For most, March marks the end of what was a highly improbable playoff push by the New Jersey Devils. They continued their hot form from February early on, but a lack of help from the rest of the Eastern Conference combined with a slump in the second half of the month essentially ended said push. The Devils are not mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, but are on the brink as of right now.
Other than that, March wasn't a bad month at all. The Devils didn't fall completely backwards after a wildly successful February. It may seem that way with how it ended. The goal scoring dropped, the power play often lacked it, and the Devils learned the hard way that one-goal games were not always going to break in their favor. Still, the Devils came out ahead by going 8-5-1, and even in the 6 non-wins they were largely competitive.
That may not mean so much, but do recall this is the same team that won 9 games by Christmas. The past month continued the quest for respectability even as playoff dreams ended. Let's review the past month of games for the Devils and identify who was the best player in March.
March 2011 in Review
The Devils won a lot of games by one-goal in February; eight, to be precise. The Devils started off the month with more of the same: one-goal wins. On March 2, they hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning and while the Devils did a lot right, they could only get two past Dwayne Roloson. Of course, Ilya Kovalchuk played the role as the late-scoring hero with a third period goal to cap off a great night for him and to give the Devils a 2-1 win. March 4 was similar as the Devils hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins played the Devils a lot tougher, the two teams seemed to cancel each other out. The game went into overtime and who else but Kovalchuk lit the lamp on a power play (yes, really) to give the Devils a 2-1 win. The start of the month certainly looked like more of February all over again.
March 6 saw the Devils on the road for the first time this month, playing the Islanders on their turf. The Devils enjoyed the better of possession and shooting, but Al Montoya was on his game, a few mistakes cost NJ, and overtime was even. A shootout was necessary. This was unfamiliar; it was the first shootout the Devils participated in since November 27, 2010. It would only be a one-goal game on the scoreboard, not so much from the run of play. Brian Rolston - who was the best Devil on the ice in the game - got the shootout clinching goal. The 3-2 shootout win over the Islanders extended the Devils' streak then to four wins and the masses who count (Devils fans) were pleased.
That was the first set of seven days of March: 3 games, 3 wins, and decided by a goal in regulation, overtime, and a shootout. So far, so good.
However, these three wins were followed by a let down. The Devils hosted the then-hapless Ottawa Senators on March 8. Many expected another win, yet what was been going right for them for the better part of the last two months did not happen that evening. While they out-shot and out-attempted them, the Devils couldn't crack Ottawa for more than one goal. Jason Spezza makes one great pass to an on-rushing Erik Condra late in the third to make it a 2-1. In the 2-1 loss, the Devils were on the opposite end of what they have done to so many teams in recent weeks. A disappointment, but in retrospect, perhaps something that was bound to happen.
The Devils didn't let the loss get them down and earned better results in their next two games. On March 11, they went to Atlanta to play the Thrashers. This was a relatively low-shooting, somewhat even game between the two teams. However, the Devils' power play made all the difference. They went 3-for-6 on the night, responsible for all of New Jersey's goals including the game winner in overtime. Yes, the Devils' power play actually had a fantastic night for a change in the team's 3-2 comeback win over Atlanta. There would be no rest for the weary, as the Devils hosted the Islanders on March 12. Like in the previous game between these two as well as the Devils' game against Atlanta, it was a close one that required overtime to find a winner. Unlike those two games, the Devils dominated the puck and forced Montoya to stand on his head to keep the game close. The overtime hero was an unlikely one from the Devils, though. Defenseman Anssi Salmela fired a beauty past Montoya to give the Devils a 3-2 win and send the fans at the Rock that count home happy.
That was the second set of seven days of March. It started off with a loss, but the Devils showed resiliency bouncing back. Already, the Devils are 5-1-0 with four of those wins coming beyond regulation. Exciting hockey, certainly; but the wins masked the Devils' struggle to score goals. They got the ones to win, but eventually they were going to hit a wall of sorts.
This did not happen on March 15. The Devils hosted the Atlanta Thrashers and early on it looked like it would. The Thrashers scored not one, but two goals in the first period and the Devils looked out of sorts. Continuing the theme of resiliency, the Devils clawed their way back into the game. They got a late goal in the first period, an equalizer in the second, a go-ahead goal in the third, and the first empty net goal in a while for a 4-2 win. The first three scored each from different lines. For the first time since February 19, the Devils won a game by more than one goal and scored 4 unanswered goals in regulation. It was great.
