The game featured a lot of work done by the Devils, but they didn't get the bounces they needed to win this one. Tampa Bay also worked hard, but they got their rewards; they did play well tonight. The first Lightning goal was Brad Richards deflecting a pass off Jason Ward, which beat Brodeur. An unfortunate case, since deflection-plays (it seemed to be a set-up play, with Ward going right to the net closer to the side where Richards was) are hard to get right. I will say this, Brodeur had an amazing game. There were stretches where the Lightning would get multiple shots and scoring opportunities on a shift and Brodeur came big. Colin White also came up big, blocking and clearing the puck not once and twice. Poor Vincent Lecavalier, he was absolutely robbed of goal number 50 by defensive plays and Brodeur.
Martin St. Louis, on the other hand, came through for Tampa Bay. Johnny Oduya had a good game except he made one crucial mistake: he coughed up the puck in his own end to a forechecking St. Louis. St. Louis proceeded to move that puck, move in, and just beat Brodeur far side to break the then-tie. Oduya knows his mistake, breaking his stick in two afterwards. You know better, Oduya. St. Louis would ice the game with an impressive shot. I know you may not be happy about the game and don't want to read any praise for a Lightning player, but this was one hell of a shot. Lecavalier is behind the net and Brian Rafalski stays to the right of him looking to stop any passes. St. Louis strays from the circle enough to have Lecavalier pass the puck beyond Rafalski's reach. St. Louis steps up and hits the far post corner with a laser, and it bounces in. Maybe Rafalski was screening Brodeur, but St. Louis had a very tiny hole in that corner from where he was standing from an unfavorable angle. St. Louis shot it perfectly. I can't be too upset about that goal. Only the eventual game winner is really worth criticism.
As far as the Devils offense goes, despite only scoring once there are some positives. First, is their shot selection. They outshot Tampa Bay 35-32 and only had 9 missed shots, which a big improvement over the Toronto game earlier this week. Second, the Devils scored a power play goal.
No, really, they did!
The best part about this goal was that instead of keeping the shots coming from the point and having them blocked or deflected wide (like their first power play) was that the Devils moved the puck around down low. By moving the puck up and down, the Devils were able to have enough defenders move around to A) have move Devils into the slot and B) actually give the point men more of a clear shot. Brian Rafalski's slap shot went through, the puck got loose, Travis Zajac slid it to Zach Parise who potted the goal and ended a scoreless power play streak that has gone too long.
However, there is still room for improvement. Discipline is one, the Devils took four penalties - all of them tripping calls. Only one of them was defensible, Lukowich's first tripping call was done to prevent a Tampa Bay player for pouncing on a loose puck for a potential goal. Still, giving a team with the likes of Lecavalier, St. Louis, Dan Boyle, and Richards four power plays is not good at all. Good on Martin Brodeur for making many saves on those penalty kills, and good work was done by the penalty killers when they did clear it. However, the Devils just can't do that in a game.
The second thing would their early offensive effort. The Devils did turn it on after the first Lightning goal and had some of their best chances in the game while the game was tied, but again the other team scored first and gained momentum early. On the road, it's imperative to set the tone early and making the opposition's defenders and goaltender sweat while they try to thwart you can establish the tone that's favorable for you. New Jersey didn't do that and while they did out shoot the Lightning and didn't roll over when scored against first, the Lightning
clearly controlled the pace of the game.
The third is production. There's not much I can say about this. The Devils did a good job getting shots on net, now they just need to make more of those shots more threatening. I'm not saying they should be pass-first and wait only for open shots; I'm just suggesting aiming to the sides a bit more than the goaltender's chest. Easier said than done, I know. Still, I don't know what else to suggest there. If I did, I'm sure every coach on every team in the world would be asking me for the secret to getting a team to score goals regularly. But I don't. Sorry.
In any case, while the Devils did lose, it wasn't due to a lack of effort on offense or in general. Marc Denis was in net and he played very well tonight. Clearly, the offense is missing Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta - those complaining about their "poor" seasons, well, I'd say they're looking pretty valuable now - and it's missing John Madden forcing turnovers and turning them into odd-man rushes. I'm sorry if it doesn't sound like I'm sufficiently disappointed or upset with the Devils. Yes, it's not good that they lost tonight; yes it's not good that they lost three straight for the first time since mid-Decemeber 2006; and yes it has been a bit frustrating to watch. But the Devils are still the Atlantic Division leaders (the Islanders defeated Pittsburgh tonight
, so the Penguins remain 2 points behind - link goes to NHL.com's score sheet), they still have the 6th best record in the NHL, and I'm sorry I can't act that the sky is falling for a team that high up in the standings.
That said, I should hope that the Devils end this streak against Florida on Saturday. If the Devils go into their back-to-back session on the road next week with four losses, then it would be a cause for serious concern.
Labels: Devils Postgame