By Mark Krulish
What happened: David Clarkson scored twice and Adam Henrique continued his torture of the Rangers, netting his second goal of the year in a 3-1 victory over their rival. Henrique roofed a sweet backhand pass from Patrik Elias with five minutes remaining in the first period, and Clarkson scored in the final minute to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. Clarkson would strike early in the third period to put the game out of reach. Martin Brodeur had another fine night in net, making several quality saves on his way to stopping 24 of 25 shots overall.
Star of the game: There is no way to tell how long this will last, but Clarkson has been money lately. He is the perfect embodiment of the old adage “go to the front of the net and you’ll get rewarded.” He is never afraid to go to the slot and take a hit, and he has been justly rewarded so far. Two more goals tonight give him seven on the year, and he’s temporarily in the top ten in the NHL in scoring.
Goat of the game: Although he was never known as an offensive dynamo, Marc Staal was a decent offensive defenseman in his days with the Sudbury Wolves, but he has yet to really show that in the NHL. On a power play opportunity in the first period, he had all the time in the world to beat Brodeur high and instead shot it right into his skate. Clarkson would score his first of the game not too long after that opportunity and it really helped deflate the Rangers. Derek Stepan also let a good first period chance go by the wayside. If either of them had converted on their chance, it would have changed the game.
Turning point: The turning point was the combination of Staal’s miss and Clarkson’s first goal. The Rangers had plenty of time to recover from their early missed opportunities, but Clarkson’s goal off of Rick Nash‘s bobble of an interception in the slot really did the Rangers in.
Offense: B – A nice overall effort by the offense. All four lines were relentless on the forecheck and they generated plenty of pressure, forcing the Rangers to turn the puck over. The Elias-Henrique-Clarkson line carried the scoring and were the best example of this, although Stephen Gionta did get an assist on Clarkson’s first goal of the game. The top line of Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk have not shown the same kind of chemistry yet, and are definitely guilty of over-passing, but they seem like a good fit and may just need time to jell. The Devils would like to see more balanced scoring, but it is hard to argue with results.
Defense: C – The defensive unit continues to be the weak spot for the Devils. Bryce Salvador, Adam Larsson and Mark Fayne all had pretty good games, but Anton Volchenkov and Marek Zidlicky continue to struggle mightily in their own zone. Zidlicky is not known as a shutdown defenseman, but there is no excuse for how badly he was burned by Nash in the first period.
Goaltending: B-plus – Brodeur definitely wants the goal by Chris Kreider back, although it was certainly an outstanding snipe by the Boston College product. He was called upon more as the game wore on, and made an amazing stop on an off-speed one-timer by Carl Hagelin. He was also somewhat fortunate that Stepan and Staal both failed to properly pull the trigger on good opportunities, but he was solid overall making 24 saves.
Special teams: A – The penalty kill was a bright spot once again. They were put in a tough position early due to Andy Greene taking a high-sticking double-minor, but the Devils were up for the task and ended up going five-for-five on the penalty kill. The power play looks to have improved a little and did convert once in four chances. The players appear to be a little more comfortable with the new system.
Instant analysis: The most encouraging aspect of this game was the overall level of effort put in by the Devils. For perhaps the first time this season, it was a true 60-minute effort by all four lines. The forwards continued to keep the pressure high well into the third period, and although the defense was not great overall, in the end, they made the plays they needed to make. The fact that they gave the Rangers five power plays would be somewhat alarming if it were not for the fact that they are so good on the penalty kill. It is not something the Devils want to keep up, but they seem to play so well down a man that it’s hard to condemn them too much. It was a nice solid win, and probably what fans will come to know as a “typical Devils win.”