But it was not to last. The Devils ran into goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who played out of his mind on March 17 in Ottawa. The Devils pounded the Senators but could not get one legally past the netminder. The Senators got two and added an empty net goal to make it a 3-1 loss to the Devils. The Devils' then three-game winning streak was snapped by the Senators thanks to a hot goaltender among other issues. That sucked, but it only got worse on March 18. Wearing their retro jerseys from the 1980s, the Devils hosted the Washington Capitals. The Devils really did dominate the Capitals, but when the Capitals had some semblance of an offensive chance they made the most of it - scoring three goals. At the other end, it was Michal Neuvirth's turn to stand on his head. The Devils lost to Washington 3-0, their first shut out loss since November 15, 2010. One goal scored in those two games was a cause for concern, but it was allayed on March 20. The Devils began their last road trip of the season with a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. On this evening, the Devils not only dominated the shot count and possession but put up the goals as well. The Devils beat the Blue Jackets 3-0, with the goals coming from David Clarkson and Nick Palmieri. It was the team's most decisive win since February 19; a great way to start a road trip; and an even better response to those consecutive losses to Ottawa and Washington.
That was the third set of seven days of March. Two wins, two losses. Despite the offense flexing their muscle with four unanswered goals in a win, the Devils ran into two goaltenders that played like walls and so they lost those games. At this point, many woke up from the dreams of playoffs. But the Devils' 3-0 win over Columbus gave some hope that the Devils weren't slumping, that they were in control, and perhaps make the most of their road trip to keep faint hopes alive.
Unfortunately, the win in Columbus appeared to be a proverbial oasis in a low-scoring desert. The Devils went into Boston on March 22 and had a great first period against the Bruins. New Jersey rolled through the B's like a knife through butter, but the period ended 1-1. The Bruins took over the rest of the way, steamrolled the Devils in the second period (thanks to four minor penalties by NJ), and Tim Thomas performed as he has been all season. The Devils improved in the third but they didn't do enough to get an equalizer (thanks to Thomas and only 7 shots on net) and Boston extended their lead twice to hand the Devils a 4-1 loss. The offensive woes were only beginning.
In Pittsburgh on March 25, the Devils were pitiful going forward with the puck. They were even worse when it came to shots on net. Their most dangerous chances in the game weren't even shots on goal. The Penguins were better, but it didn't make that much of a difference. They struggled at times as well. It was a defensive affair with both goaltenders - Martin Brodeur and Marc-Andre Fleury - keeping the scoreboard blank. The final result after overtime was 0-0, the rare double shut out. James Neal scored the game's only goal in the shootout, giving New Jersey a 1-0 defeat. Given how the Devils "attacked" they should have been pleased with a point. The lack of goals extended into Buffalo on March 26. The Sabres put the Devils to the sword for the first 15 minutes of the game and scored 2 goals. The Devils were stuck chasing the game early on and were simply out-played. The Devils corrected themselves in the second and third periods, but Buffalo kept them honest with offense and Ryan Miller brought his A-game. The Devils lost 2-0 to Buffalo, the consecutive shut out by Miller extended their scoreless streak to 173:55.
That was the fourth set of seven days of March. Three losses, one goal scored, and the playoffs really all but dead now. Yes, Thomas, Fleury, and Miller are great goaltenders and Boston, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo are good teams. Putting one puck behind the goal line in three games is unacceptable regardless of the quality of goaltender and/or opponent. The road trip was essentially a failure at 1-2-1. All the Devils can boast is that they didn't get dominated for an entire game, but being beaten three times doesn't give any one something to boast about. The first fourteen days were fine, but the Devils really slumped in the second fourteen days. Again for emphasis: two wins out of seven games and 9 total goals scored. That's a slump. Given how awesome the Devils were in February and how they kept up their winning ways in their first six games, perhaps this was inevitable. It didn't make it any easier to witness.
Fittingly, the Devils would play one more game this month: a home game against the Islanders on March 30. The atmosphere was weird. The fans wanted a win, of course, but the big elephant in the room is that this win would be just that. Not a shot for a postseason run. Not a statement to be made to the rest of the league. Just a game. The Devils did well enough in the first two periods, going up 2-0. The Devils nearly blew it in the third period with one of the worst power plays this season, but Andy Greene scored on one of New Jersey's three shots in third to make it a 3-2 victory. At least the Devils snapped a three game winless streak and ended the scoreless drought. Recentness aside, it was high note to end a month that featured early highs and later lows.
From here, who knows? The month of April is short with six games in ten days. Three sets of back-to-back games against opponents currently ahead of New Jersey in the standings. Will the Devils be able to score some goals, building off their last game? Will the Devils finish strong knowing it won't be for much? We shall see soon enough. As for March, I feel most fans will see it as a disappointment given that stretch from March 17 through March 26 was not only bad for the Devils but dug the grave for the Devils' playoff hopes. I can understand that, but in the big picture, it wasn't a bad month overall. 8-5-1 is not a bad record on its own. If you want to find fault at not making the playoffs, then please look at the first three months of the season (here, here, and here if you need a refresher) as a root cause.
