We’re hunkered down on a wintry-feeling night, ready for the excitement and derring-do of a Devils-Canadiens game. Or as much derring-do and excitement as a Devils game without Pando can have. Our intro from Doc and Chico highlights the Pando/Madden/Clarkson line’s stats from the last five games, and Doc takes on funereal tones when regaling us with Pando’s misfortune. There is all kinds of subterfuge and mystery surrounding who is going to be taking his place on the line – apparently when they did 3-on-2s in warm-ups, Clarkson and Madden did them without a third guy. It’s like a missing man formation for hockey.
19:38 The team is clearly lost without Pando. As are the officials. Rachunek gets called for hooking on a play that leaves Chico flummoxed for its glaring lack of anything resembling a hook on it.
18:35 A two-on-one chance by Pelley is turned aside by Price, and Montreal responds with a crazy good rush, replete with tic-tac-toe passing and a great set-up for Plekanic by Kovalev, but Marty is emphatic in showing off he’s not starting this game as slowly as he started the last one.
18:01 It looks like Greener did a great job of watching Mottau playing when he was scratched in the last game, and makes a monster save in place of an out-of-position Marty on the Habs’ wildly aggressive power play.
17:38 The power play comes to an end with the Canadiens sporting a 6-1 shot advantage, and with smoke coming out of our television. Holy crap.
16:16 Zubrus decides that power play wasn’t awesome enough, and wants to give Montreal another crack at it. He gets called for holding the stick on a lazy, stupid play along the boards in the offensive zone.
15:51 Chico: “The Devils are going to miss Jay Pandolfo in a lot of situations. This will be one of them.” Schnookie: “[Whimper]”
12:55 The Devils needn’t bother taking anymore penalties, because the way they’re playing right now makes it look like the Canadiens have a man advantage already. When they finally manage to get a hold of the puck in their zone, they are reduced to just flinging it down for an icing. We go to commercial with the news that the shots are currently 9-1 Montreal.
12:15 Chico tells us about Larry Robinson’s childhood growing up on a farm and playing hockey, and concludes that, after talking to Sutter as well about a farm-raised childhood, “Only good things can come from growing up on a farm.” Pookie: “I don’t know about that. I mean, the Staals grew up on a farm and they’re all douches.” (We kid, we kid!)
11:47 Patty and Zach suddenly find themselves on a two-on-one, but Patty’s backhand attempt at a pass doesn’t go anywhere. Pookie: “Patty’s Zach killing!”
10:35 Maybe it’s Rachunek’s turn to sit upstairs and watch a game, like Brookbank is tonight. He can’t keep up with Latendresse behind the net and has to trip him. Pookie: “Why is Brookbank not dressed tonight?” Pause. “Sutter’s like, ‘Hey! Hindsight is twenty-twenty.’”
8:35 Thank heavens Marty showed up to play tonight. He is cold-blooded on the PK, preserving the tie.
7:34 Just as Doc tells us he is very excited to be watching Price play, the man himself bobbles a puck out of his glove at the side of the net, hands it right over to Asham, and is lucky these are the Devils and they’re not capable of capitalizing.
6:46 Gio makes a great backchecking play to strip a Canadien heading toward the Devils blueline, and gets tripped for his troubles. There is no call, prompting Pookie to snip, “I am comically peeved at the officiating in this game.”
4:43 The refs let a few more go (notably one committed against Langer at the boards behind Price’s net), but finally put the Canadiens in the box when Hamrlik puts his stick between Pelley’s feet while Pelley is blowing past him to get a loose puck in the slot.
2:44 The power play concludes without a goal, and a fairly even distribution of offense between both teams. The final play with the man advantage is a turnover in the offensive zone by Asham; Pookie sighs, “It’s been a long time since I was last pleasantly surprised by Asham.”
2:31 Doc informs us Hamrlik is “forever a hero to [him]” thanks to having thrown a check at the All-Star Game in 1996. It was, according to Doc, the last check thrown in an All-Star Game.
0:34 WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Brisebois bobbles the puck at the blueline just as Doc is winding the period down by sharing the gruesome shot totals (16-8 Montreal), and Zach just explodes onto it, blazing down the rink, opening some space between him and the defenders, and then slips the puck five-hole on a great deke on the breakaway.
0:00 Hot damn! This period was rocket-fast, and really, other than the penalty trouble, the Devils didn’t look half bad. They’re lucky to have the lead, but it’s not like they were getting skated off the ice. Completely. Okay, so they weren’t the better team. But we’ve seen worse this season.
Stan talks to Zach, who looks, as always, freshly shorn. He leads into the interview by saying Zach doesn’t mind that he’s calling that goal “spectacular”. Pookie: “Well no kidding.”
We spend this break enjoying dinner and regaling Boomer with tales of the IPB comment thread from today, wherein we proved IPB Nation should be running the league.
19:46 Oh, in case you were wondering, Gentle Reader, Sarge is filling in for Pando. And he’s got the new Devils ironman streak. Seems a bit Eve Harrington to us.
