Going into tonight's game, I feared that it could get ugly for the visitors. The Washington Capitals have recently snapped their losing streak and have every reason to get revenge for the 5-0 defeat that the New Jersey Devils handed them back in November. The New Jersey Devils, who have been dominated on the scoreboard at 5-on-5 and steamrolled regularly in second periods, suffered a 7-1 rout at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers in their prior game. The Caps had momentum, whereas the Devils had very little reason to feel anything but frustrated or dejected.
Different night, same result. The Washington Capitals blew the game wide open in the second period to win 5-1. All five goals by the Capitals came at even strength, per the game summary. The loss is the Devils' eighth out of their last nine games, their ninth straight among all road games, and their third straight game overall.
Oh, it's not like the New Jersey Devils didn't try anything different for tonight. John MacLean went with the forward lines he put together in Monday's practice. While they weren't the complete disasters I feared and the team managed to out-shoot the Caps 36-28 overall, the result says it all about how effective they were overall. Teams who are losing tend to put up a lot of shots on net, so it's not like it's even a silver lining in this one-sided game.
The only real positive a Devils fan can take from this game - because let's face it, the players and coaches don't recognize what's going on from game to game - are the special teams. The Devils killed 5 Washington power players and even a 5-on-3. A total of 8:42 being shorthanded, the Devils were solid. The Devils got 4 power plays, put up 6 good shots on net, and Patrik Elias scored on a one-timer through a screen. New Jersey has been fine for man advantage and disadvantage situations. It's even strength - the most common situation in hockey - where the Devils get rocked.
And so it went tonight. What will happen? More of the same. More tinkering. More quips and depressing lines from the players and coaches. More talk about needing to do better without actually doing it in games. Never before has a New Jersey Devils team play like they need a change - any change - to address the problems they keep happening, only for no change forthcoming. Different night, same result.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For a Capitals' based take, please check out Japers' Rink.
First, here are the highlights from NHL.com. Please note all 5 Capitals goals. I'm going to touch on each of them briefly:
Now here's what I saw on those five goals allowed:
Shame on Patrik Elias for getting beaten to the front of the net by Andrew Gordon. Sure, you can fault Mark Fayne for getting beat at the blueline by Marcus Johansson. But Andy Greene rightly went over to play Johansson's pass. The pass went under Greene; but straight to an essentially open Gordon right at the front of the net. Why? Patrik Elias' stick wasn't on the ice and he wasn't right on Gordon. Easy one-timer and it beats Martin Brodeur easy. Why wasn't your stick down, Patrik?
Shame on Rod Pelley, Matthew Corrente, and David Clarkson. Anton Volchenkov puts on a big hit on Matt Bradley, but the puck is taken up David Steckel. While Steckel goes down low, Jay Beagle goes to the front of the net but is surrounded by Pelley, Corrente, and Clarkson. Only, they just stand there and not in the passing lane to the front of the net. Easy pass for Steckel, easy one-timer shot for Beagle, and it's another goal. Yeah, Volchenkov took himself out of the play, but the really infuriating part of that play was seeing three Devils do nothing to Jay Beagle. They didn't have to shove him down, just get in his way, lift the stick or something. Ridiculous.
Shame on Mark Fayne for being torched and unable to take down Chimera. The Devils can't keep possession on offense and Gordon finds Jason Chimera breaking past the Devils defense in the neutral zone, namely Mark Fayne. Fayne's beaten so all he can do is foul Chimera. He does hook and slash him, which does nothing to stop Chimera, who picks the corner on the breakaway. Taking a penalty there would be the smart thing, but it's got to stop or impede the attacker. Fayne did neither.
Shame on Dainius Zubrus. What? Yes. Dainius Zubrus starts this whole play by attempting a no-look backhand pass along the boards. (Thanks dasru for pointing this out in the Gamethread) Needless to say, all it did was go to a Capital. Whose name is Alexander Ovechkin While Henrik Tallinder pinched, Alexander Ovechkin drives forward at Colin White. White pokes it away, but he holds his position to prevent a trailing Cap from finding Ovechkin all alone in front. John Carlson just takes a big slapshot off the puck and it rockets past Brodeur. Of all 5 goals, this was the least infuriating in my eyes. White made a defensible choice, and Carlson's shot was perfect. If Zubrus didn't make such a stupid decision, the whole sequence doesn't happen.
Shame on White and Tallinder. The Devils kill off a second straight penalty and dump it out for a change. Fine. So the Capitals take it up and the Devils just get sloppy. Tallinder and White go wide and aggressive, allowing Mike Knuble and Mathieu Perreault to skate past them and park themselves right in front of Brodeur. White can at least say he was challenging Tom Poti to shoot a poorly angled shot. But the shot got through and Knuble re-directed it low right in front of Brodeur with no one on him or Perreault. At 5-on-5. Really.
First thought after making that list: Martin Brodeur got hung out to dry. You want to know why his numbers suck? Tonight was yet another example. Any goalie, regardless of talent, will be doomed to fail if the guys in front of him aren't playing properly.
I understand the idea of not letting the other team's top players try and beat you. However, it really doesn't work in hockey and it especially doesn't work when they get the chances to score due to poor decisions. The Devils held Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin to only 6 shots and one assist; but it's not really anything to brag about since they got torched by the other lines. It's absolutely mind-boggling that this team can play smart defense down a man; but the moment it's 5-on-5, they get dumber. It'd be one thing if all of the goals were like Carlson's, but the other four involved some heinous miscues by the skaters.
