How many times do we see a long shot fired into traffic? It's a common play. There are two hopes when a player, usually a defender given the distance, takes that shooting attempt. First, they hope to get it through such that the goalie can't really see it. Second, they hope to get a deflection such that it continues the shot and hopefully past the goalie. Sometimes, you'll see the defender intentionally put it wide hoping for a good bounce back but those are usually the two intents with such a play. Most of the time, there's no goal. The puck gets blocked. The puck gets re-directed away from the goal. The goalie comes up with it somehow. Therefore, it's worth a celebration when it does work out. Especially if it happens in the final minute of regulation to tip past an opponent. That's how tonight's game between the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings ended. Mark Fayne had plenty of space, he saw Stephen Gionta in front of Danny DeKeyser and Justin Abdelkater, and he unloaded a low shot. Gionta kept his stick down, angled it back hoping to give it some air, and it was enough to have the puck fly past Jimmy Howard's left side. All for the 4-3 regulation win.
The importance of this game was known. The Detroit Red Wings, holders of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, are ahead of the Devils in the standings. For the Devils to have a shot at catching them, they needed to beat them and within sixty minutes. Adding to the drama was the possibility - now likely remote - of Martin Brodeur wearing a different jersey by 3:01 PM EDT on Wednesday. The fans serenaded Brodeur and gave out a lot of love and appreciation. Just in case. If that wasn't enough, the game itself was a real exciting and dramatic affair.
The Devils scored first and very quickly. Adam Henrique just jammed a puck in through Howard in 37 seconds. While the Devils had several other opportunities to increase their lead - most notably when Henrique picked off a giveaway by Niklas Kronwall outside of the slot - they could not. The Red Wings would equalize when Johan Franzen continued his own hot streak with a PPG. He lifted Dainius Zubrus' stick before he could get a clear, kicked the puck up to himself, turned, beat Andy Greene, and fired a sharp-angle, short-side shot over Brodeur's lowered left shoulder. The two teams played evenly and threatened.
The second period was a dumber period by the Devils. Mark Fayne was found guilty of holding Darren Helm too much to concede an early power play. The Devils had a flurry and then spent most of the second in between long lulls on offense. The Red Wings looked organized and preyed upon the Devils' lackadaisical coverage. The errors continued to stand out. Michael Ryder and his special brand of "not defending" was on display. Ryane Clowe took the same boarding penalty in the same corner - in this case, it was on offense - as Bryce Salvador did in the first period. Salvador resembled a moving cone. Jaromir Jagr wasn't schooling dudes so much; in fact, he looked like Ryder on defense quite a few times. Especially when he was caught puck-watching as Abdelkader fed Brendan Smith for a one-timer that made it 2-1 Detroit. Eric Gelinas was beaten on and as he was stung once, Henrique and a shot hitting Brodeur's fallen hip denied an easy 3-1 lead for Detroit. The Devils' power play continued their absymal form from Sunday's game, highlighted by attempted one-timer passes going to skates and not sticks during an abbreviated 5-on-3 to close the period. It was 2-1, it could have been worse, and the Devils just played an non-intelligent game. Against a Mike Babcock-coached team, that's asking for trouble. Perhaps the best part of the period was that it was only a 2-1 deficit.
But after a dumb period came a nearly brilliant one. The Devils played the third like it was the playoffs. Which makes sense because games like this could very well decide whether they go to the playoffs or not. They were tighter in the neutral zone. They attacked much more often, out-shooting the Red Wings 14-4. They had some stretches without much offense but they clamped down on Detroit. All that and they got some really good breaks. The power play that carried over into the third turned into a conversion. A Marek Zidlicky shot was initially gloved by Howard only to be knocked out by Jonathan Ericsson's stick. The puck fell behind Howard and drifted into the net. The Red Wings tried to argue but it counted. The Devils took the lead about six minutes later. Ryane Clowe stood up a Red Wing, Travis Zajac pushed forward and dropped a pass for Jaromir Jagr. Jagr took a shot and Zajac backhanded the rebound past a sprawling Howard. Yes, Zajac scored a goal. Yes, it was 3-2 New Jersey.
