The New Jersey Devils defeated the Nashville Predators last night, 5-2, in a largely good game. With much to be happy for. The fans were happy. Could the Devils turn the corner at the Carolina Hurricanes?
If you were hoping for another win to go into the two-week Olympic break, you were sorely mistaken. The Devils lost 5-2 to the Hurricanes, and it was bad. As user JoeyV said in the GameThread, this pretty much sums up the game:
We took 2 steps forward yesterday, and 10 steps back tonight
Check out NHL.com for their recap and links to tonight's stats. Check out Canes Country for what should be a jubilant and praise-worthy recap of the team, now that Carolin won their fifth straight.
I said in my preview that this would be a tough game, the Hurricanes were hot and it showed. Sure, the first period was sloppy by both teams, but the Hurricanes made the right adjustments. They got power plays and utilized all the space they had. They went up early, they poured it on, and it wasn't until the third period where the Carolina Hurricanes showed any signs of lighting up. After they scored four goals.
I'm sure some will say, "Hey, the Devils didn't look all that bad in that third period. They got 2 back. Even one on a power play." Again, the Canes let up a little bit because, hey, they were up 4 goals. They were picking off Devils passes on both defense and in the neutral zone. Good shifts by the Devils were rare all night long. I wouldn't ask, "Why did they wait until they played well," I would ask, "Why couldn't you string decent passes through the neutral zone and on offense?"
Who did I highlight in my preview as players to watch for on Carolina? Ray Whitney, Jussi Jokinen, and Brandon Sutter. Well, Sutter forced a very bad turnover by Anssi Salmela (Why did you hesitate? WHY?) which led to a crazy play for the game's first goal. He played quite well in his 19:28 of ice time and I'm sure Canes fans look forward what he can do as he develops further. But the big stars of the night were Whitney and Jokinen. Each had 6 shots - along with their centerman Eric Staal (2 assists too) - and were the major players tonight. Whitney had two power play goals, a one-timer on a 5-on-3 and a rebound off Tim Gleason's shot hitting the post - and set up Jokinen for a one-timer that made it 4-0 Canes early in the third period. Jokinen added an empty net goal and had a secondary assist on Whitney's second PPG to ensure the win as well.
All three were hot going into this game and were the major difference makers. The Canes kept rolling on the attack for the second period thanks their puck movement. They made passes. Long passes that sprung Staal on two breakaways. Cross-ice passes that were important towards two goals. Short passes to get the puck over the blueline. Whitney was a wizard with the puck - of course he was, that's his nickname for a reason - and his linemates followed suit.
Yes, the Devils pulled back within two, but it was literally too little too late. While Carolina was scoring and making good plays going forward, the Devils were making bad passes through the neutral zone, bad passes in the times they did get it over Carolina's blueline, and lost the puck far too many times. Why did the Devils do so poorly on most of the power plays? Why did the Devils get outshot 31-25? They struggled in moving the puck, plain and simple.
There's so much more that went awry. Discipline was nightmarish for the first two periods. Seriously, Devils, did you not notice that the three power plays you had in the first were the result of some tight refereeing? Did you not think that they would call those little hooks that caught the hand, Devils? Four penalties in the second period alone and most of them were avoidable calls, if a bit cheap (well, the hooking call on Dainius Zubrus was). That means you need to watch where that stick goes, Rob Niedermayer. Ont he subject of that 5-on-3, Travis Zajac, would you like to explain why in the hell you went off for a change when the puck was just over the blueline? The essentially 5-on-2 pretty much made the play easy for Whitney.
The only Devil I feel bad for is Martin Brodeur. Had the team play far better in front of him, perhaps this loss isn't so bad - if it would be a loss at all. I mean, He was pulled after Jokinen's first goal for Yann Danis. He got burned for four goals that weren't his fault, yet he's going to take the fault for them by people who don't know better or didn't see these goals. Well, people in the second category, here's the highlight video from tonight's game via NHL.com:
Do note the two Devils goals. I will say that I liked Zach Parise's effort and that the power play actually acted like a unit in setting up Brian Rolston's goal. That could have been Rolston's second, yet a puck that went into the net by a non-kicking motion was waived off for one. Not that I'm mad about that one, the Canes got one taken away from a quick whistle anyway; and, most of all, that goal wouldn't have mattered. Ultimately, what I'm saying is that I am happy that the Devils didn't get shutout. That's not a place one wants to be in.
Overall, how I describe the performance won't matter to most Devils fans. At the end of the day, it's all about results. This was a bad game by the Devils, there was some positive things at the end, but ultimately, the Devils deserved to lose this game by this kind of a margin. This, after a big win over Nashville. Terrible. Most of the team will get to sit at home or train at the gym or whatever it is that they'll do knowing that they limped into this break as if they had a broken leg. It's going to be a long two weeks off.
Will the rest do the non-Olympian Devils any good? Getting players return from injury, getting an elite player in a trade, not practicing, practicing hard, and playing all kinds of games certainly wasn't enough to break the slump. I honestly don't know if this will help, and that's a frightening feeling considering the stretch run begins on the road - in San Jose. At least for those going to the Olympics, they can get some confidence back individually.
Honestly, if you told me that the Devils would have a record of 37-21-3 going into the Olympic break back in September, then I would have been pleased. But I never would have come at a cost of going 7-11-2 since January 8, 2010.
Thanks to Steve for the GameThread. Thanks to all of you who commented and all of you who read this. Please feel free to leave your thoughts and your displeasure in the comments. Month in review will come on Monday.