Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brodeur pulled, Devils rally back for win in Atlanta

After one period last night, it looked like a typical Devils loss against the Thrashers - a team where no matter how bad or good they are, anything that can go wrong for us usually does. In the first period, the Devils dominated about as convincingly as you can. If you were scoring boxing-style it would have been 10-7 with a knockdown. Yet, the Devils somehow found themselves behind 3-1 and staring at a blowout similar to the one in October when the Thrashers whipped us at home.

Then, Jacques Lemaire changed the script by pulling Martin Brodeur after he allowed those three goals on only six shots, replacing him with Yann Danis - finally seeing game action for the first time in a month. Not only that, he finally split up the disasterous slow and slower defensive pairing of Colin White and Mike Mottau (on ice for all three goals), something I've literally been hoping would happen for years. Both changes provided an impetus for a Devils comeback with three goals in the second period and one in the third, though they withstood a late Thrasher rally, holding on for a rare 5-4 win in Hotlanta.

Before the game Lemaire made a couple of contreversial decisions, first scratching Illka Pikkaranen for Andrew Peters. I get that you want the goon around to keep an eye on Atlanta's Eric Boulton, but it's hard to make a change when your whole lineup is pretty much playing well. And as Derek pointed out in his entry, starting Brodeur once again was a bit ridiculous - but hardly surprising in one respect given that last night was the fifth straight three game in four night stretch where Brodeur started all of them. Still, I was hoping he'd get a rest before what's now become a showdown for first place in the league on Monday at the Igloo and Danis would be freed from jail.

In the end, it worked out that way, but not before a bizarre first period where the Devils threw everything including the kitchen sink at the Thrashers' Ondrej Pavelec, outshooting them 21-3 at one point and 24-6 overall in the period. Yet it was the Thrashers who jumped in front when Ron Hainsey scored on a point shot through traffic at 7:15. Finally,the Devils would break the wall in front of Pavelec's net at 12:55 when Rob Niedermayer took a pass from Jay Pandolfo and scored in close, with the ill-fated Mottau also getting an assist. On their next shift ninety-five seconds later, Mottau and White both got caught up ice when Ilya Kovalchuk's pass found Nik Antropov for a breakaway and he deftly put it in just as Brodeur was beginning a pokecheck. Pavel Kubina added insult to injury with another goal at 17:14, giving the Thrashers a stunning 3-1 lead.

Were the goals Brodeur's fault...not particularly but he didn't look all that comfortable either, a night after tweaking his neck against the Senators. It was something you had to watch the game to notice but he was still concerned with the spasms or whatever happened as a result of Johnathan Cheechoo's shoulder. Finally Lemaire treated MB30 like an actual NHL goaltender and pulled him after the first, ironically enough a similar situation to which Danis played his last game - being pulled after trailing 3-1 in Dallas.

Before Danis even faced a shot, the Devils had already tied the game. Whitey of all people found an open Brian Rolston for a breakaway at 2:46 and Rolston deftly deked and put the puck between Pavelec's legs for his thirteenth goal of the season. Then on a power play at 6:12, Dean McAmmond scored off of feeds from Zach Parise and Andy Greene, giving the veteran winger his second of the year.

Danis would eventually be called upon to do more than stand around as the Devils scored, in fact stopping all twelve Thrasher shots the rest of the period. Maybe realizing the Devils weren't going to give this one away after all finally got Atlanta going. However it was too late for them, as the Devils took the lead on their third weird goal in three games, this time when Rod Pelley's off-balance shot from his back foot near the blueline somehow beat Pavelec through traffic for the winger's first goal of the season at 10:04, with Vladimir Zharkov getting the lone assist on a goal that put the Devils in front for good.

Now in front 4-3, the Devils played a controlled game in the third period and eventually broke the Thrashers down one more time when a Kovalchuk turnover led to McAmmond's second goal of the game at 11:45 off a nice give-and-go with Patrik Elias. Normally mild-mannered Chico Resch ripped into Kovalchuk and rightly so, especially given the rumors that Kovalchuk wants a max contract (20% of the salary cap) for ten years. Well I don't think this is the NBA just yet, you have to play more than one end of the rink to earn a max contract here. Especially if you're going to be the face of the franchise. It was actually amusing to hear Chico - who's never critical of anyone - rip into the Thrashers for their effort level most of the game. If he was that exacerbated you wonder what coach John Anderson was saying to his team during and after the game.

Though Parise also got an assist on McAmmond's goal (his second of the game), his goalscoring drought is now in double-digits, ten games. Yet, given that the Devils' record is 8-2 during that stretch and others have proven they can pick up the slack, my concern is minimal. So long as the winger isn't playing hurt - and there's no evidence of that - the goals should come sooner or later. Better now than in April.

Finally the expected Atlanta rally (they've been a great third period team this year and have the firepower to make comebacks) materialized when Elias took a bad high-sticking penalty and Slava Kozlov's laser went through traffic beating Danis at 16:04, cutting the Devils' lead to one. However there would be no third-period rally for the Thrashers on this night, as Danis shut the door and earned a well-deserved victory.

Although last night's win was another messy one, it was important in that Lemaire once again realized we have two NHL goaltenders, not just one. Not to mention putting White with Mark Fraser - now leading the D in plus-minus! - and Mottau with Johnny Oduya wasn't the end of the world. Obviously he isn't going to split up the number one pairing of Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene, and White with Oduya gave up a goal on their first shift the other night so these are just about the only combinations that can work if you are going to split up White and Mottau with Paul Martin forever on the mend...he was supposed to be out 4-6 weeks, it's now been eight with talk that maybe he'll return after New Year's. Something's rotten in the state of New Jersey.

Surely Brodeur will return for Monday's showdown with the Penguins in the Igloo. It's hard to see the Devils going three for three up there after matching 4-1 wins in their first two trips to Pittsburgh but hey, the Devils have done the improbable already this season.

BoNY Three Stars:
  1. Dean McAmmond (two goals, +1)
  2. Nik Antropov (goal, assist, +1)
  3. Yann Danis (19/20 saves, relief win)

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