Thursday, November 3, 2011
Devils rally in Philly to gain a split of a back-to-back
After a desultory home loss to Toronto dropped the Devils under .500 last night, they went to Philly looking to stop the hemmoraghing that's been taking place since the team's 3-1-1 start. Despite the Flyers not having Chris Pronger and resting Ilya Bryzgalov, they still had more than enough firepower to jump out in front 2-0. After pounding Sergei Bobrovsky with twenty-one shots in the second period and tying the game, we fell behind again early in the third period after Mark Fayne got beat and then conceded a penalty shot, which Max Talbot converted.
Yet, somehow this team found a way to come back again - despite the two deficits, despite the refs doing their level best to call tacky interference penalties on us, and get in the way of players and pucks all night (on the Flyers' first goal, the play started when Anton Volchenkov got run into by the ref and fell down). Perhaps hockey justice was done, as David Clarkson scored another(!) big goal to tie the game at 3 - then after a contreversial shootout goal by Daniel Briere, the Devils still managed to gain the two points when Zach Parise and Patrik Elias scored, with Elias somehow slipping the puck dramatically under Bobrovsky's pad for the winner.
Unlike Opening Night, this was a game more befitting of the rivalry between these two teams, although the Devils had to deal with yet another injury before the opening faceoff when Andy Greene was a late scratch, replaced by Mark Fraser for his first game of the season. Surprisingly, Fraser had a nice game - in fact, probably his best as a Devil - playing sixteen minutes and providing a physical presence without any of the scary gaffes that have plagued him during his tenure. Although he got whistled for two penalties, both were at best ticky-tack calls.
Officiating became a common theme all night, as neither team was happy over what was a penalty and what wasn't. Really, the bad calls, no calls and miscalls went both ways but seemed to hurt us more. Especially when coupled with the refs getting in the way of pucks or players more than once - including the first goal, though Volchenkov it should be said, had enough time to get back into the play and it was sloppy defending by Mattais Tedenby, among others that led to Zac Rinaldo of all people scoring a goal. Rinaldo had over 300 penalty minutes in the AHL last year, went after Parise during the preseason and took a penalty after a high hit on Adam Larsson by the boards in the first period. Yet he hurt us more offensively, and Rinaldo could have had a second goal on his next shift when Johan Hedberg stopped him on a breakaway.
Honestly, that sequence involving Rinaldo was enough to get me to shut the game off for much of the second period. I'd finally had it, especially after the comedy of errors I witnessed at the Rock last night in a 5-3 loss. With the team having lost four of five and looking more and more hopeless with each game, I was in too foul a mood to watch what seemed like it was going to be another beatdown from a team that's physically manhandled us in recent years.
I probably would have blown my stack if I'd seen Claude Giroux score at 8:08 to put the Flyers up by two. I was already close to losing it last night when Nick Palmeri blew an open-net opportunity in the first period with that game tied at 1, colliding with Ryan Carter to add insult to injury, and for the cherry on top the Leafs went down and scored on Martin Brodeur seconds later. Brodeur had his own issues later in the game as he struggled in his first game back from injury, giving up two hideously bad goals after we somehow managed to tie the game THREE times and finally sink us.
Tonight, it was Hedberg in net on the rear end of a back-to-back and he did well to keep us in the game, until finally Parise scored on a deflection less than a minute after Giroux's goal with his back turned to the net...both a lucky and smart goal at the same time, as he had the presence of mind to get his stick on the ice and tip an Adam Henrique shot past Bobrovsky. Henrique - who's been centering Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk for the last two games - got his own goal minutes later when Kovy threaded the needle on a slick cross-ice feed in front and Henrique got his first NHL goal with more or less a tap-in at 11:57.
During the period, the Devils pounded Bobrovsky, getting twenty-one shots on net, but Henrique's goal would be the last they put by him as the Flyers' second-year netminder made some good saves of his own, stopping Kovy on a shorthanded breakaway late in the period, among others. It seemed as if they took our best shot and weathered the storm when early in the third period, Fayne got victimized by a bad bounce for the second time in three games when Talbot blocked his shot, then streaked in for the breakaway and converted the penalty after Fayne hooked him in the clear.
Things again looked bad, until there was just over six and a half minutes left, when Elias found Clarkson in front and he put it home for another clutch goal, after his game-tying goal in Nashville earlier in the season and even with a breakaway goal last night that tied the Leafs game at 3 before the roof fell in later. The roof wouldn't fall in tonight though, and the Devils worked their way to overtime. Overtime got complicated though, when Kovy (who had assists on the first two goals) skated off with an apparent leg injury, not to return. Apparently even he's human, since he was playing inhuman minutes - for a forward at least - early in the season. Despite the presence of OT snipers Elias and Jaromir Jagr for the Flyers, neither team scored and the game went to a shootout.
After Hedberg stopped Wayne Simmonds and Parise scored with a simple wrist shot - deking out Bobrovsky, who was expecting some of Parise's patented dekes - the Devils led 1-0 when Briere stepped up to shoot for the Flyers. Hedberg committed too early, fell down and Briere had only to put it in an open net, which he did...with one little problem, Briere came to a complete stop once Hedberg hit the ice. Coming to a complete stop is supposedly a no-no during a shootout attempt. However, it was ruled a goal on the ice and apparently the people in Toronto were out to lunch as well because they didn't overturn the call, with the given explanation that they couldn't rule on whether he stopped, only on whether it was a good goal or not. What horse****, give me a bucket. I'd love to see Brendan Shanahan make a tape over why that was a good goal.
Despite that injustice and Petr Sykora's miss, the Devils soldiered on. Hedberg stopped the dangerous Giroux, leaving it up to Elias. After a deke Elias somehow slipped the puck under Bobrovsky's pad, which looked like it was on the ice. Maybe the hockey gods cleared an invisible tunnel under Bobrovsky's pad just big enough for Elias's shot to get through. God knows we deserved a break after that ridiculous shootout 'goal' by Briere. Whatever the circumstance, the Devils got a huge two points that got them back to NHL .500 at 5-5-1 with winnable home games against Winnipeg and Carolina coming up before a brutal stretch of games.
Perhaps the first bit of contreversy in this young season will be who starts in net Saturday. You would think it would be a healthy Brodeur, but clearly he looked rusty last night and this team kind of needs to take advantage of the momentum tonight's shootout win could provide. Hedberg's been playing well...but I still think Pete DeBoer will go back to Brodeur on Saturday. Hopefully the team will play better defense for him than they did last night at least, where they gave up a string of goals with sloppy defending. DeBoer called the Devils' effort 'soft' last night, and they responded with a much tighter performance tonight, despite the second-period hiccups and another bad bounce on Fayne.
Hopefully an improved defensive effort, and an offense that's actually managed three goals in each of its last two games - including two power play goals last night (what a shock!) - leads to improved results in the short-term, despite a lineup that could be missing as many as four regulars on Saturday.
Notes: In a somewhat amusing (for now) turn of events, camp tryout Anton Stralman signed a one-year $950k deal with the Rangers, after growing tired of waiting for a spot to open up here. After the way Fraser played under his former and current coach tonight, one might not open up for a while anyway though the team could use an extra d-man to hang around as long as Greene's on the shelf.