Saturday, November 27, 2010
Devils call on the Moose to rescue them again
Okay, it's time to eat crow. After the fiasco that was the Devils-Sabres game in late October, I didn't think Johan Hedberg would be a useful player for us this year. Describing his play as useful this week would be underselling it, as a matter of fact - and today was his best performance yet as he stopped 40 of 41 Flyer shots and then three of four in the shootout to give the Devils a desperately needed victory. There's just not enough superlatives you can throw at Hedberg right now, during this week the veteran backup stopped 114 of 118 shots (plus six of seven in two shootouts, both won) while playing all four games in six days with his team in absolute desperation mode.
Just how desperately did the Devils need Hedberg today? A determined Flyers team outshot an even more shorthanded than expected Devils squad 41-25 - and 38-15 after the Devils actually got ten of the first thirteen shots (helped by a four-minute power play in the first period which predictably came up empty). Despite that scary edge in shots, the game finished in a 1-1 tie after 65 minutes because of Hedberg, and Adam Mair's shortside goal on Brian Boucher in the first period that gave the Devils their only goal.
I referred to the Devils being more shorthanded than expected, well needless to say I wasn't in the mood to see Patrik Elias's name on the scratch list. Expecting to hear about another injury, my exact words were 'What the ****'s his problem now'? Turns out this was not another injury situation but in fact him being there for the birth of his kid as his wife went into labor. At least he can enjoy the little one for a few days before the Devils' next game on Thursday against the Habs. Elias's absence did cause the Devils to play with only nineteen skaters, a scenario the team's become all too familiar with due to the early season cap nonsense.
With Elias out, the Devils needed more than ever for $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk to have an impact. At least he showed some spark that's been lacking in the last few games, getting eight of the team's twenty-five shots on net, but once again failing to light the lamp despite being shifted to a line with Travis Zajac and Mattais Tedenby. Oh, he had his chances...forcing Boucher to make a couple of nice glove saves that were reminiscent of his tone-setting stop in Game 1 of the playoffs on Kovalchuk glove-side, and most frustratingly his best chance came in the overtime when Zajac sprung him for a mini-breakaway but once again Kovy lost the puck off his stick, only recovering to shovel a weak shot on net.
Not that Kovy had a monopoly on near-misses, among others Brian Rolston had his own breakaway late in the second period that he clanged the iron on. However, most of this game watching the Devils and Flyers was like seeing an AHL team play an NHL team. While the Flyers were frequently completing tape-to-tape passes up and down the ice, we struggled to complete two short passes in a row and usually passed it backhand to backhand. Where they cleared the puck quickly, we struggled just to get it out of the zone with bad decisions and bad execution. Perhaps that can just be attributed to all of the upheaval in the lineup but still you have to figure even AHL players can complete simple passes.
Still, while everything else around him was collapsing, Hedberg stood tall and kept the Devils' fragile 1-0 lead late into the third period, despite a rising shot total that approached 40 in regulation. However, the dam finally burst after an Andy Greene penalty led to a Danny Briere power play goal off a rebound, tying the game and sending it to overtime and eventually the shootout. In the shootout, Kovy ended a frustrating afternoon with one more near-miss by clanging the Devils' first shootout attempt off Boucher and then off the post.
After Hedberg stopped Claude Giroux and Briere while Boucher stopped Tedenby, Nikolai Zherdev beat Hedberg with a shot through the legs that gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead with one shot left to the Devils. And I was in suspense as to who was actually going to take it, after all our main shootout aces in Langs and Zach Parise were already on the shelf with Elias (who also frequently goes in the shootout) unavailable. Turned out Johnny MacLean's pick was Jason Arnott, and it proved to be the right one as Arnott beat Boucher high with a wrister to tie it. With Mike Richards clanging one off the post, Travis Zajac was up next with a chance to win it, which he did - beating Boucher and giving the Devils their fourth straight home win - yes, really!
Now with four days off before playing the Habs at home, the Devils can at least gargle the bad taste out of their mouths from the collective no-show on Long Island yesterday and get some satisfaction from winning three of four this week, even if two of the wins could be directly attributed to Hedberg's brilliance in goal.