Perspective is important to have, whether you're a hockey fan, a hockey player, or a coach. It helps us understand the situation without getting overly negative of positive. The New Jersey Devils did lose their first game of the 2013 season tonight in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens. The game was decided when Andrei Markov rotated down low to put back a missed shot off the endboards by Rene Bourque. Martin Brodeur scrambled right in trying to deny Erik Cole, the puck got past Cole, and so Markov had the net. It was a power play goal that came off a dubious penalty on Andy Greene. Cole was driving to the net and appeared to be taken down by Greene at first glance. Upon further review, it appeared that Cole grabbed Greene and the 6'2", 205 pound winger went down rather easily. Given how much the refs let go during the game, it was a weak one to whistle. Not false, but a weak one and the Devils' penalty kill just couldn't get the puck. It's a tough way to lose a game, especially in overtime.
However, a proper perspective doesn't dictate that this was a heartbreaking loss. If anything, the Devils, at least the fans, should be really glad they got to overtime at all. New Jersey was absolutely awful in the first period. Nearly the entire blueline was bad and the forwards weren't helping much either. Turnovers were common by both sides in the first few minutes, but Montreal reduced them while New Jersey kept making mistakes with the puck. And, occassionally, without the puck such as an ill-advised defensive pairing change while Montreal was rushing up ice. Let me summarize the damage: Montreal ended the first period up 2-0, they only took one penalty to New Jersey's three they could have had more, they out-shot the Devils 16-7, and they out-attempted them 27-14. The Canadiens rolled through the Devils skaters, and a combination of Martin Brodeur and luck prevented an even bigger deficit. To state that the Devils started slowly or "sleptwalked" through the first would imply they weren't active. No, the Devils were active, they just did a lot of the wrong things. Battling back from those abjectly terrible first twenty minutes to force overtime is the biggest positive to take out of that game.
In order to do that, the Devils needed to be smarter with the puck and they largely were in the second and third periods. The Devils weren't perfect, but the defense were often in better positions to make plays and give up fewer odd-man rushes. The team as a whole didn't turn the puck over as much. The Devils were able to get some strong possession shifts in Montreal's end, one of which paid off when a Fayne shot was re-directed past Carey Price by Patrik Elias. The second ended with the Devils down 2-1 and having out-shot the Canadiens 8-6. It was an improvement and it looked like a comeback could actually be possible.
The comeback effort took a big hit early in the third period with an odd goal by Montreal. Jacob Josefson wasn't thinking and decided a no-look backhanded clearing attempt inside the right circle was a good idea. It wasn't. Galchenyuk kept it in and fired a shot that first took a deflection off Anton Volchenkov's stick and then was batted in mid-air by Prust past Brodeur. The Devils didn't panic after being back to down by two goals and they got a great opportunity a few minutes later. Dual minors to Brandon Prust and Galchenyuk led to a two minute five-on-three. The Devils converted the two-man advantage when David Clarkson smacked in a pass to the crease by Elias to make it 3-2. The Canadiens kept attacking, but the Devils didn't relent. Elias won a race to an iced puck behind the net, did a little give-and-go and found Dainius Zubrus right in front for the equalizer. I'll go into a little more detail later, but Elias had a great night along with his linemates. The Devils don't get to overtime without him. Though, they nearly didn't even get there. They were saved by Bourque pulling a Rolston late in the third after a stupefying giveaway by Bryce Salvador, where he moved the puck across the blueline instead of two feet forward to keep Montreal from going on side. In any case, the Devils out-shot Montreal again, 8-5, and scored twice to force an overtime that didn't look remotely possible during the first intermission.
It is in that sense that I'm pleased with the result. I'm not heartbroken or bitter about the result. Sure, it would have been great if the PK got the puck after the Greene penalty and killed off clock. I wished Ilya Kovalchuk didn't hit the post when he attempted a short-side shot off a rush. But given the earlier events of tonight, I have the appropriate perspective on this game. I also have the appropriate hope for the next game: this team needs to stop being sloppy early on in games. It didn't completely burn them tonight, but they will not be so lucky in the future.
The Opposition View: Plenty of coverage and relief at Habs Eyes on the Prize that Montreal didn't lose the second point.
