Saturday, December 08, 2007
Devils 3 - Washington 2 - Melrose 0
As far as the Melrose hate goes, if it was there, I didn't hear it. I was up in the upper section opposite the Loudest Corner of the Rock - sections 231-233 with the Crazies right in the middle. I'm sure they had plenty to say but the crowd overall did not have anything special to say about Melrose. This includes myself and I apologize for coming up with chant ideas and not having the proverbial "grapefruits" to try any of them out. In the crowd's defense, the upper section successfully performed the Wave for a good 3 minutes followed by the lower section continuing the Wave for a length of time afterwards in the third period. In any case, the night was Scott Stevens Hall of Fame Tribute Night and many of the videos on the big screen were about Stevens - Melrose wasn't shown once. That was the major point of the night outside of the game, even recognized on the front page of NHL.com (at least, it was there when I went there as I type this). That's fair enough, I suppose the media coverage about Melrose's visit sufficed to put him in his place. Melrose came out of Newark with a more positive view, according to Jeffrey Mays of the Star Ledger. Melrose, as well as the fans, also came out of Newark seeing the Devils beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 to win their ninth straight game. As always, that link takes you to the NHL.com recap of the game.
This game was easily one of the worst performances the Devils given in their nine-game winning streak. Yes, in the last four games or so with the exception of the Montreal thrashing, the Devils started the game very poorly - giving up the first goal, generally looking listless, and letting the other team dictate the play. But in those games, the Devils dramatically turned their performance around and fought back hard to not only become the better team in the game but also the winners. Last night was the opposite: the Devils looked very strong in the first period. The Devils were unfortunate to get only 2 against Capitals' goaltender Olaf Kolzig. The Devils offense, especially on their first power play, made Kolzig move and flop around with the Devils only foiled by either A) bad luck in finishing or B) absolutely desparate defending. But the Devils did get 2 and they were sweet: Vitaly Vishnevski picked up his first of the season with a beautiful individual effort. First, he intercepts a Capitals clearance in the middle of the ice at the top of the zone (note: Even I know better than to clear the puck up the middle, let this be a lesson to the Capitals defense). Vishnevski powered closer to the net with the puck, dangled the puck to his backhand, and let the backhand loose which fooled Kolzig for goal number one. I never knew Vishnevski could do that. The second goal came from Dainius Zubrus who was in the right position in front of the net to put home the rebound off of a Brian Gionta shot. Heavily outshooting the Capitals 12-5 in the first period, the Devils were rolling.
Unfortunately, for the rest of the game, the Devils stopped rolling. As the game went on, the team became more and more passive. On offense, they weren't nearly as threatening as they could have been. With a shaky defense and Kolzig in net, the idea of just putting the puck on net as much as you could wouldn't be a bad one. But they tried to set up more than they needed to and therefore didn't get as many shots on net as they could have. More glaringly, the Devils on defense - and in general - let the Capitals take more control of the game. They allowed the puck carrier more space than he should have to make a play and they didn't cover open men as well as they needed to - which led to both goals scored by Washington, someone missing a man near the net. Instead of the Devils putting the hammer down and just decisively beating the Capitals, the Devils did not continue working as hard as they did in the first period and essentially let them back into it. It didn't matter how often Brent Sutter sent out of the Madden unit against Ovechkin's line; the line-matching wasn't the key to success in this one. Thanks to Martin Brodeur, a quick goal by Travis Zajac in response to Washington's first goal of the game, and some wasted chances by Washington, the Devils prevailed.
However, my main concern is that the Devils are not nearly playing as well as they did at the start of this streak. Should the Devils lose, which will eventually happen, no one goes on a 50+ game winning streak ever, the question becomes, "How will the Devils respond after a broken streak?" And if that response means returning to play less than 60 minutes of hockey, to return to a completely passive defense, and to return to a letting the other team dictate the pace of the game, the winning streak might as well be followed by a losing streak. Because the Devils will lose many hockey games if they regress after this streak; and they will end up back to where they started before the streak - on the outside in the competitive Atlantic Division. Fortunately, the team seems to be aware of this, as indicated by this quote from Martin Brodeur (via Tom Gulitti's Fire & Ice, emphasis is my own):
Up next is Sunday's game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Devils are 0-2-1 against the Blueshirts this season and a combined 0-4-2 against their two metro area rivals (Rangers and Islanders). "It's our big rival and we're (0-2-1) against them and we're going to play them eight times, so if we want to have a decent record we've got to get going here," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "It's a team that plays us well and, hopefully, we'll get our A Game and be a little better than the last few games."I would hope so, considering tonight's performance was definitely not an "A" game performance.
I have to emphasize that I'm glad the Devils won, I'm glad that the Devils now lead the division, and I'm especially impressed that the Devils swept their 5 game homestand to continue the streak. But I would be lying if I were not concerned about how the team has been playing - as indicated from last night's performance. I - like many Devils fans - will be incredibly unhappy should they lose to Our Hated Rivals and if the loss would lead to a tailspin back to the bottom of the division. We just read that the team knows they can do better, hopefully they will and add their first win against Our Hated Rivals tomorrow.