This afternoon's game between the New Jersey Devils and the Columbus Blue Jackets was similar to the 3-0 loss the Devils suffered on Friday night against the Capitals. They heavily out-shot the opposition, they held the opposition to very few shots on net, and had the better of possession. The big, so-obvious-it-is-in-the-headline difference is that the Devils scored all the goals in this one. Today's game was an example of how good breaks are important and that without them, it's hard to win no matter how dominant a team plays. Each goal scored by the Devils was an example of this concept.
The first goal: David Clarkson was in the perfect position for the rebound Steve Mason gave up on Jacob Josefson's shot. It wasn't a horrible rebound. It was short and simply a reaction from Josefson's shot. But Clarkson was in the right place and was able to put it around Mason. The Devils did well on the cycle. Mattias Tedenby didn't lose possession along the boards, Josefon did very well to place the short where he did, and good on Clarkson to clean it up. But if the puck bounced out off Josefson's shot elsewhere, Tedenby couldn't keep the puck where it was, or Clarkson was off in his positioning, then there's no goal.
The second goal: Andy Greene puts up a fantastic pass up the boards right to Clarkson at the blueline. Clarkson has a two-on-one with Mattias Tedenby and elects to shoot. Mason stops it but he doesn't quite have all of it. Tedenby crashes the net, the puck gets loose, and Clarkson slides it in. The break there was three-fold: Mason not catching that, Tedenby (of all people) creating the chaos without taking a penalty, and Clarkson following up to put it in the net as opposed to, say, Rick Nash's skates on the goal line.
The third goal: Ilya Kovalchuk blazes up ice in the hopes to break away, but Kris Russell manages to get in his way enough to force him wide and knock an attempted shot away. Russell collects it and isn't looking up when Nick Palmieri charges in and takes it away. In one deft move, Palmieri puts it low past Mason, who appeared just as shocked. What if Russell and/or Mason were more aware of their surroundings? What if Kovalchuk held up entering the zone instead of skating ahead in the first place? We know what either didn't happen, but that goal probably does not happen if either did.
In all three cases, it wouldn't have taken a whole lot for there to be no goal scored. The old cliche is that luck is the result of hard work. Friday's game proved that cliche isn't necessarily true all the time. The Devils worked hard and got denied by a hot goalie en route to a 3-0 loss. Today, the Devils worked hard, got some breaks, and ended up with a decisive 3-0 win. Perhaps the cliche should be "Hard work only gets you so far without at least a little luck."
I have a few more thoughts on today's game after the jump. Please check out The Cannon for opinion on this game from a Columbus-supporting perspective.
The Game Highlights: Check out the game's highlights from NHL.com, featuring a whole lot of Steve Mason as well as all three goals from the game.
David Clarkson Had A Great Game: David Clarkson has looked much better as of late playing with Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson in recent games. As noted before the jump, he had two goals in the game. The first was very much an all-line effort; while the second was mostly Clarkson's effort with assists from Tedenby and Andy Greene.
Clarkson finished the night with 5 shots on net and 3 missed shots, leading the team in shot attempts with 8. One of those three misses came on a breakaway in the third period. I was really hoping that he would beat Mason to complete a hat trick, but Mason kept with him, Clarkson had to go to his backhand, and the shot was wide. He also finished a +9 in Corsi, the best among all skaters on the ice this evening. Clarkson had a great game and hopefully he'll build on it in coming games.
Nick Palmieri Also Had a Similarly Great Game: I want to know what Palmieri had for lunch today because this guy was flying all over the place. He went after Blue Jackets on the forecheck, coming away with a couple of steals. He got into positions to shoot throughout the game and put 5 on net, had one attempt blocked, and missed once. He stripped Kris Russel in his own end and scored the third goal of the game. He finished with a +6 in Corsi playing with Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac. Palmieri was great and I also hope he builds on it in the next few games.
So, How About that Defense: Unless I miscounted, Columbus didn't get it's tenth shot on net until just before 46 minutes into the game. The Blue Jackets finished the night with only 13 on net. The Devils, on the other hand, put up 31. The Devils out-shot them 9-2, 11-5, 11-6 across each of the three periods. At even strength shots, the Devils led 23-11. Needless to say, the Devils did quite well in both ends of the rink.
Inefficiency: However, the low shot total by Columbus does not mean they were pinned back as often like Washington was on Friday. The Devils, as a team, finished only a +6 in Corsi. A good value, but not a dominant +20-something value. What killed Columbus was inefficiency both in their shooting and in their attack. The inefficiency in shooting is quite obvious. With those 13 shots on net, the Blue Jackets also got blocked 13 times and missed the net 12 times. In contrast, the Devils put up 31 shots on net while being blocked 14 times and missing 12 shots. The Devils had way more attempts, but it's clear the Blue Jackets put in the effort. They just needed to be more accurate and/or selective on their shots.
This leads to the other area of inefficency, their attack. From the beginning of the game onward, I didn't get a sense that Columbus was fatigued. Everyone seemed to hustle from the start. Maybe later in the third period, they got gassed (they definitely were frustrated and discouraged). Columbus put up two forecheckers in some situations and switched from defense to offense rather quickly. The problem was that they did a lot of work in the neutral zone and in getting across the blueline only to come away with nothing too many times. Some of that is because of the Devils' defensive work to prevent even shooting attempts and forcing ill-advised attempts by the Blue Jackets. Some of it is also Columbus just not playing well in New Jersey's end of the rink.
