Whatever good feelings the New Jersey Devils faithful had going into this game were torn apart, thrown to the ground, lit on fire, and then spit upon to put out the flame. The Devils follow up a 4-3 OT win, their first win at home, their second straight game where they scored more than two goals in a game, with a miserable performance in Boston and their third game in their last six to get shut out. The Boston Bruins may have been outshot, but they were the superior team by beating New Jersey 3-0.
Ordinarily, you'd chalk this up as a game where very little went right for the Devils. Martin Brodeur gave up two soft goals through his 5-hole among the three allowed. Yes, he made some impressive saves; but tonight was definitely not his best night and he didn't help the cause as it were. The Devils had to kill 6 penalties - including some absolutely ridiculous calls - and spent 13:05 on the penalty kill. Their own power play was symbolic of the whole season where one was atrocious and the other two opportunities were just "meh." The offense may have put up more shots at even strength (23-17) and overall (28-24); but they were silenced by a tight Bruins defense, no luck at all, few chances at rebounds despite plenty of long and low shots, and Tim Thomas playing big in net. One of the few positives from tonight's game was that the Devils' defense didn't get blown up for goals against (not that they didn't give up their share of quality chances); but being happy that at a unit didn't collectively leave a mess on the ice is telling in of itself.
The start of the game was good for New Jersey, a bit frantic; but Boston got rolling after their first power play and the Devils had few answers since then. Shots on goal (and by extension Fenwick and Corsi) are usually an indicator of who the better team is on the ice; but that was not the case tonight as the Devils had to chase the game. Of course, the Devils had better numbers there; but Boston had the goals. Of course, Boston laid off the gas in the third period, and why not? They were up 3-0, Thomas was great, and the Devils attack had no real answer for a Boston defense other than seemingly firing shots from distance and hoping to get something.
I give the Bruins credit. They are a good team, with a good system, with good players being put in good situations by a good coach, and so they are having a good season so far. This was not a team that only won one game in their last five. They deserved to win and they got it. Those at Stanley Cup of Chowder and the Bruins faithful worldwide should be pleased.
For the fifth time this season, the Devils falter after picking up a win - and there's not much to at least feel good about I'm let down yet again by this team, and I'm confused. This isn't Game #3 or Game #6 or even Game #10. It's getting close to the quarter-point of the season and yet there are no signs of this team figuring it out. I understand there are injuries, rookies, and bad luck - but the Devils have dealt with that in the past and still managed to get results. I refuse to accept those as excuses anymore than I refuse to believe that a simple changing of the coach or captain or a personnel change can make this team suddenly play to their perceived and/or expected ability.
Another night, another loss, another disappointment, shut out again and we're left with our own personal biases, narratives, and what-have-you to try and explain away how bad this team has performed.
I only have a few points I want to make.
There were three absolutely ridiculous penalties in tonight's game. As a preface, I'm not laying blame for the result at the hands of the officials. Just further evidence that little went right with New Jersey. As interesting as a conspiracy would be, the simplest explanation is that the refs just got these three calls wrong.
The first was the most damaging. Adam Mair is working on the PK and his work in the corner forced a Bruin to throw the puck to Tim Thomas at the near post. Mair, sensing an opportunity, he goes to jam at the puck. Something you see routinely if you've been watching hockey. Well, the whistle goes, and Tim Thomas just jumps on Mair. As if Mair committed some great sin. The ref immediately pointed to the box and Mair sits for two for interference. There was no interference at all, Mair did nothing that warranted a penalty, and it set up a 5-on-3 that Michael Ryder scored on.
Regarding the goal, yes, Brodeur left the post but that's because there were two Bruins in front of him. Ryder had him in a spot, which is a feature of a 5-on-3 PP. If Brodeur hung at the post, then Ryder can simply set up a point-blank one-timer in front and that's likely a goal as well. I'm sympathetic on that one. Not the other two: those were through the 5-hole. Brodeur has had games like that last season, not that it makes the loss any better or the goals allowed any more acceptable.
Going back to calls. The two minors on Jason Arnott were horrible calls as well. Arnott got tagged for a boarding call that was anything but boarding. It was a routine hit in the corner, going for a puck, and the ref (Mike Leggo or Wes McCauley, I'm not sure who) felt it was far worse than it was based on the crowd's reaction. The second minor he took was even more outrageous. Colin White hits a Bruin next to Blake Wheeler. White's leg may have accidentally bumped Wheeler, who lost his balance and fell over. An accident. Yet, Jason Arnott got called for tripping. Yes, Arnott did nothing to knock Wheeler over and he got tagged for a minor. Shame.
At least the Devils killed those two penalties. Though, it meant 4 more minutes where the Devils had to focus on defending rather than attacking. That all said, the other 3 calls (one was a double-minor to Mattias Tedenby for high sticking) were fair calls and also served to keep the Devils back for another 8 minutes. So you can chalk up "discipline" as another area where the Devils were lacking tonight.
I could go on further. I can go on about how the power play was a waste from the first one (with few passes connecting at all) to the third one (where the Devils kept setting Brian Rolston up for shots instead of Ilya Kovalchuk). I can go on about how Brian Rolston's second game was not as effective with 1 shot on goal, 2 blocked, and 5 missed. I can go on about how Alexander Vasyunov and Mattias Tedenby weren't as effective tonight as they were on Friday night. I can go on about how I wish it was as simple as saying "Martin Brodeur had a bad game and so the Devils lost" when it really isn't. I can go on about how I don't think firing MacLean will solve these problems, yet that I can't really defend his work either. I can go on about how acasser had the pithiest and most accurate comment with respect to the Devils' "system" in the Gamethread:
Yeah, this is a real "offensive" system. All I know is that I’m offended by it.
But all I would be doing is repeating many of the same things I've written about before and the same things you've been thinking and saying. And it's starting to get tired. So I'll leave you with the "highlights" from tonight's game. Thank you to the commenters in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading. Please leave your laments, complaints, concerns, wishes, hopes, gripes, and vents about this team and how they played tonight in the comments.