Sometimes, I feel that I'm doing you, the reader, a disservice for recaps of home games because I don't always mention the atmosphere at the Rock. Tonight, I thought it was very telling. So to correct that, I want to talk about the crowd for tonight's game between the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders first.
For the first 40 minutes of the game, it was somewhat muted. And that really should be no surprise. It wasn't a full house. It was a game between two teams that aren't making the playoffs. The opponents are divisional rivals but not hated rivals; more annoying than anything else. Most of all, the Devils came out well. Ilya Kovalchuk scored early and the people rejoiced. Then the game moved on, the Isles did something on offense, but overall it was a pleasing first period. Repeat for the second period - only with a few more shots on net by both teams and a second Devils goal, scored by Jacob Josefson.
2-0 at the end of the two periods and while the Devils weren't playing great, most felt it was a good enough effort with a good result. So the level of "heat" among the crowd was low. Don't misunderstand, people got excited and cheered/booed appropriately for penalties, goals, hits, and big saves by Martin Brodeur. But that was all.
The third period did much to change that. The two power plays the Devils got the fans disappointed and disgusted, especially their four-minute "power" play. The crowd reacted audibly and appropriately unhappy with both of Frans Nielsen's goals. The Devils were playing sloppier and sloppier, the Isles were rising to the task, and the lead is blown. Unacceptable. Yes, this game may not mean much beyond pride in the bigger picture, but blowing a game is always unacceptable. The crowd was peeved and chattered a lot more.
Then Andy Greene scored not long after Nielsen's second goal. The crowd reaction was far louder than the first two goals. Throughout the rest of the game, there were more chants of "Let's Go Devils," there was more audible applause for Brodeur making important stops, and the fans showed their appreciation as the time ticked down on a 3-2 win.
The crowd came alive just as it looked like the Devils were going to blow the game on the ice. Greene saved the day by preventing an on-ice implosion in the third, and the crowd ate it up. Admittedly, I would have preferred a more muted crowd witnessing a decisive victory. How the patrons at the Rock viewed tonight's game stuck out to me as much as anything from the game itself; the first home game knowing with almost certainty that the Devils are not making the postseason. I wonder if it'll be like this for future games knowing that there won't be any NHL hockey played at the Rock beyond April 10.
Of course, I have more to say about the game itself after the jump. For views and thoughts about the game from the opposition's side of things, please check out Lighthouse Hockey.
The Game Highlights: For the benefit of those who like highlights, here's the video from NHL.com of the key events of tonight's game.
Things That Make You Go "YEAH!": Ilya Kovalchuk was a monster tonight. He scored the game's first goal, snapping the Devils' scoreless streak early in the first period. He also got an assist on Jacob Josefson's goal, feeding Nick Palmieri for the shot that made the rebound the rookie put home. He put up 8 shots on net, got blocked once, and missed the net once. Kovalchuk was one of the few Devils who finished the game positive at Corsi (+1), and he forced Jack Capuano to utilize two pairings against him to try and slow him down. The only down side of his performance was his lack of shots in the third period.
Nick Palmieri also enjoyed a good game. While he only had the one shot on net - which led to Josefson's goal - he played an important role on Kovalchuk's goal. While Kovalchuk did not score on the breakaway, he got the puck deep and allowed the attack to continue. Zajac got it in the corner and Palmieri wheeled around to maintain possession, find Kovalchuk in the slot, and fed it to him perfectly. Palmieri did get blocked 3 times, and his Corsi was one of the few that was positive at +2.
Martin Brodeur was crucial to the win, as well. He made some excellent stops on loose pucks and rebounds throughout the game. His glove hand was undeniable. Even as the Devils were seemingly going through the motions and allowing the Islanders to make it a game in the third period, Brodeur played valiantly. He was only beaten on a shorthanded breakaway that shouldn't have happened in the first place; and a scrum in front of the net that found the puck knocked in by accident. Not soft goals, or goals that Brodeur should have stopped. The crowd, even when muted, gave him his deserved accolades when making an important stop.
