Johan Hedberg got the start this afternoon and he was brilliant from routine saves to absolutely denying Michael Grabner with his right pad. He fully earned his shutout by being alert and in control for all sixty minutes. Steve Bernier was in the right place at the right time to score the game's first goal 16:06 into the third period, and he snuck one through at the right post 1:10 later to double the Devils' lead. It's not often that Bernier gets a brace, but he did to give the team a comfortable lead late. The penalty kill was unbelievable. The Devils took seven non-fighting penalties this afternoon, five to six were legitimate calls, and the Devils came away with only five shots allowed, three shots on net, and no goals allowed in 11:30 of this game down a man. It was a wonderful performance that's even more impressive when you consider how the Islanders' power play lit them up on Thursday. These three factors of the game largely decided the result: the Devils' first regulation win since January 22 and snapping a four game winless streak.
Truthfully, the game is more than just a few factors. Refereeing definitely was a part of this one. How can it not with twelve non-fighting majors called? For the most part, the calls were legit on both sides. The Isles faithful may feel aggrieved that Mark Streit, the team's top defenseman, got two minutes for charging for hitting Stephen Gionta along the boards. As that penalty was near it's end, Andy Greene took a shot that went right off Adam Henrique's stick and out for Bernier to roof it past Evgeni Nabokov. I'd like to be sympathetic, but given that Adam Larsson got two minutes for "interfering" with John Tavares earlier and that the Isles had seven power plays, I really don't feel that way.
Defense from the skaters and goaltenders was definitely a part of it. The Devils were a lot sharper this afternoon and didn't make nearly as many turnovers as they did against the Penguins on Saturday. There were a few big errors, including one from Ilya Kovalchuk on a power play that sent Grabner off to the races. There were quite few odd man rushes as the Isles' top six used their speed to catch the Devils unaware. But they got stops, Moose was massive, and there weren't large stretches of offensive dominance by the Isles. Despite seven power plays, the Devils held the Isles to only 22 shots. The same can be said for the other team. Nabokov made quite a few important saves, they were rarely out of position, and they held the Devils in check well until the third period. The multitude of power plays helped, but the Isles did keep the Devils to only 14 shots in the third period.
The third period was where the difference was made, but it's worth noting that the Devils played quite well. They didn't get much going in the first or second period largely due in large part to the penalties called. Whatever was said during that second intermission worked well as the Devils went out there and attacked. The Zajac line actually got some offense going. The CBGB unit did some good work. Even a double-shifted Ilya Kovalchuk with Bobby Butler and Jacob Josefson had some moments. They drew three calls, got 11 shots at even strength, and Nabokov was the main reason there were no goals - until Bernier's. Meanwhile, the Isles were held to only four shots at evens in the third and two of them happened when they pulled Nabokov. An effort that resulted in just two saves and eventually an empty netter. It was the best period the Devils have played in a while.
As important as all that is, the main difference makers were Moose, Bern, and the PK.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik faults an ineffective power play in his recap over at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Game Highlights: Want a reason to yell Moose at your computer screen or mobile device? Want to howl in delight in seeing Bernier get a brace? Then check out this highlight video from NHL.com:
The Corsi Charts: The Devils were the superior team at evens today. It was even after the first period at 13-13, and the Devils had a slight edge at 13-12 after the second. In the third period, it was 15-4 New Jersey. Again, the third period made the difference. Remember that Corsi includes all shooting attempts at even strength, excluding empty net situations. It would've been 16-9 in the third if I included the 6-on-5 at the end.
First, here's the Islanders' chart:
I wish we had head-to-head ice time (we miss you, Vic Ferrari's Time on Ice reports) so I can see who got the Islanders' depth in this one. David Ullstrom, Casey Cizikas, and Keith Aucoin got smacked around today. Their defense also got to play a lot of defense today save for Matt Carkner and Thomas Hickey, who's biggest moment was giving the puck away right to Patrik Elias in the second period. Brian Strait got it the worst this afternoon. I suspect he had the Isles' third line in front of him. Unsurprisingly, the Isles' top line was the best in possession.
And now the Devils' chart:
There's a lot to like in this chart. Bryce Salvador was the worst but -6 is an improvement over some of his recent games; having Mark Fayne by his side helped in that regard. The unit of Henrique, Kovalchuk, and Zubrus didn't fare so well either on offense or in the possession game. Zajac, Clarkson, and Elias produced a little more today but they really pounded the Isles in possession. The CBGB line generated a goal but weren't consistently going forward, which is fine given who they are. I am pleased to see Adam Larsson and Anton Volchenkov (!!) with +9 differentials.
Moose: Moose was fantastic whether he had to go post to post, stop a one-on-one, or just get in front of the shot. His stop on Grabner on a shorthanded breakaway was glorious and earned some kind of apology from Kovalchuk. He even played the puck with his stick a few times and it went well. He was about as good as he was against Boston, if a bit better, to get the shutout. His start looks a lot like Martin Brodeur's start to this season. Hopefully, the skaters don't let him down in his next few appearances, leading to his numbers spiraling down to an abyss.
