Friday, February 3, 2012
Another roller coaster ride in Newark
As if Tuesday's wild match with the Rangers wasn't enough for high drama and emotion, Thursday's game with the Canadiens put everyone through the ringer yet again, as the Devils came out flat and fell behind 2-0 in the first ten minutes before roaring back and breaking a 3-3 tie late in the third with Zach Parise's second goal of the night en route to a hard-fought 5-3 win. Typically, as the Devils were celebrating a win they lost another player due to injury as defenseman Adam Larsson got laid out by counterpart P.K. Subban late in the third period and is expected to miss at least one and probably both of this weekend's games against the Flyers and Penguins. More on that later though.
It was another interesting night at the Rock, for season ticket holders got the opportunity to request two free seats for the game. I sold my regular seats and used the freebees, not realizing I would actually be upgrading in the process since I wound up with section 10 when I looked at the ticket, a good view almost parallel to the net where we defend twice. Even better, I have friends who have seasons in section 11 so I was able to talk to them more than usual tonight. Paid attendance was just over 13,000 and approximately 1200 or so of the free tickets were used, helping to fill the normally sparse lower bowl and give us fans a little extra bonus.
Fully enjoying my second free night down in the lower bowl this season (after my club seat game in November), I got zeppoles at the nearby Boardwalk stand and hardly cared I got powder all over myself, especially since my jerseys were in the wash and I was just wearing a t-shirt anyway. Unfortunately my mood turned from mellow to sour in a matter of minutes as the Devils came out like they were still hung over from the wild win on Tuesday, letting Montreal run all over them the first ten minutes - outshooting New Jersey 9-2 and outscoring them 2-0. First, David Deshairnais scored a rebound goal at 4:11 to give the Habs the lead. Then, Andrei Kostitsyn scored after a series of breakdowns to make it 2-0 at 9:23. I only said one word at this point...timeout! And Pete DeBoer agreed with my request, using the timeout at that point with the team's heads clearly somewhere else.
Maybe it was the timeout that turned things around - or maybe it was Parise's soft goal on Carey Price that somehow snuck through shortside at 10:36 that got the Devils back in the game. Ilya Kovalchuk and Danius Zubrus each got assists on the goal, and it wouldn't be the last time any of those three would be involved in the scoring. Kovy could well have tied it early in the second period when his shot squirted through Price, who didn't cover it. Unfortunately for the Devils the puck remained on the goalline and despite an attempt by Alexei Ponikarovsky to whack it in, the refs on the ice and a subsequent video review didn't see the puck cross the line so it was ruled a no-goal. By this time, the lack of calls on obvious Canadien penalties were irking me and the crowd more and more, with the culmination of our displeasure the disallowed goal.
Ironically enough, it was a penalty that was finally called on Montreal that nearly ended the game for the Devils as they gave up...yes another shorthanded goal. The culprit was a familiar one - Kurtis 'The Statue' Foster. Heck, I'd rather have the dopey bronze statue that is an eyesore outside the Prudential Center play defense than Foster, especially after his clinic on how not to play the point on the power play. First he lost the puck at the point, then let Tomas Plekanec get behind him and finally failed to pick up trailer Matthieu Darche, who swatted in a rebound after Martin Brodeur had made the initial stop on Plekanec's breakaway. Finally after that wonderful display of defense, Foster wound up on the bench for the rest of the night. Somewhat fortuitiously, the Devils had dressed an extra defenseman anyway due to the uncertain status of Bryce Salvador (playing through a leg injury). Did Foster's benching come too late though?
Lo and behold, the Devils' next power play was infinitely more successful without Foster to gum up the works, although David Clarkson's goal at 13:43 was somewhat fortuitous, as a Kovalchuk shot bounced off a Canadiens defender, then Clarkson's leg before going in after yet another review incensed the crowd and caused me to say only half-kiddingly I was walking out if this was disallowed. Thankfully, I wouldn't have to follow through as it was a good goal - which I saw pretty well from my vantage point anyway. Despite being outshot in every period, the Devils' play continued to get better even with a series of bad calls, missed calls and no calls that somehow escaped Habs coach Randy Cunneyworth when he was complaining that the whistled favored us after the game. Truth be told, we did wind up with more power plays in the game though some of the ones that were missed were even more egregious than the ones that got called. I guess the Habs are used to getting three times as many power plays as the other team the way they usually get at the Bell Center.
Still behind 3-2 despite the shenanigans, the Devils finally tied the game early in the third, when a beautiful deflection by Zubrus off a Ponikarovsky shot beat Price to tie the game at 6:11 and gave Zubie his thirteenth goal of the year. The game muddled on with the Devils killing another penalty after a contreversial interference call on Clarkson. Even more consternation followed when Subban laid out Larsson (who'd earlier been shaken up by another hard check), and the teen sensation had to be helped off the ice with an apparent back injury. Although the check was clean, there still had to be some form of retribution and Patrik Elias provided it, giving Subban an honest knock on the next shift. To his credit Subban showed genuine concern for his counterpart when he was laid on the ice, but I didn't see any of this at the time. I wasn't sure whether the check was clean or dirty.
Finally, at 17:16 the Devils' top players struck a more meaningful blow - on the scoreboard, when a Kovalchuk shot rebounded to Parise at the right side of the net, and he would beat Price with a quick wrister in the vacated area of the goalcrease for his second of the night and eighteenth of the season tying him with...Clarkson for second in scoring just behind Kovy. With the net empty it seemed like the Devils tried to force it to Zach since he could have gotten a hat trick, but finally Clarkson took care of business himself flinging it into an empty net for his nineteenth goal of the season. Clarkson's two goals and an assist weren't even enough to earn a star, as Parise got first star with his two goals including the game-winner, Kovy got second star for his three assists and Brodeur got third star ironically, after being rooked out of it during a couple of home games where he only allowed one goal. Don't get me wrong, Marty did deserve it with a bunch of fine saves that kept the Devils in it while they were still trying to find their equilibrium. New man Ponikarovsky also deserved some recognition for his two assists and +2 on the night, in addition to the almost-goal that wasn't.
Thankfully, the Devils managed to take advantage of playing a weaker team at home although things quickly toughen up again with a trip to Philly Saturday, a Super Bowl Sunday matinee back at the Rock against the Penguins (no, I won't be going for three wins in a week) and then a Tuesday showdown with the Rangers at the Garden. Early word is that Johan Hedberg will finally be getting a start in Philly tomorrow, with Brodeur back in net Sunday. Hedberg's last start was in Edmonton, more than three weeks ago but he certainly should be kept in the mix, even though Marty's largely stepped up his game recently.
Despite the two emotional wins, things are just getting started. Being nine games over .500 and in position to make the playoffs doesn't mean much if you have a bad week, and the Devils have some brutal games coming up. Larsson and Henrik Tallinder being out with Salvador playing through injury and Andy Greene just coming back from a long absence himself compromises our defensive core. The continued absence of top centers Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac has shuffled our forward lines. And yet this team and organization knows they can't afford to miss the playoffs again, for a variety of reasons that I've already gone into before and won't do now.
If this team's talent gives me pause when I think on whether we can make the playoffs, their sheer determination may be their biggest asset in the chase for the postseason. Determination that they've shown in the last two games, which could easily have both been losses and given us a disasterous five-game losing streak, all at home.