There's two different ways you could look at tonight's game: Disappointing or gutsy. During their first contest without Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils fought through in-game injuries to two game players and an awful to start to eek out a consolation point. They also played some good hockey in the second and third periods, although there were mistakes and they were clearly tired in overtime. Some thoughts...
One and one: One game without Kovalchuk, one point for the Devils. This is how it will have to be. Yes, they would've liked to have picked up the extra point and surely played like it in the third period, but any points are important given the state they're in right now. If you'd like to be concerned, the Devils' record in overtimes and shootouts is reason for worry. New Jersey has left a lot of points on the ice this season after excelling in extra hockey last season. Will it be the difference between eighth and ninth? Too early to tell, but for now the Devils simply have to do everything they can to stay stagnant (at worst) in the standings while Kovy is out. Tonight, the Devils managed to overcome a dreadful start and seemingly woke up after being undressed by Pete DeBoer during a first-period timeout. The gears didn't really begin to turn until the second when Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique had some impressive shifts as DeBoer mixed and matched forwards given his limited bench. Over the final two periods, the Devils looked like a good hockey team that couldn't finish -- which is what they've looked like for stretches this season. Except there's no Kovy coming in to seal the deal with a rocket from the point or a perfect pass across the ice. Make no mistake, this is what the Devils will look like for the next two weeks. They could play very inspired hockey game in and game out and it will still be a challenge to score goals.
Seriously? More injuries?: I'm not going to overreact to Bryce Salvador and Stephen Gionta leaving the game early tonight. We don't know anything about them other than the general area (lower for Salvador, upper for Gionta). DeBoer says they haven't seen the doctor yet but will travel with the team to Tampa Bay, where the Devils play Friday. The good news is that Salvador's injury isn't connected to the upper-body ailment that caused him to miss a game earlier this month. After Salvador missed a game against the Canes, he admitted he would have to play through the pain and deal with the injury and my first thought tonight was that he aggravated whatever that injury was. Instead, it looks like a separate issue, which is just further evidence of how the bangs and bruises will add up through this short season. We said before the year that there would be plenty of injuries for the teams to deal with, but this is starting to feel like a bit of an onslaught. It's also what happens when a large chunk of your team is veterans with a lot of miles on their bodies. I'm not saying these injuries could've been avoided, but look at the players who have hit the IR this season and then take a look at their ages. That's not a coincidence. Gionta's a bit of the exception. Despite being 29, he's spent most of pro hockey career outside of the NHL. He's also the one player among these two whose absence I believe would hurt the most. Yes, Salvador is the captain and a reliable piece on defense, but the Devils have eight NHL-caliber defensemen and can get by without him for a time. Gionta? First of all, he's one of the few true right wings the Devils have right now, which, as we're seeing with the Kovy injury, is a pretty big deal. Two, he's one of the few players who pretty much plays his role every time he's out on the ice. The Devils need his energy and effort on the forecheck, especially with Kovy, Zubrus and Ponikarovsky on IR. If Gionta is out for any long period of time, I'm not sure there's really a player to replace what he brings to the table.
Forced trios: The one thing Gionta's injury did force DeBoer to do is get real funky with his line combos again and I think he might have stumbled into a winner. When Gionta first didn't come out for the second period, DeBoer tried Adam Henrique in between Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. It was a solid shift, but the next time the remaining two-thirds of the CBGB line hit the ice it was with Andrei Loktionov in the middle. In fact, it was on that shift that the Devils scored their first goal of the night with Carter taking the draw and Loktionov lined up to the left. DeBoer stuck with the trio for most of the rest of the game with Carter taking most of the draws and Loktionov playing the middle for the most part. I liked the immediate chemistry between them and I also like how Loktionov was able to play off Carter and Bernier's physical in-the-corners and in-your-face style. If DeBoer wanted to leave Loktionov there, he could use Henrique to center the "top" line with D'Agostini (who was invisible tonight) and possibly Pesonen until Ponikarovsky comes back. It would allow DeBoer to get Henrique away from the wing, which clearly does not suit him and where DeBoer is incredibly loathe to use him.
No power: The one place we knew the Devils would struggle without Kovy was the power play. Although the Devils only had one opportunity with the man advantage against Ottawa, it certainly wasn't pretty. There were multiple turnovers, multiple breakaways (by the Sens) and a general sense of discombobulation and confusion. Basically, the Devils didn't have any sort of "alpha dog" to take over the two minutes and run plays from start to finish. We hypothesized earlier that it's possible the Devils will use this time to morph into a better overall power-play unit because they won't be relying on one player -- and that's still possible. It's impossible to judge anything about this unit without Kovy after just one game let alone one power play, but what I will say is I don't have a ton of faith that they'll suddenly start humming 30-plus games into the season. The best option for them now is to spend as much time trying to fire pucks at the net and hoping for rebounds and mismatches in front or for deflections.
Notes: Martin Brodeur did not have his A-game tonight. That was obvious from the Senators' very first goal. He gave up far too many rebounds and it finally cost him on that late goal in the second period. Devils aren't going to win many games these next two weeks if Marty doesn't bring his top game every night. ... Second straight game with a goal in the final seconds of a period. Those kinds of goals are absolute killers. Have to hope that's a blip on the radar and not a trend. ... How many posts was that tonight? I think my ears are still ringing. ... Zajac played a strong game once again but that giveaway on the power play was awful. ... If there's one thing I noticed tonight it's that the Senators have a lot of skill and a lot of depth up front despite the injuries. Guillaume Latendresse is a shining example. I'm really surprised he didn't have about two or three goals tonight with the way he played. ... Not sure whether it was David Clarkson fight or DeBoer's intermission speech that got the Devils fired up, but Clarkson really handled Zach Smith in that fight. ... A fifth-round pick for Loktionov. Just throwing that out there again. ... What a game for Marek Zidlicky, eh? All over the ice, single-handedly tied the game and a sound one in his own end. Impressive night for Zids. ... Clarkson has GOT to start burying some of these shots. He's getting far too many opportunities compared to the goals he's scoring. ... The Devils looked exhausted in OT, just completely spent. If the injuries to Salvador and Gionta are of decent severity, it's only a matter of time before that catches up to New Jersey. ... A few shootout notes: 1) Daniel Alfredsson's snap shot is absurdly good. 2) It's almost as good as that move Mika Zibanejad put on Brodeur for the game winner. 3) Could Kyle Turris have gone any slower? 4) Why do we still have the shootout?