Sunday, February 17, 2008


Tale of Two Games: Atlanta and Ottawa

The Devils just played their third of four back-to-back sessions this month, hosting the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday and visiting the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. Both games were tightly fought, featured Martin Brodeur as the starter, and yielded two close games.

On Friday, the Thrashers scored an equalizer with 18.1 seconds left in the game to force an overtime and won the game, 4-3, in a long shootout. The Devils went up early in the game, taking a 2-0 lead on a Brian Gionta power play goal early in the second period - something he hasn't done since January 10, 2008. But Atlanta immediately struck back with a goal less than minute later. Ilya Kovalchuk got position on John Madden and put home a cross-ice pass. Todd White did it later in the period on a power play, getting on the right side of the defender to put it home. All three of the Thrashers' goals in regulation all involved getting in front of the Devils defender/backchecker, nothing New Jersey really could have done about. The third period involved some weird, crushing goals - John Madden fired a rising shot from the goal line that went off Johan Hedberg's arm and unfortunately directed in. But the Devils couldn't hold on. Marian Hossa just got to the puck first off a weird bounce past Brodeur to get that not-even-last-minute equalizer. The Thrashers threw everything and the kitchen sink at the end and struck gold with Hossa's effort. Tense and a bit frustrating. A full 5 minute overtime ensued followed by a really long, 10-men shootout where Pascal Dupuis made the difference to give Atlanta the win. The Devils came close to two points, only got one, and as Tom Gulitti reported, the team was not happy with not getting the win after such a long night. It was a tough loss, on the team and on the fans - as indicated by 2 Man Advantage's Steve Stirling.

The next night, despite the 65+ minute effort, Brent Sutter started Martin Brodeur again in Atlanta. Ottawa decided to re-unite the Cash Line of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, and Dany Heatley and take an offensive approach to the Devils. After losing on Wednesday in overtime, you could be sure Ottawa didn't want the same thing to happen on their home ice. They haven't been the same dominating team like they were at the beginning of the season. Before the game, the Devils were a mere 4 points behind the Senators. Given that the Devils played hard and beyond regulation the night before, this would be a good idea. The Devils' defense, despite the fifth best shots against per game average in the league, isn't what it was back in, say, 2000.

Yet in a bizarre fashion, for the first two periods, the Devils looked like the better team. Yes, the Senators heavily outshot the Devils 26-21; but the Devils got the better of the chances. They challenged Ray Emery and Aaron Asham struck gold with a brace. Yes, Asham with two goals. In the same game. One was re-directed in and the other was a laser rocket bomb that Emery had no chance to get to - it was a piledriver of an effort. Zach Parise roofed it high on Brian Gionta pass on a power play to give the Devils a 3-0 lead. The Senators were on their heels, the Devils were surging, and all before 30 minutes into the game. These are the Senators, I asked myself? These are the Devils, I then asked myself? I felt like I stepped into a world of fantasy where the Devils actually was doing well on the road against the top team in the East; except they were doing just that - regardless of shot counts! The Senators kept taking penalty after penalty, allowing the Devils to take advantage.

Then the Senators got one back late in the second and life returned to normal. The Senators gained not only confidence, but a second wind. The Devils were tired and Ottawa kept taking it to them, as the Devils could only ward them off and attempted counter-attacks to keep them honest. I disagree with Schnookie's assertion that the Devils were trying to sit back and hold onto the lead - the Senators were pressing and holding them off were all the Devils could do. It's not as if the Devils did nothing; they put 8 shots on Emery. The Devils were being swarmed and while Chris Kelly put home a rebound, unlike the Atlanta game, the Devils literally held on. Martin Brodeur made a number of big saves; the defense stepped up in some huge situations; and the Devils ultimately won the game 3-2.

Both games were similar. Tough, close games where the Devils got beaten in the third period. Yet, on one night, the opponent broke through and ultimately won the game. The next night, the opponent couldn't find it and the Devils came away with the win. 3 points out of 4 this weekend, the Carolina Hurricanes visit on Monday afternoon, and I really, really hope Kevin Weekes starts on Monday. Brodeur needs the rest.

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