 total attempts. Yet, they were exposed on their flanks too often, their long breakout passes were often picked off, and they needed the goaltender to bail them out several times throughout the game. The offense did score 4 unanswered goals, had the better of possession at evens, and ravaged Atlanta for most of the second period and the first half of the third. However, they struggled in the first period, the two power plays they got killed their momentum in the second period, and they dropped into dump-and-change mode for the second half of the third period instead of attacking. Special teams was a familiar story of the power play doing very little and the penalty kill being more successful.
The only part of the game that was solid for 60 minutes was Martin Brodeur. He was called upon to make some very difficult diving saves and react very quickly to various loose pucks and rebounds. As you'll see in the highlights video, Brodeur bailed out his teammates several times tonight. Thankfully, his valiant efforts were rewarded with another two points in the standings.
I'm not saying the Devils were totally fortunate to win tonight; just that their performance could have been a lot better. If they want to continue to win games, then they need to address those flaws. That's all. As usual, I have more to say about tonight's game after the jump - along with links to the game's stats and a highlight video. For a take from a Thrasher perspective, please check out Bird Watchers Anonymous.
The Highlight Video: From NHL.com, here is the highlight video from tonight's game. Please watch it for the goals, but more relevant to my next point, the saves Brodeur makes.
I Am Not Making This Up: I normally don't harp on the Three Stars of the Game Selected by Tonight's Attending Media, but Martin Brodeur did not get named for either of them. Seriously. Brodeur didn't make 20 saves that were mostly routine stops. He had to deal with a lot of rushes, cross-ice plays, and other difficult scenarios. There were several times where I was honestly shocked that Atlanta didn't score (I'm sure Thrashers fans were too). By my count, Brodeur has 9 highlights in this video for saves. That's nearly half of the ones he made. Clearly, he was important in New Jersey's victory tonight. He ensured that Atlanta didn't run away with the game in the first, didn't blow it open in the second (they had 2 shots on net, but they were dangerous ones), and didn't tie it up in the third. Give him a star!
It Worked Once, Let's Keep Doing It: I noticed that Atlanta attempted a lot of lateral passes on offense. They scored an especially sweet first goal when Evander Kane spun around and fired a cross-ice pass perfectly to Tim Stapleton for the one-timer in the slot. (Note: Anssi Salmela, the replay shows that should have been your man.) They found open Thrashers in the background when the Devils were focused on one end of the rink. As such, the Thrashers proceeded to look across for plays when they could have pressed forward quite often. I think that contributed to their low number of attempts, even when they were attacking aggressively in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Yep, He Really Scored it That Way: Christopher Thorburn's goal was greeted with much groaning and concern. And why not? It was a second goal by Atlanta, less than 2 minutes after Stapleton's goal. At least Stapleton's goal came off a high-risk, high-reward move. How in the world did Christopher Thorburn make it 2-0? Well, he followed up Radek Dvorak on a counter-attack. Mark Fayne actually covered Thorburn decently, but Thorburn turned at the right time to establish position. Fayne hits his stick, Thorburn then fires a shot through Henrik Tallinder's legs and under Brodeur's left arm. It wasn't a 5-hole soft one. It wasn't a horrible breakdown. It was an excellent individual move by a guy who, judging by his goal total of 8 this season, doesn't do a lot of them. It happens.
If you're going to fault the defense, fault them for their insistence to go for long breakout passes when Atlanta picked off at least 4 of them in the first period alone. Fault them and the backcheckers for not being aware of a Thrasher lurking behind them awaiting a killer pass. Fault them for not guarding the crease and slot areas as vigilantly as they should have. The Thrashers weren't successful at crashing the net for shots, but in the few times they got the puck there, it was a true scramble.
Beastly Kovalchuk: After the Thorburn goal, I noticed that Ilya Kovalchuk started to turn on his jets and start flying out there. Ultimately, it was a good thing. His forechecking was important in creating the situation for Mark Fayne to shoot and Travis Zajac to deflect that shot late in the first period. Overall, he got 5 shots on net, had 1 attempt blocked, 3 missed shots, got the game-sealing empty net goal, and finished a +8 in Corsi. The only area where Kovalchuk was flat was the power play.
But, But, It Was So Good on Friday: The Devils struggled to get the puck up ice and establish possession on both of their power plays, much less set up some good shots. I don't think they got any on the first one and only two on the second. Even so, it was a wasted four minutes where Devils fans witnessed Atlanta clearing it hard around the boards not long after the Devils got beyond the blueline. The Thrasher penalty killers clearly watched enough of Friday's game to know what to prepare for. Too bad, the Devils didn't adjust.
The worst part about these power plays was that they just stopped the Devils' momentum in the second period. Before, they were flying up ice, putting pucks on Ondrej Pavelec, and looking to score a second goal. After, it seemed like both teams just canceled each other out. Thankfully, the Devils didn't get complacent to start the third period.
