In a game that served to further wreck team and fan morale, the New Jersey Devils lost to the New York Rangers 3-0 at the Prudential Center.
Admittedly, I'm running out of things to say about how the New Jersey Devils lose hockey games. Losing to a hated rival sucks. It sucks worse when it's a shutout loss in your own building. But it's almost unbelievable that the same issue is at the root of these losses:
The lack of scoring.
Unlike in prior losses at the Rock, and they have all been losses with the Devils' home record of 0-5-1, this loss did not come from just one player or one group of players. It is a systemic loss. It's one thing for a team to have a slump or a couple of bad games. But this is 15 games of pop-gun offense, only one of which where the team put up over 4 or more goals in a game and that included two empty net goals. Yes, I know that goal scoring involves more luck than most would want to admit. I'm aware of regressing to the mean. I know the Devils got no breaks on offense like the Rangers did. I'm not disavowing any of that. However, over a longer period of time, the lack of results suggests there's something seriously wrong with the team as a whole. A week where the Devils got shut out twice suggests that the problem isn't going to just progress to the mean anytime soon. Given the Devils' record, New Jersey must do more than just keep doing what they are doing and hope their luck will change for the better from game to game.
I do not believe the Devils lacked in aggression or intensity. They outdrew (41-18 per the event summary), outshot (33-20 per the game summary), and out-Corsi'd the Rangers - even in the second period - but New York got the breaks on the first two goals and made the most out of an absolute disgrace of a power play for the third goal. The result ended up the same, Henrik Lundqvist looked great and the puck never penetrated him even on point blank shots and rebounds. The post game quotes (reported here by Tom Gulitti) show more frustration but the message is still the same: work harder, get some bounces, get to the net, etc. Some will point to their being rookies, injuries, a rookie head coach, etc. to explain away the losses.
Enough of it. You know what I want? I want the reporters and the Devils staff who read this site to ask the tougher questions. For example: Is anyone looking at game tape and figuring out what they could differently in shooting? What are they even practicing and how they are determining whether it works? Who among the players is actually leading this team? What are the various coaches, particularly Adam Oates, even doing other than re-arrange the chairs on an increasingly sinking ship? I'm not faulting Chere or Gulitti or anyone else, I think they're great; but these are questions that the fans want to know beyond "Why can't they score?" We need to know whether there is an honest effort at trying to fix these problems. Otherwise, we're all going to think the team just has no clue.
Most of all, when does Lou or Jeff Vanderbeek have to sit down with the key players and coaches, lock the door, and hammer out a solution? Because to me, I'm not seeing any evidence that the root issues are being addressed between just the coaches and players now. New Jersey will all have 4 days to sort it out, but recent history suggests nothing's going to change. I don't believe it if the answer is just a few hard practices.
This is all I pretty much have to say that's important about tonight's game. The Rangers didn't control most of the puck, but they got the breaks, they finshed on said breaks, and they cruised to a deserved victory in the third period. Blueshirt Banter readers and other Rangers fans will be pleased. If you must, I have more thoughts and details about the game after the jump. The above, though, is all I pretty much have to say that's rather important about tonight's 3-0 loss to the Rangers. So I understand if you don't continue.
Before I continue about the game, first a little bit about the crowd. The crowd was fairly hot for most of the game. They gave proper respect to when the Devils did storm the Rangers. The atmosphere wasn't like a library. It only began to die down after Boyle's goal at the end of the second period. The crowd was more muted, disgusted after the Dubinsky shorty, and started leaving early after the Clarkson major. The 35-40% Rangers-supporting part of the crowd, of course, hung about and cheered more vigorously. And why not? At 3-0, there's not a whole lot to cheer. Devils fans know by now that NJ going into the third down 2-0 isn't going to end well. Still winless at home and honestly, the fans are understandably more unhappy. All the more reason for the team to turn it around.
As an related aside: Would the season ticket holder that seemingly always dresses up as a ref in section 21 not bring the "Avery is gay" sign again to a game? It's childish at best and hateful at worst; that garbage doesn't belong at the Rock. I'd tell you myself if I was closer at the game, so consider this to be a polite request. Thanks. Moving on to the game:
What makes this loss more frustrating for me, as a fan and as someone who recaps games that I see live, is that I can't fault any one player or group of players tonight. Sure, David Clarkson was a waste of space tonight. While they didn't score, being one of the few players with a minus Corsi at evens is good sign you didn't do much well. His one highlight tonight was a really idiotic penalty. He ran Brian Boyle from behind with a dangerous and unnecessary hit; he deserved the five minute major for boarding. The Devils killed it, though the 5 minutes effectively killed any tiny hope at a Devils comeback. His quote to the media on the hit seems to indicate he didn't think he did much wrong. Awesome, he doesn't even know he did or how he hurt the team by doing it. Thanks for that, David.
But what part of the team truly failed tonight?
I cannot put the loss at the foot of the goaltender. Johan Hedberg played well enough and the goals allowed, much like those on Wednesday night in Chicago, were not his fault. I don't believe he had the time to react on the first one, he definitely didn't see the second one much less the deflection, and the third one was just the cherry on the top of a broken, messy play by the power play. Here are the goals along with the other "highlights" from NHL.com.
You may feel otherwise, but I wouldn't fault Lundqvist if he gave up those first two goals. The third was more of a fluke and the fault of one his teammates - either choose Ilya Kovalchuk for not picking up the second guy going after the rebound or Andy Greene for making the turnover that led to the rush in the first place. Hedberg made the saves he had a chance at, that's all you can reasonably expect from a goaltender.