Henrik Tallinder continues to be the boss on defense. He made important interceptions on passes and shots. Tallinder was rarely out of position and played just as well with Mark Fayne or Jay Leach (who played more with him at evens, believe it or not) next to him. His only error was tripping P-A Parenteau. But the Devils PK unit killed that minor with ease and not long after it, he made the long pass to Kovalchuk to start a rush that led to Josefson's goal. Tallinder didn't attempt any shots on net of his own, but he played 25:54 and finished with a +3 in Corsi. Tallinder continues to impress me if only because he's not at all like the defenseman he was back in, say, November.
While Tallinder was bossing the opposition around, Andy Greene had to do a lot more. Greene played the most minutes tonight by any skater on either team with 28:55. He played in all situations, he carried Anssi Salmela and Mark Fraser, and while he was pinned back (-8 Corsi) a lot, it didn't lead to too much damage. The one goal against, Nielsen's second goal, wasn't his fault. Interestingly, he put up 6 shooting attempts: two on net, three blocked, and one miss. The most important thing Greene did do was fire the puck off a drop-pass by Patrik Elias that beat Rick DiPietro cleanly.
What was good across the board for New Jersey were faceoffs. The Devils won 25 out of 43. The only Devil to win less than 50% of their faceoffs was Patrik Elias, who went 5-for-18. Everyone else was half or better.
The penalty killers also had a good night. The Islanders only got one shot on net on their first power play, and two more on their second. Not only did Brodeur make easy stops, but the Devils were able to get good clearances on them again and again.
Lastly, the first two power plays the Devils had - and only the first two power plays - were good. The Devils were bombing away on the first one and came quite close to scoring several times. It didn't just look like a power play, it looked like a good power play. The second one wasn't as strong, but they created one or two good opportunities as well.
Things That Make You Go "Hmm": The New York Islanders enjoyed the better of puck possession and shots in the game. They out-shot the Devils 29-20 in total, out-attempted the Devils 43-39, out-shot them at even strength 24-14, and the Devils finished the game at -8 in Corsi. While this is not good, it's mitigated by the fact that the Isles were losing for most of the game. They were down 2-0 for most of the game, tied it up with 6:16 left to play, and then went down 3-2 approximately 80 seconds later. Teams that are losing are going to attempt more shots and from that standpoint, I can't get too mad about it overall.
Rick DiPietro must still be shaking off some rust because he looked to be fighting the puck all game long. He was active in playing it, but handling hard shots was a struggle for him. He gave up some big rebounds, he was caught looking the wrong way after Palmieri's . DiPietro looked the shakiest among all the goaltenders the Devils have seen in recent games. Unfortunately, the only one to try and capitalize on that was Kovalchuk with his 8 shots on net. Only Greene and Brian Rolston put up more than one shot on net tonight. Why didn't the Devils just bomb away on DiPietro? They did it for 40 minutes and then stopped. If there was ever a game to keep it that simple on offense, this was the one - especially with the Islanders rolling two call ups on their defense.
"Hmmm" is exactly what I would respond to how the Elias line did tonight. Brian Rolston, Dainius Zubrus, and Elias combined for 3 shots on net: 2 by Rolston, 1 by Elias. Yet, they were strong in their own end, evidenced by playing out the final 1:04 of the game in the 6-on-5 situation. They drew the line of John Tavares, Parenteau, and Matt Moulson and kept them quiet. Their Corsi at the end of the game wasn't too bad: Elias and Rolston finished even, while Zubrus finished at +1. The line could have done more offensively overall, but keeping the Isles' best line in check is pretty good in of itself.
Travis Zajac's line: no shots on net, two missed shots, 7-for-11 on draws, and a 0 in Corsi.
Was it just me, or did anyone else notice actual defensemen on the power play? Yes, Mark Fayne, Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder, and Anssi Salmela had shifts where they were the actual point men. Perhaps the Devils (Jacques Lemaire and/or Adam Oates) now realize that a five-forward group hasn't worked all that well and so should change it.
While I don't mention fights (not a fan), apparently the scrap between David Clarkson and Zenon Konopka started with appeared to be a bro hug. I figure that's worth mentioning.
Things That Make You Want to Barf: The entire third period was a sore for people's sights. The Devils managed to get two power plays, a gift double-minor when a puck struck Fraser and caused a cut - which was blamed on Mark Katic, and nearly lost the game in the process. In the first two periods, both teams had their moments of sharpness and sloppiness, sort of canceling each other out. Well, the Isles got their groove back in the third period as the Devils floundered with each passing minute.