Equally mind-boggling was that John MacLean kept his defensive pairings and forward lines together throughout the whole game. Despite the shot disparity, the Devils led 27-22 in shots at 5-on-5 per the event summary. One could say the fourth line of Rod Pelley, Jason Arnott, and David Clarkson was good since they put up 12 of New Jersey's 36 shots for the night. Clarkson certainly had a fire lit under him with 6 shots on goal and the team's best Corsi at +7, per the Time on Ice Corsi chart. But that line only saw 11-12 minutes of ice time at even strength because, well, hey, who wants to see them keep getting the puck forward? Yeah, two-thirds of that line was brutal on Beagle's goal; but given the Devils' lack of offense, why not give them the chance when the game's out of doubt?
The Elias-Travis Zajac-Jamie Langenbrunner line was fine and it's probably the only unit I'd keep together if I was forced to choose. Zajac had an alright night with 4 shots on net and in going 12-for-20 on faceoffs. The other two lines, I really don't want to see again. Brian Rolston-Adam Mair-Dainius Zubrus hovered around 0 in Corsi (negative for Mair and Zubrus). Zubrus had that awful giveaway, negating the nice screen he set for Elias on the PP. Mair took two offensive zone penalties. Brian Rolston did, well, he wasn't a sieve, so there's that. Still, Bruce Boudreau made a point of it to match Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin with them at evens and the Devils were fortunate that line didn't have such a hot night. I really don't want to see them together again
As for the other line, Ilya Kovalchuk-Tim Sestito-Mattias Tedenby as a full unit didn't get tagged for a goal against; but they were all negative in Corsi at -2. Not a whole lot of offense out of them, sad to say. Kovalchuk's 5-game point streak was snapped as he was held to only 2 shots on net (2 blocked, 2 missed too). Tedenby and Sestito only had one apiece. Kovalchuk and Tedenby worked well on the power play, though. So I'm thinking what every Devil fan thought when they saw this line: get a different center for them and see what happens. It's not like there's anything left to lose but yet another game.
As far as defense goes, I can understand White and Tallinder being negative as they faced the tougher competition. I feel that Anton Volchenkov wasn't good tonight; his -5 Corsi helps justify the feeling I had about his game tonight. Not that goal against #2 was totally on him, but he's got to do better if he's going up against the lower lines. Maybe he needs to stop playing with rookies for a while? Or rookies who can be a little more consistent? Mark Fayne's going to have a lot of detractors since the first goal against was partially on him (I don't blame him so much for it, though) and the third goal against was very much on him (seriously man, take him down!). Andy Greene was negative too and registered no shots on net. Matt Corrente, at least, didn't take a penalty; but was part of that enraging lack of action on Beagle's goal. I wouldn't have minded a penalty there.
But the most frustrating thing about this game that it wasn't a slaughter right away. The Capitals did score first, but even at 0-0, the Devils were attacking and had several solid shifts. They outshot them 12-10 and most of that came before the goal. The Devils even started the second period strong. Really strong. The first seven minutes was all New Jersey's. They had some power plays, true, but I can say they weren't getting down on themselves when down 1-0. They worked hard to get possession on offense and maintain it. They did so on the power play and Elias tied it up then. They looked to break the tie after the power plays. Then the Beagle goal happened, the Chimera goal occurred 2:36 later; and then it was clear the game wasn't going to end well for New Jersey. Tack on a fourth goal in the second period and the third period was just a formality. Once again, the dreaded second period struck again and it wasn't even all 20 minutes of it, something like 13-14 minutes of it. A fifth goal just added to the pain.
Don't mistake me, Caps fans. The Capitals played a fine game tonight and were superior at even strength. No, the stars didn't align, but those who had the opportunities buried the puck into the net and the Devils along with it. Michal Neuvirth had a strong game in net and he had no real chance at the Elias shot that went thanks to Zubrus' big frame. Steckel and Mike Green each put up an amazing +10 Corsi, so there's that to congratulate along with the five even strength goals. Don't worry about Ovechkin, Backstrom, or Semin or the power play - they'll be fine in due time.
Overall, the Devils lose another game thanks largely due to their miserable 5-on-5 game, which will likely not be addressed since it's been horrible for three straight games (and most of the season) and it hasn't been addressed so far. The Devils clearly have learned little from their last win and even less from their last two losses; and now it's a 3-game losing streak going home for 4 games to end 2010. Forget the postseason, forget the draft, right now, it's about trying to at least get the team to play with a clue. That's what I want more than anything else.
Clearly, the status quo isn't getting it done. Not even with an unofficial unicorn mascot. Never before have we seen a Devils team where just doing something would be justified and probably welcomed by the fans. Appoint a new captain. Appoint new assistants. Have some meetings. Have some serious video review. Make some deals. Waive or demote some players (I'm sure Mark Fayne will be high on the list for demotion in fans' eyes). Fire John MacLean. Something. Anything. While we've seen it before, it doesn't make these losses any less ridiculous. Even when we know ahead of time it could be an ugly loss, it's still very hard to watch to see the Devils shoot themselves in the foot with the mistake gun over and over.
Thanks for reading yet another recap of a bad Devils game in a season seemingly filled with them. Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and if you managed to watch all 60 minutes, pat yourself on the back. You surely have an iron will when it comes to supporting New Jersey. Unless, you know, you like Washington. Then you're happy about a team that does things correctly and properly and gets a desired result with some help by a hapless opposition and don't need my assurances. Anyway. Please leave your thoughts and feelings about tonight's game in the comments.