Sunday, November 6, 2011

Devils go overtime again to beat Winnipeg

With all of the focus on guys like Adam Larsson, Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, Nick Palmeri and Mark Fayne as young players who were being counted on to contribute to the Devils this year, few factored Adam Henrique into the mix. Skeptics might have included the Devils themselves, who relegated Henrique to the fourth line early in the season, then sent him down to Albany after a couple of weeks.

Right now though, Henrique's contributing just about as much or more than any of the aformentioned players. After his game-tying goal against Philly on Thursday, he scored two critical breakaway goals last night including the OT winner to lead the Devils past Winnipeg 3-2. Just as importantly, he's stepped in to fill a gaping hole down the middle after the Devils were sent reeling by injuries to Travis Zajac and Josefson.

While the Devils went overtime last night, my day in Newark started early as I attended a rookie season ticket holder orientation. Technically I'm not a real rookie since I've been an erstatz sth for the past four years but it is the first year I have these tickets on my account, and I was curious to see what the fan reps had to say. I did learn a couple of things I hadn't known before, such as the fact you could pay for discounted parking for a specific game (I thought it was only available for the whole season). And when some irate older guy wanted to know why the team starts games at 7 as opposed to 7:30, the VP of ticket sales basically said that the schedule was made in consultation with the NHL and that fan feedback would be helpful in having more ammo - as he put it - to go to the NHL with and perhaps request different start times.

Personally I think if the majority of games started at 7:30, you'd have just as many people complaining about how they can't get home till after 11 on a weekday, and that it's too late to take kids. That's why I think the best solution is some kind of mix between 7 and 7:30, give both the early and late crowd what they want. Selfishly, I'd rather see 7 PM starts almost every night (except on Tuesday when I get upgraded to club seats, the later start time gives me and my friend more time before the game to eat at the arena lol). Then again it's not a problem for me to make it at 7, and for a lot of people it is though like I said if you had games at 7:30, there'd be people protesting that too.

Anyway, after meeting the reps and getting a tour of the arena it was 5 PM and I still had two hours. We were allowed to leave and come back, so I went to Penn Station but nothing was open but McDonald's and a pizza place all the way back by the entrance. I didn't feel like eating much anyway so I just ate there and then came back to the arena around 6, looking for people I knew and milling around for an hour, and then I got to my seat in 120 just before the opening intro. Much to my surprise, I had actual leg room last night, as the seats around me weren't filled up though it seemed like a better crowd than the reported 15,000 - certainly rowdier than the other night.

Things got interesting during stoppages of play too, with some of the attempted giveaways. During the second period, some Devils fan got three trivia questions right and won a Ken Daneyko autographed stick, with a catch...he could trade the stick in for what was in the 'mystery box', a Let's Make a Deal type thing. Inexplicably, the guy traded in the stick and right then I said to the guy next to me 'I hope this isn't Taylor Swift concert tickets'. So what was in the box? A Taylor Swift DVD lol. The poor guy had such a sheepish look on his face. Turned out the Devils let him keep the stick anyway, I guess they figured getting publicly embarassed was bad enough for the guy. Then in the third period, another fan clearly tanked a question that he didn't want to get stuck with the sponsored giveaway for, picking Anton Volchenkov when one of the clues was 'Played for the Swedish national team'.

Around all this and meeting people during both intermissions, an interesting game took place. A game in which for two periods, it looked like it would turn out to be a rare easy night for the Devils. Though they didn't score in the first period, they gradually got their game legs - as did Martin Brodeur, who looked much better last night than the rusty version of MB30 did on Wednesday. Finally, the Devils broke through on the scoreboard early in the second when Danius Zubrus's feed found a wide open Patrik Elias for a one-timer that Elias sent past Ondrej Pavelec for his sixth goal of the year at 4:08. Also getting an assist on the goal was Bryce Salvador, who not only got his first point in the NHL since 2009 but also wound up playing 24:16 in his best game since his return, and wore the second assistant captain's A in the absence of Ilya Kovalchuk, to boot.

In what turned out to be a harbinger of things to come, Zach Parise sprung Henrique for the first of his two breakaway goals at 12:59, putting the Devils up 2-0 in a game that you figured the Devils could be businesslike and figure out a way to win in the third period. I missed the first five minutes of the period socializing with people I rarely see but nothing much happened until I got back towards my section and had a good standing view of a great Parise chance that just missed, followed by a screened shot by Winnipeg's Mark Flood beating Brodeur at 6:43 to spoil the shutout and get things hairy. Even then, I didn't get the impending feeling of doom I sometimes get when the Devils start to blow a third-period lead. The next ten minutes flew buy and despite the 2-1 score it did look like it was heading towards a business-like win.

Then, a series of unfortunate events conspired against the Devils. At the time I was annoyed at Volchenkov and Ryan Carter for standing around just before Jim Slater scored, I thought they assumed the puck went into the netting and the play was over but what actually happened is a puck got deflected high up into the air and both of them just lost it. I was so annoyed at this apparent lollygagging I didn't even notice that Volchenkov was in fact, in position to clear it before he obviously got hooked by Blake Wheeler (of course, it wasn't called) leading to a turnover and Slater of all people getting the goal. For it was Slater who did the nonsensical pest move in the pregame of shooting a puck into the Devils' end of the ice before warmups began. Apparently the refs realized their mistake and gave the Jets a ticky-tack penalty minutes later - which even Chico Resch made a sarcastic comment about on the telecast, saying it was nice to see 'consistency' from the officials - but our power play couldn't take advantage and the game went to overtime.

After seeing four shootouts in the season's first eleven games, I was getting a bit tired of it (especially after Danny Briere's nonsense goal the other night), despite our success in the skills competition so far. Fortunately we only needed one breakaway goal to win this game, as Parise sprung Henrique yet again just 1:28 into the overtime and again Henrique beat Pavelec one-on-one for the dramatic winner that put the Devils back over .500 at 6-5-1. Apparently Henrique's heroics have even surprised his teammates, as the captain would say later:

“I don’t think there’s much question now that he’s here for good,” Parise said. “It has to be a lot of fun for him. I didn’t know Adam had that kind of speed. He’s much faster than I thought.”

Speed - and goalscoring - are definitely two things this team needs going forward.

Notes: In addition to Kovalchuk, Andy Greene was also shelved due to injury and missed his second straight game. Rod Pelley and Mark Fraser played in their place, with Fraser winning some more brownie points from me by dropping the gloves with Chris Thorburn immediately after a goalmouth scrum smack in front of Brodeur, though he wound up a -1 in fourteen minutes after the contreversial non-call before the tying goal.

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