Every hockey team starts every game with eighteen skaters and two goalies with very few exceptions. After the first period tonight, the New Jersey Devils were down to sixteen. Stephen Gionta picked up an upper body injury and Bryce Salvador picked up a lower body injury.
Adding insult to those injuries was the first period performance. The Devils got pinned back for what seemed like forever early in the game against the Kyle Turris line. After Ryan Carter iced it, Mike Zibanejad won a faceoff, Mike Lundin moved it to Chris Phillips, and Phillips fired a shot through traffic to make it 1-0. The Devils looked absolutely lost early on, Turris hit the post on a free lane on the weak side (and the puck nearly trickled in but the post kept it out), and Peter DeBoer was forced to use his timeout just to get his team's mind right. While the Devils racked up more shots, Guillame Latendresse hit iron on a free one-timer in the slot, Erik Condra had two shorthanded opportunities on a joke of a power play, and the shots the Devils did have weren't really dangerous for Ben Bishop. In short, it was a very poor period by the Devils. DeBoer was not at all happy and had every right to be. Ilya Kovalchuk was out and his absence loomed large. The only positive was that the team stopped the bleeding and it was only 1-0 Ottawa, a team that knows how to defend a one-goal lead. And on top of all of that, Salvador and Gionta got hurt. It was grim for New Jersey.
In the second period, they had to kill an early penalty no thanks to David Clarkson taking an interference call before fighting Zach Smith. As the penalty was killed, Adam Henrique drove to the net, took a shot, and Andrei Loktionov hit the crossbar on the rebound. Somehow, someway, the Devils just started going forward. They pushed more and more forward. The shots were happening more and more often. The Devils were winning more battles and taking more pucks away. Ottawa's own offense was held back and only got a handful from counter-attacking plays. The Devils ultimately out-shot the Sens 12-4. Loktionov had an opportunity in front of the net and finished it for an equalizer with under five minutes in the second period. The Devils kept marching on. The only blotch on that period came from Colin Greening scoring on a rebound with 16 seconds left. After all of that good work by the Devils - and it was nearly all good - was wiped away on the scoreboard.
The Devils showed that they weren't going to lie down and die from that goal. The third period was more open, more fast-paced, but the Devils managed to enjoy the better of possession and significantly out-shot the Senators again. Marek Zidlicky, who had a great game, had a beautiful individual effort to tie it up with a little over six minutes into the third. The Devils kept pushing for the breakthrough goal. A scrum here, a rush there, and everything in between. Ben Bishop had to be big as the Devils out-shot the Senators 9-3. They could not do it in the third.
Ottawa awoke in overtime and had the Devils pinned for more shifts than otherwise. But somehow, the Devils got a defensive play at just the right time to either deny a Senator from shooting or making a play. Martin Brodeur, who didn't face a lot of shots tonight, made a huge save on the one shot that did come through - a ripper from Daniel Alfredsson. The Devils still made Bishop work and in the dying seconds, Steve Bernier led a two-on-one. He cut inside, put a low shot on Bishop, and the rebound kicked out towards Adam Henrique. Henrique had an awesome game. It was a glorious chance. It would have been a perfect way to cap his performance. But physics denied him, the puck bounced past Henrique's stick, the four seconds went past, and so there was a shootout.
As with the last Devils-Senators game, the Devils did not succeed there. Travis Zajac scored a beauty past Ben Bishop, but the other skaters couldn't make him move much to score. Zibanejad got a backhander in the fourth frame up and over Brodeur and that sealed the second point for Ottawa. But tonight was absolutely unlike that game. The Devils were far from disappointing after a strong first. It was the opposite. The Devils played a fantastic game from the second period onward. And they did it with only eleven forwards, four defenseman, and a bad performance from Adam Larsson. They did it on the road against a good hockey team. You are right to feel some disappointment or frustration that the Devils didn't get the second point. I'm going to look on the sunny side of this game. They proved they can play a great game without Kovalchuk, after a bad start, and short bodies and they got something out of it.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Faceoff Comparison | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Report | The Time on Ice Corsi & Fenwick Charts (and it's a must read tonight) | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Silver Seven, Amelia L wrote that the Senators stole this win in her recap. She's not wrong.
