That was such an impressive win for the Devils and it came after a poor first 10 minutes that may have been partly due to the earlier start. Regardless, the last 50 minutes of that game were reason for the Devils and Pete DeBoer to smile. Some thoughts...
Huge, Tom, huge: To borrow a phrase from TV car mogul Billy Fuccillo, there's not enough "U's" on the keyboard to describe how big of a win that was for the Devils. Not only because they beat a division rival that was one point ahead of them for first place in the Atlantic. Not only because they shut down the high-powered Pens offense for long stretches. Not only because they sent a message by rebounding from last week's 5-1 win. This was big because of how the Devils played after nearly getting run out of the rink in the first 10 minutes while the Penguins were all over the ice. Part of that was due to the three first period power plays, which took Pittsburgh out of its offensive rhythm, but also because Krys Barch stood up to Deryk Engelland roughly nine minutes into the first period. Engelland was running all over the ice, getting in David Clarkson's face and giving the Devils all sorts of trouble every time they tried to enter the Pittsburgh zone. After Barch fought Engelland, the Devils started to get some offensive momentum going and began to push back against the Pens. I know I'm not always a huge advocate of dressing a guy like Barch, but he was one of the big reasons the game turned around halfway through the first period.
Matteau, Matteau...: Obviously, you've gotta give it up to the kid who scored his first NHL goal, but it was how the goal came about that was even more impressive. Travis Zajac lost the draw, but Matteau swooped in and immediately won the puck back. He tried to get it to Kovy, but it bounced back to the point to Adam Larsson, who threaded it over to Andy Greene. Greene made one of his roughly seven great plays, faked the shot and in the same motion shipped a pass right onto Matteau's backhand. The puck was bouncing, but instead of panicking, Matteau took his time, fielded it softly on his backhand and went to his forehand within a split second, eyed up the open net and wristed a shot high before Marc-Andre Fleury could adjust. The smarts, the skill with his hands and the patience Matteau showed on that play prove that he can play at this level. He only played about seven minutes today, but it was more important when and on what lines he played. I never saw him on any other line than the first line and even though he only scored once, he had a couple other chances and was good on the forecheck. Matteau seems a lot more calm with the whole contract situation kinda, sorta resolved, which is huge with Dainius Zubrus possibly out for an extended period. Plus, you gotta love Matteau today for the simple fact that after he scored, Chico Resch began to go into the famous call from the '94 conference finals then quickly trailed off after the second "Matteau" perhaps realizing he was now taunting his own fan base. Best unintentional comedy of the season so far.
Greene Day: As mentioned above, Andy Greene was absolutely fantastic today. He is the Devils' best defenseman right now, hand down. He directly set up Matteau and Bobby Butler's goals today with deft work at the point and he continues to be incredibly reliable in his own end. There were at least five to six times when I marveled at a play he made and how simple he made it look, in particular the Matteau setup. Ever since Greene was elevated to the Devils' top defensive pairing, he's really taken his game to another level. I don't think there's any question that by the end of this season, he'll be far and away the Devils' best overall defenseman. Just fantastic work by him.
Butler has the power: Melding Bobby Butler and the power play seemed incredibly poignant since the two were so perfectly entwined today. Butler's beautiful, blistering shots created one goal, scored another and generated at least one more chance that I noted. He unquestionably had his best game of the season and was part of a fourth line that was really strong in the offensive zone at even strength today, as well. The combo of Josefson, Butler and Barch were extremely aggressive and seemed to be the only line skating from start to finish in the first period. Easily that unit's best game since they've been together. I'd also argue that after that dismal first power play, the Devils' man advantage had its best day as well, in part due to Butler. Obviously if you get 10 power plays in one game, you'd like to score more than twice, but on at least three of them either Fleury or bad bounces seemed to foil the Devils at every pass. They did a great job maintaining possession and winning draws while on the power play and were able to score twice with the "second" power play unit. It would have been nice if they had finished more chances, but they showed a lot more energy after that first one and it really helped them dominate the flow of that game.
Frustrated Malkin: Boy, the Devils really got into Evgeni Malkin's head today didn't they? He was pushing back and jawing at the Devils almost all game and in the end, it cost the Pens big time, since his two third-period penalties both led to Devils goals. Any time you can get Evgeni Malking off the ice for two minutes at a time is huge, but kudos to the Devils for being able to get one of the best players in the world out of focus when it mattered most. The only problem is something Chico alluded to during the broadcast. You don't want to make Malkin angry, because usually when Malkin gets angry, he gets focused and he makes you pay. That didn't happen today, but you can get Geno is going to bounce right back tomorrow night at home against this same Devils team. If you were asking me to guess now, I'd say I'd be shocked if Malkin doesn't score at least one goal while being the most dominant player on the ice. That's not saying the Devils still can't win tomorrow, but they'll likely have to go through a very determined Malkin to do it.
Notes: How about that Steve Bernier? I didn't get a chance to mention him in the power play segment, but he was just as responsible for those two PPGs as anyone else. His two screens on those goals were each a huge part of why those pucks ended up finding the back of the net. ... Man, that Henrique guy just knows how to find loose pucks in big moments, doesn't he? Brilliant job of sagging to the high slot on the power play to finally bury one of the rebounds the Devils had previously been unable to get their sticks on. ... It's amazing to see how masterful a job the Penguins do of creating space on the ice with their movements and shifts and then how freely and skillfully they move through that open space. It's not hard to see why they're so good. ... Marty Brodeur. What can you say? He robbed Malkin of two goals on the doorstep, the second of which left Geno noticeably stunned. ... The Devils scored twice in the third, but it was their play in the second period that won them that game. They dominated the entire period from start to finish and Marty snuffed out the few chances Pittsburgh had. The tide of the game completely changed during the second. ... Marek Zidlicky has played two very solid games back to back and you wonder how much the demotion to 13 playing minutes the other night got to him. He stopped at least one 2-on-1 from generating a shot in his own end and drew a penalty with a rush to the net for the second straight game. ... Shoot, Kovy. Almost always shoot. Good things happen when the puck leaves your stick and heads to the net ... The Pens block a lot of shots and have very active sticks, especially on the penalty kill. ... You've gotta think the Penguins will come out flying to start tomorrow's game. They almost never have two bad games in a row and their penalty problems kept them from getting their offense going. The Devils will have to weather a pretty hectic storm to start tomorrow's game.