Sunday, December 30, 2007


One Win, One Loss, One Conclusion

On Friday, the Devils ran into the brick wall that was Ryan Miller, but they got a 2-1 shootout win regardless. The Devils were clearly the better team throughout the night against the Buffalo Sabres through the run of play as New Jersey constantly hustled forward at Buffalo's zone all night long. Miller was the sole reason the Devils didn't blow out the Sabres, as they put together several serious scoring chances per period. I mean, Brian Gionta and Patrik Elias combined for 14 shots (6 and 8, respectively), they just tore through the Sabres' defense. Miller had to be the man, and he was - only being beaten by Mike Mottau pouncing on a rebound. Martin Brodeur was equally excellent as the only thing that beat him was a perfectly placed shot from the half-boards by Ales Kotalik. In spite the 5 penalties the Devils took - 2 of which being absolutely unnecessary, the too many men on the ice call in the first and Madden's clearing of the puck over the glass, the Devils had the momentum going into overtime.

But because of Miller and Brodeur, a shootout was in the cards. Zach Parise, who I felt didn't have a good night due to the number of pucks bouncing off his stick and away from him and the number of errant passes he made, came through with a sweet goal to crack Miller. Brodeur was solid as solid could get in stopping all 3 of Buffalo's chances; sealing the win for New Jersey. A good win, not perfect, but definitely a good win in a close game at home. The game was indeed a goaltender's duel and how Ryan Miller got the first star of the game over the winning goaltender is beyond me. Nevertheless, if it wasn't for Miller, I would be sitting here, typing effusive praises about the Devils big blowout win.

Then Saturday night came, the Devils went to Long Island, and the exact opposite of good happened on the ice. No Elias, no Pandolfo (still), no Rachunek, and the team did not play with a consistent effort and it showed in a 5-2 loss to the Islanders. The game was quite physical and featured the Devils more willing to fight than to actually go out and play good defense and finish their scoring chances. As you would gather from that and the score, the night was not a good one for New Jersey. Wade Dubielewicz got his first win in a start for the Islanders and the Devils made it pretty easy for Wade save for the two goals. Why Martin Brodeur was starting this game, I truly do not know. He played 65+ minutes last night, I would have given Brodeur a rest. I'm pretty sure the entire point of signing Kevin Weekes was so that Weekes could come in, play a half of the back-to-back series, and give the Devils some solid goaltending. When it was Scott Clemmensen has the backup last season, I understood the reasoning behind playing Brodeur so much; now, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

In any case, this game had "bad" written all over for the Devils. Once again, the Devils failed to do anything with their power plays - they are now scoreless in their last 5 games on the power play. But that's not even the worst of it. The Devils committed the ultimate sin of coughing up the puck in their own end and getting scored on by defenseman Chris Campoli's catch-and-shoot. It was a great shot, I will admit it. Yet let me spell this out for you in capital letters: THE DEVILS TURNED THE PUCK OVER TO A DEFENSEMAN WHO PLAYED THE PUCK BACK TO HAVE IT COME BACK TO HIM FOR A SCORING CHANCE HE CONVERTED ON ALL WHILE BEING SHORTHANDED. THAT is absolutely unacceptable. Mike Mottau, in particular, should know that as it was his turnover that led to the horrible play.

There was more, the Devils conceded a power play goal to go down 2-0 in the game in the second period. The power play goal came on the Devils' fourth minor of that period - Aaron Asham's unsportsmanlike conduct. This after a David Clarkson interference call, two Mike Rupp minors (one followed by the other), and two fights by Clarkson and Rupp. I don't know about you, but I'm not enthused at all with Mike Rupp in the lineup as he didn't bring a lot to the proverbial table. The Devils finally woke up sometime after that goal and decided to start fighting back in a meaningful sense. Zach Parise roofed a backhander to pull within one. The Devils looked pretty good in the first half of the third period, capped by John Madden putting home a rebound for an equalizer. The final 10 minutes of the game were horrible for Devils fans as the Devils went on to give up 3 goals, totally sealing the win for the Islanders. Granted, that third one was an empty net goal; but Andy Sutton's one-timer in the high slot killed any Devils' momentum. Sean Bergenheim's goal a little more than 3 minutes later buried said momentum. It was a pretty bad loss after such a close and good win over Buffalo. This quote from Brent Sutter in's recap summed it all up perfectly.
"When you play a team you haven't beaten yet in your division this year, you'd think there would be more of a sense of desperation to want to play one of your better games," Sutter said. "For 30 minutes, we were a very average hockey team. Then we woke up and played well the next 20 minutes. Then it looked like we never learned how to play defensive zone coverage before."
Too true, Sutter. Two games, two different results, two different efforts, and yet in my view, I see one obvious conclusion. The Devils are not scoring enough. They are getting chances, they do produce many attempts at shots per game, and they do draw calls. However, this goes back to what I was talking about with shooting accuracy, this goes back to power plays, and this goes back to finishing. The Devils need to work on improving both if only to make games easier for them to win. Because this isn't just a divisional problem, scoring is important in every game. The last two games would have gone so much differently were the Devils more lethal with the puck on offense. The Buffalo game likely would have been a much more comfortable win, and the Devils would have pressed the issue earlier in Long Island and maybe would have gotten more than a beatdown out of it. Granted a lot of things went wrong last night, this is the thing that sticks out the most.

With respect to the power play, Tom Gulitti has reported that the Devils worked on them entirely at practice this morning. That's a start. Hopefully, the Devils will look to improve in these areas over the next few weeks.

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