The Game Highlights: Lots of saves, a very pretty Marek Zidlicky goal, and more in this NHL.com highlight video of tonight's game.
Mark My Words: If the Devils can play like this more often without Kovalchuk, then the playoffs are definitely likely. The Devils played a marvelous game after the first period.
The Numbers to Backup My Words Being Marked: Corsi counts all shooting attempts at even strength. Fenwick counts all attempts except for blocked shots. The difference between the teams is used as a way to approximate possession. Here's the team's totals and I am not making this up.
The Devils' collective Corsi was a +33. Their collective Fenwick was a +30. Those are not numbers particularly jacked by blocks and/or misses. They out-shot the Senators 33-14 in 65 minutes in a largely penalty-free game. The first ten minutes or so had the Devils in a deep hole, so they actually came back from a really poor start and just played most of this game in Bishop's end. Bishop absolutely had to be big - well, he is in general but I mean in terms of his performance - because his skaters weren't getting forward enough to give him breaks from the pressure. He had no chance on either goal against and he remained a challenge too large in the shootout. Bishop was a key reason why the Senators got anything out of this game, much less a win.
But the Devils aren't going to play Ben Bishop or guys like him every night. Pressure like we saw tonight - and more shots closer to the net - will yield goals for and help keep the goals against down. If we see more of it, then the Devils will find results. Possession matters.
#6 was a Beast: Andy Greene was a +26 in Fenwick and a +27 in Corsi. When he was on the ice, the Devils out-shot the Senators 23-5. Greene was an absolute boss. He was playing for two spots when he was with Adam Larsson. He pinched in well, he stepped up in the neutral zone at the right time, and even picked up two shots out of five attempts. Greene was a constant presence on the ice with a total ice time of 31:55. He got the call to play that much more with Salvador out and he was fantastic.
Super Zid: That goal by Zidlicky was a brilliant individual effort. He stopped a clearance by Eric Gryba inside the neutral zone, carried it in, got checked by Gryba, kept the puck and rolled off the hit, curled around the bodies in the slot, and fired a lovely shot just over Bishop's glove. It wasn't just an important goal as it tied up the game 2-2. It was a highlight reel goal. And it was fitting for Zidlicky as he had a great game tonight. Unlike past games where he would be risky in his own end, the Senators only had five shots on net when he was on the ice. He helped the Devils get 14 in response. In terms of possession, he was a +16 in Fenwick and a +20 in Corsi. I don't know if he had a game that high in possession this season, but even if he did, it doesn't discount that this was one of his best performances this season.
Underrated Defender: The Senators only got one shot on net when Peter Harrold was on the ice. One. Seriously.
Praise for 19 and 14: Travis Zajac made one real big mistake tonight: he gave the puck away to Erik Condra on the Devils' lone power play - quick analysis: it was bad - and it led to a breakaway that thankfully turned into nothing because Condra turned into Brian Rolston when he shot it. Everything else from #19 was very good. He went 13-for-22 on faceoffs and while he only had one shot on net, he was feeding David Clarkson all night long as Clarkson put six shots on net. He helped Patrik Elias get five attempts, too. Like Greene, possession went way into Ottawa's end when he was on the ice with a +13 Fenwick and a +14 Corsi. All of that, and he was the lone goalscorer in the shootout for New Jersey. Strong night from him.
Adam Henrique was doing great work from the second period onward. He didn't have a constant line throughout the game like Zajac did, but it didn't matter because he kept making plays. Henrique was strong on the backcheck, he skated with a purpose, and he was fantastic at moving the play forward. He was a +18 in both Corsi and Fenwick, which says it all in that department. Henrique even shot quite a bit with three shots on net out of seven attempts. The only thing he didn't get tonight was a point and that's why I feel so bad for him that the rebound bounced away from his stick in overtime. It would have been the perfect end for his night, to win the game after all the positive things he did tonight. His only downside was his first period and missing the shootout. That aside, he was all good.
That Was Kind of Dumb: I don't have a lot of criticism for Clarkson tonight. I want him to shoot and he did just that with six. But I really hated that he fought after he took a penalty. With Kovalchuk out, the team leader in shots can't just take himself out of the game for five minutes. It took even longer for him since play kept going for several minutes after those five minutes were up. He's got to know by now that he's too important on offense to do that stuff anymore. It didn't turn out to be much in the big picture, but it still bugged me then and a little bit now.
