Sigh...so another game and another injury to worry about, this time Patrik Elias would be the Devil to leave and not return after a hit by Colorado's Ryan Wilson along the boards early in the second. In a scene that thankfully only looked worse than it was, Elias was taken off the ice on a stretcher but he wasn't out cold at the time and was in full control of his faculties. As far as his status, he'll fly back with the team and be evaluated further. Hopefully the fact that he's on the team plane at least means he doesn't have a concussion, after all cross-country flights for guys with concussions can have diasterous effects as my Mets found out a while back with Ryan Church.
Elias's injury did spice up the intensity in a game which looked like a flat Devils effort early. How flat? Consider this...after Chris Stewart scored 3:17 into the game, the Devils hadn't yet had a shot on net and were being pushed around to such a degree that Jacques Lemaire took a quick timeout. Unfortunately the timeout really didn't help much as the Avs (inspired ironically by a pregame ceremony for Claude Lemieux) kept playing a physical game that we weren't ready for this afternoon.
Oh, Andrew Peters had the obligatory fight with Avs fighter David Koci early (even before the goal) but while the fight itself was a good one, the real drama was whether Peters would be tossed out yet again for not having his uniform tied down after it got ripped up good in the fight. Thankfully, the ref deemed this equipment malfunction not his fault and both got a normal five for fighting. And there was some violent contact on Rob Niedermayer's interference penalty late in the first period - that of Craig Anderson flopping to the ice as Niedermayer wandered just outside the crease. Anderson's Oscar-worthy dive canceled out a Devils power play and several seconds later T.J.Galiardi scored on the ensuing 4-on-4 at 18:32, again putting the Devils behind by multiple goals early.
After that dissapointing first period, the Devils were still skating in mud until the Wilson hit on Elias livened things up. To his credit, Wilson answered the bell on his next shift against Mark Fraser as the two had a pretty even fight. And for any Devil fan that wants to scream bloody murder, please. For years we sang the praises - and rightly so - of Scott Stevens laying guys out cleanly, there was nothing about this hit to suggest it was dirty either. We're not the only ones allowed to lay out guys and the Devils themselves haven't cried foul yet. Both Lemaire and Rod Pelley said they felt the hit was clean and Lemaire added (somewhat oddly) that Elias was a bit careless on the play during a critique of how the team wasn't there mentally tonight.
Interestingly, Pelley was also involved in a fight with the Avs' Matt Hendricks later in the period as the intensity was picking up between these two unfamiliar teams. However, the Devils' offense was still firing blanks despite fourteen shots on net and two power plays late in the period. Lately the Devils' power play has shown as much power as Prudential Center had last Friday, going 0 for the last 14 or 15.
How bad has the power play gotten? Apparently Lemaire's listening to Stan Fischler a little too much these days since Stan loves to see random big bodies in front of the net. From Colin White to (gasp!) Peters himself, I'm half wondering if our next move is to get a sumo wrestler to stand in front. Why not put the guy in front of the net that actually should be there though?! Zach Parise's adept at deflections and garbage goals, but he's being wasted on the halfboards during power plays. Small wonder he's only had like three goals in his last twenty games, or numbers in that vicinity.
Of course, you have to credit the other team at times too. How things change within a year...last year the Avs were a bland, boring last-place team that served nicely as props during Martin Brodeur's Disney-style return from four months on the shelf. This year, they have a new coach and GM, a terrific goalie in Anderson in his first full year as a starter and lots of young players making a contribution in the lineup to go along with some decent defensemen and voila - they confound all the doomsday predictions (including mine) and are in contention for a division title more than halfway through the season.
If the Devils weren't as Lemaire said - mentally into this game, at least they gave a physical effort the last two periods outshooting the Avs 29-13, and finally getting on the board early in the third when Niedermayer scored in front at 1:55 off of assists from White and Jay Pandolfo, an unlikely trio to wind up on the scoresheet together. While the rest of the offense was still missing in action, they still tested Anderson on several flurries late with the Avs goaltender making his best save robbing Travis Zajac with a glove moments after he nearly made a mistake playing the puck and got back to make a desperate, sprawling save with his posterior.
Somewhat fittingly, the game ended with the Devils' power play again failing to convert on a late chance after Vladimir Zharkov drew a penalty on the Avs' Cody McLeod at 17:15, setting the Devils up for prime scoring chances late. After killing off the power play, the Avs put the nail in the coffin with thirteen seconds left when Stewart found Wojtek Wolski for the empty-net goal that gave the Devils their first two-game losing streak since mid-November. Granted, the power play woes are a concern as they seemingly are every season and falling behind by two goals every night aren't a recipe for continued success either.
Still, you have to attribute at least some of the on again-off again hockey since New Year's to the schedule. If you include that bizarre Tampa game the Devils have taken the ice six times in nine days. Even if it's only five games worth of action, you still have to factor in trips to Montreal and the West Coast in that time. Too bad it doesn't get any easier facing a rejuvanated Isles team on Martin Luther King afternoon, likely without Elias in the lineup to go along with the three other regulars still on the shelf. Maybe Rick DiPietro will actually make his home debut too, since his only start thus far was in Dallas and the Isles have a back-to-back themselves.
Notes: Speaking of the other regulars on the shelf, while Danius Zubrus is probably going to skate this week Paul Martin and David Clarkson are at least a couple weeks away from that according to the latest update from Lou Lamoriello, which would put Martin's chances of playing in the Olympics in jeopardy, not to mention our chances of icing a full defense before the trade deadline.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Craig Anderson (37/38 saves)
- Chris Stewart (goal, assist, +2 and 6 SOG in 19:48)
- Rob Niedermayer (goal, +1)