Sunday, January 14, 2007


Postgame: Devils 2 - Islanders 1 (OT)

The New Jersey Devils defeated the New York Islanders 2-1 in overtime last night. has the official score sheet and the official super stats, linked respectively.

Now, Rich Chere's article in today's Star Ledger recapping last night's game stated something I'd like to refute to get my own recap started:

For almost 59 minutes, Brodeur and Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro were engaged in a scoreless battle. It was precisely the kind of game the Devils wanted to play and they seemed to be rewarded when John Madden scored with 1:18 left in regulation on a shot from the right circle that found the top left-hand corner of the net.

The emphasis in that quote is mine. He's right, the game itself was largely a goaltender's duel. As the game went on, both the Islanders and the Devils improved on some really sloppy passing and made more threatening scoring chances. Why was the passing so sloppy? Maybe the ice was poor, maybe both teams were just too tight in general so their timing was off, maybe both team's defenses picked up their games for the night (this was true for New Jersey, in my opinion), I do not know. In any case, by the third period, the game truly became more open and more than ever the game became a battle between Martin Brodeur and Rick DiPietro. Whoever "blinked" first loses. Late in the third period, the Devils put together a strong power play and John Madden had the space to launch a rocket that beat Rick DiPietro high on the far post.

But I do not believe this was not the Devils' game plan. The Devils are always looking to score first in order to establish the pace of the game and to build on the resulting confidence. No team in their right mind would be looking to hold the other team to no goals for over 50 minutes and not look to score any for themselves. The Devils have a winning percentage of 0.857 when leading after one period an 0.900 when leading after two periods. The Islanders are even better when leading after a period, with winning percentages of 0.923 and 0.950 respectively. If anything, both teams were looking quite hard for that first goal; they just had trouble setting up plays to create a goal. When they did have the play, either Brodeur or DiPietro denied them.

Now, getting back to the game, after Madden scored the Devils just need to hold on for over a minute. The Devils defense made two critical errors late in the game. The first was Brian Rafalski getting caught holding an Islanders. This resulted in a minor penalty for Rafalski, the Devils' top defenseman and only skater going to the All Star Game, he would sit for 2 minutes. The second was coverage during that short power play. With the Devils already shorthanded, Islanders head coach Ted Nolan pulled Rick DiPietro for an extra skater. For much of those remaining 11 seconds, the Devils held them off but then they made their second mistake. With about 2 seconds left or so Miroslav Satan and (if I recall correctly) Jason Blake set up around Martin Brodeur all alone. Let me put this in capital letters for emphasis: THE DEVILS LEFT TWO ISLANDERS WIDE OPEN IN FRONT OF MARTIN BRODEUR. Somebody NEEDS to be there, especially when the other team is going to be desperate and aggressive for a goal. That is a recipe for disaster and the Islanders made them pay. Tom Poti got a shot off from the point, deflected in by the wide-open Satan with 0.8 seconds left to tie up the game.

At this point, I got worried. Brodeur and DiPietro played very well, and I expected the game to go into a shootout. With shooters like Satan, Blake, and Viktor Kozlov - the shootout was the one thing Kozlov was consistently good at for New Jersey last season - who can not be worried? The overtime itself was very up-tempo and up-and-down play. I was on the edge of my seat when Miroslav Satan got a sure breakaway, but he was denied thanks to a crucial diving poke check by Colin White. Before I knew it, the Devils broke out and DiPietro made a stop on a rushing Scott Gomez. The Islanders seemed to pick up the rebound and one would expect a breakout play to go other way. But then the Devils got a break and an Islander - Bruno Gervais, I believe - gave up the puck to Patrik Elias. Elias did not shoot, no, he waited a bit and hit Scott Gomez (who was in the corner) with a pass. Gomez had no trouble putting the puck in the net and won the game for New Jersey.

The Devils are hot, so I'm pleased with the win. It was on the road, after a big win against Atlanta from Friday, and against a divisional rival who traditionally plays the Devils tough. While the defense really blew it at the end, when the game should have easily been ended at 1-0 for NJ, the Devils make up for it by getting the goal in overtime. Again, good game by New Jersey. They have another challenge on Tuesday, when they host the New York Rangers. This coming week of games are the Devils' last three home games for this month, so any wins in the near future helps them extend their grip on the Atlantic Division lead (now 8 points up on the Rangers).


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