Monday, November 22, 2010
Hedberg turns boos to moose calls in dominant Devils performance
Even two hours after the Devils wasted the defending President's Trophy winners 5-0 I'm still at a loss to explain where this performance came from. After all, the Caps - despite being down to their third-string goaltender Braden Holtby - still led the NHL with 30 points in their first 20 games while the Devils had only mustered twelve in their first twenty (avoiding last only thanks to the Islanders' thirteen-game losing streak), with most of our roster on IR or MIA. Our coach has been under fire, and our superstar hasn't been living up to his contract. Plus the game was in New Jersey, where the Devils had exactly one home win this year, which came in OT against one of the few teams even worse than us.
So naturally the Devils picked tonight to throw up their most dominant performance of the season, scoring all of their goals in the first 27:48 of the contest. In fact, our three first-period goals represented as many as we scored total on our most recent three-game road trip (all losses), and as far as I can remember our first three-goal period of the entire season. Last night, I wasn't kidding when I told my friend I was worried we'd lose this and the Flyers game on Saturday by three goals at best.
Before the game, the Devils honored the late Pat Burns with a video tribute to the tune of Sarah McLachlan's 'I Will Remember You' followed by a moment of silence. During the intermissions they played the Hockey Night in Canada tribute to Burns during the first and the MSG+ one from Saturday night during the second. Of course, the Devils wore a black patch with the initials 'PB' on their jerseys - with the intent of using the jerseys for four home games before auctioning them off and donating the proceeds to a cancer hospice in Burns' memory.
Despite yet another tough loss in St. Louis on Saturday, the Devils came to play tonight, in a big way - getting on the board at 5:49, when a beautiful deflection from Patrik Elias off a Mattais Tedenby shot gave us that rarest of accomplishements: an actual power play goal! Not to mention just having the lead, those have been few and far between this year too. Perhaps that goal loosened the team up as they had maybe their best period of the season, holding the high-flying Caps to just four shots on net and scoring three goals on our nine. Jason Arnott would score our second of the game and his seventh of the season on a wraparound at 16:15 after defenseman Tyler Sloan got tangled up with Holtby in front of the net.
Just two minutes later, Caps defenseman John Erskine hauled down Tedenby on a breakaway, resulting a penalty shot - which the young Swede converted with poise, giving him his third goal in a six-game old NHL career thus far. Early in the second period, Arnott got his second of the game off a rebound from an Elias shot at 2:43, with Andy Greene getting his second assist of the night. Danius Zubrus concluded the scoring just over five minutes later, getting his third of the season and the rout was on. When the score got to 5-0, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau finally used his timeout. Too little, too late.
In general, the rest of the game became about goaltender Johan Hedberg, as the Caps outshot us 26-14 in the final two periods but Hedberg stood tall under pressure, including a nice glove save on Alexander Semin that was Brodeur-esque. Sure, most of his saves came after the game was out of hand but really Hedberg was under a different kind of pressure from the start, after being benched for third-stringer Mike McKenna in St. Louis on Saturday. McKenna played well in that game, only giving up the flukiest of goals - a goalmouth scrum where the ref should have blown play dead five seconds before the goal, a fluky bounce off the boards and a brilliant deflection of a shot that was several feet wide - and Hedberg was getting no guarantees from coach Johnny MacLean that he would play by rote while Martin Brodeur was out.
Perhaps someone else would have taken the benching Saturday as a snub, or sulked when the crowd jeered him during his first (disasterous) start of the season against the Sabres, giving up four goals on twelve shots. To his credit he took the high road both times, not criticizing the fans or the coach. Maybe he had no other choice - despite improved play since his ill-fated first start, Hedberg still came into the game with just one win, a 4.53 GAA and .855 save percentage overall. Still though, Hedberg is a proud veteran and you couldn't help but feel good for him in the final minute when the crowd alternated 'Hedberg!' chants with moose calls as the veteran Swede finished off his 15th career shutout.
At least tonight was a reprieve from a nightmarish season so far, but if the team's ever going to turn it around perhaps this kind of dominance against a good team will spark it. Three of our other wins came by one goal against bad-mediocre teams and our 3-0 shutout of Montreal a few weeks back was nowhere near as dominant as this one (especially with being outshot by a wide margin in that game). With games against a subpar Calgary team Wednesday and the aformentioned Islanders on Long Island Friday come our best chance of the season to actually put together a win streak. Finally, they know they can score goals - well except Ilya Kovalchuk , whose subpar game was the only blemish on a near-perfect night at the Rock.
Now it's time to stick it to Brent Sutter and the Flames Wednesday and try to at least see if we can start to turn this thing around in the right direction.