The Return of Fayne: Fayne returned to the lineup, replacing Henrik Tallinder, and he played a very good game. He was calm under pressure, he didn't make any serious errors, and he was just solid in his own end for the 19:21 he got today. Salvador looked better with him out there instead of the risk-taking Marek Zidlicky or the also slow Anton Volchenkov. Fayne even stopped an opportunity at the net by Tavares after Salvador got beat by the Isles' stud. I don't know if taking Tallinder out was the right move, but I was very glad to see Fayne back and have a good game.
Bodies on the Line: The Devils blocked 22 shots today, led by Bryce Salvador (5) and Anton Volchenkov (4). Many of them came on the Isles' seven power plays, so good for the Devils that they snuffed them without turning into easier shots for the opposition.
The Butler Debut: Bobby Butler had a decent first game with the New Jersey Devils. He didn't see much ice given all of the penalties; he only played 7:04 of ice time. He did get about two minutes on the power play, so Peter DeBoer understands he has some offensive skills. The coach was comfortable enough to put him out there in a scoreless third period on the road. He had a shot in three attempts and was a positive player in terms of Corsi. Nothing too special and it's a bit weird to see someone else wearing #9 but for a first game, it was OK.
The Feeling of Wanting: It's not right to say that Ilya Kovalchuk isn't trying out there. He was a part of a strong PK effort today, he carried pucks into the zone when he could, and he did have three shots on net out of four. Yet, in these recent games and today's, I can't help but feel he could be doing more. I know he smashed his stick in disgust after losing a puck on a rush in the second period and from then on, he seemed to be forcing the issue. I sense he's trying to defer too much, be it on a rush up ice or even with an empty net ahead of him on a 3-on-2. One nearly ended in disaster. His decision to go D-to-D on a third period power play nearly blew up in his face when Grabner picked it off. In these cases I just wonder why he didn't just shoot it or even dump it away than trying to make such a pass. It doesn't help that Dainius Zubrus hasn't done much away from Patrik Elias. Adam Henrique is still getting back into form after returning from injury, though he had a decent game with two shots and going 10-for-17 at the dot. On a team thin at forward and given his talent level, though, we understandably expect more from him. I just want to tell him to calm down and shoot more. Of course, I could say that to a lot of this team.
Speaking of wanting, Travis Zajac, David Clarkson, and Patrik Elias did very little of note against Pittsburgh. Today, they combined for seven shots (Clarkson's last shot was the empty net goal) and decisively beat their competition at evens. That's a step in the right direction. I still think Elias should go back to center with Zubrus and Clarkson while Zajac centers Henrique and Kovalchuk. But if the lines do better in this tough week, then they may stick for the time being.
About the Penalties: I'm planning to have a post sometime tomorrow about the penalties the Devils have taken this season. As for this game, the Devils have no one to blame but themselves for most of these calls. The call on Adam Larsson - who really did have a good game save for one yucky turnover - was weak. He was just tangled up with Tavares, who initiated the contact. The rest were all Devils.
These were all preventable too. Andy Greene and Volchenkov each took a minor for taking down an Islander who took the puck from them at the blueline and was heading off on a breakaway. While I can understand preventing a one-on-one, if both kept the puck in the zone, then there wouldn't have been a need to take down Grabner and Matt Martin, respectively. Travis Zajac got two for knocking down Matt Moulson without the puck, which was just unnecessary. Krys Barch dropped his gloves ahead of Matt Carkner for their pointless fight, so he got two for instigation. Maybe that was ticky-tacky but he knows well enough the gloves got to come off at the same time. Dainius Zubrus got four minutes for carelessly having his stick up while trying to go around Travis Hamonic, which cut him a bit. Zubrus wasn't going to get that puck anyway so it was just a reckless move. The Isles came into this game with a fantastic power play and so handing them this many calls in the first two periods was just plain stupid.
Fortunately for the Devils, they killed them all. Hedberg was massive and the PK units really kept the Isles in check. Even though they were effective, all that time also served to keep the Devils from attacking regularly. The Isles didn't take much advantage but it was a big reason why the Devils ended the second with only 14 shots on net. Considering how much better they were in the third period at evens, I have to wonder how good they could have been had they not been down a man for significant portions of the first two periods. That's the other damage caused by taking penalties, it holds you back. Fortunately, the Devils stayed mostly clean in the third period and pulled away. I highly doubt the opposition will go 0-for-7 in future games. The discipline still needs to be better even though it didn't lead to any goals against tonight.
Snapped: Four game winless streak snapped. It's worth repeating.
That's my take on today's 3-0 win. Now I want to know yours. Were there any other important factors for the Devils beyond the Moose, Bernier, and the PK? Which one of those three was the most important? What do the Devils need to do differently for the next game based on this one? How big was this win going into another busy and difficult week of games? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.