Friday, October 14, 2011

Game 3: Devils overcome Brodeur injury to beat Kings in shootout

Last night's game certainly wasn't a must-win for the Devils, not in October. Realistically though, it's important for this team to get off to a good start - both because of the start we had last year and because of the killer schedule October provides. Between the quality of opponents and the fact we have a three-game West Coast trip to cap off the month, it's vital we squeeze out as many points as we can, especially with our home games. Playing the Kings last night, while the Kings are still jetlagged from their insane start to the season (going overseas, then training in LA before flying here) was something I thought was vital to take advantage of.

We did, but it wasn't easy as the two teams traded goals in the first period - Simon Gagne for the Kings and Patrik Elias for us - and nobody scored after that until the shootout, when Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise both beat Johnathan Quick with backhand moves and Johan Hedberg stopped Gagne and Anze Kopitar to give the Devils a win and the all-important two points from last night's game.

Although the game was extremely competitive, most of the critical action took place in the first period. LA buzzed around our zone for the first ten minutes, and our start looked like a reprise of the Philly game - worse really. Fortunately Martin Brodeur was on his game and held the Kings to just Gagne's easy tap-in goal at 1:47 after a series of defensive breakdowns, while withstanding the rest of the siege. While Brodeur prevented further damage on the scoreboard, he could not prevent himself from injuring his shoulder on a high shot from Matt Greene midway through the period. Though he stayed in till the end of the first, his night was done after that and Hedberg came in. As of now, Brodeur's return Saturday was still questionable, but his injury is deemed 'not serious'.

Ironically after an injury timeout to Brodeur during the period, the team was able to use the extra stoppage of play to settle down and started taking the play to the Kings for the rest of the night. Our first really good offensive shift of the night resulted in Elias's tying goal at 13:03 when Parise and Petr Sykora each had shots down low before Elias finally put home the second rebound attempt for both his and my first goal of the season (in attendance, since I wasn't at the Carolina game).

Also in the first period, Cam Janssen made his return in Devils red after being scratched for the first two games...although it proved to be a short-lived one, as Janssen got a penalty literally seconds after stepping onto the ice and wound up playing only three and a half minutes - six shifts - in the game. Kovalchuk wound up double-shifting on the fourth line with Rod Pelley (also playing his first game of the season) and Brad Mills a lot and played an insane thirty minutes in the game as a result.

Kovalchuk's video-game icetime (while playing badly, no less) was one of my two big problems with the game, the other being David Clarkson, who either couldn't or wouldn't pass the puck to Mattais Tedenby three seperate times in the game on odd-man rushes. When Clarkson got a breakaway himself toward the end of the second period, of course he got stopped easily by Quick and then fell down - as is his wont - at the end of the play to punctuate his offensive ineptitude. Or is it lack of aptitude? Either way, I'm getting to a place most of Devils Nation already is: Sick of Clarkson, his $2.6 million contract, his attempt to be a finesse player and the fact he's still a coach and team pet.

The highlight of the third period was an insane stretch pass by Adam Larsson, who bounced a pass off the boards to Kovalchuk from behind the net to the opposite blueline stick-to-stick (a 200-foot pass!) and the Devils' winger had a good scoring chance but again Quick - the game's first star - was up to the challenge. Hedberg's hairiest moments came in the third, both when a Justin Williams shot trickled through him just wide, and when he roamed almost to the blueline to play a puck but managed to beat the onrushing Kings player for it.

Special teams wasn't much of a factor in the game as there were only three minor penalties called the entire night with no success on either end, so our penalty kill remained perfect while our power play remained scoreless with a goalie in the net. A power play goal at the end of regulation after a Dustin Penner penalty with less than two minutes left would have been ideal, but the Devils had to start the man advantage with their second unit because the first unit had just played at even-strength and Pete DeBoer used his timeout early in the second period after an icing left a tired fourth line plus Kovy on the ice.

Predictably, the Devils got few good chances on that power play and eventually went to the shootout, which took barely a minute to settle. Interestingly DeBoer chose to go first and try to put the pressure on early, as opposed to the baseball strategy of 'batting last' most teams use when they get the home rink choice of where to go in the shootout. That strategy succeeded as Kovy scored immediately and Parise followed, ensuring Hedberg only needed to stop Gagne and Kopitar (no easy task in itself) to win.

BoNY Three Stars:

1. Johan Hedberg (stopped all 18 shots he faced, including two shootout attempts)
2. Johnathan Quick (36 saves)
3. Patrik Elias (goal, +1, 21:24 TOI)

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