Patrik Elias undressed Ryan Miller to finish off the first New Jersey Devils win since February 21st – six losses ago. As Miller slid hopelessly across the crease after a failed poke check, Elias calmly guided the puck to unguarded twine and sealed a shootout victory. In doing so, he put to rest fears of a 27-year-old record for winless futility.
Elias was a fitting hero in a desperate game for the Devils, as his game-tying goal late in the third led to the shootout he would eventually clinch. Still, there are several key takeaways from this game that could determine the success of the rest of the season for the Devils.
First of all, the decision to sit Adam Larsson could have been a disaster and continues to be a mystery. When the Devils were desperate for a goal, Larsson could have played a key role in the offense. He makes mistakes occasionally on defense, but no more than any other Devils defenseman; The difference is that Larsson’s potential is unmatched by any of his teammates on the blue line. Further, he’s been one of the Devils’ best defensemen during this losing streak. The decision shows that Peter DeBoer is completely out of touch with his team, and continually shattering the confidence of the frustrated young defenseman is hindering his growth.
With that being said, the decision to play Peter Harrold was brilliant (and quite possibly lucky). Harrold played arguably the most complete game of any Devils defenseman this year. After sitting 22 of the first 23 games for the team this season, Harrold obviously deserves more playing time. The question is, can Peter DeBoer find a way to get both Harrold and Larsson on the ice? Does he even want to?
Johan Hedberg played a strong game and kept the Devils close all night. He didn’t allow a goal in the shootout, opening the door for David Clarkson and Elias to close out the game with impressive goals. New Jersey rallied behind their maligned goaltender, who finally delivered a performance worthy of a win. He’s been better of late, and even if Martin Brodeur misses extensive time, the team will be fine if Moose can play this well going forward. Maybe Hedberg is back to form.
Lastly, what most lends renewed hope to the rest of the season is the way the slumping leaders of the Devils stepped up when they needed a win. Adam Henrique scored a goal for the second game in a row, while Clarkson set up Elias’ game-winning score with a brilliantly placed shot that caromed away from Jonas Enroth and set up an open net for the Devils’ all-time leading scorer. The players that carried the Devils to the top of the Eastern Conference, then slumped their way through a six-game skid, are the ones who broke their losing streak as well. Veteran leadership finally shined through.
I still don’t trust Peter DeBoer this year, but I like what the New Jersey Devils showed in the third period of a crucial game. They avoided a historic losing streak, and can finally get back to the playoff-caliber hockey we expect.