With the Devils up 3-1 in the third, Larsson’s strength and puck possession at the point drew a penalty, and while the Devils cycled the puck and their extra attacker came on, Larsson once again was passed the puck and unleashed a hard, low blast that Evgeni Nabokov stopped. But after being denied on the first rebound, Elias beat Nabokov on the second whack. The Devils added to the romp when Zidlicky one-touched a pass from Josefson in front of the net to Clarkson, who deftly deflected the puck, roofing it on Nabokov.
Zidlicky would also haunt the Islanders two nights later. Seconds after the Devils tied the game 1-1 with less than two minutes remaining, P.A. Parenteau took a foolish boarding penalty that gave New Jersey a power play to finish regulation. Fourteen seconds later, Kovy passed the puck to Zidlicky who stepped in and rifled a shot past Anders Nilsson and gave the Devils their most impressive come-from-behind victory of the season. Once again, it was the defense that was creating the offense.
In the Devils’ final victory in this four-game winning streak, their backline had the biggest impact on the scoring against Philadelphia. Two minutes after forgiving the game-tying goal in the beginning of the third, it was Volchenkov who jumped onto a 2-on-1 odd-man rush and converted a gorgeous no-look pass by Kovy to put the Devils ahead 2-1. The Devils got further insurance by Zidlicky, who found himself assisting both Kovy and Parise to safely guide the Devils to a 4-1 victory, and tie with Philadelphia at 85 points in the Eastern Conference (Philly has a game in-hand).
Onto The Good and The Bad for the Devils.
David Clarkson needs credit here because it is long overdue. I know the Kovy line has been passing magnificently. They can beat teams in transition because they are fast as hell. They can move the puck to the open man and move without the puck to position themselves for a rebound opportunity or better open shot. They show versatility because they also beat you by cycling in the offensive zone. The trio is so good with puck possession and winning battles along the boards that it allows a sniper like Kovy to cut and curl around the net until his linemates see a passing lane and then it’s in the back of the net. (If you think this was just an excuse for me to rave about that line, it was.)
But back to Clarkson. He has at a level this year that I honestly did not realize he was capable of reaching. In many ways he is every coach’s dream: a player who is playing beyond his talent level because of hard work and determination. Someone who has clearly devoted intense hours to developing and improving his game, and this has paid huge dividends.
Beneath the goal line, Clarkson is nearly impossible to knock off the puck with only one defender. In every zone, he takes great joy in annihilating his opponents into the boards, and then giving them lip service as he skates away. Until a year ago, he was another gritty-hardnosed-power-forward-who-will-skate-with-reckless-abandon-every-second-he-is-on-the-ice.