Two weeks ago, the Devils just failed against the Islanders 4-0. Today, the Devils didn't perform much better as they lost to the Islanders 7-3. The loss is Martin Brodeur's first loss since his injury, contains the most goals against since his injury (6), it was the first game since his injury he was pulled, and it snaps a four game winning streak. So much for history repeating itself! As you can guess by the scoreline, it definitely wasn't a good game for New Jersey. Islanders fans like Dom, are pleased with how the team performed.
My thoughts begin after the jump. I also discussed the Devils and the season that they've been having on Hockey Night on Long Island earlier this evening. You can listen to Episode 22 via the HNLI website.
Let's begin with the biggest weakness in the Devils' performance: the defense. As a whole, the Devils defensemen were a step behind the Islanders on a majority of the shifts in this game. I don't know if Overspeed was the official tactic of the Islanders today, but the Islanders attack featured many guys in blue and orange just heading up ice. Lots of short passes, lots of second and third skaters jumping up in the play, and the Islanders at least looked very quick. It gave the Devils' defenders fits all afternoon.
When speed seems to be in a team's disadvantage, positioning and awareness of where the opposition is becomes that much more important. The Devils' defenders - and this includes backcheckers as well - just made too many mistakes in this regard. As a result, many of the Islanders' goals were seemingly easy for the shooter. A few of them came off rebounds and a few of them came from Islanders getting into the slot. The Isles were able to do way too easily due to the defensemen's poor positioning in conjunction with being overmatched in speed.
Martin Brodeur didn't have a good game and really should have stopped Jeff Tambellini's breakaway chance. However, he got hit with goals from the flank, off rebounds from initial shots, and the last one that got past him came off a screen. All of which are preventable by good defensive play. What I'm saying is that he was hung out to dry on more than a few of those goals against.
Needless to say, Niclas Havelid had a very poor debut and we can only hope he'll do better next time. The pairing with him and Bryce Salvador definitely was not a strong pairing today. Then again, it's not like the other four had good games as well. That Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya got split by a killer pass to Tambellini for the breakaway is proof that everyone was prone to mistakes.
The second area of weakness (failure) was special teams play. The penalty kill killed no penalties. Kyle Okposo was wide open in putting in a rebound for the first power play goal against. Blake Comeau was alone in the slot to receive a slick Josh Bailey pass for a one-timer to convert the second power play. That's it. 0-for-2. The power play was only marginally better as Patrik Elias was able to re-direct a Paul Martin shot for a third period power play goal. Yet, they went 1-for-6.
You can't say the Devils didn't have chances to get back into this game. At least, they didn't fold up after ending the first period 3-0 with a couple goals in the second period. The Devils' forwards were able to do a much better maintaining possession with the puck than they did in the last Islanders' loss. Moreover, they didn't get shutout - so that's an improvement over the last game as well. But while the game was manageable at 4-2 (goals from a great Brian Gionta deflection and Jamie Langenbrunner putting home a rebound), the two goals against later in the second period really killed the momentum for New Jersery. Again, the issue there was the defense. It truly hurt the Devils the most. The game was pretty much over in the third period.
That said, I have much praise for the Islanders. Today proved that there are no actual doormats in the league. The last placed team played like anything but a last placed team, largely in part to their youth players. Sean Bergenheim was lethal and put up a hat trick. Okposo, Comeau, and Bailey all looked good out there. I was impressed with Jesse Joensuu and Mike Iggulden - they definitely look like future NHL players. With some more talent on defense and maybe an addition of John Tavares, the Islanders have a bright future. They definitely have some of the pieces to the proverbial puzzle right now. Today was only one game and maybe some of these players won't take it to that proverbial "next level." However, the Islanders' performance could very well be a sign of things to come!
As for the Devils, the concern after a bad loss like this is the future. What will the Devils learn from this game? Was this just a bad game? Did the Islanders just expose a weakness of the team (defense against speed?), or was it just poor performance? Do the Devils play down to teams? Was this game a sign of things to come? Will this game be the start of a losing streak? Is this just a big wake up call?
With the playoffs looming and a tough March schedule ahead, it's a bad time to start a bad streak. I'd have to think this has to be taken as a wake-up call of sorts and the Devils need to get it together for Tuesday. How the Devils perform against Calgary will tell us the answers to some of these questions.