Saturday, January 7, 2012
Devils finally break through in 2012 with 5-2 win over Florida
After a terrible start to the new year, blowing another two-goal lead Monday in Ottawa before losing in OT and then getting waxed by the Bruins 6-1 at home Wednesday, the Devils needed a win badly last night with a tough four-game road trip looming on the horizon. As usual it was a five-siren game, with blown leads and head-scratching mistakes before the Devils finally broke a 2-2 tie for good with the first of Ilya Kovalchuk's two goals at 11:40 of the third period. For once, the Devils not only managed to hold a lead but also extend it with two empty-netters in the final minute, scored by Kovy and Zach Parise to give each their 14th goal of the season and account for the final 5-2 margin.
Going into last night's game there were two fascinating subplots, one involving Patrik Elias, who was playing his 1000th NHL game last night. Although the accomplishment was acknowledged in the middle of the first period, he'll formally be honored by the team and the NHL before the Devils' next home game - on the 17th against Winnipeg. The other subplot involved the newest Panther...John Madden, who had remained unsigned until coming to terms with the Panthers days ago on a $600k deal, and his first game (wearing an unfamiliar #10) was ironically enough against his long-time former team last night. Madden did get a nice ovation before the game, as did Elias during it.
Early on, things were looking good as the Devils outshot Florida 13-6 in the first period and got on the board early against Jakob Markstrom at 3:59, when Parise found Calder candidate Adam Henrique in front, where all he had to do was make a quick move and beat the Panthers goaltender for his tenth score of the season. Yet, despite the early good signs the Devils would only exit the first period tied after a series of ill-fated pinch attempts led to a two-on-one for the Panthers, and when Marcel Goc found an open Mikael Samuelsson you could have guessed the result. Sure enough, Samuelsson beat Johan Hedberg for only his second goal of the season at 7:33 to tie the game.
However, just thirty-six seconds into the second period, the Devils grabbed the lead again through an inspired Elias. After being teed up by Henrik Tallinder, Elias cranked a one-time slapshot through traffic and past Markstrom to give the Devils' all time offensive leader his fourteenth goal of 2011-12. Tallinder and fellow defenseman Mark Fayne got the assists on Elias's goal, which gave the Devils a lead they kept...for a whole two minutes and ten seconds. This time it was the ill-fated fourth line of Cam Janssen, Eric Boulton and Ryan Carter that screwed up, slow to arrive in a play that developed into a four-on-two, with Krys Barch slipping a wrister through Hedberg's legs to tie it again. Honestly, I love Cam and he'd have a place if he was the only enforcer but how many games of two minutes TOI and -1 do we have to go through before Pete DeBoer realizes playing two no-talent goons is just not viable in today's NHL?
Part of the problem right now is the Devils continue to be bitten by the injury bug. Travis Zajac is again on the shelf, this time due to achilles soreness, the same achilles he tore in the offseason. Allegedly, this is minor but I don't consider any injury that forces you to miss multiple games and is in the same area where you had major surgery anything 'minor'. Not only is Zajac out, but defenseman Anton Volchenkov also missed his second consecutive game due to 'lower body soreness'. At least Jacob Josefson's getting closer, being mentioned on the scratch list again and even subbing in as the team's sixth defenseman in practice (sadly, he would be better there than some of our actual defenseman). Also, talented but struggling forward Mattias Tedenby was a healthy scratch last night for the faceless Steve Zalewski. With Zalewski and Tim Sestito part of the Devils' third line, the team just has too many bodies in the lineup that don't belong in the league right now.
Fortunately the Devils' top line would pick it up after a hairy second period which included near misses by Madden and Kris Versteeg, the latter being somewhat comical as Versteeg broke his stick over his knee after missing an open net on a play where Hedberg was flopping all over the place. After plenty of anxious moments throughout most of the second and the first half of the third periods, the Devils finally got back in front again when Elias found Kovy with a gorgeous feed and Kovy directed the puck past Markstrom to give the Devils their third lead of the night. Thankfully the third time proved the charm in holding a lead although a delay of game penalty on Parise led to a real scary final three minutes, with the Devils' best PK'er in the box.
Despite not having Parise, the best PK unit in the league did their job and even extended the lead when the Panthers pulled Markstrom and Bryce Salvador's chip out of the zone found an open Kovy who streaked past the D and slipped it into the open net with a minute remaining, providing this blogger a huge sigh of relief. Matt Taormina and Henrique also put up secondary assists on the Kovy goals. Elias would complete his great night, finding Parise for another empty-netter (with help from another secondary assist by Danius Zubrus), a rarity for a Devils team that usually doesn't even find the empty net once!
Notes: After I got home last night, I read the somewhat surprising (or not) news that the NHLPA had rejected the NHL's highly publicized realignment plan for next year. Even though I had my issues with the new format of four 'conferences', the fact that the NHLPA cited travel - which was supposed to be made better by this - as their reason for rejecting it is comical and a bit disingenous. With Donald Fehr at the helm, it looks like the latest NHLPA-NHL war everyone feared is going to come to fruition with this rejection the first shot across the bow. I would have felt a lot better or at least not cared as much about the rejection if it wasn't directly related to the new CBA and the kind of approach the revamped NHLPA's going to take with this labor negotiation.