"They played a very desperate game and played well," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "They deserved to win tonight. We weren't good enough to win tonight."
I say it's almost completely true because Sutter doesn't mention the simple reason why the Devils weren't good enough. The Devils didn't play remotely close to all 60 minutes. The offense really showed up for the first period and the first nine or so minutes in the third period. They took the second period off with only 4 shots on net and a good long time didn't have any on net. Given that they scored with less than a minute left in the first, it's very concerning that they didn't build on any of the momentum they generated from Zach Parise's goal or the fact that they ended that period from losing 2-1 to winning at 3-2.
Amazingly, the Devils scored all of their goals by crashing the net. Travis Zajac got a loose puck down low, threw it at the net, and got a favorable bounce off a Flyer for a goal. Dainius Zubrus set himself up in front of the crease on a power play, got a pass from Parise, got stopped on the first shot but banged home a rebound against Martin Biron. Parise tucked a puck in at the end of the period. They all kept with the play and while it wasn't pretty it was very effective. I was surprised at the Flyers defenders were so ineffective in stopping guys up front and how Biron just didn't stop those shots - they were right at him! - until I remembered how much of a goal-sieve they have been this season. Still, the Devils found something that worked; so clearly they would continue to do it, right?
No, they wouldn't. And so, to my dismay that after the Devils led the period 3-2, we all witnessed the Flyers do the same thing in the second period for two goals to take the lead. Did the Devils try and do it again themselves? No. Simon Gagne and Scott Hartnell got in front and put home rebounds for easy goals. They worked harder in that period, but given how they scored is particularly infuriating given it's how New Jersey did it in the first. How come the Devils defense didn't do anything to stop them? I couldn't tell you. You'd think that they'd know what to do given their witnessing of the Flyers' failure to do so. Into the third, the Devils realized that they were down a goal and started playing better. They were getting some good chances on net and Martin Biron, showing that he learned something from the first period, did better at covering it up. They weren't getting down low, but compared to the second period, it was at least an effort. Yet, when Mike Richards - who had a very successful night with 4 assists - tossed a killer pass to Joffrey Lupul for an elementary one-timer on a counter-attack, it killed the Devils' momentum for a comeback. They couldn't recover; and the empty-net goal from Hartnell iced it. The Devils found something that worked on offense in the first, they relented from using it (or much of anything else) in the second, and the Flyers' defense found some focus to stop any other attempts in the third while their offense sealed the deal.
Again, I have to emphasize for the 3 of the 5 Flyers' non-empty net goals, the three they scored unanswered, there was no lack of coverage. There were Devils' defensemen where the eventual scorer was set up. They just didn't do
anything. Why didn't anyone try lifting their stick, namely on Lupul's goal where the defender was in the right place to do that? Why didn't anyone try just muscling the Flyer out from the slot? Why didn't anyone try just penalizing them just to prevent the goal? Why did the defense get repeatedly caught puck-watching? Why didn't the coaching staff let them hear about it during the intermission (maybe they did?)? Some of the time, someone scores because they were in a great position with no one to really cover them. Last night, the Devils were there - they just forgot that, on defense, you have to do something.
You don't win hockey games with such shoddy defending. Just ask, well, the Flyers.
Again, Sutter was right, the Flyers got their act together on defense and in net after the first, preyed on a suddenly-punchless Devils offense in the second, made the most of their glorious chances to retake the lead, and then they ensured it in the third. The Flyers played a more complete game, improved as time went on, and so they won. They earned their win. The Devils, clearly, did not. In any case, it makes little sense to dwell on last night. The Devils get to go to Philly for the second half of this home and home. It'll be interesting to see how fatigue will be a factor as both teams don't even get a full 24 hours between opening face-offs. The game got moved up to 4 PM EST to account for a World Series game featuring the Phillies. While the weather may prevent a baseball game, the hockey game's not getting moved at this short notice. Hopefully the Devils will have learned the lessons of last night's game and apply their new knowledge towards a victory this afternoon. Martin Brodeur will
- after a game where he gets lit up, he usually responds with an amazing performance. I think Sutter understands this and if it does happen, it'll help New Jersey's cause greatly.
Labels: 2008-09 Postgame, Devils Rivals