The Devils third line finally put it all together last night, scoring two goals and slowing down John Tavares in New Jersey’s 5-4 overtime loss.
Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter scored their first goals of the season, and Stephen Gionta continued his great start, recording two assists. It was the breakout game the line needed.
“Those guys, they figured it out tonight,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said after the loss. “They figured out what kind of game that was going to be successful. That was get the puck in behind their defense and grind it out in the offensive zone, create chances and they got rewarded for figuring that out.”
When the Islanders Keith Aucoin scored a power-play goal, stretching New York’s lead to 2-0 in the second period, DeBoer called on his third line to grab back the momentum.
As they had throughout last years playoff, the line responded to the challenge. Bernier cut into the deficit, responding with his first goal of the season 32 seconds later.
“We knew we had to bring some energy right after they had scored,” said Carter, who had an assist on the Bernier score. “We just wanted a good shift in their end and we found a way to put it in the back of the net and gain some momentum and same with the second goal. It was just battling in front and it goes in.”
Then it was Carter’s turn, as the Devils forward crashed the net and tied the game, 2-2, at the 5:21 mark of the middle period.
It’s what DeBoer and the Devils have come to expect from his third line.
“That line got a lot of confidence, the way they played last year,” Patrik Elias said earlier this season. “They’re getting more ice time, and they’re playing well.”
The ‘CBGB’ Line, as named by Devils radio broadcaster Sherry Ross, found success quickly. After playing in the regular season finale last season, the line combined for 21 points in the Devils run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Each forward chipped in seven points while routinely facing the opponents top line.
The Devils are thin up front entering this season, with the loss of Zach Parise an obvious blow to the team’s offense. It’s up to the depth players – the third and fourth lines – to pick up the slack. After the playoff performance last year, it was easy to look at the CBGB line to provide some added depth.
What most didn’t expect is the smallest player on that line becoming one of the team’s biggest assets.
Unlike his brother, Montreal Canadiens captain Brian, Gionta won’t dazzle anyone with his offense. His highest point total came as a member of the Lowell Devils, when he recorded 34 points (15g, 19a) during the 2009-10 season. He’s recorded double-digit goal totals just three times in his professional career, never to be mistaken with a point-per-game producer.
But where he lacks in offense, Gionta makes up in all-around play. He’s the perfect Devil. Gionta is a blossoming two-way forward, able to defend in his own end and transition quickly to offense. He’s also earned more time on the penalty kill, a validation of the hard work put in during his six-plus seasons in the minors.
“His best characteristic is just his work ethic,” Devils head coach Pete DeBoer said. “He’s got a Zach Parise-type work ethic.”
That was on display last night. Gionta twice went to the “dirty areas,” getting mixed up in the goal crease and battling for loose pucks. His willingness to crash the crease led to Bernier’s goal, and his pressure on the forecheck helped start Carter’s game-tying tally.
His confidence, and his lines performance, has impressed DeBoer.
“He made a believer out of me in the playoffs,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said, “and he’s picked up where he left off last year.”