Stop me if you heard this one before. A team that has had a poor start to this season, coming off a bad loss as well, plays a hockey game against another opponent. This team has had trouble stringing passes together. The team's defense gets overwhelmed when the offense has trouble sustaining possession and moving through the neutral zone; not to mention firing a lot of shots that go wide. The team's goaltender does all he can, but the opposition managed to score goals that he can't be faulted on. The third period comes with said team in the hole, somehow ups their intensity, and manages an improvement on offense. They outshoot the other team heavily, get one back somehow, but not enough to make up the difference. The game ends up in yet another loss for this team with it's fans wondering what exactly went wrong. And the story repeats itself.
This was, essentially, the tale of the New York Rangers beating the New Jersey Devils 3-1 tonight at MSG. The Devils may have looked better than they did on Saturday night, but that's really a backhanded compliment. The Corsi chart looks great, but again, a third period storm makes up for a poor first two periods. The event summary shows that you may want to praise a few Devils like Travis Zajac (6 shots on goal, 12 for 17 on faceoffs). Yet, the game summary shows the simple truth: the Devils got beat on.
I hate it when the Rangers beat the Devils, I hate it even more when I have to admit they were not only the better team tonight; but that they understand how to win hockey games way better than this collection of players. You can go to Blueshirt Banter for further and deserved praise of the Rangers' performance, I need to keep focusing on this Devils team that's in re-runs 9 games into the season. More after the jump, for those who want to read more.
Truthfully, there were some differences in the defeat of the New Jersey Devils by the New York Rangers 3-1 tonight. The goals allowed weren't the result of someone in red making a bad decision or missing their coverage in their own zone. Michal Rozsival fired a shot through traffic and it hit Andy Greene's body en route to beat a screened Martin Brodeur. Ryan Callahan scored on a power play by re-directing Brandon Dubinsky's shot right at the crease whilst in motion. The third goal, well, it was an empty net goal at the final second that just iced the game. Not bad defending in those cases, and certainly not bad goaltending. Just bad breaks.
Call it a silver lining among the large mass of dark clouds surrounding Jersey's Team.
Let's review those dark familiar clouds, again. I saw more of the same from the Devils so far this season. Incredibly sloppy puck movement. Another second period where the other team made adjustments after the first and the Devils didn't respond. Another first 40 minutes where the Devils got dominated in terms of shots, 29-16. A disturbing lack of leadership from, well, anyone representing New Jersey. While there were some really weak calls tonight, some of 7 minors the Devils took were legit - including Jamie Langenbrunner's 2 out of 3 minors. The power play continuing to be powerless and inconsistent at best at generating at least shots on it (4 in 7:51).
At least the defense wasn't gaffe-ridden, but here's the major takeaway. Hockey is a free-flowing game. The Devils' struggle to move the puck competently, penetrate the Rangers' blueline, and maintain possession all played into the Rangers' hands. They would just wait for the inevitable missed shot/turnover/blocked shot, take it up ice calmly, and get some offense going. The defense didn't have to make elementary errors, they and Brodeur were swamped. Why? Because the Devils couldn't at least keep New York honest enough with their own attack. When this goes on for most of the game, multiplied by taking several minor penalties; it only handicaps your team's chances at winning games.
Yeah, Dainius Zubrus' between the legs, no-look backhand pass to Ilya Kovalchuk was sweet. It did lead to New Jersey's lone goal of the game. Yet, that Kovalchuk was there was pure luck. Normally, a no-look backhand pass goes right to the other team. It did tonight for many players, hoping someone would be in front. The Devils didn't do it all the time, mind you, but it's symbolic of the carelessness of the team. Just throwing pucks in places and hoping something good happens. That's not smart, focused hockey; it normally doesn't win a lot of games; and guess what, the Devils haven't won a lot of games by doing things like that. Here are some more examples:
Like forcing passes on two-on-ones.
Like wrapping sticks around players and thinking you won't get called on it (Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, Jacob Josefson).
Like trying to force a shot or a pass through a guy standing right in front of you.
Like continuing to set up long shots from the point despite missing the net far, far, far more often than not.
And so forth. It's not hard to outwork and out shoot a team that does so many little and big things that don't make any sense to the viewer. Just admit it instead of peeing on the fan's leg and telling us it's raining, MacLean and Parise (source: Tom Gulitti).
Blame John MacLean. Blame Larry Robinson. Blame Adam Oates. Blame Jamie Langenbrunner. Blame Zach Parise. Blame David Clarkson. Blame the rookies. Blame the veterans. Blame the refs for two weak calls (out of 7). Blame Lou. Blame the fates. Blame me for running the site the way I do. Blame that teacher you had in school who was mean and never seemed to cut you any slack. Blame whoever you want. Actually, no, don't blame whoever you want.
Martin Brodeur is officially blameless for this game. The goals weren't his fault and he played like a beast in the first 40 minutes when the Rangers were owning the game While penalty killing, while at even strength, on long and short shots, and even when the Devils nearly giftwrapped a shorthanded goal in the first period. Brodeur remains bringing his A game while the guys in front of him are a mix of generous Bs to D-minuses.
The sun's still going to come up tomorrow and these problems have to be addressed by everyone involved. Not just the coaches but all the players. We hear about frustration, but where's the action? Where's the continuation after having a good game, which has been rare this season? Is it appropriate to call this group of guys a team at all? Why don't they seem to make any sensible adjustments - not wholesale changes, just tweaks - to the team's tactics and approaches after the first period? I repeat Ryan Lucas' big question from last week's Talking Red: What is this team's identity?
Think about that one, it's a very important question.
I don't claim to be the smartest Devils fan or the most in touch guy or even an insider. But I think it's fair to say I follow this team pretty closely. In addition to what I do here, I constantly read Gulitti and Chere, I watch highlights of goals against to see what went wrong, I've been asked so many questions by so many, I've done research on request. I've got a finger somewhat on the pulse of this team. Frankly, even I don't even know something as basic as their identity. I wish I knew, so I could call up the Devils and let them know. But I don't now. Do you know?
Most importantly, do the Devils know? Do they even know that it's even up to them?
Below are the highlights of the game from NHL.com. Thank you to the commenters in the Gamethread; and thank you for reading. I'm sorry this team isn't earning the attention you give it. Please share your understandable disgust with tonight's game in the comments. Let us know how discontent you are. Claim that you have the answer which is something. Even think about giving some credit to the Rangers. I know I kind of stiffed them in this recap, but that's more to my own frustration with this team in their first 9 games of the season. Please visit Blueshirt Banter for that, and be nice if you do. In the meantime, all we can do is hope and pray this story doesn't get retold in San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Chicago - among other places.