The Game Highlights: Miss the game? Want to relive the goals? Need a reason to yell at the D or marvel at Elias? Then this highlight video from NHL.com will answer those questions for you:
Patrik Elias Scores 900th Career Point: Elias is the best New Jersey Devils forward of all time. He hit the 900 mark with a one-goal, two-assist performance. That means he was responsible in some way in every goal the Devils scored tonight. He centered the most effective line for the Devils tonight. Unless I made a big mistake with Robert's Corsi template, Elias was a +12 in Corsi. His linemates, Dainius Zubrus (+6) and David Clarkson (+3) were also positive. Elias had three shots on net out of five attempts and he amazingly went 11-for-15 on faceoffs. Tonight was definitely Elias' best game of the season so far and another reason why he is a franchise legend.
Duh-fense, Or Surely Larsson Has to Get In Soon, Right?: Over the past few games, I keep repeating that the only way Adam Larsson gets in a game is if someone on defense is hurt, moved, or plays poorly. After that first period, I was having trouble who Larsson should replace due to all the options. The defense, and by extension the team, did better as time went on. Still, I want to figure this out because if there's a game where someone should be held accountable on D, then it was tonight's.
Salvador made one of the worst giveaways by throwing the puck blindly across the ice, a cardinal sin for a defensemen. He was also dead last in Corsi at -18, the Canadiens loved going against him at evens. But he's the captain so he's not getting scratched. Andy Greene was brutal at times tonight and should've been given an assist on Gallagher's goal. He took the penalty that led to Markov's game winner. He wasn't so awful in terms of Corsi differential at -3, but he really stuck out like a sore thumb. I liked Fayne's game except of what he did - or, rather, what he didn't do - on the Gallagher-Galchenyuk two-on-one that led to the second goal. Anton Volchenkov was exposed for his lack of speed, but what else is new? He had some real trouble with the puck at times and took a lazy holding penalty not longer after the Gallagher goal which helped Montreal keep their good attack rolling. But he remains a PK stalwart and he was a +1 in Corsi, believe it or not. Marek Zidlicky didn't take a penalty tonight, but he looked poor yet again. Like Salvador, he was so much on the wrong side of possession that one may wonder if he understood the flow of the game. Zidlicky was a -10 in Corsi differential, the third lowest on the team tonight and he also had issues with the puck. He almost had a disaster when a puck thrown to the front of the net was directed up and at Brodeur by Zidlicky. It was an accident, just a wrong place, wrong time sort of thing, and Brodeur grabbed it. Yet, it would have sealed his fate. In general, he and Salvador was just a poor pairing. Of course, he won't be benched because he's the only defender with any offense that can play on a power play. This leaves Henrik Tallinder, who actually wasn't so awful. He had the best Corsi differential at +5 and he did play 18:47, which is a good amount of ice time. Unless I've forced myself to forget an awful move by him, he did the least amount of damage.
My conclusion is that it's not an easy decision. Yet, Adam Larsson could not have been that much worse than most of those defenders, especially after that first period. If not after this night, then when?
Hello, First Line? How Were You? Bad? Huh.: The Elias line was great tonight. The Zajac line, not so much.
First let's look at their rotating left wingers. Stefan Matteau started up there but didn't do much of anything with only one shot attempt and it was blocked. He only played a little over nine minutes tonight; the move up didn't help him or his linemates at all. Mattias Tedenby was sighted with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk, but he also did nothing. Worse, he finished the night at -9 in Corsi differential. At least Matteau was even at zero. Jacob Josefson got shifts up top, but Josefson had a pretty poor night. Whenever he stepped on the ice at evens, bad things tended to happen. Unless I made a big mistake, he finished with three Corsi events for and 21 against. Yes, Josefson was a -18. Throw in his giveaway that led to Prust's weird goal and it was just a real bad game after two good ones. If there's any unit that should be looking forward to Adam Henrique's impending return, it should be this one.
Second, Zajac didn't have that good of a game. His passes weren't on the mark all that often, save for one killer lead pass that sent Kovalchuk off on a breakaway. Zajac only got one shot on net. There were some positives. Zajac was great at the dot by going 15-for-23. He did finish the game at -2 in Corsi differential so he wasn't completely destroyed at evens. But he could have been better.
Third, Kovalchuk could have been a lot better. He only had four shots on net and a post in overtime. For most players, that's more than fine. However, the team's top offensive player needs to do more than four shots on five attempts when he plays 27:23. He got credited for a secondary assist on Clarkson's power play goal, but he only contributed in moments. For example, his breakaway in the second period wasn't bad but that and his attempt at his own rebound were his only shots in that period. Kovalchuk lost the puck a couple of times either at the point or in his own end that led to some real trouble, including a notable shot by Brian Gionta in the third period. He also got tagged for a holding penalty late in the first, though I'm not sure that was really the foul - just the one the ref thought he saw. His regular play plus additional shifts led to a -7 Corsi differential so possession wasn't in his favor tonight. The star has to be better. He will be, but he wasn't so good tonight.
