His team had just dismantled a preseason Western Conference favorite and won their sixth game in a row. Some coaches may have been content. Jacques Lemaire was pleased but not satisfied.
“I think in some aspects of the game, we’re getting better. (But) not all of it. Not yet,” Lemaire said about his team’s improvement after their thoroughly dominant 3-1 win over the Ducks Wednesday night.
The Devils are now tied with Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division lead with 24 points and trail Washington by two points for the top spot in the conference. The Devils begin a stretch where they play four of their next five games on the road, starting tonight in Pittsburgh. The Devils have won all eight road games this season.
“You need a lot of things. I think the guys believe they can be successful. They believe they can do it. We’re playing as a team, more and more,” was Lemaire’s analysis of his team’s mindset.
Jamie Langenbrunner, Andy Greene and Zach Parise had two points each, while David Clarkson scored the game-winning goal in spectacular fashion. Tied at one midway through the second period, Greene—who had two assists—sprung Clarkson for a breakaway with a pass up the middle. The Devils’ burgeoning power forward carried the puck into the offensive zone, held off a back-checking Anaheim defenseman with a beautiful toe drag before beating Jonas Hiller (22 saves on 25 shots) high to the glove side. The goal was Clarkson’s fifth of the season, three behind team-leading Parise.
While his teammates took turns ribbing Clarkson for his “men’s league move,” Lemaire was concerned about the three minor penalties he took—two trips and a too many men on the ice (the Devils committed that infraction twice).
“The three penalties,” Lemaire said when asked about was more noteworthy about Clarkson’s evening. “Why? Because I like the guys to be disciplined. I like the guys to play for the team—which he does, all the time. He’s going to get some penalties; they could be accidental. The one that I really didn’t like was when he jumped on the ice and got the puck, when Zach just came in front of him. That’s the one I didn’t like. But on the other hand, when you like at it, you say, ‘His goal was a huge goal.’”
Parise’s short-handed goal with 12.7 seconds remaining in the second ended any thoughts of an Anaheim comeback. Colin White forced a turnover at the Devils’ line and Langenbrunner’s tape-to-tape pass found a streaking Parise, who deked Hiller before jamming the puck under the Ducks’ goaltender to increase the Devils’ lead to 3-1.
“It was a good play by Whitey to jump up and hold the blueline,” Parise said. “We caught them a little flat-footed and get a little breakaway.”
“You see Zach’s goal. It was hard work and kept banging at it and it went in,” Clarkson added.
The Devils had won five in a row going into last night’s match. However, the Devils had trailed in its wins over Washington, the Islanders and Ottawa. Greene and Langenbrunner made sure that wasn’t going to be the case against the Ducks. Langenbrunner’s deflection of a Greene offensive zone faceoff slapper 38 seconds in gave the Devils a 1-0 lead.
Corey Perry’s 12th goal of the season tied the game at one 2:25 into the second period. It was a display of why Anaheim’s trio of Bobby Ryan, Perry and Ryan Getzlaf may be the league’s best young line. Ryan circled behind Martin Brodeur’s cage and threw a cross-crease pass. Three Devils were tied up with Getzlaf, which allowed Perry to sneak in uncovered for the stuff-in. It was the lone blemish for an otherwise solid night for Brodeur, who stopped 31 shots.
It was fitting that on the night the Devils honored its 2003 Stanley Cup Championship winning team that Anaheim—the franchise that the Devils topped in seven games to win its third Cup—was the opponent. It was even more fitting that Scott Niedermayer was in the house.
Niedermayer was an integral part of the Devils’ three Cups, his smooth all-around game that perfectly meshed with Scott Stevens’ intimidation and Ken Daneyko’s grit on the blueline. There has not been any drop off in his game now that he’s patrolling the blueline in Anaheim, where he won his fourth Cup in 2007. At 36, Niedermayer is still among the league’s pre-eminent defensemen and a viable candidate to be named captain of the 2010 Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey team.
“Alright, can’t complain,” was the future Hall of Famer’s typically understated response when asked how he was doing following the Ducks’ early skate at The Rock yesterday.
For those who were expecting an on-ice reunion of the Niedermayer brothers, last night’s match was somewhat of a disappointment as Devils’ center Rob Niedermayer was out due to an “upper body injury.” Rob was part of the Ducks’ shutdown checking line in 2007.
Scott is happy that his brother found a home with the organization that he once played for.
“He’s happy, so that’s good,” said the Ducks’ defenseman. “I thought it’d be good for him. Great organization that wins more than its share of games. He’s playing alright, so that’s good, too.”
Rob, who is typically the Devils’ third line center, has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 13 games. Scott noted, while not naming franchises, said that there were other NHL franchises along with international teams that were interested in Rob.
It was also a homecoming of sorts for Ducks enforcer George Parros. Parros, who went to Delbarton High School in Morris County, New Jersey, said, “I’ve got some friends here, (but) this year is not the case. My family all moved to the West Coast. It’s still a little bit of a reunion, but not as many as the last time.”
The Ducks have struggled in the early season, with a 6-8-2 record. Parros, among the league’s top heavyweights, thought that the Ducks have turned a corner with wins in three of its last five games.
“Not so bad, ups and downs. We’d have liked to start a little better, but hopefully we’re on the right track with a couple wins (and) we’ll keep it going,” said Parros following the Ducks’ early skate.
David Clarkson was among a group of six Devils who flew up Monday to see GM Lou Lamoriello inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Along with Clarkson, who grew up in Mimico, a suburb of Toronto, Brodeur, Langenbrunner, Parise, White and Jay Pandolfo made the trip.
“It was different in the fact that class was amazing. To be there was pretty special. To be there and to meet some of the people I met, I started sweating. It was very special,” Clarkson said.
Brodeur was unhappy, but not unsurprised, that NHL GM’s voted to keep the trapezoid behind the net. There had been cries to have the lines eliminated in the aftermath of severe injuries to players across the league in puck races—the most notable of which was then-Canadiens’ forward Tom Kostopoulos driving Toronto defenseman Mike Van Ryn into the end boards during a Leafs’ 6-3 win at the Air Canada Center last November. Kostopoulos was suspended for three games. Van Ryn suffered a concussion, a broken nose and a broken hand.
“It’s too bad,” Brodeur said after the Devils’ early skate. “I thought it was pretty obvious for everybody. When you’re not able to control what players are able to do, you chip in as a goalie and move the puck. The hits are still going to be there, but the amount could be lesser, especially around the net. It’s a tough spot for players to get out of the way.
“It would have been nice. I have a few more years left, would (have liked) to roam around. It’s alright. I’ll stay in there. Maybe it’ll extend my career,” he added.
Defenseman Matt Corrente was called up from AHL Lowell but not in the lineup, as he was a scratch. Brian Rolston was not in the Devils’ lineup and coach Jacques Lemaire would not go into specifics. Rolston is expected to play tonight in Pittsburgh. Patrik Elias will also play tonight; it will be his first set of back-to-back games since returning to the team following off-season surgeries.
The Devils killed six Anaheim power plays last night, which earned high praise from Lemaire.
“Tonight had to be our best penalty kill of the year, so far. We were good. We were really good,” the coach said.
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