Sunday, February 03, 2008


The Finishing was There

Let's talk about New Jersey's 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings last night. After a three game losing streak and a loss to Our Hated Rivals, the Devils got their heads on straight against LA. They effectively minimized the effect of Mike Cammalari and Anze Kopitar and held the Kings quiet for most of the game while pounding that puck home.

The defensemen played much better both positionally with 14 shots blocked and didn't get beat too badly. The defense became more of bend-not-break in the third period, but Brodeur handled most of it well. The first two goals the Kings got were preventable, but it was the failure of the forwards backchecking. Rod Pelley and Aaron Asham let Brian Boyle get into the slot for his first goal of the season; and Travis Zajac (I think) missed Jack Johnson as he also slid into the slot for a one-timer. In Rich Chere's post-game article in the Star Ledger, Sutter recognizes this fault and said as such during the game:

The Devils answered at 9:53 on defenseman Karel Rachunek's second goal of the season on a pass from Langenbrunner before Boyle, the Kings' first-round draft pick (26th overall) in 2003, assisted on the second L.A. goal at 12:57.

That's when Sutter became furious.

"The two goals were the only times we had breakdowns," Sutter said. "There was a message sent. You have to ask the players if they got the message. They're habits we have to break."

Now, this is excellent to read. Sutter didn't wait until after the period was over, and he didn't shy away from it after the game when he could have just said "We won, won big, scored goals, good game, good night." He got animated, he got angry, and he insisted on the team doing better to avoid a big disappointing loss like in 4 of their previous 5 games. This is a good thing. Yes, the Devils gave up another goal just like it later on, but they continued to score and put pressure on the Kings. They didn't relent and it was a big reason why they won.

In my view, the most pleasant surprise was the finishing. The Devils were excellent as a whole in converting on those shots. Yes, while the Devils only put 4 shots on net in the third period (I think they missed double that amount, at least it seemed that way), they were lethal. The Devils capitalized on ex-Ranger backup goaltender Jason LaBarbera and ex-Penguin and ex-Leaf backup goaltender Jean-Sebastian Aubin with a total of 6 even strength goals. Even better is that no one player took control of the game and did all of the work. All 6 goals came from 6 different players from top 6 forwards (Elias and Zajac) to the third line (Clarkson and Brylin) and even from the defense (White and Rachunek). Some came off rebounds, some were blistering shots from distance - White's goal was a laser, a great goal for sure, and some came off sweet feeds from other Devils. Offensively, the Devils needed this game after scoring a total of 6 goals in their last three games (3 against Montreal, 2 against Pittsburgh, 1 against You Know Who). Surely the result will boost the Devils' confidence on offense. It'll be up to them, however, to take that momentum and increased confidence and have it lead to further scoring over the next few games.

I will say that I was a bit surprised that Martin Brodeur even started the game. Personally, it's on these second-halves of back-to-back games that Weekes should be starting. The entire point of his signing was to have a capable goaltender to backup Brodeur. With this month being particularly loaded with games, Weekes needs to get starts. I know Brodeur gives the Devils a chance to win 90% of all games; but if fatigue even remotely becomes a factor with Brodeur's performance, Weekes needs to get in there and spell him.

Given how the Penguins rolled New Jersey just last week, I don't expect Weekes to play. I expect the Devils to put their best possible line up to get revenge and, more importantly, get a win over an Atlantic Division team. Maybe against the Hurricanes on Saturday he'll get the nod.


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