Going into tonight's game, the New Jersey Devils have won their last four games - another streak among the 20 wins they have achieved in their last 24 games. They all haven't been pretty decisive wins. Most of these wins were achieved by one goal. From a results standpoint, that's fine. From a performance standpoint, you begin to worry a little bit about that. What if the Devils didn't get the one break or the one opportunity to blow the game wide open? What if it was the opposition who put home a glorious play to go up in the third period?
That exactly happened tonight: the Ottawa Senators took a 2-1 lead with less than 3 minutes to play. Jason Spezza circled around with the puck, looking for an option. Both teams took the opportunity to get a change. Erik Condra hopped off the boards and streaked into the slot from the left side on everyone's flank. He got past Nick Palmieri on his flank, Spezza saw the separation, and slung a pass in the hopes Condra would get a piece of it. He got it right in front of the crease and re-directed it point-blank past Martin Brodeur. It was a good risk to take, an even better pass, and a fortunate finish.
Over the last 24 games, we have seen the Devils be the beneficiaries of a similar occurrence. An excellent rush by Ilya Kovalchuk with a slick shot. Kovalchuk taking a puck off a faceoff win and firing it through a goaltender. Kovalchuk banging home a puck on a power play in overtime where everyone was scrambling. There are many more examples, some not even by Kovalchuk, but I think you get my point by now. Tonight, though, was not their night. The opposition took that role and picked up the win.
This is not to say the Devils were totally awful (they weren't) or that they played well but just didn't get the breaks (not entirely true), but I'll go into that after the jump. For a Senators-based opinion on tonight's game, please check out Silver Seven.
The Highlight Video: Want to see all three goals? Want to see some saves? Check out this video from NHL.com.
Why the Devils Didn't Suck Tonight: The Devils out-shot the Senators 32-21 and out-attempted them 51-38. In terms of Corsi, the Devils were a +6. That there were only 21 shots allowed means the defense did something right. In terms of offense, New Jersey may have started off slowly and had some dry spells on offense, but they didn't let Craig Anderson and the Senators have an easy night. Everyone except for Anton Volchenkov (a defenseman), Anssi Salmela (another defenseman), and Nick Palmieri (a forward) had at least shot on net this evening.
They had the better of possession throughout the game, and they certainly attempted to get multiple goals while limiting the visitors to as few shots as possible. I don't think one can say a team was playing poorly when it is proven they did more with the puck than their opposition. If Anderson didn't play as well as he did and/or the Senators didn't clear out a couple of those rebounds Anderson allowed, then this is an entirely different game. From this point of view, the Devils didn't suck tonight.
What the Devils Did Suck At: Believe it or not, the Devils could have had much more shots - and perhaps a few more goals - if their passing was better. I lost track of how many passes in the neutral zone got picked off by a Senator, bounce off a stick or a skate, or just miss their target entirely. This also occurred quite a bit on offense. That the Devils still managed 32 shots on net and 51 shooting attempts is a testament to how they pushed forward on offense. Or an indictment of Ottawa's preventative defense. Still, if the Devils didn't make so many ill-advised decisions with the puck, then they could have been much more threatening on offense and really put the screws to Ottawa. Alas, this was wasted and so the game was mostly frustrating to watch (and probably to play in as well) for the loud opinionated crowd at the Rock (or at least Section 1 was loud and voiced many of their opinions).
Breakdowns: While the defense as a whole was good, the Devils' own-zone efforts were marred by two breakdowns. The second one led to the game winning goal - where a backchecking Palmieri got beaten on the flank (meaning he had no help) during a change in players. Even so, Spezza made a tough pass and Condra did well to get a piece of it, much less re-direct it past a goaltender.
That leaves the other one; which led to Condra's first goal. I was screaming when Henrik Tallinder, Mark Fayne, and Patrik Elias converged on Ryan Shannon in the corner. I can understand Elias and Tallinder or Elias and Fayne being there; but there was no need for both defensemen to go to the corner. Shannon was able to backhand a pass to Condra with Dainius Zubrus left to defend. Zubrus missed his pokecheck and Condra put a short shot on net. Brodeur stopped it and Condra dove around Brodeur's sprawled body to knock the loose puck in. Fayne got beat on the initial dump-in and stupidly went to help Tallinder who was already dealing with Shannon. This left a forward to do what Fayne should have done, and Zubrus missed the poke. Don't misunderstand me. It was a heck of a move by Condra. However, the Devils should have done better to prevent him from having to make that move earlier.
The Power Play Section: I'm sure many Devils fans are up-in-arms about this and I can understand why. In the big picture, the Devils got 3 power plays this evening lasting 4:33. They put up 7 shots on net but didn't score. From that alone, that's not bad at all. The bitterness comes from the fact that the Devils had two 5-on-3 situations: a very short one for 16 seconds and a more substantial that lasted 1:11. These two man advantages linked all three penalties together so this was 4:33 in a row of power play time - and coming away with nothing hurt at the time.
