Friday, March 19, 2010

Devils lose shootout, division lead in Toronto

As Yogi Berra would say, last night in Toronto was deja vu all over again. Coming off a big win over the Penguins at home, just as they had last Friday the Devils had to play a road game the next night. And just as the Devils did on Long Island, they started Yann Danis in goal, incredibly giving the backup netminder two starts in three games (maybe now after how badly Martin Brodeur stunk for two months starting every game we're finally conceding that he shouldn't play 19 out of every 20 games in a compressed schedule?). Even though Danis played well in regulation and overtime, the Devils still came out on the short end in the shootout, dropping one point which put them behind the Penguins again after Pittsburgh's rebound win in Boston.
Although last night's game was competitive for sure, unlike the previous night there weren't too many fireworks. Especially in a drab first period which saw the Leafs outshoot New Jersey 9-5 and score the period's only goal when Phil Kessel put in a rebound at 18:54. Toronto's late first period goal looked as if it might hold up with Jean-Sebastian Giguere in net. Though Giguere isn't the monster he was in 2003 or even the solid goalie who won a Cup a few years later, he still finds a way to beat the Devils everywhere but New Jersey (and he hasn't showed his face or overstuffed pads there once since our beatdown of him in the four Finals games at the Continental Airlines Arena).
In his first game for the Leafs in fact, he shut us out earlier in the year and looked as if he was on his way to doing it again until an unlikely pair combined to put the Devils on the board. Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond fed David Clarkson in front for a one-timer, giving Clarkie his ninth goal of the year at 15:46 and the pugilistic Leblond his first point of the season. Leblond was getting a rare shift on the third line because both he and Andrew Peters were in the lineup, a somewhat contreversial decision by Jacques Lemaire meant to try to keep Colton Orr and Dion Phaneuf in check. Clearly Vladimir Zharkov is in purgatory (if he's not going to play, which I'm fine with then can we send him down already?), perhaps Jay Pandolfo was being rested after a decent game Wednesday and Brian Rolston had a mysterious injury that caused him to be dropped to the fourth line two nights ago and a scratch last night. I'm surprised the Devils didn't just term this 'body maintenance' instead of hiding the fact he was hurt at all.
In terms of the rough stuff, Peters did fight Orr early in the second, and Clarkson attempted to drop them with Phaneuf but he didn't bite and Clarkson got tagged with a harsh instigator penalty. I didn't see Clarkson drop his gloves so I don't know why he got nailed, but hey it's the 'new NHL' after all! There were few fireworks after that however, especially on the scoreboard though both teams had their chances in the third period to break the tie. Of course, the Devils power play proved perplexing (say that three times fast!) once again, going 0-4. It's just inconceivable how bad we've been on the man advantage in the second half of the season, especially after lighting it up the first half. Hopefully we get this straightened out before the playoffs because this can't continue, especially with the star players we have offensively.
Then again the stars had an off night in general, Lemaire even going so far as to say Ilya Kovalchuk didn't play well but skated hard. Travis Zajac had a golden opportunity to score in the second period on a two-on-one after a pass from Zach Parise but was stopped by Giguere. On the plus side, at least defense wasn't really an issue last night though there were too many quality chances on Danis that the young goaltender did well to stop. Still, the icetime distribution was encouraging. Among defensemen, Mike Mottau led the team with 22:19 and Bryce Salvador was sixth with 16:44, a relatively even split you don't often see...especially on a team that was playing Mottau and Andy Greene 28-30 minutes a night not too long ago. Of course, last night was the team's fifth game in seven days so that distribution was even more neccesary.
After the game ground to a halt in overtime following late power play chances for each team in regulation, it went to the skills competition. Without Brodeur, the Devils proved very vulnerable as Danis was overmatched, being beaten on all three shots. To their credit, Kessel and John Mitchell both had slick moves though you had to figure if Brodeur had been in there he would have poke-checked at least one away. Nikolai Kulemin's middle goal however, was pretty bad even by breakaway standards. Kulemin basically just threw one on net with next to no movement that went in, which I suppose was a changeup after Kessel's 99 moves on the previous shot but still. Parise's leadoff goal was every bit as nice as Kessel's but Patrik Elias was stopped and the Devils lost the shootout.
So while the Devils' road struggles continue at least they got a point and played okay, much better than the 3-0 whitewashing in the other Air Canada Centre game this year. With the next three games at home against non-playoff teams in St. Louis, Columbus and the Rangers, the Devils have to make hay if they want to stay in front for the division lead. At least it seems now that no matter what the Devils do they will have home-ice for the first round, being nine points ahead of a fifth-seeded Ottawa team that's been struggling since the Olympics. Still, it would be nice to get the division and ensure home-ice for two rounds, with our home/road split since October.
BoNY Three Stars:
  1. Phil Kessel (goal in regulation and SO, 21:08 TOI)
  2. Jean-Sebastian Giguere (24/25 saves)
  3. David Clarkson (goal, +1)


Derek Felix said...

The Flyers caught the Sens finally. And the Habs are about to pass them too. Crazy.

Derek Felix said...
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