While I praised the Devils for battling and going to the net, two things they definitely did right against St. Louis, I failed to point out what they, uh, failed at. The acts that they did that just made the game harder for themselves. This was the sentiment when one reads the 2MA liveblog or the IPB liveblog. The team is aware of it, as well, according to Chere.
Sutter said of the game: "I didn't think it was one of our sharpest games mentally. We played hard but we didn't play smart."
Now, much of the post has a disappointed Patrik Elias talking about how he wasn't pleased with his game. True, but I'm more concerned with the team's performance than just Elias'. Besides, Dainius Zubrus, Brian Gionta, John Madden, Mike Rupp, Jay Pandolfo, Zach Parise, and Bryce Salvador had good games. It's not like the team was bereft of players playing well. Yet, Sutter's quote about last night is exactly right.
First, part of the reason that the Devils haven't given up more than 3 goals in their previous 5 games despite playing some strong offensive teams (Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh) is that the defense was great at preventing the opposition pick up on loose pucks and rebounds. While he's been great, Scott Clemmensen's rebound control hasn't been. And that's fine if the defense is cleaning up the mess. But they were caught slow-footed a couple times and in addition to extra work for Clemmensen, it cost the Devils' twice - Brad Boyes' goal and Steen's goal at the end with the extra skater. This is the result of poor positioning and awareness of the opposition in the zone. And it's exacerbated by Clemmesen not having the experience and/or good fortune to better re-direct pucks shot at him. Perhaps it a brief lack of focus; but it's definitely not smart hockey.
Second, the Devils had some fantastic areas wherein they waste it and the Blues realize an opportunity is to be had, skate their socks off, and get a chance on Clemmensen. The best and most damaging example from last night's game came when a loose puck came past the right circle (well, Legace's right) during a Devils possession. No other Blue was in the area, so Salvador charged in to keep it in play. Salvador looked like he was going to shoot it, dumping it into the corner would have been fine. Neither actually happened, and in his haste, the puck bounced over his stick. Salvador overskated it and, lo and behold , TJ Oshie saw nothing past Salvador and pounced on the loose puck in the neutral zone. A 2-on-1 ensued and David Backes applied the proper finish to make it, then, 2-1 Blues. While it's not always the defensemen in this case, it was apparent last night - especially on...
The power play. And this is definitely disappointing. Not that they didn't score on it. When you've been following the Devils for a few seasons, you get used to the Devils not scoring on the power play. OK, it can get frustrating at times, admitedly. That's not what I'm concerned about here. However, if a team isn't going to score on the power play, then they need to at least get some shots on net. Keep possession in the opposition's zone. Basically, get some offensive pressure on their defense in the hopes that you can crack them after the penalty for the goal. The Devils did not do this however. The Devils' power plays last night consisted of two acts: 1) meaningless passes leading to 2) conceding possession to the Blues who cleared it or worse, took it up ice themselves. There were power plays where the Blues and not the Devils managed to have actual offensive chances on the Devils' power play. No, Clemmensen gave up no shorthanded goals. It's still inexcusable. When a team is sitting in their own zone literally short one skater, that's an opportunity to make something happen. By all means, set up a great shot, but be smart about when to pass, who to pass to, and when to shoot. The Devils didn't even take the chance to even get some momentum their way.
So when Brent Sutter talked about how the Devils didn't play smart hockey, these three areas come to mind. Is there anything else that I missed? Regardless, these are also three areas the Devils should tighten (smarten?) up on for tonight's game. And if not tonight, then definitely before Montreal comes to the Rock on Friday. At least the work ethic and the battling for the puck was excellent.