The Devils were out-shot 14-3 in the third. I can understand being out-shot, but only three shots on net is terrible. Especially since DiPietro wasn't looking sharp. Sure, the Devils scored the game winning goal on them, but it meant the game was largely in Islander hands. They were allowed to make a game of it, and they did exactly that with their two goals allowed. They could had more, in my opinion. There was one chaotic event at the front of the net somewhat early the third period that somehow did not lead to an Islanders goal.
The first GA: Frans Nielsen's shorthanded breakaway goal does not have an assist officially. In reality, Nielsen was greatly assisted by Mattias Tedenby. The young winger just coughed up the puck right to him on his own blueline. Nielsen didn't have far to go and beat Brodeur on a backhand. Awful giveaway and I still don't know why #21 wasn't stapled to the bench as a result.
The second GA: Anyone want to tell me what the Devils were doing amid that scrum? Other than being beaten? Nielsen got a fortunate bounce, true, but why are the Devils chasing the Isles with a lead instead of calming things down like they did in the first 40 minutes of the game?
Nielsen was storming out there with 6 shots on net, 2 goals, and even getting success against the Zajac line (he was matched up with them at evens the most). He did most of his work in the third period, so it's not like he was threatening all game long. While it was great that it wasn't Matt Moulson or John Tavares or Michael Grabner (he didn't play - his wife was expecting a child, congratulations to the Grabners) didn't beat the Devils, that doesn't make it any more OK for Nielsen to come up big and continue to do so in the third period.
Thank goodness Greene scored, otherwise, who knows how this would have ended. The Devils seemingly let up in the third period and that's terrible regardless of whether the game means something or not.
Speaking of terrible, the bottom two lines were beaten on in possession regularly. Josefson was the best on his line in terms of Corsi at -3, with Tedenby at -4 and Clarkson at -5. David Steckel was a -5, with Adam Mair at -6 and Rod Pelley at -8. They got picked on all game long. I'm surprised that Kovalchuk wasn't double-shifted with either if only to ease the pain given how great he was playing.
Power Play Nadir: This gets it's own section. The Devils had 4 power plays: three minors and a double-minor. This lasted 9:15, since Rolston took out Josh Bailey from behind to stop a shorthanded chance on the third power play for New Jersey. Rolston was deservedly penalized for that, killing it dead. In 9:15, the Devils got 5 shots on net. The first two power plays, as noted earlier, were good. The third one was more like what we have seen recently: not enough possession, trouble breaking into the zone, and ineffective puck movement.
Then there was the double minor. In theory, this should have been a great time for New Jersey. Up 2-0 and 4 minutes to try and make it 3-0; and if they didn't score, so what, they would be up 2-0 with less than 10 minutes to go. Not only did the Devils allow a goal on it, they did not get a shot on net. They attempted three shots, all three were blocked per the play-by-play of the game, and arose ire from the crowd. After the Nielsen shorthanded goal, the Devils iced just their regular lines - even the fourth line got some PP time. And why not, it's not like the regular PP units were doing anything. I think they eventually came back on, only for the Isles to get a shorthanded odd man rush which they wasted with a bad pass.
To recap: 4 minutes, not one shot on net, a goal against, an odd man rush shorthanded, and the fourth line getting some PP time that wasn't insignificant. I don't know if it was the worst power play the Devils had all season, but it's right up there. It was that pitiful.
Whoo, Goals: The Devils scored three goals in regulation tonight, all at even strength. It's been over a week since the Devils last scored more than one goal in a game, so it's worth mentioning with some kind of joyful noise.
It's All Tougher (on Paper) From Here: With the 3-2 win over the Islanders, the Devils will now face teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. From my viewpoint, the Devils didn't play a great game in the first two periods (why didn't you challenge DiPietro and the Isles more? whyyyyyy?) and imploded in the third. They were bailed out by Greene's goal and Brodeur doing what he's been doing throughout his career. It doesn't bode well for the next two games against Philly and Montreal, but I have a feeling Thursday's practice will have the intent of shaping up the team a little more.
What did you think of tonight's game? Other than the power play, what do the Devils need to do better in preparation for Friday's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks for reading. The month in review will appear sometime tomorrow.