Well, I said that the New Jersey Devils needed to improve on the defensive side of things and did just that. They were perfect on the penalty kill, and not many of the 26 shots the Islanders did get on net were all that threatning. Paul Martin and Brian Rafalski played very well, as did Johnny Oduya and Brad Lukowich. Good job Devils.
What's more and obvious is that Martin Brodeur got a shutout. His eleventh shutout of this season, the ninety-first of his career, and his third this season against the Islanders. Clearly, he was the first star of the game and furthers my thesis that Brodeur is solid after a bad game. Tom Lycan has a quick recap of the game summing it all up at Devils Due.
He even notes my concern over Brodeur needing a rest. Well, good thing head coach Claude Julien started Brodeur. I'll happily eat crow over that remark about needing a rest as Brodeur was sharp all game long (and not switch opinions, Tom - heh). That said, next weekened provides a good time for Brodeur to sit at least one game.
Back to the 2-0 win at hand, John Madden got the game winner - so I'm sure he feels a lot better about this game than the Penguins game. The play was very well done, as Madden crossed the blue line, dished it to Jay Pandolfo, who moved it to Erik Rasmussen, and Erik's soft hands moved the puck between the defenseman's legs right to the tape of Madden's stick. The rest was elementary and a good looking goal was the result. I'd like to give head coach Julien a lot of credit for shuffling the lines a bit. Last night saw Sergei Brylin in Brian Gionta's spot on the first line and Sarge looked pretty good and comfortable. He was on the first line as a center earlier this season when Scott Gomez was hurt, so it truly was nothing new for Brylin. Rasmussen took Brylin's spot on the third line and looked much better, he's more of a defensive player than an offensive player in my opinion. I think those changes really helped the Devils forwards out in the game.
The Devils even looked pretty good on the power play. OK, they didn't score on 3 of 4, but the Devils were trying to make the most of them in that I didn't want to throw a shoe at the TV whilst NJ had the man advantage. Sarge put home a rebound after a jaw-dropping save by Rick DiPietro for the game's second goal. The Devils were active on offense all night and put quite a few shots, 30 to be exact, on Rick DiPietro. A lesser goaltender would have given up more than just two; DiPietro is very talented and while the length of his contract is comical, his performance is consistently good and such was the case tonight. The Islanders offense just could not break Martin Brodeur again and ultimately (and again, obviously) made the biggest difference in the game.
Last point I want to touch on was the toughness. Division games between opponents fighting for position - the conference for NJ and just making the playoffs for the Islanders - are always intense and that resulted in three fights between the two teams. Personally, I wouldn't miss fighting all that much if it was eliminated - hockey is more about the shooting, the scoring, the goaltending, positioning, and checks moreso than throwing haymakers - but I don't object to fights if they mean anything. That said, while the Devils won the majority of fights (Cam Janssen over Aaron Asham, Mike Rupp over Drew Fata, and Chris Simon over Mark Fraser); the Islanders out-hit the Devils by a margin of 29 to 11. Fortunately for the Devils, the hits did not really disrupt the Devils' game (which is key) and games are won on the scoreboard. Further emphasizing that Brodeur was once again The Man™ and such led to another Devils win.
The Devils get a little break before taking on the New York Rangers on Tuesday. Then they get to go to Madison Square Garden to hopefully defeat (hopefully for the second time that week) the Rangers on Thursday. Then the next week ends with a back-to-back matinee weekend with the Washington Capitals.