Frustration. This is on the mind of the Devils fans, the Devils players (reported here by Tom Gulitti), and the Devils organization. Let me share my viewpoint first:
I left the Prudential Center muttering the same name over and over: Craig Anderson. After waiting on a train platform, taking the train back home, and sitting down, I'm still thinking about Craig Anderson. I thought Ryan Miller was brilliant on Wednesday, but Anderson was brilliant-er. Yes, I'm making up words for the guy.
In the preview from this morning, David Driscoll-Carignan of Mile High Hockey said the Avalanche defense was "shaky." Shaky would be a compliment to how they played tonight. They were awful in their own end. The Devils put up the first 11 shots of the game on them. It wasn't until they got a four-minute power play to register a shot on net. Even after scoring, the Devils proceeded to pound them further in the first to the tune of 17-3 in shots. It was a lot like the Buffalo game, only the Avalanche caught a break and scored a goal in spite of their lack of offense.
In the second period, the Avalanche resembled a competant hockey team but still allowed 10 shots while putting up 12. Then in the third, they just sat back and let the red jerseys overwhelm them for 16-7 in shots. The Devils had the puck more often, they had the puck more often in offensive positions, they took a wide variety of shots, and the Devils picked on their D in the corners and in the slot. The Devils outplayed the Avalanche. So why did they lose?
There were only two reasons I can come up with why the Devils did not just blow the Avalanche away tonight: bad luck and Craig Anderson. I will go into a little more detail into both after the jump. Before proceeding, please check out the game summary and event summary from NHL.com. Should you want to see how the fortunate half felt about tonight's game, please check out Mile High Hockey. Nevertheless, this loss was a frustrating one as the Devils remain winless at home and 1-3-1 overall.
What makes it frustrating is that usually in a loss, there's someone or some aspect of the performance that was lacking that the opposition took advantage of. Some are putting the loss on Martin Brodeur. It certainly wasn't one of his better nights. He seemed to be in the right position on the first goal from my vantage point; and one could argue that Cody McLeod doesn't go wide if Matt Corrente held his position instead of trying to intercept T.J. Galiardi's pass to him, then McLeod would have been closed off. Yet the video tells no lies; the shot was low, Brodeur's stick tipped it up and over - meaning it could have been stopped. Not a good goal to give up regardless of whether it was on a penalty kill (it was in the dying seconds of Colin White's double minor in the first period).
The second goal against was off a rebound, I don't think you can fault him for that. I know some of the commenters in the Gamethread were critical on the third goal against. I don't know, from the video, I see a rocket of a shot from the sideboards. It's not really clear if it was something he just missed or whether the shot was just too good. But I'm hesitant to pin the loss on Brodeur because the Devils continue to struggle to put up goals. That struggle continues to undermine them early this season.
Goals are funny things. A lot of work goes into getting a shot off to begin with, and often times luck is a factor in whether or not said shot goes in. I say luck, but it's really shorthand for a lot of variables. While a player can control creating the shot, so many variables take place in the process of shooting. For example, how clean the shot was, how clear the shot path is, what's in the path of the shot, how prepared the goaltender is to read the shot, etc. A player can't really control those variables so a lot of it goes up to luck. Generally, the best way around that is to create all sorts of shots at a goaltender and by the law of averages, some are going in.
That happened in a way tonight. The Devils did get two past Craig Anderson. After a series of long shots through traffic that just got blocked, Matt Taormina took one that found it's way through all kinds of bodies on a power play. It was his first goal and congratulations to him for earning it. The second one was a goal I'm sure Anderson would like to get back. Ilya Kovalchuk just powered a shot through Anderson's five hole before halfway through the third period to keep hope alive for New Jersey. But even with those successes, I still believe the Devils were unfortunate. And because that can't be controlled, it's frustrating to watch and more so for the players involved.