A perfect example of both came in the third period with about 12 minutes left to play. Jakub Voracek takes the puck through the center of the neutral zone and manages to keep control despite pressure from two Devils. It's essentially a 3-on-2. Voracek makes a pass to Rick Nash, the guy you would want to get the puck to. The team's leading scorer and shooter. He had it with some speed and proceeded to fire a shot way wide. A whole lot of work for very little. That whole event pretty much summed up Columbus' game today.
(Incidentally, the Blue Jackets collected it in the corner, throw it to the point, where upon Kovalchuk knocks it away - springing himself for a breakaway where he hit the post on a backhand. Yep.)
Come to Think of It, Travis Zajac Had an Great Game Too: Travis Zajac didn't get any points, but he played quite well in his own way. He was fantastic on faceoffs, winning 9 out of 11 draws. (Aside: He and Zubrus going 6-for-7 carried the Devils to a 50+% winning percentage on faceoffs. The other centers were beaten badly.) Zajac finished a +8 in Corsi, meaning when he was out there, good things kept happening. He put up 2 shots on net and was blocked 3 times, so he definitely contributed to New Jersey's attempts. He was far better today than he was on Friday, like Palmieri.
Double-Shifting to Little Effect: While Palmieri and Zajac enjoyed a great Corsi, Kovalchuk only finished at +3. While this isn't bad and far better than any of the Elias line members, he suffered in this category because he was double-shifted a few times with the fourth line. Sometimes for Adam Mair, and sometimes for Vladimir Zharkov. It wasn't particularly effective with that fourth unit. He did his best work with Palmieri and Zajac, and for one breakaway, all by himself. Jacques Lemaire probably should have kept him to one line.
As an aside, I know he didn't score on a breakaway today either. If Kovalchuk is able to receive a pass for a breakaway or create one himself at least once a game, then that's fantastic on it's own. They'll eventually go in. That he didn't score on one today is nothing to be concerned about, in my opinion.
The Power Play: I would say the Devils did OK on the power play this evening. They drew four calls, which is great considering the team has struggled in that department all season long. They didn't score on any of them, which isn't great; but none of them killed the Devils' momentum. They managed to get some shots on Mason for each one. They ultimately finished with 8 shots on net at 5-on-4 and most were good shots coming off solid possession by the Devils. I still they need some schematic changes, but they weren't a waste of time either.
For what it's worth, they were way better than the Columbus' power play. The only penalty the Devils took was a too many men on the ice call (insert facepalm here) and the Blue Jackets did nothing with it until the final 20 seconds or so. Even then, the two shots they got on net were easily snagged by Martin Brodeur.
115: Today's game was Martin Brodeur's 115th career shutout. He didn't have to do a whole lot today, but he kept them all out like the legend that he is. Mason had a lot more to deal with (57 attempts) and could have used a lot more help.
Mixing Up the Matchups: I haven't mentioned who got matched with who because the even strength head to head ice time chart shows that no one saw a whole lot of each other. Take the Zajac line for example. They saw the top line of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, and Jakub Voracek the most, but that was for less than 6 minutes at even strength. Not even a majority of his ice time. They saw other lines for 3-4 minutes, which makes up the difference. I guess that was Scott Arniel's idea of stemming any fatigue while not letting one unit get dominated.
Whether it was effective, I leave it up to you. Arguing against it working would be the nights Zajac, Palmieri, Clarkson, Tedenby, and two-third of the Devils defense. Arguing for it being somewhat successful would be the pairing of Henrik Tallinder (-7) and Mark Fayne (-6) along with the Elias line.
Bet You Didn't Notice This: Vladimir Zharkov finished with the following: 9:47 played, 3 shots on net, 0 Corsi (David Steckel was a -2, Adam Mair was a -5). Not a shabby night on the fourth line.
Bet You Also Didn't Notice This Too: Ethan Moreau
returned from injury and played tonight. 10:35 of ice time with no shots on net, one miss. Really. He played tonight. (Correction: I thought he returned from injury. I was wrong, he was active as of late.)
Appreciation for Attacking: What I really loved seeing in today's game was that the Devils kept attacking. They didn't sit on the lead at 1-0, 2-0, or 3-0. They put up shots all game long, they kept attempting shots, and they even forced multiple breakaways. It was a far better than what they did in the last game that the Devils had a lead in the third period. They kept Columbus honest by forcing them to continue playing in their own end. They even drew a penalty a little past halfway to help the cause, and they just drove the knife into their hopes of making a game out of this one. In my opinion, the offense doing as they have been all game long did just as much to preserve the shutout as the defense did in their own end. That's excellent coaching by Lemaire and the staff to have the players keep their collective foot on the proverbial pedal, and excellent focus by the players to not take the game for granted. The result: a decisive 3-0 win.
What did you think of the Devils performance in Columbus? Did you come away pleased with Clarkson, Palmieri, and Zajac as I did after this game? Do you think the Devils will be able to build off this win? Please leave your answers along with other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to all of those who commented in the Gamethread, and thank you for reading.