They wouldn't be out of trouble. Gelinas took an interference call he probably shouldn't. The normally solid penalty kill was made to look like a paper tiger on the ensuing faceoff. In 13 seconds, the Red Wings won the faceoff, made three passes to get it to Franzen in the middle. He fired it to his left, put it just off the leg of a screening Todd Bertuzzi, and the resulting power play goal made it 3-3. The Red Wings went shotless for a while but did have shifts of possession in the Devils' end. It was a tense atmosphere what with both teams wanting to win it but not wanting to risk the error that would allow the other team to do so. But late, the Devils made the final push. They were in the middle of a change since Jagr, Zubrus, and Gionta certainly wasn't a full combination. They made it count with one final tip off the long shot. The Devils held on, the fans went wild and chanted "We Want Marty!" (they got Gionta, the game's first star), they got their important result, and now attention can be paid to what could be a crucial day for the team's playoff hopes this season.
The Opposition Opinion: At Winging it in Motown, Kylemclimurray called a well-fought battle for a heartbreaking loss.
The Game Highlights: A thrilling 4-3 win at the Rock deserves to have the highlight video watched by you, the Devils fan. Here is that video from NHL.com:
Marty: I feared Brodeur would have a bad game. I didn't like the decision to start him. If it was a hockey decision, then it was a bad one. If it was for sentimental reasons, then it's a big risk for injury or something else that could undercut a potential trade. Simply, I thought Brodeur was OK tonight. He was screened on the Smith goal, Franzen's second goal did go off Bertuzzi's leg in front, and Franzen's first goal was an excellent shot. All three goals featured errors by the Devils' skaters either by inaction or a bad decision. The two penalties that yielded power play goals were dumb ones to take.
However, the fact that Brodeur guessed right on a number of shots and thankfully didn't get beaten in the second period when he was flailing in his crease belies the problem with Brodeur. He guesses quite a bit and it doesn't always end well. Franzen's first goal was on an excellent shot, but he guessed wrong in dipping his shoulder down and going low - expecting Franzen to do the same. He was just short of the other two goals, while those certainly weren't soft. Basically, he wasn't awful but he certainly wasn't great. Given that's the level of acceptance for his play this season, I'm not confident that's good enough for what this team needs in their final nineteen games.
It's great that the fans chanted for him as much as they did. I will admit that I would rather him stay. I still don't believe another team thinks they can get better by getting him. But it's more important to get results. I want the team to make the playoffs much, much, much more than I want #30 to play his whole career in New Jersey. My fear is that if he stays, he'll get more starts than he should because Brodeur got the win tonight. Schneider could and possibly would have done better tonight. He will likely do better on most nights. The Devils leaning on Schneider from the Bronx blowout through the Olympic break was the right call. They seemingly had it all right. I don't want them to revert now.
An Analogy: Follow me on this. Ever see a shy five-year old boy look interested at something? Maybe something shiny. Maybe a toy. Maybe a bunch of other kids playing with something. He'll stand there. Look like he's in awe. He'll take a few steps towards whatever it is, then stop and watch. Maybe he continues on but he'll go back to where he was. And then just stand there. That's how Michael Ryder played in his own end of the rink tonight.
Amazingly, he led the Devils with four shots on net. He had one good one off the rush in the third. But for the most part, I am not happy with how he played tonight. I saw it enough with Damien Brunner back in November. I understand Ryder has never been a defensive stalwart. I understand that he's also going through a long goalless streak, which unfortunately can happen to anyone. I'm not asking him to turn into a hockey ninja and just strip pucks from guys. Just get involved, man! Don't expect the puck to come to you, go after it before a Red Wing often did. It's a big reason why Ryder was so low-event tonight. And it affected others. Andrei Loktionov was on the ice for only two attempts (one for, one against) at evens! Loktionov's performance was a whole lot of work leading to very little. #17 just hanging about on the side, hoping to collect a stray puck near him for a clear, definitely didn't help. Thankfully, the Red Wings didn't take full advantage of his constant floating. It'd be one thing if he was storming guys on offense, but he definitely didn't do that tonight despite his four shots on net. Therefore, he seemed quite invisible and the Devils can't afford that in this crucial run.
Captain Bringdown: While I was non-plussed by Ryder, the Rock got to see a fairly poor game from Bryce Salvador. His boarding penalty in the first period was entirely avoidable and unnecessary. It eventually cost the team, too. Salvador wasn't killed in possession. In fact, only one Devil finished below 50% in 5-on-5 Corsi% and it was Steve Bernier at 6-7. But he lost the play more than a few times. He looked completely frozen on Bertuzzi's deflection of Franzen's shot for the second power play goal allowed. He looked slow and he struggled with the puck. Thankfully for him, Marek Zidlicky was having a great game. Between the most casual and most analytical fans, this game furthered the uniting thought that Salvador isn't good.
