Before the final score of 4-2, while the Devils were losing 3-1 to Carolina after two, I felt I could sum up the game in a sentence: "Most nights, the Devils kill penalties; tonight the penalties killed New Jersey!" Adragna thought it worked.
Alas, that's only part of why New Jersey lost. Still, the penalty killing was awful tonight. There's no other word when the other team scores 3 power play goals, and the game ends 4-2. The odd thing about the failed penalty kills was that for the first minute or so, the Devils would do a good job. They would get clearances, Carolina only had a few dangerous chances, and you, the Devils fan, is feeling pretty good about the kill.
Then the puck moves to a wide-open Carolina Hurricane on the Devils' flank, Weekes has no chance, and it gets buried; Anton Babchuk the first time and Eric Staal the second time. Something about history repeating itself I think applies, but I'm not quite remebering it right now. Oh, and Babchuk put the exclamation point on his brace with a rocket of a shot from the point on their fifth power play.
Babchuk was fantastic tonight in both ends. The PK units were defnitely not. The Devils only killed one full penalty as a Paul Martin roughing call was negated 11 seconds later by a somewhat weak call on Erik Cole. When your killers are 2 for 5 and half of that was only 11 seconds long, you're probably not winning that game.
The other half of the special teams wasn't all that great either. Yes, the Devils did get fortunate when Tim Gleason kicked off a Carolina penalty kill by knocking the puck over the glass with his hand. Yes, Zach Parise took a Patrik Elias cross-ice pass, took a shot, got a good bounce off Dennis Seidenberg's stick and went in. however, that 5-on-3 power play was the only one where the Devils actually did a very good job moving the puck and setting up shots - things you're supposed to do on a power play.
Almost all of the others were washed out by the defensive tactic applied by Carolina - attacking the puck carrier. New Jersey's passing and possession left a lot to be desired tonight, especially on the man advantage. The Devils were able to grind out some good quality chances; but Cam Ward came up big on many of the Devils' 38 shots. Ward's only mistake was not smothering a loose puck near the end, allowing Brian Gionta to sneak one through to make the score look nicer. That was a power play goal, and while Dainius Zubrus made a great play to get Gionta the shot; the Devils were more fortunate than anything else to score then. It wasn't the result of a great power play in that case.
That all said, the Devils definitely endured a let down tonight. Perhaps it was inevitable? The first eight minutes of the game was almost all Carolina and the team should be happy that Kevin Weekes weathered the storm. If you saw the game, you knew it was going to be a long one for New Jersey. The Devils started making a game of it, and I was ready to say that momentum would shift towards New Jersey had the second end 2-1. But the penalty killing/Babchuk rocket-shot ended that hope.
The third period had some attempts to get the Devils within one, but Ward simply denied the Devils (most notably, David Clarkson, who I felt did OK tonight). To cap off the win, Sergei Samsonov pulled off a fantastic move to A) steal the puck from Paul Martin and B) dangle the puck past an already-down Weekes to put it in for a highlight-reel-worthy goal. Poor Weekes! He truly wasn't bad, but the defense/penalty kill units just let him down a few too many times! Carolina was just buzzing and all night long, they were the better team making better decisions on the puck.
They were even better at avoiding taking some weak calls. The refs called some really, really sketchy interference calls on Brendan Shanahan and Bryce Salvador, both of which led to goals. Am I saying the refs gave the game to Carolina? No. Just that they were poor tonight. Salvador, at least, should have realized that the refs were on the watch for those little things and held back more after the first period. Even then, the penalty killers didn't do their job. Perhaps if Colin White were in the lineup, they kill one of those penalties? Perhaps if it wasn't Salvador who took those calls, an extra penalty is killed? Who knows, really?
What we do know is that the Devils' four game winning streak has ended, Carolina got some much needed points, and the Devils did have a letdown after last night. Am I disappointed in the performance? Sure. Losses aren't good. Is there a reason to think the Devils are going to play really poorly? I don't think so. If the Devils did a better job at passing the puck going forward and the special teams weren't so awful, this is a much closer game. I don't think it'll be like this every night from now on. After a day of rest, the Devils should be fully prepared, physically and mentally, for the next game. No worries about records or how they'll look after a big night.
Still, tonight, they fell flat and so Carolina drove on to keep their playoff hopes alive. Check out Canes Country later on for their recap.