It doesn’t seem David Clarkson’s 30-goal season was a fluke. The Devils forward scored two goals and an assist in their 3-1 win over the Rangers. New Jersey improved to 5-1-3 in front of the fourth sellout crowd at the Prudential Center this year.
What Went Right: New Jersey established the forecheck deep in the New York zone, which created their even strength goals. In the first period, following a rush, Clarkson and Patrick Elias battled behind the net, with Elias throwing a no-look pass to an open Henrique to the right of Henrik Lundqvist. The Calder Trophy finalist shot it over a downed Henrik Lundqvist, giving New Jersey their first lead. Near the end of the period, Stephen Gionta was able to neutralize an icing and keep the puck along the boards. The Rangers would struggle to clear the zone, as the puck would find its way to Rick Nash’s skates in the slot. Nash could not find the puck in time, leading to Clarkson pouncing on it and firing past Lundqvist, extending the lead to 2-0. Move to the third period, Bobby Butler created a 2-on-1 break with Josefson. He couldn’t score, but Butler drew a hooking penalty on Aaron Asham. Twelve second into the man advantage, Andy Greene’s point shot was stopped by Lundqvist, but Clarkson was there to chip it over the outstretched goaltender. That gave New Jersey a 3-0 lead.
“I think the big test for him was to prove he wasn’t a flash in the pan 30-goal guy that he could do that on a consistent basis. I think he’s proving that,” head coach Peter DeBoer said.
Patrick Elias added three assists (a career high) earning the games third star of the game. Elias and Clarkson have been line mates on the Devils second line, which continues to play consistent hockey nine games in. The Czech Republic native looks comfortable with Clarkson on the ice. While luck may be a factor, Clarkson goes to the high traffic areas to create his opportunities.
“That’s great to see and it makes my job easier. I get the puck in there where he is and he finds a way,” said Elias on Clarkson’s hot start.
But it was the defense that may have one upped the offense. The man between the pipes made some big stops against the Rangers. In the first period, New York had a four minute powerplay, but couldn’t get anything past Brodeur. This was Rick Nash’s first game as a Ranger against New Jersey. He had two chances to score: the first on a break that Brodeur came out to challenge and stop before the net was dislodged. Seconds into the second, Nash came on strong, worked his way to the front, grabbed a rebound with room to stuff it home, but he shanked it through the crease. New York was better in the middle frame at even strength but could not score. In the third, Chris Kreider beat Brodeur shortside on a great shot from in close. That would be the only tally as the Devils goaltender shut the door from there.
The penalty kill looks like it has returned to form. They were a perfect 5-5 a man down. The Devils penalty kill is now 15-15 in their last three games. New Jersey also created shorthanded chances but Lundqvist stopped them. Greene continues to play responsibly in all three zones. His shot led to David Clarkson’s second goal. He finished with an assist, two shots and blocked two as well. The defense took away the passing lanes and cleared out the front of the net. Tonight’s game lacked physicality, but the bodies were flying along the boards. Adam Larsson played a balanced game. He delivered two hits, blocked three shots, and had two takeaways on 18:33 of ice time.
“I thought our penalty killing and our goaltender were obviously the two big stars for me,” coach DeBoer said. “Our PK the last two games has looked like it did for long stretches last year. We’re killing with confidence and that starts with your goaltender.”
What didn’t click: The Devils continue to rack up penalties. Tonight they took five against the Rangers. While the penalty kill was great, there will come a time when it will burn them. You can only take so many penalties before somebody beats you.
This has bothered me lately, but Ilya Kovalchuk has not played a solid game lately. Other than make one too many passes, the first line created good scoring chances. Yet, for Kovalchuk, the issue isn’t the lack of goals (only one on the year). He has given the puck up in the neutral zone numerous times. His offensive zone passing has to be better as well. I don’t know off hand, but a number of fast breaks or possessions in the zone have gone astray due to a no look pass or a decision made from pressure. Maybe he’s still trying to get used to the North American game after playing half a year in Russia. Still, after three more giveaways tonight, it can be said that Kovalchuk can play more responsibly. His playmaking is actually fine, but it may be the lack of an established winger that could be the issue.
The Rangers outplayed the Devils in the second period. They controlled even strength play and generated pressure in the offensive zone. New Jersey only managed four shots in the period. They would finish with 22 shots on the night. The Devils need to take more shots to keep the pressure in the opposition’s zone. New York also won the face-off battle 32-26.
What’s Next: New Jersey continues its three game homestead as Tampa Bay comes to Newark this Thursday night, followed by a back-and-back with the Penguins over the weekend. Tampa is coming off a loss to Philadelphia tonight. Steve Stamkos and company will present a good test for the defense.
About the Author: Sports Reporter by day, puck stopper between the pipes at night. I was the Locker Room Reporter for the Islanders for WRHU-FM. Currently, I cover the New Jersey Devils on HockeyIndependent.com and Metro Area Hockey on BrooklynFans.com Follow me on Twitter @John_A_Iadevaia