Saturday, October 11, 2008


Game 2: Devils 2 - Pittsburgh 1 - 49 Shots

The New Jersey Devils won in a somewhat bizarre fashion against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 2-1 win in overtime. Some may have remarked that the Devils went Forward to the Past with the signings of Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik. Tonight, they went re-visited the Devils of the late 1990s: a stifling defense, a ton of shots on net, and yet a low-scoring game.

The Penguins got up early for this one when Miroslav Satan put home a rebound on the power play in the first period. From then on, they, well, sat on the lead. Oh, sure, the Penguins got a few odd man rushes and 3 more power plays. Yet, they ended up with a whopping 15 shots on net - and that includes the near 5-minute overtime. It gets worse: they were marked for 11 of their attempts being blocked and 12 missed shots. That's right, they only managed to get just under 40% of their total attempts of shots on net. Tonight was not a shining night for the Penguins' offense. As far as their stars go: Evgeni Malkin in particular was poor, Sidney Crosby was held silent save for the odd play, and Marc-Andre Fleury had to carry the day. The Devils defensemen and checking forwards kept their attacks to a minimum. Colin White had a much better game, and the other 5 men were just solid. They did their job and they did it well, aside from the play that led to the goal.

The Devils' offense was an example of quantity of quality. They understood that the Penguins defense, without Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar, was weakened. They understood that Fleury can give up some rebounds. Clearly, this factored into their game plan for better or worse. The Devils' plan was to shoot early, shoot late, and shoot in-between; almost always low on Fleury to force him to use his pads and get some loose pucks going. That part of the plan succeeded wildly. Fleury gave up a ton of rebounds tonight, which got the Penguins' defense scrambling more and the tempo of the game increased with more going after possibilities. And after the goal, the Devils kept attacking with shots against a defense that allowed them to do so. This worked for the Penguins as Fleury was making the saves, the Devils only got those rebounds when they weren't in a good spot, and the defense got in the way more often than not. As a result, the Devils had an astounding 88 attempts on net, with 27 of them being blocked and 12 missing. They ultimately ended up with 49 on Fleury, and it's telling the Devils put up 10, then 15, and then 20 during each period. Devils' shooters were gaining in strength throughout the game. Patrik Elias was all over with 10 and Zach Parise had 8 himself. Combined, these two outshot the entire Pittsburgh squad all game. But because they couldn't get anywhere with rebounds or beating Fleury low, the Penguins were able to get by bending without breaking.

Alas, a bounce or an opening was not to be found for much of the game. It finally happened near the end of the third period, with less than 3 minutes left. Elias had the puck on the corner to Fleury's right and made a blind pass to the crease. While Brian Rolston was likely the intended target, the pass was behind him. It went right to Penguin defenseman Hal Gill, who promptly and deftly re-directed the puck past Fleury. A fluke? Yes. As an own goal? Beautiful. In the resulting overtime, the Devils kept persisting and Parise put one past Fleury glove side - and high - to give the Devils the all-important W.

Overall, while the Devils eventually got the late equalizer and Zach Parise slotted one in overtime, the Devils really shouldn't be terribly happy here. Defensively, definitely. They did great in that aspect. However, on offense, why did they not decide to switch it up is beyond me. Yes, Fleury kept giving out rebounds like cups of water a running event, but if you're not getting to the loose puck, consider going high. If only to keep him honest and to mix up the chances. It can work, it's how Parise scored his goal. Some more patience in the offensive zone along with mixing up the shooting plan would have reduced the number of shots on net, but they could have yielded more and better scoring chances. I can't complain too loudly because of how well the Devils snuffed out the Penguins' offense and that they got the win. It's too early in the season to decry a trend that hasn't happened yet. Also, maybe on a different night, the Devils would have gotten to more of those rebounds in better positions and turned them into some goals. However, the finishing has to improve if only so games don't have to be so close.

Next game is Monday night against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden. Tonight's game had quite a bit of intensity, shoving, and physical play. I think Matt Cooke will feel the effect of Dainius Zubrus' destruction of him tomorrow. But I am expecting Monday's game to easily top that one in such categories. It'll be a good one for sure, as the Rangers are looking to stretch their record to 5-0-0. Hopefully, the Devils can condense that nonsense.

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