17:51 A bit of clever playmaking and smart passive-ish cycling culminates in a booming Mottau shot from the high point. Doc dryly calls it, “Mottau almost gets Gionta, but misses the net.” Yeah, Gio’s life flashed before our eyes on that one, too.
17:16 Gio whips a little pass/shot toward the net, and Patty comes thisclose to artfully tipping the puck into the net. But he’s Patty, and it instead goes just wide.
14:46 Rachunek does an admirable job of hanging with a fancy-pantsy Hab, stickchecking and stickchecking and stickchecking on some slick puckhandling at the side of the net.
13:19 Ryder smoothly moves through the Devils D, but Marty delights us with a bobbly blocker save at the very last minute.
12:51 Asham lobs a huge slapshot at Price. We are surprised, but just mellowly so, not really pleasantly so.
12:17 Price has a mental block against effective puckhandling when Asham’s around, once again turning the puck over to him while far from the net. Asham, though, is still unable to get the puck into the empty net. Pookie: “I am unpleasantly surprised.” And no, this never gets tired for us.
10:45 Latendresse makes a great diving, backchecking play to break up Sarge’s pass to Madden on a two-on-one. This sets Pookie onto a rambling monologue about how she thinks the models should have to go to the “Latendresse hair salon” on Project Runway.
9:57 Langer, watching Kovalev turning in the neutral zone an arm’s length from him, reaches out and hooks him down. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
8:44 As the Devils PK makes a series of good plays to stop the Canadiens from gaining the zone, Chico says with a laugh, “Well, you know how practice helps? The Devils are getting a lot of practice on the penalty kill.”
8:10 Koivu gets called for goaltender interference after his feet happen to tangle a bit with Marty’s. Both of them look confused about the call, but we’ll take it as an even-up for the first Rachunek penalty.
6:50 WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just as we are discussing how ridiculously cute Zach looked on the bench at the start of this period, the PP clicks into gear. Travis feeds the puck smartly to Gio to take advantage of the Canadien who had dropped his stick (It’s almost like these things even out over the course of a season, or something), and Gio, looking a little handcuffed by the pass in his feet, manages to control the puck and whip a perfect rebound-creating shot on net, and Zach punches the rebound over Price. 2-0 Devils.
5:29 Clarkson flattens a Montreal player on a spot of forecheck, and Doc calls the play, “Clarkson does… what Clarksons do.” We collapse into giggles, and Pookie says, “It’s like Winnie the Pooh, but hot!”
4:41 We come back from a commercial to see Chico breaking down the goal again. He manages not to crack himself up when he says the play unfolded perfectly by design, starting with Paul Martin “shooting the puck as hard as he can to break Dandeneau’s stick.” Yup. That’s just how they drew that one up.
2:47 The fans are starting to chant with what might be The Rock’s first organic, in-game, happy “Let’s go Devils!” and the Devils are swarming, forcing Price to make a good save through heavy traffic. It’s almost like they’re trying to develop a killer instinct or something.
2:21 Clarkson makes a hustling, second-effort play, breaking up the Canadiens’ pressure and then making a diving, sweeping clear of the zone. Chico, deeply in the thrall of his mancrush, wonders, “How many fans is he going to have if he keeps making plays like that?” Schnookie: “He doesn’t even have to make plays like that.”
1:07 We have never seen Zach look so fast (it is, in fact, a source of constant amusement at stately IPB Manor that he’s really almost impossibly slow given his style of play), and Pookie suggests he found the pair of skates in his stall that are marked “fast” and opted to wear those instead of the usual ones that are marked “slow”. Schnookie posits that Pando, not needing the little magical wings on his skates tonight, handed them over to Zach for this game. Pookie: “And by ‘little magical wings’ you mean ‘amphetamines’, right?”
0:00 That was an awesome period, in what has been an awesome game. Both teams are playing well, there’s all kinds of flow, there have been strong attacks met by strong defense, and the goaltending’s been great. Who says the NHL product is boring all the time?
Stan interviews Whitey and basically forces him to say that Zach is a superstar. Pookie suggests Whitey, after acquiescing, heads into the dressing room and demands his $500 from Zach for saying it.
There is some discussion between Dano and Steve about Clarkson’s play in that period, and Dano says, “If he keeps playing like that he’s going to win a lot of fans, if he hasn’t already.” We chorus, “He has already.” They also talk about how stalwart and interchangeable Sarge is, and touch on the subtle, quiet confidence of Rod Pelley. We suddenly find ourselves taking stock and realizing this team has really, well, gelled. What had been a rag-tag group of no-names and castoffs (aside from the top nine forwards), has suddenly turned into a scrappy corps of pretty decent hockey players. Steve is thinking the same thing, and says, “This is why you don’t judge too much based on the first 12 or 15 games.” To drive the point home, FSN gives us a graphic screen showing us the recent travails of the early frontrunners in the East.
