Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Devils pound Enroth, Sabres with rare goal outburst

Heading into their fourth game in six nights, the Devils had started to get their offensive attack going a little with three goals the night before in a tough loss at Boston, and with Ilya Kovalchuk coming back after a five-game absence the offense looked to keep trending upward in Buffalo. However, the Devils were also playing their fourth game in six nights, in four different cities - and against an opponent that was not only five games over .500 but still hopping mad after Boston's Milan Lucic took out starting goaltender Ryan Miller with a hit that surprisingly went unpunished by discipline czar Brendan Shanahan.

All of which made their five-goal outburst against the Sabres rather surprising. Especially since it came against Jhonas Enroth, a backup who was 6-0 on the season and 13-0-1 in the calendar year of 2011. Not to mention I can't remember the last time the Devils' offense erupted for five goals - perhaps last January when we had a couple of those games. Five different players scored, including our three key guys - Kovy, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias. Martin Brodeur also had a strong game in goal with 29 saves - many of the eye-popping variety - after going through a rare stretch of sitting two games in a row when healthy enough to play.

Another rarity for the Devils this season has been getting off to quick starts. Three times this season the Devils have had to rally from two goals down to win (all on the road), but tonight they were the agressors, jumping out to a two-goal lead inside of 5:21. Parise opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal just 2:06 into the game, when some tremendous work by Adam Henrique led to the Devils' rookie centerman winning the puck away from two Sabres and getting it out to a wide-open Zach Attack in front, where Parise beat Enroth with a turnaround slapshot for his sixth goal of the season. Special teams continued to benefit the Devils early, as Kovy would also get on the board in his first game back, with a power play goal no less. Brodeur started the play in his own end with a long pass to Elias, who got the puck in the zone and fed Kovy, who finished the play off with a nice move to get around a defenseman and put a hard wrister past the Sabres' goalie for just his third goal of the year.

After getting off to an early lead, the Devils looked like they were gearing up to run Buffalo out of their own building during the first fifteen minutes but back-to-back dumb penalties by Ryan Carter eventually cost New Jersey, with Tyler Myers of all people scoring on the second of those power plays at 18:56. The Sabres' big young defenseman - who was recently scratched in part due to his lack of agressiveness when Miller went down - attacked the slot and beat Brodeur after Jason Pominville found him wide open in front. Myers continued to throw his weight around in the second period, hitting Danius Zubrus with what looked like an intentional head shot that amazingly went unpunished. Thankfully Zubrus was okay, on a night where the veteran winger would join a select group by playing his 1000th NHL game.

It was during the latter part of the first period and beginning of the second that the Sabres played some of their best hockey, but Brodeur held the fort until finally getting some offensive help from two of the younger Devils. Henrique won a faceoff in the offensive zone back to Mark Fayne, whose seeing-eye wrister beat Enroth at 8:36 for the defenseman's third goal of the year (we have a defenseman that can score the occasional goal?! That concept's been foreign around here for a while).

Despite the fact the Sabres got twelve shots in the second period and thirteen in the third, Brodeur kept them at arm's length, and the Devils actually increased their lead early in the third when Elias scored his seventh goal, off a feed from Petr Sykora on a 3-on-2 at 3:09. Now up 4-1, and just when it looked like it was going to be an easy night, Myers again beat Brodeur - this time with a shortside goal at 7:35 to pull the Sabres back to within two. Just when the crowd started to get back in it though, Andy Greene alley-ooped a long pass to David Clarkson, who found himself on a breakaway and beat Enroth with a nifty backhand for his sixth goal of the year just forty-eight seconds after Myers had scored.

Up 5-2 with Brodeur in command, again it looked like it was going to be a rare laugher, and Lindy Ruff even waved the white flag a bit by removing Enroth for Drew McIntyre. However, on the tail end of a Devils power play with just a few minutes left in the game coach Pete DeBoer got too cute by putting the fourth line (and enforcer Cam Janssen) out on the ice, to try to give his regulars a shift off on the tail end of a fourth game in six nights. It wasn't putting the fourth line out I had a problem with, since Buffalo initially matched up with Patrik Kaleta and the Sabres' enforcers - but the minute the power play ended and Buffalo got their scorers on the ice, the Devils' fourth line should have gone off too. However, Cam and company stayed out there and it was a Janssen turnover that led to Jordan Leopold scoring at 15:07 to again get the Sabres within two.

Despite some anxious moments toward the end however, the Devils did hang on for the two points and a 5-3 win, giving them their second win in three games on their brutal five-game swing. Their only loss came when they got nosed out by the defending Stanley Cup champs last night in an entertaining game - though I missed all but the last ten minutes of it since Tuesday's free movie night for me and my friends - where Nick Palmeri of all people scored twice and Clarkson got one as well, but eventually the Bruins' third-period assault finally beat an otherwise stellar Johan Hedberg. After the game Bruins' coach (and ex-Devil coach) Claude Julien tweaked us a bit by suggesting we were playing for the tie, rather than trying to win. I guess it's not possible for his own terrific team to dominate a third period at home without the other team sitting back, god knows his own team's done that enough times.

There certainly was no sitting back tonight, much to the surprise of Pierre McGuire, who couldn't stop gushing about our more agressive system. As much as Pierre loves the Devils (and particularly GM Lou Lamoriello), it is too bad VERSUS didn't give us Doc Emrick doing the play-by-play for tonight's game. Twice in two weeks, I've been hoping to see him on their telecasts and each time we've gotten a different group although at least pros Dave Strader and Ed Olcyzk are better than the immortal John Forslund-Keith Jones tandem that did last week's Canes game. Not that I can complain about VERSUS with all the gaffes our own telecast has been coming up with this year. Thank goodness I've been at most of the home games and missed a lot of the road telecasts for different reasons.

If things aren't the same in the booth, at least they're getting closer to resembling the old days on the ice. At 9-7-2 however, there's still a lot of work to do, with the Florida portion of our trip still upcoming before we return home next Wednesday.

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