I Thought I Could Handle the Truth But Where Was It?: Gelinas also had a poor game. He didn't get a shot on net. He only made two attempts, one that missed and one that got blocked. His most notable offensive moment was passing the puck with Zidlicky during a short 5-on-3 that closed out the second, only for the pucks to go to skates instead of being one-timed on net. On defense, he looked very much like a rookie. Doubling men who didn't need to be doubled. Not always aware of what was going on. I know he got stung in the corner in the second period but conceding the puck after Drew Miller's hit nearly gave a freebie for Kyle Quincey - denied by Adam Henrique's stick - and Bertuzzi who glided in front of Gelinas. I'd love to see his zone exits, but it wasn't an accident that Peter DeBoer gave shifts to Jon Merrill with other defenders as the game went on. Gelinas did continue to play, so at least he's not hurt.
Top Defenders: While #24 and #22 weren't so hot, very good games came from #2, #6, and #7. Zidlicky actually had a very solid game on the puck. He got a break on the power play for his tenth of the season, but he created quite a few opportunities at evens. Zidlicky led in attempt differential 13-4, right up there with several other forwards. The pairing of Mark Fayne and Andy Greene continued to be bosses. They were the best pairing, Greene played a lot (25:48!) and largely played well. Fayne not only took the game winning shot but was also solid in his own end. I liked what I saw from half of this blue, didn't like two-thirds of the other half, and I don't have much of a strong opinion on Merrill.
Keep the Fire Burning: The brilliant third period featured a lot more from Jagr, Zajac, and, well, Clowe. Zubrus wasn't playing well so DeBoer saw it fit to switch that winger position. The trio created the third goal. Jagr was much more involved on offense in general. Clowe wasn't as pointless away from Ryder. Zajac scored his first goal since January 30 and had a very solid game. They helped make it happen.
Meanwhile, Damien Brunner returned to action with Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique. I enjoyed this line. Henrique had an awesome game. I thought he could have had more than two shots. Still got a goal, helped prevent one, and drove a lot of play forward. Elias was very good, too. Brunner did get stung and crawled to the bench in the second. Literally, right through the door. But I thought he was active early. He seemed more tentative after that but it wasn't a bad return at all. I still think the Devils need help at winger but I liked how the top six did - namely in the third period.
Unspecial Teams: The two power play goals allowed were originally from shots by Franzen. Franzen stayed hot too. The PKers on both looked foolish on the play. Greene's normally great but Franzen dashed past him. Zubrus was beaten. All four guys were made to look like they were at a standstill for the second one. All that and they allowed eight shots across four opportunities. Not good. The PK was the only stain on a mostly spotless third period effort. I'd say it's a bad night from them rather than signs of a deeper problem.
As for the power play, the deeper problem was on full display. Say it with me now: zone entries. The Devils rarely got clean ones. Zidlicky and Gelinas were mostly ineffective in carrying it in. Elias' soft dump-in that led to the one power play goal turned out for the best. It's still not a good idea to dump and chase while up a man. The power play goal was essentially a fluke as Ericsson really helped create it. The scorer marked four shots for the Devils, but more often than not, they were making mostly futile efforts in trying to get set up. It's been the problem all season long, so I'm doubtful we'll see any change. At least they got that one break.
Credit for the Other Team: Todd Bertuzzi was pumped up for this one. Five shots on net, nearly puts home what could've been a killer in the second period, and gets credit for a puck going off his leg. He was very active with the puck and threatened Brodeur with strong shots. Well played, Mr. Bertuzzi.
Note: Do not talk about trade deadline stuff here. Please talk about the game here. I will make an open thread for the trade deadline day after this goes up where you can talk about trades there.
Your Take: What did you think of this game? Was it everything you expected in a game and more? How did you react when Gionta tipped Fayne's shot in the final minute? Who do you think played really well tonight? Who do you think was awful? Based on what you saw tonight? hat should the Devils do differently - other than start the superior goalie - for Friday's game in Detroit? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed the sparse tweets on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.