While Zach Parise's twelve-game goal drought heading into tonight was cause for observation (not concern), you just knew once he did get one it would open the floodgates. Sure enough, after he finally got on the board in the first period he wouldn't wait long for his next goal, scoring what proved to be the winner early in the third period of a 3-2 Devils win over Atlanta.
Tonight's lineup had a little bit of intrigue for David Clarkson's return meant someone would have to come out. Somewhat surprisingly, it was Vladimir Zharkov who would be scratched to make room for Clarkson despite the fact that the Devils kept him over defenseman Matt Corrente, leaving the team with only six healthy defensemen on the roster. I wasn't as surprised to see Andrew Peters again in the lineup over Illka Pikkaranen, given Jacques Lemaire's concern over the Thrashers' heavyweight Eric Boulton.
Unfortunately Peters' insertion proved to be disasterous. During his thirteen seconds of icetime, he misfired on a clear, lost a fight with Boulton...and worst of all got a game misconduct for not tying his uniform down. That kind of snafu should get Peters banished to Trenton (not even Lowell!), I'm sorry but if he cannot perform the one role he was inserted for - and being ejected less than two minutes into the game saw to that - then he doesn't deserve to wear a uniform at all. Especially given he's a lousy hockey player to begin with.
Oh well, enough about a player who doesn't deserve any more mention here - the game itself proved quite entertaining after that odd beginning. After his embarassing lack of a backcheck in Atlanta on the Devils' winning goal, Ilya Kovalchuk tried to make amends the only way he knows how - with a howitzer of a one-timer that beat Martin Brodeur after 9:43 of the first, giving the Thrashers the lead. However, just 63 seconds later star would answer star as Parise scored his first of the night, off a nice pass from Nicklas Bergfors who threaded the needle with a backhander that found Parise in front for a one-on-one with Johan Hedberg and the Devils' sniper put one home for his 16th of the season. Andy Greene also got an assist on Parise's goal and had another terrific night overall, playing a team-leading 26:38.
Now tied at one, the fireworks would continue at 13:45 when Clarkson (obviously itching for a brawl after his long stint on the scratch list) pounded Atlanta's Chris Thorburn - the highlight of an otherwise spotty return for #23, who played just over eleven minutes but was a -2. Soon after, the Devils would grab a lead they wouldn't relinquish when Colin White contributed an unlikely goal from the point which appeared for a moment to be deflected by Parise, but instead the big defenseman would get his second goal of the season at 16:34 after assists from Bergfors and Travis Zajac.
After a shaky second period, the Devils started to gain momentum with a late penalty by Boris Valabik, which gave New Jersey a power play with fresh ice at the start of the third period. Parise and Patrik Elias took full advantage when Elias's cross-ice pass found Zach for an easy tap-in goal fifty-nine seconds into the third. Jamie Langenbrunner also assisted on the goal, which gave the Devils a 3-1 lead. Despite the Devils' defensive hiccups and Atlanta's offensive talent that two-goal lead looked safe - until Marty Reasoner scored on a wrister from just inside the blueline that beat Brodeur clean at 7:28 on a goal that looked stoppable.
Now up one, there were of course some anxious moments late but they were kept to a minimum as the Devils allowed only twenty-six shots on net in the game and no more than nine in any period. Winning at home after their loss to the Caps on Saturday, the Devils showed the holiday rust was starting to come off - perhaps just in time for their fourth meeting of the season with the Penguins on Wednesday before what surely will be a sellout crowd at the Rock. Even tonight's game nearly sold out as the post-holiday bump in attendance surely helped.
Notes: Just as the injury list was finally starting to thin out, Bryce Salvador left last night's game in the middle of the second period with a 'lower-body injury' after a hit by Boulton along the boards which led to Salvador taking a penalty. I should have noticed something was off when Salvador left the penalty box halfway through to be replaced by Clarkson, something I've never seen before but figured it was an equipment issue.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Zach Parise (two goals, +1 and 6 SOG with 20:24 TOI)
- Nicklas Bergfors (two assists, +2)
- Ilya Kovalchuk (goal, +1 and 5 SOG with 24:03 TOI)