DiPietro, Isles Shut Down the New-Look Devils on Military Appreciation Night
This simply is not the same Devils team you're used to seeing. Martin Brodeur can still stifle an offense single-handedly on occasion. Other than that, the Devils defense does not suffocate opponents the way it has for over a decade, and the offense fails to mount a consistent attack.
It used to be that the Islanders had to play a near-perfect game if they had any hope of defeating New Jersey. Any less than that, and a 4-1 victory for the Devils was almost pre-ordained. Right now, there just isn't anything threatening about the Devils. Maybe the return of veterans Jamie Langenbrunner and Colin White will provide the red and black with greater stability. Even if they do, Brent Sutter has his work cut out for him. The team has not responded to the transition to a more attack-oriented style. The result has been a tentative effort that leaves the Devils ripe for picking off. The free-agent losses may be too much to overcome this time.
Entering the game, I wondered how well the Islanders would take advantage of a team off to a tepid start. Save for a pinball-action own-goal, they never really had much to worry about. Playing strong, disciplined hockey, the Islanders dominated play as much as a team that needs a third-period goal to win 2-1 can. For the game, the home team received 4 power plays, including a gift 2-minute 5-on-3 thanks to excessive griping from the opposing bench, and took no penalties of their own. Through two periods, the Isles had won 17 out of 23 faceoffs (74%). A busy third closed the gap slightly, but for the game, the Islanders totaled 30 wins out of 48 faceoffs (63%).
I asked Ted Nolan about his team's success in the faceoff circle and its effect on their ability to control the game. "Well, any time you have a guy like Mike Sillinger who's out there...you know, Mike, he takes a lot of faceoffs," Nolan said. "Mike Comrie was good on faceoffs tonight. Joe Vasicek's getting better because he gets to see a guy like Sillinger. When you win the draw, you have a good chance at having the puck a little bit more than the other team. Right now, it's good for us." As though we needed any more confirmation that the character guys on this team are turning everyone into character guys.
I also asked Rick "The Edge" DiPietro about the approach of the Devils, given that the Sutter-led version appears less like those led by Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson, Pat Burns, et al. DiPietro wasn't quite ready to turn the page on that era yet, saying, "Early on, yeah, they were a little different. Today, tonight, I thought they played a lot similar to the Jersey teams we played in the past, limited mistakes, and looked to capitalize on our mistakes. I thought we played a smart game."
I'll have more notes to add later on tonight. For now, I just want to say that the Islanders did a marvelous job honoring members of the military past and present. Special moments included messages on the scoreboard from soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, as well as an interview with Rick DiPietro's father, who was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.
And we're back with some additional notes:
- Michael Schuerlein of www.islesblogger.com has a great photo of the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard descending from the Coliseum rafters to deliver the puck for the opening faceoff in his post on last night's game. He also got a great shot of Satan banging home the winning goal.
- Leading up to the winning goal, the crowd grew impatient with the power play and cries of "Shoooot!" began raining down. I've seen teams respond to such encouragement by taking unnecessary, low-percentage shots, so it was nice to see the power play unit maintain its composure and be rewarded moments later.
- The second line was consistently dangerous and the fourth line, before it was broken up due to Bill Guerin's eye injury, continued to effectively keep the pressure on the opponent during its limited minutes.
- Brodeur deservedly has a reputation as a good puck handler, but given an opportunity to clear a puck while shorthanded, he seemed hesitant and was unable to get the puck past the blue line. When it comes to these plays, there's Rick DiPietro, and then there's everyone else.
- About 13 minutes into the third period, the Islanders seemed content to ice the puck repeatedly in order to relieve pressure. Normally, this tactic is asking for trouble. However, on this occasion I just had a feeling that they would be okay. This is a team that continues to attack when it has a lead, and shows poise in closing out games.
- What is with athletes discrediting the achievements of their New York opponents this week? First, David Wright's Gold Glove rendered Chipper Jones "speechless" and "confused." Then Brodeur fails to give the Isles credit for beating him. I understand the complaints, but verbalizing them was bad form.
- Finally, it was a lonely night in the Blog Box. When this all started, I wondered if we would feel like we were in a fishbowl because the Box is highly visible. That hadn't been my experience until last night, when I occupied the Blog Box all by myself for most of the game. I got plenty of "Where are all your buddies?" and "What happened--all alone tonight?" from ushers and nearby fans alike. It was all in good fun. Still, it was nice to be joined by Michael Schuerlein and Tom Liodice of The Tiger Track, who were in attendance in different seats, for the final few minutes in the Blog Box and for the post-game locker room activities. If you have some time, check out Tom's great appearance on Hockey Night on Long Island.