My main concern for this game was that the Islanders were really going to be up for this one, really take it to the Devils. Amazingly, the Islanders played conservatively and tried to play something more akin to the Devils. Waiting for the opposition to make a mistake, take control, and push for an odd-man rush. The Islanders were aided by the Devils deciding to play very poorly in the first two periods. The Devils came out flat for a second game in a row, they put up a mere 3 shots on net and didn't start putting dangerous shots on net until the third period. Many Devils choosing to make poor passes instead of taking shots, some shots being taken with Islanders right in front to easily block their shots, and the Devils not even sustaining offensive pressure on the Islanders until the third period - and even then it didn't happen often. I know the EGG unit - Brian Gionta did return for yesterday's game - did it once or twice, I'm pretty sure the PZL unit didn't even do that (they didn't do much threatening of Wade Dubielewicz in the game). The power play? I don't want to talk about the power play, I don't think I can describe it while keeping my writing fairly clean.
The defense wasn't as disappointing, but letting Richard Park get rebounds and loose pucks not once but twice to score both goals for the Islanders is not a good sign with the playoffs right around the corner. Why Zach Parise, who was nearest to Park, if I recall correctly, didn't knock him down before Park put home a second put-back shot for the game's first goal is beyond me. Why none of the Devils in the slot stepped up to challenge Park before he scores is second shot is beyond me. Yes, the Devils were not beaten by the big guns of the Islanders; but in the playoffs, even the fourth-liner can be a dangerous foe and should be taken as if he was a first-liner. That said, no one was glaringly bad among the Devils defenders and they did well enough.
In summary, it wasn't so much that the Islanders outplayed the Devils or played excellently as it was the Devils not playing well at all and the Islanders being better at that.
There were some bright spots. Scott Clemmensen played well in relief of Martin Brodeur. When I saw him come out for the initial skate-around before the game begins, I wasn't confident. However, he made a number of good saves. So I was wrong for doubting Clemmensen - and I don't blame him at all for either of the two goals (the defense and/or backchecking forwards should have picked up Park) nor for the shootout. I was also wrong for doubting Richard Matvichuk. He did play and didn't look out of place or terribly rusty on the third pairing, playing 12:45. I was concerned that he was going to be a weak link on defense, that he would be burned, and I felt that a player who hasn't played all season or should not be skating off any "rust" this late in the season. I was wrong, and I'm not so opposed to Matvichuk in the playoffs if he gives solid minutes - but only on the third pairing.
The other bright spot was John Madden. His deflection of a Jay Pandolfo shot late in the third period and his put-back of Jamie Langenbrunner's slapshot, which came off an Patrik Elias feed, with 0.9 seconds left were vital in tying up the game. Eventually, the game did go into a shootout and the Devils could not keep pace with the Islanders, who scored two to the Devils' one. Lou Lamoriello put Sergei Brylin out as the third shooter, which still baffles me. Yes, I know he scored a beautiful goal in the last shootout the Devils were a part of (Ottawa), but I don't think it makes him a better option than Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, Jamie Langenbrunner, John Madden, etc. in the shootout. Brylin was stopped by a diving poke check and didn't get anything off. Great decision, as I roll my eyes.
With respect to the upcoming playoffs, which begins for the Devils this Thursday, the performance of yesterday's game is cause of concern. I thought the firing of Claude Julien was supposed to have this team stop coming out flat, retain their focus on the game for 60 minutes, and all that. Clearly, I was wrong. The Devils cannot afford to float on through the first period (or any other period) anymore. The Devils will be soundly beaten by Tampa Bay should that occur again. I'm a big believer in momentum and the Devils are going into a playoff series against a team that is known for it's offensive prowess with very little. Hopefully, Lou has the Devils working hard in practice to correct such occurrences before they become habits.
NOW THAT THE SEASON HAS ENDED: Trendon at On Fire has a statistical year in review that is worth checking out.
Labels: Devils Postgame