I can't really fault the defense, which is something I haven't been able to say much all season. No blueliner made any critical turnovers that led to goals or missed coverages. I wish Henrik Tallinder and Matt Taormina would stop firing shots into Rangers who are down on one knee in front of them. I also wish the Devils' scorer would count those blocks better, no way did those two alone combine for just one blocked shooting attempt. There's a reason why they keep doing that when either has the puck. At least they weren't sieves. Still, the defense as a whole limited the Rangers to 20 shots. That's good. Anton Volchenkov came back from injury and had a solid 22:42 of ice time (so much for my thinking he wouldn't be given big minutes right away). That's also good. Alexander Urbom and Olivier Magnan-Grenier were solid in depth minutes. I know, it's weird, but I don't have many complaints about the defensemen tonight.
While the PK didn't kill them all, they did hold the Rangers power play to 5 shots on 10:26 of power play time. I can't even fault them on the Brian Boyle goal. The Rangers won a rare faceoff tonight, tossed it up Dan Girardi, he fired it through traffic, and Brian Boyle deflected it perfectly past an unaware Hedberg. 9 times out of 10, the shot gets blocked wide or the deflection puts it wide. The Rangers got a perfect break - not much the goalie or the D could do about that.
Brandon Dubinsky did cause the Devils a lot of problems. He scored the other two goals in the game, he put 6 shots on net, he did a fine job killing the Devils' weaker-than-a-paper-bag power play. While Rangers fans will deservedly praise Lundqvist, Dubinsky was just as important in my opinion.
Speaking of, if there's anyone who deserves to be fired immediately, it's Adam Oates. The power play has simply devolved from last season. Change the players all you want, but there's no consistent tactic, no real adjustment, and the decision making has been horrid. Not only are they not scoring, they are struggling to get possession on offense. The nadir, of course, was the shorthanded goal allowed in the third period which infuriated the Devils' faithful. The one goal against largely at fault of the guys in front of Hedberg. Awful giveaway by Greene, lazy backchecking by Kovalchuk, and so the puck bounces off Hedberg and in. But even before that, the Devils were down 2-0, got a PP early in the third, and proceeded to do nothing with it prior to the shorthanded goal. Not even maintain control within the Rangers zone, despite how much they did it in the first two periods at 5-on-5 hockey.
What is Oates even doing? Is he even aware of why he's here? If the guys out there aren't doing what he wants, then what is he doing about it - going to MacLean, going to the captain, anyone? If the system isn't working, what is being tweaked? Why are guys just standing about, where's the movement? Is there even a system at all? I almost feel tempted to say that the Devils could pull a random ILWT user to be their PP coach at this point. Whoever it would be would at least would try something different.
That said, I can't say the offense was a total failure if I'm being honest about what I saw. OK, they didn't score - but that's just it. That's the only thing they didn't do. It's not like they no-showed. They were getting shots on net. They got guys to the net and just couldn't come up with the rebound. They had a couple of one-timers right at Lundqvist's door step. They set up long shots through traffic (I don't think it's good, but I mention it since some of you subscribe to the "gotta get guys in front" theory.) They even outshot a team in the dreaded second period. The team even made a good adjustment at 5-on-5 by the second half of the first period. Get this, they stopped dumping and chasing on most shifts. Sure, they'd do it to make a line change or just to keep the Rangers honest, but the Devil had their best offensive shifts when the Devils would pass through a seam in the neutral zone and carry it over to begin the attack. Unfortunately, the Devils stopped doing this so much in the third period for some unknown reason. Still, I can't say that they got outworked or outhustled given the disparity in shots: 33-20.
I got to give the Rangers' defense some credit, though. They bent a lot, but they didn't break largely due to the Devils' rotten luck, Lundqvist's performance, and how they kept guys to the outside. Sure, any line with Dainius Zubrus on it rolled through the Blueshirts at evens (how else to explain Zubrus' +16 Corsi?). But the Rangers watched the slot closely; hence, the very few shots from that part of the rink. They did a good job of keeping guys focused on Ilya Kovalchuk. I know some may want Kovalchuk to break through one or two defending players, but that's incredibly risky and difficult. He still got 4 shots on net regardless, but he fed plenty to Travis Zajac (4 shots on goal) and the trailing defensemen. It's going to keep happening until those guys start scoring, forcing opposition defenses to respect them, leaving Kovalchuk more open. Or until John MacLean and his staff break that down tactically to give Kovalchuk more options than passing from the left sideboards.
There were even some bright spots among the depth players. Alexander Vasyunov was just OK, but he had one amazing shift in the first period that led to some of the best chances the Devils had all night. Stephen Gionta came in and was a bundle of energy. He only played 11:10, but he put up 4 shots, came close to scoring himself, and even got some PK work in. I didn't like that he was called up over Vladimir Zharkov initially, but if he can play like that in spot duty, I'll gladly eat my words.
But, of course, all of this is all for naught because of the lack of scoring. As said before the jump, the Devils have 4 days to get this sorted.
Thank you to all the commenters in the Gamethread and thank you for reading. If you have any thoughts on tonight's game, feel free to share them with the rest of the readers. Who you thought did or did not do well? What did you see the Devils do that you liked and would want to continue? What did you see the Devils do/not do that you want changed ASAP beyond "score some dang goals?" Please leave your thoughts, feelings, frustrations, disgruntles, and general griping in the comments. It sucks, but I sympathize at this point.