Should you want to see the goals and a whole lot of Craig Anderson being Craig Anderson, here's the highlights video from NHL.com:
The first period had a perfect example of this. McLeod, not long after scoring, hit Taormina from behind along the boards and drew blood. That earned him a 5 minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. The Devils didn't waste the 5-minute power play that ensued. They got pucks deep, they moved them out to the point well, and the Devils weren't looking for perfect shots - but good ones. There were at least three scoring chances where Anderson was actually beat but the puck just wouldn't go in. The first was early, a slap shot from Kovalchuk was nearly tipped in by Zach Parise to Anderson's left flank, only to go just wide. The second was off a scramble in front and a shot actually got through Anderson's 5-hole. Only for the puck to trickle to the left and out instead of going 2-3 inches forward over the goal line. The third was the most egregious. Dainius Zubrus was found down low, wide open, and curled around the crease. Almost like a wraparound; and Anderson flopped. The net was open but either due to physics or body position, Zubrus just couldn't angle the puck in. Three times Anderson was beaten, but luck said otherwise.
Luck said otherwise when the Devils also hit two posts later and had all sorts of other attempts just go awry. But the rest of the time, it was the Craig Anderson show. Long shots, medium range shots, shots from sharp angles, shots from the slot, shots from the high slot, shots with screens, shots coming off cross-ice passes, shots coming off cycles, shots through traffic, a breakaway (Anderson's positioning forced a Zubrus backhand to pulled wide) second-chance shots, and third-chance shots. Anderson was shelled, the Avs were simply porous on defense, and yet Anderson came on top over and over.
I can't really fault the offense tonight because they put 30 even strength shots on net, 11 more on the power play, and 2 shorthanded. Top guys like Ilya Kovalchuk (7), Zach Parise (4), and Patrik Elias (4) contributed. The defense contributed, namely Taormina with 6 shots on net (and 4 blocked) and the rest of the blueline combining for 10 more. Even the called up players looked decent, particularly Jacob Josefson - who got some PP time tonight in addition to being generally poised on the second line. This on top of winning 60% of all faceoffs. They generated shots, 21 more than the opposition. The offense did what they could, they did what one would want in a game. But bad luck and Anderson bringing his A+ game prevented them from taking the lead and running away with it. Or at least providing some goal support should the goalie not be perfect (as he wasn't tonight).
I can't fault the defense because they held Colorado to so few shots. Yes, the Avs had shifts where they pinned the Devils back. That happens in most games, a opposition team rarely lies down for more than a period unless they are truly miserable. The only player I can identify for multiple errors that I didn't like was Colin White. Namely for his penalties (two high sticking calls); and, more importantly, for not stopping Galiardi to getting to that rebound that he scored on in the second. Still, I can't complain at 22 shots allowed. I can't complain about PK units that held the Avalanche to only 4 shots on 4 power plays lasting 7:57. I can't complain about the defense helping out on offense: Taormina put up a goal and an assist, even Corrente got an assist, and Alexander Urbom was the sole defender who didn't get a shot on net;
I can't fault the coaching staff. I didn't understand some of the line changes beyond the first period. Given that the Devils kept bossing Colorado around in the neutral zone and in Colorado's end, though, I can't say they were bad choices.
The only one who appears culpable is Brodeur for some bad goals allowed. But again, those aren't an issue if the offense was able to respond more quickly and more often. If you want to fault him, fine, but I don't think he was the sole cause for the loss.
As much as I love the fact that the Devils put the Avs to the sword right from the get-go - like they did in Buffalo, as much as I love seeing the team generate a lot of shots, even I'm wondering when the goals are going to come. Tomorrow? Next Thursday? Whenever the Devils go up against a goaltender who isn't sensational?
I keep running into the same thought of, "It just wasn't their night. Anderson and Ms. Luck were just doing it all for Colorado. The sun will be up tomorrow, don't worry." There's nothing can really be done about that. I hate that thought, and I would expect most fans to hate it too. It smacks of the sentiment that nothing is actually wrong that the Devils can fix. Just that they should keep doing what they do. That goes against expectations, especially in sport. But it happens.
And it's really, really, really, really frustrating.
Thanks to everyone in the Gamethread who commented tonight. Of course, thank you for reading. Please share your feelings, grumblings, complaints, suggestions, mutterings, and other such thoughts about tonight's loss in the comments.