We know the Devils are a thin team at forward, so when the two first liners and whoever's their partner is doesn't do so well, it makes it that much harder for the team to get offense. The only positive is that it makes the Elias' line look that much better tonight.
Cam Janssen Sucks Part A Million: Cam Janssen played 3:53 tonight. He was on the ice for seven Corsi events - that's shooting attempts - against, including Ryan White's goal. Just shake your head at that and move on.
Brian Over Stephen: Stephen Gionta did get three shots on net, which is pretty good for a fourth liner in a third period role. But his brother was the better one tonight. OK, that shouldn't be a surprise since Brian Gionta is way more talented than Stephen. Tonight, he was a force. While he didn't register a point, he had seven shots on net out of ten shooting attempts. He hustled all night long like he did as a Devil and drew an interference call out of Clarkson in the second period. He was very effective in his 22:59 of ice time and finished with a +11 in Corsi differential. Since he had so many shots and attempts, he clearly drove his line of Tomas Plekanec and Bourque, who each had strong games in their own right. While others will rightly get the spotlight for this win, Brian was great tonight. Stephen, well, he got pinned back quite a bit - but that's expected since Montreal's bottom six performed better tonight than the Devils'.
Special Teams: I didn't think the PK was so bad. Montreal did score the winning goal in overtime, their sixth power play shot in five total power plays. Not bad overall, but not as dominant as they were against Washington. The PK also got a shot on net, but they could have had more. One attempt led to Zubrus drawing a penalty from Raphel Diaz so that worked. The rest just died with pucks bouncing away and whatnot.
The power play wasn't so active. Yes, they scored on the 5-on-3 and I thought they looked fine on the 5-on-4 after Clarkson's goal. However, they only generated three shots on net and they squandered their first power play. They only had those three opportunities in a little over four minutes, so there's not a whole lot to analyze. They did convert the two man advantage, which they really needed at the time. I suppose that's at least acceptable.
Other Thoughts on the Canadiens: Markov is clearly talented. He bossed the Montreal blueline as he played just under 30 minutes tonight. He scored the game winner, he finished rather well in Corsi differential at +9, and he was just so calm out there. I still think they really need to sign P.K. Subban but the Canadiens at least have one top defender. Their unit of White, Travis Moen, and Colby Armstrong (who Rolston'ed a scoring opportunity in the first when Montreal caught New Jersey changing) did better in possession than the two kids and Prust. The Canadiens got three goals between the six so it's not that big of a deal. Carey Price really didn't have much of a chance on either goal against, so I don't think he should shoulder much criticism for the team blowing a significant lead.
Marty was in Montreal Yet He Did Not Seem Dominant: I don't think any of the four goals against Brodeur were bad. White beat two Devils to a rebound; Gallagher's one-timer wasn't going to be stopped short of luck; Prust batted in a puck in mid-air that already was off a deflection; and Markov got it on a rebound play. You could argue Brodeur overcommited on the game winner, but I think that would be harsh. Given how badly the Devils were in the first period, it's a wonder that they only scored twice on Marty. That all said, his hot streak appears to be over. While he was kept busy with 32 shots against, he didn't make any amazing stops like he did against Philadelphia or Washington. He had two gaffes playing the puck that thankfully didn't end up in the net, one behind the net in the first that got blocked by a forechecker and one into space that Brian Gionta would have had if Clarkson didn't clobber him before it. The Devils didn't lose because of Brodeur and goaltending remains the least of the team's concerns. But he wasn't the dominant Brodeur that Canadiens fans fear.
A Last Question: The Devils should be fortunate that they came away from this game with a point. Does that reflect well on the Devils, fighting back from poor play to salvage at least something in the game? Or does it reflect more poorly on the Canadiens for blowing it despite an advantage in shooting attempts throughout regulation and a strong first period? I'm not quite sure. I leave that question to you.
I have some other questions where I'd like your opinion on. What do you think the Devils need to do to start games better? What did you see from the Devils that you did or did not like? Outside of Elias, who else impressed you tonight from New Jersey? How about Montreal? Who stood out in your eyes? Would you like me to post up the Corsi charts here or in a future post? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's overtime loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along either in the gamethread or with @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Of course, thank you for reading.
And here's the more glorious Canadiens' performance: