Through the first five games of the season, the bounces went the way of the New Jersey Devils. Turnovers didn’t hurt them and sloppy plays didn’t turn into goals. Martin Brodeur was there to back up the Devils, recording stellar numbers as New Jersey raced out to an undefeated start.
Those mistakes finally caught up to the Devils. New Jersey, plagued by mistakes, saw tonight’s game against the New Jersey Devils end on a crucial one. Brodeur misplayed a puck behind the net, leading to a goal-mouth scramble and an eventual Brad Boyes’ game-winning power play goal to lead the New York Islanders over the Devils, 5-4, tonight at the Prudential Center.
“We didn’t deserve to win. We didn’t play well enough to win,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “We lost the special teams battle. We lost the face-off battle. I’ve said this before: you get what you deserve in this game. We had some opportunities to win, but we didn’t play well enough to earn two points.”
John Tavares recorded three points (2g, 1a) in the win. Boyes and Frans Nielsen each finished with multi-point nights. Evgeni Nabokov stopped 28 shots in the win.
New Jersey battled back after trailing 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 to force overtime for the fourth straight game. Yet they couldn’t capitalize on an opportunity, once again failing to gain two points.
The Devils began overtime with a 4-on-3 power play for 31 seconds, but couldn’t put the puck past Nabokov. He made a game-saving stop near at the end of the man advantage, getting in front of a shot from the point before falling backward. Nielsen followed that up with a key block, diving to knock away a Patrik Elias shot with the net wide open.
The Islanders responded on their own power play, getting an opportunity when Brodeur misplayed a puck behind the net. The Devils’ goalie recovered to stop Tavares attempt from below the right circle, but left a rebound that went right to Nielsen. From there, it was a mess of bodies crashing the crease.
“I thought I made the right decision going to play the puck back there,” Brodeur said. “I don’t know if the puck bobbled or somebody hit my stick, but after that it was a free-for-all. Sal almost had it too. I thought I had plenty of time, but it backfired on me.”
Brodeur finished with 30 saves, but allowed a season-high five goals.
The Devils knew the Islanders could capitalize on their mistakes, yet continually played into the Islanders strengths. New Jersey allowed three power play goals on four attempts, a main reason why they trailed for most of the game.
“Our P.K. needs to do a better job,” captain Bryce Salvador said. “For some reason, it wasn’t on tonight.”
Tavares opened the scoring with a power play tally at the 14:31 mark of the first period. Nielsen started the play in the corner, firing a pass to a wide-open Boyes in the slot. Ilya Kovalchuk knocked the puck off his stick, but it went right to Tavares, who was open at the right side of the net. His quick shot beat a diving Brodeur for the early goal.
Keith Aucoin stretched the Islanders lead to two with a power play goal at just 2:41 into the second period. Travis Hamonic carried the puck down the side boards, firing a shot on Brodeur. Aucoin snuck in behind the Devils defense, getting two chances at the rebound. Brodeur stopped the first, but couldn’t stop the second.
It was Aucoin’s fourth goal of the season, and the first on the power play.
New Jersey responded just 32 seconds later to get on the board.
The Devils third line, a major weapon in their playoff run, cut the deficit to one on a goal from Steve Bernier. Stephen Gionta crashed the net as the puck sat loose in front of Nabokov. He pushed it through his pads to an open Bernier open on the crease. The Devils forward quickly shot it into the open net for his first goal of the season.
“We knew we needed to bring some energy right after they scored,” Ryan Carter said. “We just wanted a good shift in their end, and we found a way to put it in the back of their net and gain momentum.”
Carter capitalized on that momentum, tying the game at at the 5:21 mark of the period. Rookie Matt Anderson held the puck along the goal line, taking a sharp angle shot that Nabokov stopped. The Islanders goalie left a rebound, and Carter took advantage, sending the puck high into the net for his first of the season.
“Those guys, they figured it out tonight,” DeBoer said about his third line. “They figured out what kind of game is going to be successful – get the puck in behind [the Islanders] defense and grind it out in the offensive zone and create chances. They got rewarded for figuring that out.”
New York grabbed the lead back two minutes later, courtesy of Tavares.
The play started after Nabokov made a save, kicking the rebound into the slot. Matt Moulson fired the loose puck off benches, finding Tavares near the Devils blueline. He got past Bryce Salvador and sent a shot past the blocker of Brodeur for his second score of the game, pushing the Isles in front, 3-2.
New Jersey once again responded to the deficit, tying the game at 17:12 of the second period.
The play started with a failed clear from the Islanders. Marek Zidlicky held the puck in at the left puck, sending a pass to Travis Zajac in the corner. He moved the puck to Henrik Tallinder, who was wide open at the right point. He took two strides in and fired a puck past the left pad of Nabokov for his first goal of the season.
The two teams traded scores again in the third period, with New York grabbing a 4-3 lead at 10:22 of the final frame.
Mark Streit held in the middle of the point, sending a shot on net that Devils defenseman Adam Larsson deflected. The shot went right past the left pad of Brodeur for Streit’s third goal of the season.
Adam Henrique played hero late in the third period, pulling New Jersey even with just over six minutes remaining in the period. David Clarkson brought the puck to left circle, where his backhand shot was blocked. The puck came to the stick of Henrique, all alone in front, who lifted it over Nabokov for his first goal of the season.
The Devils loss overshadowed some positives, especially their ability to repeatedly come back. That stuck with DeBoer after the game.
“I thought we showed some resiliency,” DeBoer said. “Our third and fourth lines got on the board, we battled back from a 2-0 deficit. We did some good things. I thought we deserved a point, but I don’t think we deserved two.”
In this shortened season, where each point carries more weight, getting something from each game is important.
“We haven’t lost a game in regulation yet,” DeBoer said. “It’s a 30-team league, and I think there’s only three or four of us that can claim that. It’s not perfect, but we’re chipping away. That’s what you have to do. This season is going to be a grind, and there’s going to be all kinds of different levels of hockey. You just have to find a way to stick with it and scrape out wins, and I think that’s what we’re doing.”
New Jersey will have tomorrow to regroup before flying to Pittsburgh for Saturday’s game against the Penguins. The day off gives the Devils a chance to find the game that led to three straight wins.
“We’re competing hard every game, doing some of the right things,” Brodeur said. “I think now the excitement is gone of starting the season and now we’re getting into these things and it shows we’re not executing as well as we did early on. We have to get back to that.”
Anderson recorded his first career NHL point with his assist on Carter’s goal. The 30-year old rookie was recalled Tuesday from Albany of the AHL, where he compiled 21 points (7g, 14a) in 39 games.
Clarkson extended his point streak to six games, setting a career-high. He’s recorded at least one point in every game this season, and finished tonight with eight points (4g, 4a).
New Jersey failed to score on five power play opportunities, ending a streak of four games with a power play goal. The Islanders moved to an impressive 23-for-24 on the penalty kill.