Wednesday night against the Sabres was the best game the Devils have played start to finish (minus the 5 minute lapse that cost them 2 goals). That being said, I think the Devils accomplished many of the keys that I pointed in a previous blog out that can be built on for tonight’s matchup against the Edmonton Oilers.
First and foremost I think the offense looked much better. Shooting more, crashing the net, which lead to 3 of the 4 goals, and keeping it simple, especially on the PP, helped the Devils put up solid offensive attack. The Devils created a lot more quality scoring chances throughout the game. Besides building on the success from Wednesday, I think the Devils still have to be quicker with their decisions. Especially Kovalchuk; he needs to shoot and shoot from everywhere. His linemate’s have to drive to the net and cause traffic. With Langenbrunner out for tonight’s game, it looks like fellow Russian; Alexander Vasyunov will play alongside Kovalchuk and Zajac. The kid has improved in each of his games and had a big assist against the Sabres. I look for another strong game out of him and a stronger game out of Kovalchuk.
Another positive and key for tonight is the return of Brian Rolston. Statistically whatever the Devils get from him is a plus, I look for his leadership to be a big impact on this club.
Overall I thought the defense played well, but as Andrew pointed out, you cannot blow 3 leads in a game, especially one midway through the third period. Tallinder and White were both out of position on the tying goal, leaving the Sabres player all alone in front, an inexcusable mistake by two veteran defensemen. Volchenkov and Greene had strong games and I think Oliver Magnan-Grenier has been playing great (Look for a feature on him in the next few days). I would like to see more minutes for Magnan and less for Tallinder. I doubt it will happen as they will look to bring the best out of Tallinder and his 3.375 cap hit.
A big key to tonight’s game is shutting down the highly skilled forwards on the Oilers.
With Marty back tonight and the defense playing much better I think the Devils are very close to breaking out of this funk.
Looking on the bright side of things, the Devils went 50% on the PP (1/2) and kept things much simpler. The first PP resulted in a goal as they put two big bodies in front of the net and Jason Arnott ripped a shot front the top of the circle. Nothing pretty but it worked. Tonight the Devils face the worst PK team in the league, look for them to cash in on the PP.
Ilya Kovalchuk has been the easy target from the media and fans as the reason for the Devils horrible start. He was mocked on Sportscenter, PTI and I’m sure other media outlets. I am by no means making excuses for his poor play and his lack of production, but you cannot question his effort and hard work. Just like the entire team, there is a bunch of young players, new coaching staff and a ton of injuries that are all contributing to this start. You cannot blame one guy. Kovalchuk will turn it around and I expect it to happen soon.
I predict the Devils win and tonight starts a run to get us back into playoff contention.