After what felt like an NFL-style bye week between games, the Devils returned to the ice last night for the first time in six days and received a bit of a reality check from the Sharks in Newark. While the Devils did get a ‘new NHL’ point in their 4-3 shootout loss, they were fortunate to get even that – since it was mostly due to a heroic performance from Johan Hedberg. Moose had 38 saves, 31 of them in the final two periods and overtime when the Sharks outshot New Jersey 34-13. Despite being dominated to such an extent, the Devils did hold a 2-0 lead for much of the second period, and 3-2 in the final minute but lost both leads, and eventually the game.
Things went from bad to worse after the game when the Devils announced Jacob Josefson had suffered a broken clavicle, and after a MRI this morning revealed he needed surgery it was determined that the young Swede would miss 3-4 months. For a team already missing Travis Zajac down the middle this is a severe blow depth-wise, and for Josefson himself this makes long-term injuries in back-to-back seasons. After sending Adam Henrique down last week with the intention to ‘recall him soon’ the Devils did recall him to take Josefson’s spot, though obviously this wasn’t the kind of move the team had in mind.
As far as the actual game, some might be bothered by the fact the Devils did blow the two leads, including the one late. To me, it just was more indiciative of how we played in the game – which is what actually did bother me. For the second time in five games we more or less got dominated from blue line to blue line, though at least unlike Opening Night we managed to get some timely goals. Even the power play looked NHL-caliber in the first period, as Patrik Elias roofed one off a nice feed from Ilya Kovalchuk and the team created good chances on multiple power plays.
Special teams continued to help the Devils early in the second period, as Zach Parise got a shorthanded breakaway and was taken down by Brent Burns, giving the Devils a penalty shot. Of course, Parise took it and as he’s done so many times in the shootout, rendered yet another goalie helpless on a breakwaway – scoring his third goal of the year. Amazingly enough, it was the captain’s first-ever penalty shot goal. From there, it’s almost as if the Devils sagged a little bit and Moose found himself under siege as the Sharks (who were coming into the Rock on a three-game losing streak) peppered the net. For a while, it looked as if Moose was channeling Martin Brodeur during Game 5 against Carolina a couple years ago, where he wouldn’t let anything in.
Eventually, the dam did break though – when Joe Thornton (celebrating his 1000th NHL game) scored on a three-on-one at 15:18 of the second period. There was no letup from the Sharks, and just sixty-three seconds later they scored again when a puck bounced off of Ryan Clowe‘s skate and in. Right there probably at least half the building had the same thought I had – TIMEOUT – but the fact that Clowe’s goal had to be reviewed basically acted as a timeout for us anyway.
While the Sharks didn’t score again in the second period, they continued to dominate play into the third. Moose remained strong however, and pretty much against the run of play the Devils took the lead with just 6:42 remaining when Mattais Tedenby connected with David Clarkson for the second straight game, with Clarkson driving to the net and taking advantage of a nice feed from Tedenby, to give the Devils a surprising 3-2 lead. While coach Pete DeBoer later said he thought we played well in the first and third periods, I mostly disagree with that assessment when it comes to the third, however from Clarkson’s goal on it did seem like the Sharks sagged – as if they couldn’t believe what was going on.
Until they pulled Antti Niemi for an extra skater they really didn’t get as much pressure on us as they had for most of the prior thirty plus minutes, but in the final minute they sprung to life and wouldn’t be denied as the two Joes (Pavelski and Thornton) combined for a goal with Pavelski beating Hedberg emphatically on one knee to tie the game with just thirty-three seconds left. Right then, I just wanted to get to overtime but the Sharks nearly Carolinaed us and scored again before the end of regulation, just missing the net on a good chance in front. Finally, it went to overtime for a third straight game and then a shootout for a third straight game.
Despite the fact Kovy scored on his first shootout attempt and Hedberg made a stop on Pavelski, I didn’t feel this shootout would follow the script of our previous two. Parise had already shown Niemi his best move to score on the penalty shot, but in the shootout the advantage swung to Niemi as a result – and somewhat predictably he did stop Zach this time. Then, when Michael Handzus ripped one off the post that went off of Hedberg’s back and in the net I knew then it wasn’t going to be our night. Sure enough, Elias got stopped on his first shootout attempt of the season, then Clowe scored (this time with his stick), giving us perhaps a deserved loss.
Unfortunately the loss of Josefson – and continued absence of Brodeur – might prove to be the ones that sting more in the long-term.