Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hedberg leads Devils to ugly shootout win over Calgary

Yeah, I know there's no such thing as an ugly win - especially when you're 6-13-2, beggars can't be choosers. That said, color me unimpressed by the team's performance tonight on home ice two nights after a dominant win over Washington. It wasn't so much that the game was tough (a 1-1 tie before the shootout), I kind of expected that. What I was dissapointed in was the team's approach, particularly once we got the lead it seemed as if we played to hold on to a 1-0 lead and you really can't do that with two AHL defenders and Andy Greene, whose plus-minus is indiciative of his scary defensive play right now. Also, towards the end of regulation we were definitely playing for overtime with multiple icings down the stretch. Somewhat embarassingly, we didn't even muster a single scoring chance in the entire third period.

So how did we win? Look no further than our young-old Swedish connection of 38-year old Johan Hedberg and 20-year old wunderkid Mattais Tedenby. Hedberg was strong again in goal, making 25 stops in regulation and overtime, as well as stopping all three Calgary attempts in the shootout. Tedenby was largely responsible for the Devils' lone goal of the game when his shot glanced off of David Clarkson, who was credited with his fourth goal of the season at 13:06 of the first. To his credit, Clarkson has continued his strong play of late, going to the net more and finally looking like the player of two years ago again.

And while I'm praising the Swedes, a tip of the cap for Henrik Tallinder, who's played 25+ minutes the last two games and been matched up against Alexander Ovechkin and Jarome Iginla, helping to keep both off the board. Perhaps his learning curve of the system has finally been overcome. Paired with Colin White and with a forward core of Brian Rolston, Travis Zajac and Clarkson the fivesome have become our newest version of the 'checking line'. With Tedenby combining with vets Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott to give us a semblance of a scoring line, at least things are starting to come together a little bit up front - though goals weren't much a part of the equation tonight after our five-spot against the Caps Monday.

Still, the team as a whole played prevent offense too much and though Hedberg held the fort for the longest time eventually the Flames were going to get a goal, and it came early in the third when Rene Bourque's deflection found its way through at 1:18. With the game tied, it was all the Devils could do to hang on and force overtime, taking numerous icings late and finally getting a much-needed point. In overtime, the Devils had a glorious chance to get two when Mark Giordano's penalty gave New Jersey an overtime power play. Despite several quality chances though, the Flames and backup goalie Henrik Karlsson stood tall (pun intended with Karlsson's size) and killed off our power play.

Finally, it came to the shootout and deja vu as Ilya Kovalchuk was selected to go first for us. Our last shootout attempt came at home, with Kovalchuk's well-documented flub against the Sabres becoming highlight fodder on sports shows around North America. This time however, he kept the puck and rifled one of his patented wristers past Karlsson for the first, and as it turned out only goal of the shootout. Ironically Tedenby lost the puck on the second shot, leading me to wonder aloud if someone else's shooter would ever lose it during a shootout. Thankfully we didn't need them to, as Hedberg stopped all three attempts from Niklas Hagman, Alex Tanguay and Brendan Morrison to preserve a much-needed win.

With a matchup against the Islanders Friday afternoon on Long Island comes an opportunity to extend our modest streak further, since the Isles are working on a whopper of a losing streak - fourteen in a row and counting, though a couple of those were OT/SO losses. Either way, I'd gladly take another two points. Hopefully the team shows a little more willingness to play in the offensive zone against a ridiculously undermanned opponent. Especially with a game against the Flyers Saturday that I don't expect us to get anything out of, then again I didn't expect diddly-poo from the Caps game either.

Funny, with all the hulabaloo about Brent Sutter's return to the Rock in the media this week I don't feel much like commenting on it now. I hate to admit this but I will...I think Sutter handled everything about as well as he could have this week given the circumstances - not ducking the tough questions, heaping praise on GM Lou Lamoriello and coach John MacLean, calling Lou a father figure and stating he thought Johnny Mac would be a good coach for the organization and that he still talks to both here and there. He even cracked a joke with former teammate Chico Resch in the pregame, after Resch's comment about being old friends, Sutter quipped, 'well you're old, I'm not'.

Everyone knows the circumstances of Sutter's departure and quick arrival in Calgary to work under brother Darryl, but I'm not bitter at this point - though admittedly it's largely because Sutter's tenure in Calgary hasn't gone all that great with the Flames missing the playoffs last year for the first time in six seasons and having a losing record so far this year. Plus unlike the other turncoat coach in my sporting life, at least Sutter didn't trash the Devils every which way on the way out the way Bill Belichick has the Jets for the better part of a decade (nor has he won as much as Billy B, of course).

All that said, I didn't care much for Chico calling the criticism of Sutter a media creation and saying it's not a big deal with the fans. Okay he wasn't booed by a sellout crowd a la Scott Gomez or Sean Avery, but let's face it - a midweek game against Calgary isn't going to be an attendance magnet anyway. Plus you only get to boo the coach once, in the pregame introductions and not everyone's in their seat by then. There is a lot of bitterness and rightly so, especially since Sutter did take an NHL job less than two weeks later. Not that I don't expect Chico to defend his friend and former teammate, but it got a little much at times. I don't care what the Flames need to do Chico, we've got our own problems.

At least our first winning streak since early April provide a bit of relief for everyone associated with the Devils going into Thanksgiving, for the moment.

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