Thursday, April 17, 2008

 

I Guess I Do Have to Talk About It

OK. Title is self-explanatory. Expect a lot of ranting here. Game 4 sucked. Why? Tom Gulitti breaks it down as such:

Excluding Scott Gomez's empty-netter [an own goal by John Madden - JF], all of the Rangers' goals came after Devils' mistakes.

**Before Gomez's first period power-play goal, Colin White should have cleared the puck after Patrik Elias won the draw outside the blue line.

**On Martin Straka's 3-on-1 goal, Zach Parise turned the puck over just inside the Rangers' blue line (on a pokecheck by Marc Staal) and Colin White made a bad decision to step up in the neutral zone, allowing Brandon Dubinsky to chip the poke past him.

**On Chris Drury's deflection goal, Parise made a soft play trying to backhand the puck off the boards and out of the zone and Fedor Tyutin easily intercepted at the left point.

**On Staal's game-winner. Elias and White bumped into each other -- though they had plenty of time -- and Elias got very little on his clear attempt, which was easilty intercepted by Straka.

You can't expect to win a game in which you make that many mistakes.

Too true, Tom. Too true. I could end it there, but I won't.

First, I must emphasize this. This game is not Martin Brodeur's fault. Hell, this whole series outside of the Game 1 Gaffe in the third period, Ryan Callahan's and Brandon Dubinsky's first goal in Game 3 isn't Brodeur's fault. He's been hung out to dry by the defense, beaten by shots that would beat all goaltenders except for the ones who see in the future and/or in a third-person view. Given that Marty isn't running a late night infomercial promising to look ahead into your life for a substantial fee per minute or that Marty isn't playing himself in a video game, it's not his fault. If Brodeur - or anyone - stops uncovered guys nearly behind him (Gomez' goal), one-timers to his blind side in a two-on-one (Straka's goal), a well-placed deflection (Drury's goal), and pucks he can't see (Staal's goal), it's a miraculous save. It's to the point where I feel like I need to take a page from MGoblog and go Upon Further Review (example) with goals against the Devils. If only so people don't look back, say, 10 years from now and think, "Huh, Marty let the Devils down in that series."

On the contrary, in Game 4, it seemed like he and Patrik Elias were the only ones who wanted to win the game right from the start. (EDIT: The team wanted to hit, most notably shown by Dainius Zubrus having his stick fail him and then blew up Ryan Callahan at center ice was sweet. Had to mention it. OK, back to the rant.) From moment one, Elias was hustling. Elias was looking for open shots. Elias got 4 on Henrik Lundqvist and powered 2 past him. Both after the Rangers scored, becoming equalizers to keep the Devils in the game. The rest of the team showed up more in the third period, particularly the first half, due to the strength of Mike Mottau's beautiful move to the net. Mottau's shot beat Lundqvist and the Devils were looking good. But somehow, I can't figure out how, the Rangers started applying much more offensive pressure in the later half of the third period. Maybe it has to do with Jaromir Jagr - he was a beast with 10 shots on net and playing like he wanted to win everything ever. Fortunately, he only picked up an assist; but it ultimately doesn't matter. The Rangers were pressing. And a giveaway led to the shot that beat the screened Brodeur for a loss that feels like, well, an axe to the junk.

The Devils could have won this and I really don't know what else I can say other than that they blew it. They made the mistakes that cost them the game. Colin White had a horrific game and instead of reeling him in, Sutter kept giving him shifts - a total of 28. The defense didn't look too good as a whole; Mottau fouled up the two-on-one by failing to block the passing lane, Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya didn't slow down the Rangers all that much, and while Bryce Salvador and Vitaly Vishnevski combined for 11 hits - they were part of the unit that allowed the Rangers to tee up 39 shots on Brodeur.

I'm nearly (?) ranting at this point; but this is ridiculous. Could Jamie Langenbrunner, Travis Zajac, and Brian Gionta play much better. Yes. But even if the Devils go out and sign that big scorer that they so desperately need, would it even help all that much? Look at the Rangers. They broke the bank for Chris Drury and Scott Gomez and ended the season...with only 7 more goals than the Devils. Yeah, they are outscoring the Devils - but that's due to their constant pouncing on New Jersey's errors. It's not a matter of being totally outclassed. I look at this game and think, "If the Devils didn't make those crucial defensive errors, they could have won this one. If the Devils played harder in the first two periods, they could have won this one. If I had a million dollars, I'd be rich," &c. But that's all what I'm left with: what-ifs.

Honestly, I can't say this team is terrible. They are clearly better than 14 teams in this league; and I'd argue they are better than Ottawa (who is the first to be eliminated), Boston (who is just about dead like NJ), and Washington among others. They just aren't...great? Maybe that's the term? And the main proof of this is that they are down 3-1 in a series to a team that plays like the Devils once did and is honestly on the same level as the Devils. I don't know now, I didn't know then, and only time will figure it out. Regardless there is tomorrow. Tomorrow I will be there screaming my head off and be loaded with the nearly-intoxicating feeling of total optimism (and write more pretentious sentences like this one). Could the Devils come back? The odds don't favor them. Bizarrely, the team is calm and understands the importance of this according to Gulitti. I'd love to agree, but they've said the upcoming game is important and they need to better than they did the night before again, again, and again. And yet I don't think we have not seen a full 60 minute effort or even a 45 minute effort that would prove their words. I know, I know, easier said than done and all that, but that's rather telling, don't you think?

At this point, all I ask is that they win Game 5 and give the Rangers one hell of a fight. That sounds reasonable enough, right? Right? In any case: Go Devils.

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Comments:
Zajac has been asleep the entire season. Lou has had another bad offseason (i.e., Zubrus, Vishnevski, Rachunek).

Now, for game 5, I would start Weekes if for no other reason than to shake the team and Marty up. If they lose with Weekes, fine. At this point, it's a gamble I would do.

John, your thoughts on Weekes?
 
Letting Rafalsky go was a big mistake. Keeping him should have been a priority. They need two top defensemen that hit opponents in front of their net to maintain order.
What happened to clearing out bodies who stand in front of the net. Avery could have a nice espresso in front of the Devils net while he waits for the puck.

phil c.
 
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