It’s not every day that a player scores a goal and then fans
treat the one goal as a hat trick. But
that was the case on Friday night at Prudential Center. Fans were so elated that Ilya Kovalchuk
finally scored his first goal with the New Jersey Devils that they littered the
ice with hats.
“We had three goals,” coach Lemaire said of the hat
trick. “[Kovalchuk’s goal] made it
three. That’s why they threw the
hats. It’s been a long time since we
scored three goals.”
Now that the hard part is over with, Kovalchuk can
concentrate on Carolina and then the Olympics.
It’s one thing at a time for the new Devil.
Even though the Devils are still adjusting to the new
addition, Kovalchuk also has to adjust to the new plays. There is room for improvement.
“His puck control could be much better,” Lemaire said. “Plays could be much better. A faster game could be much better. But it doesn’t mean that he’ll score more
goals. It means he’ll be more exciting.”
Friday night’s win was a win that was definitely needed for
the team. Even though they are currently
sitting at the second seed in the Eastern Conference, the Penguins are quickly
bringing up the rear in an effort to knock the Devils out of the top spot in
the Atlantic Division.
Last year’s Stanley Cup champions were defeated by the New
York Rangers on Friday, which means that after the Devils win, they distance
themselves by only three points. There’s not
enough cushion to guarantee their top seed spot, every point from here on out
matters for the Devils.
There’s also the importance of keeping up with the type of
team the Devils have prided themselves in being…a winning team. This team is about winning. After all, the Devils have hosted the entire
career of the most winningest goaltender ever in the history of the NHL.
Winning is important, especially when it concerns the
confidence level of the team. Did this
one win spark the confidence the Devils needed?
It was a start.
New Jersey Devils vs.
Nashville Predators, 5-2
With Devils superstar Zach Parise back on the ice again
after sitting out the previous game with an upper body injury, his line was
back to business as usual.
All three forwards on the ZZ Pop line (Parise, Travis Zajac
and Jamie Langenbruner) tallied goals.
Going on down to the second line, Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias scored a
goal a piece. This was what the Devils originally
envisioned…more than one scoring line.
“Our top guys were better than their top players,” Lemaire
said. “They pretty much all scored. We played good. I think we moved the puck better. We even got a goal on the power play.”
Elias was placed at center on the second line with
Kovalchuk. Placing Elias at center seems
to work well with Kovalchuk. There’s a
lot of chemistry there, and that was what Lemaire was looking for these past
few games when he switched up the lines continuously throughout the game. He was looking for the perfect fit.
“I wasn’t completely pleased the way we were going,” Lemaire
said of Elias’ change to center. “I
wanted Zach to get more chances and I knew that Zuby was doing well with that
line. Just a change in the game
sometimes makes things quick.”
“The reason is in my pocket,” he joked opening up his suit
jacket, tucking the imaginary reason into the inside pocket of his coat.
At 9:49 in the first period, Zajac got the Devils on the
The Devils were awarded a 5-on-3 a little over a minute
later, but nothing worked. The main
problem…Kovalchuk, Parise, Langenbrunner and Zajac played over 2 minutes on
that first power play unit. In the last
minute of the man advantage, they were definitely tired.
They need to keep the shifts short so they can play better. That is something coach Lemaire has stressed
again and again.
Dainius Zubrus headed to the penalty box for tripping at
16:35. On the penalty kill, the Devils
had allowed the Predators space to move and to be free to pass the puck up
front and close to Brodeur’s crease.
They had been afforded the room, and the Predators took advantage of it.
Nashville’s Cal O’Reilly scored on the
power play at 18:30.
In the middle stanza, Jordin Tootoo made it 2-1 in favor of
Nashville at 0:46.
The Devils proceeded to continuously force the turnover at
center ice following Nashville’s second goal.
Mike Mottau was able to collect the puck and send it up to Elias who was
waiting to head into Predators territory.
With only a few short feet away from the blueline, Elias delivered a
sniper shot on Pekka Rinne and went top-shelf, tying the game at 2:30.
With many disgruntled Devils fans in the sold out Prudential
Center, if any single player or line did not perform well, fans would boo
them. (How’s that for helping your team
rebuild their confidence in themselves?)
In the final period, Joel Ward got hit in the helmet with a
Kovalchuk sniper shot at very close range.
Luckily, Ward was not hurt.
Brodeur has spoken in the past of how Kovalchuk has one of the hardest
shots in the league. You never want to
be at the receiving end when Kovalchuk is sending a sniper shot forward.
Ward’s helmet took the shot…and did not survive it. Kovalchuk totally destroyed the helmet.
Ward went back to the bench, took off his helmet and looked
at it in astonishment. The helmet was
passed around. Nashville’s equipment
manager stood on the bench, shocked and bedazzled at the helmet before carrying
it off the bench and back to the locker room.
Ward ended up having to borrow a teammate’s helmet to play
At 8:24, the long-awaited third goal for the Devils came
from Kovalchuk (his first as a New Jersey Devil). Chants of KOV-AL-CHUK thundered through ‘The
Rock’ as hats came flying down to the ice like confetti.
“It’s a little bit exciting when you score,” Kovalchuk
said. “It was a big goal for us. We took the lead, and we never g[a]ve them a
chance to get anything. It was a great
win for us.”
“A little bit,” he said with regards to if he was frustrated
on not being able to score. “Because we
don’t really care who scores the goals, as long as we get the win.”
Langenbrunner picked up the puck for Kovalchuk to remember
his first goal as a New Jersey Devil.
Kovalchuk, of course, told this story with a smile on his face as he
looked at his teammate in the stall next to him.
Dan Hamhuis went to the penalty box at 11:53 for
tripping. Parise tallied the power play
goal at 13:08 to make it 4-2.
Nashville pulled its goaltender at 18:36 and called a
With the empty-net, Langenbrunner was able to turn the puck
over in the Devils zone. The Nashville
defender tried to knock the puck out of Jamie’s control, but was no match for
the Team USA and Devils captain as he skated the puck all the way down to the
net and put it in to finish off the game with 5-2.
The Devils are in Carolina tonight to play their final game
before the Olympic break.
The New Jersey Devils are hosting a special multi-media
project covering the 2010 Olympics. With
five Devils and two coaches heading to Vancouver, the Devils are undertaking a
major project where a special Devils correspondent will tweet, blog, vlog,
update, snap away and upload video footage and photos as they follow the Devils
at the Olympics.
Among those heading to Vancouver for the next two weeks to
represent their respective countries are: Martin Brodeur and Jacques Lemaire
(Canada), Jamie Langenbrunner (C) and Zach Parise (A) (USA), Patrik Elias (C)
(Czech Republic), Ilya Kovalchuk (Russia) and Tommy Albelin (Sweden).
With representatives from five of the most powerful
countries competing to win the gold, the Devils will be continuously updating
the Olympic quest of the New Jersey Devils on their website, Cover It Live, Twitter and
Facebook. They will even be hosting a
special blog ‘The Devil is in the Details‘ on the Devils Olympic experience.
In conjunction with the special media project, Inside Hockey
will also be featuring special exclusives and videos featuring the Olympic
contenders from the Devils. Stay tuned.