Devil of the Month
With the way the month has gone, it's a little difficult to pick someone for being consistently great. From a team standpoint, one of the hallmarks of March was their defense. They collectively put 407 shots on net while allowing only 309. That's an average of 29.07 shots on net by New Jersey and an average of 22.07 allowed. The former's not bad, but the latter is remarkable. The Devils held their opponents to less than 20 shots on net in March three times: 15 by the Isles on 3/15; 12 by the Capitals on 3/18, and 13 by the Blue Jackets on 3/20. They only allowed 30 shots or more once: 30 by the Sabres on 3/26. The offense certainly took an unproductive dip, but the defensive game kept the Devils in control and in games even when that was happening.
Therefore, it's only appropriate to name players who primarly stand out in that end of the rink for both selections. (Aside: Though, if you must name a forward, it has to be Ilya Kovalchuk. He led the Devils in scoring, points, and shooting in March with 7 goals, 4 assists, and 53 shots on net. Plus, he did break the scoreless streak.)
|March 2011 - Henrik Tallinder||14||1||1||2||-1||8||0||0||+74
His basic stats are unimpressive. All you need to know is this: he's among team leaders in minutes with an average of 22:27 played this month. Jacques Lemaire has placed his trust in #7 with big minutes this month. While the Devils were outscored 5-6 when he was on the ice at even strength, the Devils out-shot their opposition 130-81 at the same time. In only three games was New Jersey out-shot when Tallinder was on the rink at evens and even then it was never more than 2 shots. Needless to say, when Tallinder was on the ice, the puck often went in the right direction.
How often? Tallinder finished with a Corsi (all shooting attempts for minus against) of +74 for the month. Seriously: +74. It's more than just playing with good offensive players, it is evidence that he got the job done on defense well enough to help get the offense going forward. It should be no surprise to those who have watched #7 in this past month. He was such a boss in his own end of the rink. He's been absolutely solid in his positioning, and he's handled the puck very well. He's had only 3 games where he was negative in Corsi (forced back in his own end more often than on the attack) and he's had 4 games of +10 Corsi or better. In my opinion, Tallinder has done his best defensively throughout all of March. Given that he was seemingly mistake prone for the first half of the season, it's a massive turnaround. Ergo, he's my choice as the honorable mention for the Devil of the month of March.
So who was more consistently great than Tallinder? Well, who else can you count on when the scoring dries up? The goaltender, of course.
The March 2011 ILWT Devil of the Month: Martin Brodeur
|March 2011 - Martin Brodeur||14||859||8||5||1||24||1.68||307||283||.922||2|
Now that's an awesome line of stats. He's played every minute in March for New Jersey and in every game, he's shown why he deserving of fourteen straight starts. While the Devils didn't let up a lot of shots, they have had their moments of chaos and errors like all other teams. Brodeur was his usual self in those cases, often making the bail-out save.
Among his more impressive factoids from his March performance was that he was only beaten three times in a game twice in March. No more than three. None of those goals were soft. In fact, you probably could count all the soft goals among the 24 allowed in March using one hand and still have some fingers left over.
When the games as close as they were late in the game, Brodeur was asked to and he answered the call. When the Devils got the late lead, Brodeur ensured the lead would be protected. When the game went beyond regulation, Brodeur was not fazed. When the goal scoring dried up, Brodeur did his best to keep the Devils in the game as long as possible. When the Devils skaters got destroyed by the opposition for most of a period, Brodeur ensured it wouldn't lead to a rout. He even dragged the Devils to a point in a game against Pittsburgh that they didn't deserve. Brodeur played well to great in all 14 of these games. It's consistency the Devils have relied on throughout this month and since 1994 for the most part. Therefore, I am pleased to name Martin Brodeur the March 2011 ILWT Devil of the Month.
#30 / Goalie / New Jersey Devils
May 06, 1972
GP: 14 8-5-1; 1.68 GAA; 92.2 Sv%; 2 SO
March 2011 In Lou We Trust Devil of the Month
There's six games left this season and then a longer offseason than usual. If you're struggling to find some reasons to stay interested for 10 more days, then check out some of these reasons. Basically: enjoy them as you'll miss Devils hockey on April 11.
Please feel free to give your take on how the Devils did in March as well as the selections for the Devil of the Month in the comments. Thank you for reading.