Your Line of the Night in Corsi: The line of Ilya Kovalchuk (+8), Travis Zajac (+8), and Nick Palmieri (+3) performed the best in terms of possession tonight. As a whole, the Devils were a +9 in Corsi - even with a lack of shots in the final 10 minutes of the game. While only four Devils were only just below zero in Corsi (Andy Greene, -1; Vladimir Zharkov, -2; David Steckel, -2; Adam Mair, -1), only this line really stood out in terms of being positive. The Elias and Josefson lines, while they contributed a goal, did not get forward nearly as often as Zajac and Kovalchuk.
The Zajac line got matched with a couple different lines. They saw Atlanta's top line the most: Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, and Blake Wheeler. While those three had their moments, they were slightly negative. They also had a good amount of time, and dealt the most damage against Dvorak, Kane, and Anthony Stewart. Either Craig Ramsey had to mix things up during the game or Jacques Lemaire utilized his changes rather strategically (or both). Good job by the Zajac line.
The Goals by Elias and Josefson Were Pretty Sweet: While they didn't pound their opposition in terms of possession, both the Elias and Josefson lines had their important moments in the game. Patrik Elias led a 3-on-2 where he dished it to Brian Rolston, who thankfully passed it back to Elias. I say thankfully because there was a guy in front of Rolston and had he wound up to shoot it, it could have been blocked or, worse, taken away. The pass back to Elias was successful and he fired it past Pavelec for the equalizer. The rush itself was represtantive of how well the Devils were skating in the second period. Looking ahead, looking for a play, looking for a good shot, and forcing Pavelec to come up big in tough spots. It was great. Until the power plays, of course.
The goal by Jacob Josefson was not only the eventual game winner, but also another fantastic finish of a play. Mattias Tedenby was heading into the zone with the puck, only to be bumped off of it by Mark Stuart. Fortunately, the puck bounced off the corner boards right back to Tedenby. He turned and fired a pass to Josefson in the high slot to make it 3-2. It was a powerful one-timer that just torched Pavelec. Josefson's second NHL goal certainly looked a lot better (and a lot less fluky) than his first. While the Josefson, Tedenby, and David Clarkson line didn't have the amazing night they had against the Islanders on Saturday (+1 Corsi for the rookies, +4 for Clarkson; 1 SOG from each), the goal stands as evidence that they had an impact on tonight's game and so they should remain together.
Zajac Not So Dominant at the Dot: While he was good at going forward, he wasn't so strong on faceoffs. He finished 8-for-18; lost his last 4 faceoffs - 3 of which came after the Atlanta used their timeout with 42 seconds left. Thankfully, Kovalchuk and Zubrus ensured the last faceoff win wouldn't lead to a shot against; it became the empty net goal. The Devils as a whole finished below 50% (22-for-47), and the only center above 50% was Steckel, who went 7-for-11.
You Did See #4 A Lot: Zach Bogosian led the Thrashers in minutes with 25:27 played. Atlanta gave heavy minutes to him, Ron Hainsey (22:48), and Enstrom (22:44). Contrast that with the Devils, who balanced their pairings to the point where only one defenseman got more than 20 minutes: Anssi Salmela at 20:27 (Greene was 2 seconds off). Bogosian didn't do so bad on a team that was -9 Corsi, finishing at -2 mostly against the Zajac and Elias lines. Plus, attempted 5 shots (3 SOG, 2 misses). I guess that was a good enough night for him, which probably explains why you kept seeing a big guy that wasn't Dustin Byfuglien (20:34, 2 SOG) going forward with the puck.
Keep Up the Attack: As great as Josefson's goal was, how the Devils responded offensively was not. Their last shot on net until the empty net goal came with 13:04 left to play (by Clarkson) according to the official play by play of the game. Atlanta put up 6 shots on net and had a goal taken away - it was deflected in off a high stick, an easy call by the refs - until Kovalchuk iced the game. That's not good at all.
The only time Pavelec had to make a save in that timespan was when a puck caromed off the skates of a forechecking Palmieri and went right at his legs. A surprising event, but still a fluke. I'm aware of score effect and I would agree that Atlanta became more aggressive on offense to a point where the Devils had to do nothing but play defense at times. However, going nearly 13 minutes between shots is just asking for trouble. It's not like the Devils had a commanding lead, it was only one goal. The Thrashers certainly worked hard enough, hoping they'd get a bounce their way. They had their chances and thankfully Brodeur stopped them all.
My main point is that final 13 minutes of the game or so would have went so much easier for New Jersey if they kept the Thrashers honest with a few shots here and there. Pavelec was playing quite well, so it's not like a fourth goal was just waiting for them. But it would force the Thrashers to be in their own end for more than just a few seconds. It didn't burn them tonight, but it could on another night. I hope they take away from this game that they should keep up the attack in future games when they have a lead in the third period.
What did you think of the Devils performance this evening? Do you think they'll be able to score more than 2 goals in regulation in the near future? Do you think they'll be able to win by at least 2 goals in the near future? What do you think the team needs to do to avoid going into a defensive shell (a poor choice according to these stats)? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to all of the commenters in the Gamethread; and thank you for reading.