The opening 15 minutes of the New Jersey Devils’ first ever outdoor game went exactly how they had planned. The offense was doing an effective job of creating high quality scoring chances in the Rangers’ end of the ice, and unlike so many other games this year they were cashing in on those opportunities. It appeared as though the Devils were in complete control of the game.
However, the final 45 minutes saw the Devils play some of their worst hockey of the entire season.
The Devils lost 7-3 to the New York Rangers in the second game of the NHL’s Stadium Series, and the first of two games that will be played at Yankee Stadium this week. Martin Brodeur, who was playing in his first career outdoor game along with many other players on the Devils’ roster, gave up six goals on 21 shots and was replaced by Cory Schneider at the start of the third period. It was the first time all season New Jersey has had to make a goaltending change in the middle of a game, and they are the last team in the NHL to have to do so.
The momentum shifted when Marc Staal scored at 16:59 of the first period to cut the Devils lead to 3-2. Staal took a sharp angle shot that appeared to deflect off of defenseman Marek Zidlicky’s skate and beat Brodeur through the five hole. And as a steady snowfall began to create a picturesque scene at the ballpark in the Bronx, the Rangers’ offense took over the game for good.
Mats Zuccarello got things started quickly with the tying goal at 2:48, and he scored the game winner at 12:44 off an odd man rush, a reoccurring theme for the Devils’ defense all afternoon. Carl Hagelin scored just a minute and nine seconds later, on a shot from the top of the left circle through traffic. Rick Nash closed out the period with a back breaking goal with 29 seconds remaining to push the lead to 6-3.
Patrik Elias scored the first two of New Jersey’s goals, after being the recipient of beautiful passes from Ryane Clowe and Jaromir Jagr. Dominic Moore cashed in on a rebound in between the two Elias goals, and Travis Zajac was also the beneficiary of a juicy rebound in Henrik Lundqvist’s crease for the Devils third goal. Derek Stepan put the icing on the cake by scoring on a beautiful shot under the crossbar on a penalty shot late in the third period. But this game was ultimately decided in the second period.
The Rangers were able to shake off a sluggish start to the game, and really utilized their speed to take advantage of the Devils’ defensemen. The Devils defense allowed an absurd amount of odd man rushes and they lead directly to three Rangers’ goals, including a number of other quality chances. Too many times defensemen would step up at the blue line, but never recognized that the forwards were cycling deep in the zone and would not be able to get back to cover for them defensively. If that happens a time or too it can be blamed on trying too hard to make a play, but the fact that it continually occurred throughout the second period pointed to a complete lack of focus, and all of the defensemen were guilty of it. In a game of this magnitude, it is completely inexcusable.
As for Martin Brodeur there’s really not too much you can say; he played a terrible game. One can make the argument that he received no support from the defense and that there were some fluky bounces that led to goals, and there is some truth to that line of thinking. But watching the game it was apparent early on that Brodeur was not comfortable in the net. I cannot recall a single save in the game that he looked confident in making. But that does not mean that had Coach Pete DeBoer opted to start Cory Schneider the Devils would have won the game today. The entire team did not play well enough to earn a victory. The defense was brutal, other than the first period the offense failed to generate much sustained pressure, and obviously the goaltending performance was poor. The team that played better this afternoon won, and today that was the New York Rangers.
As disappointing as this loss may feel for the New Jersey Devils, the team must realize that despite all of the extravagance and fanfare that the first ever hockey game in Yankee Stadium brings, it still only counts for 2 points in the standings. They still have 29 games remaining in their season, including a number of games against teams they are competing against for a playoff spot. This game can very well prove to be a turning point for the Devils going forward, and the character of this team will surely be tested in the coming weeks. Will they respond to being thoroughly embarrassed on national television by playing with a sense of urgency, or will they fold and let their season slowly slip away?
We will all get our first chance to find out Tuesday night in St. Louis.