While many were critical of the lack of action in the Devils-Canadiens game Wednesday, last night's game with Ottawa had two games' worth of wildness in it. Contreversial reffing, another Martin Brodeur record (and an injury scare!), feistiness and weird goals - this game had a little of everything!
Yet when it was all over, the result was the same. Another Devils win, this one by a 4-2 score over an Ottawa team that's played us tough all three times this year but we haven't given them a point in any of the games. New Jersey upped their record to 24-8-1, now leading the entire NHL in points.
Early on, both teams showed us this wouldn't be the same type of game we saw Wednesday night. Actually the fireworks started before the opening whistle when Arlette did a stirring part-French version of 'O, Canada!' before the US National Anthem. After puck drop, it looked like both teams were determined to play pond hockey as there was bad defensive coverage all over the place, particularly by the Devils who gave up a ton of quality chances. Each team registered double-digit shots on goal in the opening frame.
Although the only number the counts changed just once - ironically on a Devils power play, so ineffective the other night. Amazing Andy Greene streaked down the left side past a defender and floated a cross-ice pass to Jamie Langenbrunner for an easy tap-in goal at 11:53. Brodeur was also later given an assist on the goal, his second in about a week. Maybe he can play defense on his off days from the net (whenever they may come)?
While the early action led to few goals, there would be three in the span of the first 6:06 of the second, to go along with said Brodeur injury scare. Just thirty-nine seconds into the period, Alexandre Picard's floater appeared to deflect at least once on its way to the net (maybe off of defenseman Mike Mottau) past Brodeur for a goal that tied the game. After only eighty-four more seconds, the Devils were back in front when Brian Rolston cranked a patented slapshot from the right boards past Brian Elliott for his 12th goal of the season, with assists from Patrik Elias and Mark Fraser.
Then, the officials started to get in the way. True, our first goal came on the power play - but it would be the last real power play until the game was nearly over while Ottawa got six. More galling than the lack of calls in our favor was the ones they missed. To wit, at least a couple of stick-chopping penalties, clear holds along the boards and in a play that provided a frightening flashback to early November last season, Johnathan Cheechoo's careless bull in a china shop routine that resulted in a shoulder to Brodeur's head and the goaltender going prone on the ice.
Worse than even missing what probably should have been a goaltender interference (or roughing) call, the refs didn't blow play dead for several seconds while Brodeur looked down perhaps for the count. I'm the first one to admit that we got lucky on the Illka Pikkaranen goal the other night when after seeing a replay the winger should have been ruled offside but man, there's just no place for some of that stuff the Sens were pulling in the second period. Fortunately Brodeur got up and resumed his customary place between the pipes. Unfortunately, he and the Devils' defense were still seeing stars a couple minutes later when Colin White and Johnny Oduya looked silly getting burned on a long pass by Chris Kelly, and Jarko Ruutu beat Brodeur on a partial breakaway at 6:06 - tying the game once again.
With the score still at 2-2 late, some unlikely heroes would make the difference. Still in the second period but with just 98 seconds remaining, Rob Niedermayer went behind the net and found an open Jay Pandolfo in front for another easy tap-in goal, Pando's second of the season to make the score 3-2. At first I was hoping Vladimir Zharkov got the goal because the winger deserves to be rewarded for his effective play since coming up, but I'm happy for Pando too - who gets trashed on mercilessly by Devils fans at this point when he's done nothing but give his best and help the team (even if most of it's been defensively). Niedermayer and White would get the assists on Pando's tie-breaking goal.
Now with a one-goal lead, the Devils' offense went quiet in the third...how quiet? They didn't even register a shot on net until midway through the period and got only three total. I don't really think the Devils tried to shut it down - with one exception to be discussed later. In a perverse way though, last night proved it's not about how many chances you get it's what you do with them.
Or what kind of voodoo curse you put on the opposing goalie. Whatever afflicted Elliott, last night's goal by Bryce Salvador at 9:52 was perhaps the YouTube moment of the season so far, at least in a comical way. A Salvador shot from beyond the blueline was stopped by Elliott but went up in the air and unbeknownst to the goaltender was in the process of bouncing off his back and in the net for the gritty defenseman's first of the season with the assists going to Rod Pelley and Dean McAmmond. While the comical goal may have been a fitting reward for Salvador's unsung role on this team, it was also perhaps karmic justice after Elliott's whining about the boards after the Sens' last trip into New Jersey when he gave up another goofy goal.
Now up 4-2, the Devils faced another slice of adversity late thanks to back-to-back penalties from McAmmond and Langenbrunner, while Daniel Alfredsson only got a matching roughing after the latter penalty for throwing around sucker punches all night long. Somewhat amusingly, Jacques Lemaire took a little more time arguing after the second penalty - not entirely flying off the handle (though he would have had good reason to), but cagily giving his penalty killers a few extra seconds to rest. Along with a timeout by Cory Clouston called during the 82-second long five-on-three, the Devils' three men did the job and effectively ended the game.
Of course, with just two minutes remaining the Devils finally got another power play. While the boxscore shows six Ottawa power plays to three for New Jersey, one of those lasted just thirteen seconds in the second period as an apparently phantom penalty was called on Niedermayer, ending that power play just before it started. Our crowd was giving it to the refs all night long, with the funniest comment coming from a guy just two seats from me, who said 'Hey ref, we know you're blind, we've seen your wife!'. Now that's an insult!
With a two-goal lead the Devils just tried to run out the clock on the last power play again, a strategy I've noticed three or four times this year. Perhaps last night it was influenced by a comical misplay by Brodeur at the start of the power play when he threw the puck right into Milan Michalek, giving the winger a dangerous attempt at an open net but Oduya came from behind to save the day swatting the puck away at the last possible moment.
Still, I don't like that killing time strategy on late power plays and have said that before. If you want to put two defensemen on the ice instead of rolling with four or five forwards at that point in the game I'm fine with that. But that's just too conservative for my liking. At least the line matching got kept to a minimum last night, though Zach Parise was held goalless for the ninth straight game.
At least the team's winning, even with its star in a goal drought. With the team on the road for a third game in four nights the Yann Danis watch is on again. Will the now little-used backup finally play tonight in Atlanta? I'll bet no until I'm proven wrong, especially after Lemaire's recent comment about how when Marty needs rest, we'll use the 'other goalie'. Haha, on the one hand I feel bad for the kid but geez being a Devils backup is the easiest job in the world (other than last year), you get $500k to hang out with Waldo. And hey, at least he and the rest of the Devils get out of the area before the snowstorm that's supposed to end Western Civilization!
Notes: Brodeur set the all-time record for games played by a goaltender last night. Somewhat interestingly, while there was an announcement over the jumbotron about him tying the record Wednesday, there was no such announcement during Friday's game, at least none that I saw since I got there only about ten minutes before opening faceoff.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Martin Brodeur (27/29 saves, assist)
- Bryce Salvador (goal, +1 with 20:39 TOI)
- Alexandre Picard (goal, +2 with 18:21 TOI)