This was a defensive effort and it had to be. Paul Martin did not play due to an injury. Karel Rachunek was not available due to his wife giving birth - congratulations to the Rachuneks. This leaves a star studded back six of Vitaly Vishnevski, Andy Greene, Johnny Oduya, Mike Mottau, and Sheldon Brookbank.
Thankfully, the game also featured the season debut of Colin White. Like Jamie Langenbrunner's first game this season, White made an immediate impact. He was solid in positioning, he exerted a physical presence without committing any infractions, and he definitely bolstered the defense. Without White, who would have taken his place and did what he did last night? Olli Malmivaara? No offense to Olli, but I doubt it. I'm very glad that Colin White is able to see well enough to play hockey, much less return to the Devils so early. I'm certain you are as well.
Nonetheless, the Devils were in the house of a very desperate Penguins team that still features Sidney Crosby (11 G, 19 A) and Evgeni Malkin (9 G, 20 A) and slowed them down on defense with only 26 shots allowed, 16 blocked shots. Was it perfect? No, John Oduya is going to catch a lot of deserved flak for his giveaway to Malkin which led to his goal. Nevertheless, outside of that and the fact that three defensemen took three late penalties; the overall defense was good last night. The penalty killers were on form and the Devils successfully clogged up the neutral zone to reduce the number of rushes the Penguins got. That's how I would go about stopping Pittsburgh, incidentally, just make it as hard as possible to get into the zone and go from there. And when the Penguins did break through, Martin Brodeur came up huge in crucial situations - Crosby's shorthanded breakaway, Kris Letang's deke in the slot in the third period - and blocked whatever else the Penguins threw at him. Brodeur is still the best goaltender in the league and his performance tonight is further evidence of that claim. The Devils also got a lot of help from the Penguins getting some really bad bounces - passes eluding their players, pucks bouncing off sticks - despite the goal, Malkin didn't look so good and Jordan Staal was nearly invisible.
What really helped New Jersey were the Penguins' lack of discipline. Many of the calls were quite obvious - I'm sure head coach Michel Therrien let his players know about how poor those infractions were. Sticks on the hands, Penguins grabbing Devils, pretty much all of them could have been avoided had the Penguins played with cooler heads. The most surprising was Sidney Crosby's two penalties early in the third period. The first was were Crosby's trip of David Clarkson where the top talent in the league swept his leg into Clarkson's trailing leg leading to the trip. Crosby should really be above that. The Devils made the Penguins pay dearly for that, as it led to the game winning goal. The Devils were the beneficiaries of six power plays and for a change, they took real advantage of them. This was followed by Crosby expressing his anger about what just happened and he naturally says something stupid to the referee. Obviously, the ref sit the captain back down for another two minutes. I don't care how talented he is, captains of teams - in any sport - should not be hurting the team in such a manner.
But enough about the Penguins' poor discipline. Let's talk about the upside of all that. The Devils were good on the power play. After The Devils took 13 of their 28 shots on net with the man advantage. More importantly, the Devils scored on the power play! Twice! Zach Parise finished off some excellent passing with the man advantage on Marc-Andre Fleury's left side twice. This is fantastic. This is wonderful. For so many times this season, the Devils would get 3, 4, 5, or more power plays and they would not convert any of them. Tonight, in a sloppy game between two teams who many expected to have better records by now, the Devils actually scored twice on the power play. I really hope this will lead to improved production on the power play now that they finally got one (and a second) through the goalie. Some of the pressure should be off of them now.
But what the Devils may now have is momentum. This is the first time since November 2 that the Devils won two games in a row. And they will need it for the next two games. On Friday, the Devils visit Atlanta who will likely be looking to get revenge for the tough 6-5 loss the Devils inflicted on them back on October. Moreover, the Thrashers have been hot with 8 wins in their last 9 games. After that fun little excursion, the Devils will visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. The Lightning are led by the league's leading scorer, the always-threatening Vincent Lecavalier (14 G, 20 A). What's more, I'm very confident the Lightning will be looking for blood as the last time the Bolts got owned, pwned, and qwned by the Devils 6-1 in their last game. I'm sure Kevin Weekes will get one of those starts - I'm just not sure which night however. It'll be an interesting back-to-back road trip this weekend and even if the Devils get one win, maybe it should be seen as a success.
Labels: 2008 Postgame