Overall, the Devils looked impatient and struggled a bit to even set up on the 5-on-3s. The 16 second one was perfectly fine. The Devils won a faceoff, fired one shot, jammed another shot on net, and Anderson covered it up. Simple. In the longer one, it took the Devils 3 attempts to get into Ottawa's zone and ultimately came away with 2 shots on net - one of which was just fired into Anderson to force a faceoff. To be fair to the Senators, their PK units held strong for the long haul, got several long clearances, and even got a shot on net on a shorthanded rush when Brian Rolston coughed up a puck to Spezza at the blueline. Ottawa handled the situation with calmness, the Devils, to my eyes, did not.
In retrospect, I think Jacques Lemaire either should have used his timeout before the second 5-on-3 began or taken out Ilya Kovalchuk. The timeout would have served to calm down the Devils and set up a few plays. Sitting Kovalchuk for a shift would give him some energy instead of gassing him out for 4:33 straight. That said, Lemaire (or Adam Oates) weren't on the ice and the players have no one to blame but themselves for the botched passes and bad decisions with the puck.
One final note: while the Devils could have done more with the power play situations they got, it didn't kill their chances of winning the game. The power plays all happened in the middle of the second period. They were down 1-0, sure, but the Devils did tie it up in the third period.
There Will Be Sun in the Offseason: As reported here by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Mattias Tedenby's explanation for not showing up for the optional practice earlier on Monday morning was that he wanted to walk out in the sun. Tedenby's stats: 11:46 in ice time, 1 shot on net, 0 in Corsi. He was not a significant contributor in tonight's game.
Lesson for Tedenby: GO TO PRACTICE.
Incidentally, the other two kids fared a little better. Vladimir Zharkov managed a +1 in Corsi while Jacob Josefson was a -2. Each had a shot on net as well. Josefson also hit a puck with a high stick on one of the power plays prior to a Devil jamming it in. The goal was waved off, and rightfully so. Even the big screen over center ice showed Josefson's stick above the crossbar in what appeared to be an attempt to hit the puck. I have no issue with the ref blowing it dead there. And remember: it didn't decide the game, the Devils did get an equalizer in the third period.
I(nvisib)lya Kovalchuk: I don't mean to pick on the guy since he's been so hot, but he struggled tonight. He played 24:10 (19:37 at evens) and only registered one shot on net and one miss. He was a -8 in Corsi, the worst on the Devils this evening. Chris Phillips and Brian Lee did well to cover him; and the line of Spezza (+2), Colin Greening (+6! He did quite well), and Bobby Butler (+1) proved superior to the Travis Zajac line tonight. When Kovalchuk did rush forward, he didn't seem to have a lot of support. This is justified by Palmieri, who had no shots on net and a -7 in Corsi.
Interestingly (and surprising to me), Zajac actually had 5 shots on net. But before you start saying how well he played or how that is support, let me point out he was a disappointment at the dot by going 6-for-16 (the Devils as a team won 52% of draws, so Zajac alone suffered there tonight) and he had a -4 in Corsi. He was pinned back more often than not, just not to the degree Kovalchuk and Palmieri were. Essentially, the line as a whole didn't have a good night at all; especially Kovalchuk.
The Might of the Checking Line: So who did awesome when it came to puck possession for New Jersey? Surely, someone stood out since the team did finish at +6. Make it someones. The line of Rod Pelley (1 SOG, +10 Corsi), David Steckel (3 SOG, +9 Corsi), and David Clarkson (4 SOG, +11 Corsi) shined tonight. They collectively hammered the Senators' line of Chris Neil, Zack Smith, and Nick Foligno more often than not. I noticed during the game that they seemed more up tempo than in past games. I didn't recognize the match-up until now. Either way, they should have gotten more than 8 and a half minutes together tonight. Perhaps they would have done better against Spezza's line?
Brian Rolston's Night: 5 shots on goal, 18:01 of ice time (13:13 at evens), +1 Corsi, a legit diving call (he clipped his own skates when Spezza hooked him, also shown on the big screen at center ice), his stick getting broken by a Senators defenseman in an attempt to split the defense for a breakaway and not getting the call, and assisting on Patrik Elias' goal. It was a busy night, though I leave it to you whether he had a good one. For what it's worth, I don't think he was a positive factor until the third period along with Elias and Zubrus.
Irony Is...: ...complaining about losing to the last place team in the East when earlier this year, the Devils were in the same spot and beating superior teams. That role was reversed tonight.
That's my take on tonight's game. What do you think of the Devils' performance? What would you like see changed before the next game? What do the Devils need to work on the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's in the comments. Thanks to everyone in the Gamethread for commenting; thank you for reading; and happy birthday to long-time reader and verbal-feedback-provider to the Associate.