One Bad Defender: On a night where the Devils' Corsi and Fenwick values were very high, a player who's really low truly had a bad game. I don't mean low like Andrei Loktionov's +1 in Fenwick or Matt D`Agostini finishing at -1, while they each played a lot. I'm talking about a -7 Fenwick and a -8 Corsi difference. That's the result for Adam Larsson, who played 21:40 tonight. He got pinned with Bryce Salvador on the shift that led to the icing that led to the play that yielded Phillips' goal. He had a few unnecessary icings of his own. He lost puck battles on a night where even Harrold was winning them. His passes were just a bit off at times. On top of all that, he along with Anton Volchenkov got torched by Greening that led to the late second period goal against. How bad was he tonight? Even with the Devils down to five defensemen, DeBoer only gave Larsson five shifts in the third period. Bad games happen to everyone and he certainly had one tonight. He'll pick it up soon, though I'm not so sure if it'll be on Friday.
With that in mind, it's amazing the Devils held the Senators to only 14 shots total given their defense. Again, Greene, Zidlicky, and Harrold had great nights and Volchenkov wasn't too bad with additional minutes.
About that Greening Goal: There was a lot that went wrong on that play. First, D'Agostini tried to dump in the puck but it got blocked by Condra. He doesn't win it back and so he passed it up to Kyle Turris. Turris drove into the zone and slowed up in the middle with Larsson and Volchenkov just gliding back close to each other in the high slot. Greening was further ahead and cuts inside Volchenkov as Turris fired his shot. Brodeur leaves a big rebound, Greening successfully split the D, and while Larsson fell down, Greening banged in the rebound. It was a goal against the run of play and it was the summation of three bad events: a failed chip in, two defensemen beat by one, and Brodeur leaving a big rebound in front. Thankfully, Zidlicky tied it up.
Steamrolled: Which Senators got worked over in possession tonight? Well, everyone not named Condra (+5, hope his mouth is OK after he took a Greene shot there late in the third period), Peter Regin, and Matt Kassian, who only played five-and-a-half minutes. I want to highlight a few. First, if Eric Gryba and Mark Methot were a shutdown pairing, then they failed tonight. Methot was a -12 in Fenwick and Gryba finished at -19. They each played over 22 minutes at evens so it's not like the Devils beat up the third pairing (well, they did, but you know what I mean). Chris Neil was getting ripped apart like he was Nathan Gerbe for most of the second and third periods. Neil's slide ended at -20 and he had no shots on net as he was just, well, a turnstile for the night. His regular linemates of Zach Smith and David Dziurzynski, who had the line's only shot on net, were nearly as bad in possession.
The Post is a Friend: Guillame Latendresse definitely has flair to his game. He nearly scored early in the game on a rebound, a second effort on that rebound, and he hit iron on a one-timer much later in the first period. Turris definitely has skill of his own; he hit the post on a free shot from the right side in the first period. Thank goodness the right post helped out the Devils early. Without it, the Devils could have been in a far deeper hole and maybe they don't even get to play beyond regulation.
The Next Step: The Devils definitely brought volume on Bishop. Going forward, they could have stood to take more shots closer than where they were. I think that could have made more of a difference for New Jersey. I suspect the scoring chances in this game were a lot closer than the shot count. But, again, they had the possession and if they can maintain that, then they can actually do that. Possession is the first step. Getting more dangerous shots is the next one - something they should look to do in Tampa Bay.
Blah - A Shootout: Zajac's move was nice. It would have been cool if the other three shooters - Elias, Henrique (Who seriously missed the net), and Loktionov - made a move at all. Ah, well. More reason to push to win games within sixty or sixty-five minutes.
A Fact to End the Night: Opponents have earned a collective 13 points in ScotiaBank Place this season, with only two regulation wins. The Devils picked up that thirteenth point.
That's my take on tonight's game. What's yours? How would you rate the Devils' performance tonight? What is your feeling about tonight's result? Who was the best Devil on the ice tonight in your eyes and why? What would you have liked the Devils to have done differently as they tried to score a third goal? What would you like the Devils to do differently for Friday's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the shootout loss in the comments. Thanks for reading.