We open the period in the traditional manner, with Chico’s food review. He walks us through several varieties of hot dogs, with slow-mo footage of Chico enjoying the “Chicago dog”, and then something called the “LA Okey dog” (or something like that), which Chico assures us is “okey-dokey”. He also looks, when FSN goes to live footage, exhausted. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up,” he moans. Doc just laughs hysterically at him.
19:05 Clarkson carries in along the wing and, instead of skating around the goal and hoping for a wraparound, gives shooting a backhander from the side of the net a try. It doesn’t work.
17:09 Patty feeds Gio on the wing in the neutral zone, then bulls up the center to gain the zone; Schnookie, surprised at the way that play sort of stutter-stepped itself into being, says, “I’m amazed that stayed onsides.” Pookie: “I’m not convinced it did.”
15:36 Mottau calmly navigates the Montreal offensive pressure, then pushes the puck to Zubrus on his way out of the zone. Zubrus then makes a series of plays where it looks like he’s just trying to get a change, but he keeps accidentally beating the Canadiens one-on-one and finds himself deep in the corner of the Montreal zone, wondering how the hell he got there.
15:26 Madden takes a stick in the mouth, but nothing gets called.
14:00 Mottau makes a spiffy pokecheck on Latendresse after a Devils turnover in the defensive zone, and gets highsticked in the throat. We are initially outraged because the official nearest the play looks like he is very defiantly refusing to call anything, but the neutral zone ref spots the offense and does make the call.
It turns out Mottau is bleeding from a small nick on his neck, and there is a long delay during which the Montreal coaches look consternated and in need of a lot of explaining from the officials. The crowd starts to buzz, and Chico and Doc have no idea why… until we see a few replays of the high-stick that caught Madden – and the cut on his chin. That’s right: it’s a four-minute 5-on-3.
13:38 WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Pando gave Zach his hat trick magic wings! The penalty killers, frozen by a Langer shot fake, let him walk in on Price, and he beats him high glove side for a 3-0 Devils lead. As the crew cleans up the hats off the ice, Chico telestrates some fans who are not wearing hats anymore, and points out a guy who is doggedly hanging onto his toque. We cut to a shot of a pleased-with-himself Zach on the bench, then FSN chooses, hilariously, to flit back to a close-up of the guy with his hat still on.
We hope nothing interesting happens on the rest of the power play because our picture has gone out.
We really hope nothing interesting is happening, because now our audio’s gone out too. Boomer: “Zach burned out all the cameras.”
11:44 We get our sound and picture back and it’s 4-0 Devils. WOOO HOOOO!!!
8:37 We come back from commercial with Montreal on the power play thanks to a hold by Langer. We also find out, after FSN gives us a tour of the Zach hat trick in replay, that the fourth goal was Gio’s.
7:14 Marty makes a great play breaking up Kovalev’s sneaky centering pass with some swift paddling with his stick.
6:44 We are a bit out-of-sorts about the blip in the feed earlier, and Schnookie is suffering bits of free-floating anxiety that we somehow did something to mess up our television. Pookie finally dismiss these feelings when she declares: “Four-minute 5-on-3s aren’t supposed to happen. That’s why we didn’t get to see it.” Boomer concurs, “It was an embarrassment of riches. It was too much.”
5:21 Chico is praising the crowd tonight, deservedly, for being a great crowd. He then continues, giving voice to exactly what we’re starting to think tonight: this is a good hockey team. Chico says, with unbridled excitement lacing his tone, that he’s starting to see something coming together with these guys, and the building, and just, in short… there’s a lot of happy Devils Love in the air these days.
3:57 It seems Vanderbeek is right: when the game is exciting, the fans will sit in the seats in the lower bowl instead of milling about the various lounges and bars. This is the fullest we’ve seen the expensive seats at any point in any game.
3:00 Chico points out that Marty has not skated morning skates before these last six games. He actually backs off saying it, but he means that Marty’s an old fart now and can’t skate as much as he used to.
2:22 Chico continues telling us about the vibe of the team, and he says Langer told him the feeling in the room is the best it’s been “in years”. Meanwhile, across the river, the Rangers are looking at their number 19 and thinking, “This is the worst our room has felt in years.”
1:21 Doc tells us, as we watch Clarkson make a few “I would like to someday be a fan favorite, if I just keep working hard” plays, that Whitey and Langer, when they were out with their injuries, sat up in the rafters keeping their own scorecards of shots and blocked shots. Pookie: “They were keeping track of their own Larionov Bucks!”
0:22 The crowd is lustily chanting “Marty! Marty!” Pookie: “This will be a great test of ‘who’s the biggest superstar now?’ Who do you give the first star to?” (Hat trick trumps shutout, at least when it’s Zach’s first career hat trick, and Marty’s 94th career shutout. And especially considering the Montreal Canadiens are Marty’s personal bitch.)
0:00 WOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! This was a great, great, great game, and perhaps the most telling thing about it is that, at some point between the opening faceoff and the final buzzer, we finally, for the first time this season, reached that point where we have fallen completely in love with the current iteration of the Devils.