Now that was a good game by the Devils. They dominated the first period, they scored first, they scored twice on the power play, they held on to their leads, and deserved their win tonight. The win was important for the Devils to retain the Atlantic Division lead. The Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 4-3, so they are in a tie in points
; but the Devils have one more win so they have the division lead (note: link goes to recap at NHL.com). The 2 points earned by New Jersey officially secures a playoff berth for the Devils, which also good. Lastly, the win set a new franchise record for most wins in a season by a goaltender: 44 by Martin Brodeur.
With Rick DiPietro out with an injury - not necessarily post-concussion syndrome according to the Islanders, Mike Dunham took control in the net against the Devils. The Devils for whatever reason struggle against the backup goaltenders in general, so Dunham looked really good some of the time. I say some, because Dunham gave up rebounds as juicy as a steak and looked shaky in nets at times.
Regardless, the Devils drilled through the sloppy Islanders defense to put 36 shots on net. beating the Islanders defense with their transition game as well as maintaining offensive pressure. Even after the Islanders cut the lead to one (and when the crowd, somehow, got back into the game in making noise), the Devils didn't recant nor revert to dumping and chasing hockey. They kept up a consistent forecheck for much of the game, which helped the Devils more than it hurt them. The return of Patrik Elias had him team up with Scott Gomez and David Clarkson on the first line and Elias - and the line as a whole - looked real good. Elias got an assist on the Devils' second goal, which was Scott Gomez' pass to David Clarkson being deflected into the net by a sliding Chris Campoli. The line also made up the first power play unit, where David Clarkson continues to impress me by putting home a rebound for the game's second power play goal. With the eventual game winner, two shots on net, 16:29 of ice time, and five hits; I hope Clarkson remains with the Devils after they get healthy. He's earning his spot.
That leads me to the power play. Two words: Bra-vo. Three power play opportunities and two power play goals. Excellent work. Sure, both power play goals occurred by Zach Parise and Clarkson jamming a puck home (Parise's was on a second effort after a sweet Travis Zajac pass went across the crease); but goals are goals, so who cares how they were scored. Especially on the power play, where the Devils have not done well at all recently.
I'm very pleased with how well the Devils played. The defense held the Islanders to 25 shots on net; Brian Rafalski and Colin White were both steady and solid in their own end. Ryan Smyth was not as much as a threat as, say, Randy Robitaille. OK, I'll be fair to Robitaille, who did have a good game in setting up both Islanders goals. Considering the number of possible goal scorers on the team, I'd say that the Devils did a good job in limiting much of their chances in the game.
The defense did commit two gaffes of note, however. A stupid hooking call (hooking calls by their nature are stupid and show a lack of discipline) on Scott Gomez led to the power play where Alexei Yashin fired a rocket from above the circle. Why the penalty killers not challenge Yashin that far up is a bit beyond me. Brodeur maybe should have had that one, now that I think about it. The other gaffe, as you can guess, led to the Islanders second goal. Aaron Asham comes around from behind the net, gives it to Jason Blake, who easily puts it in. As you can probably guess, Blake was not covered even though he was up close at the net. Brodeur had no chance. Why Johnny Oduya or Paul Martin or either of the forwards (the first line) didn't pick him up is beyond me. Those mistakes in positioning lead to goals - Clarkson scored his goal without an Islander touching him. Hopefully, the Devils defensemen improve on that.
That all being said, the defense did do well overall and Martin Brodeur was strong in net as usual. The Devils played well as a whole, they got the first goal, they got to dictate the pace of the game early, and they held on for the win as a result. If they play like this against Buffalo tomorrow, dare I suggest that they'll have a shot at winning at the HSBC Center tomorrow? It's certainly possible.
Labels: Devils Postgame