The Rangers claimed their first home victory of the season and their third straight win, beating the Devils 2-1 at the Garden and continuing New Jersey’s struggles to start the season.
Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist combined for 58 saves on the night, 31 of them by Brodeur. The Devils would have been in a 3-0 hole if not for Brodeur stoning Ryan Callahan on a breakaway early on. With no scoring to speak of (the Devils are tied for the fewest goals in the NHL) and three rookie defensemen in front of him, Brodeur will need to be continue his sterling play to help the Devils out of their early hole.
This tandem has been sensational to start the season. Maybe the points aren’t flowing freely yet, but every shift these two are grinding, playing the body, drawing penalties and putting pucks on net. Dubinsky’s pass to set up Callahan was a thing of beauty. If they can keep up the effort level throughout the year, I’d expect both to enjoy career-best seasons.
New Jersey spent almost a quarter of the game shorthanded. When your team is struggling to score as it is, that’s usually a bad approach to the game. Jamie Langenbrunner was a particularly big offender, collecting three minor penalties by himself.
The Kovalchuk Conundrum
Ilya Kovalchuk was back in the lineup after head coach John MacLean made him a healthy scratch for unknown reasons in the Devils’ 6-1 loss against Buffalo. While he scored New Jersey’s lone goal against the Rangers, it seems that there could be some off-ice issues in addition to those plaguing the Devils during games. It’s getting to the point where the roster may need some serious changes … changes that will be severely limited by Kovalchuk’s massive contract. At least the Devils will have some nice long plane rides to work out any chemistry concerns. The downside is that’s about all this road trip will be good for.
This West Coast swing through San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Chicago could be a pivotal point in the Devils’ season. For starters, the early-season practice of shuttling AHL call-ups into the lineup will be hindered by a little something I like to call “North America.” Second, this road trip includes four of the NHL’s best teams (sorry, Ducks fans). If the Devils can’t muster more than one win, they will find themselves in a very deep hole by the time they return home.
It’s not time to push the panic button just yet, but it’s getting close. The Washington Capitals were up to their necks in quicksand around Thanksgiving before bringing in Bruce Boudreau and making a stunning rally to reach the playoffs in 2007-08. Of course, that run required them winning 11 of their final 12 games. I’m also sure MacLean wouldn’t be too thrilled with that whole replacing the coach part.
New Jersey needs to get on track. Now. This is not a team built to win next season. This is a team built to win the Cup now, before its hands are tied even more by a new deal for Zach Parise. The pressure is mounting, and the Devils are going to have to endure it if they want to turn their fortunes around.