The New Jersey Devils went into Edmonton tonight to play the Edmonton Oilers, who has the worst record in the NHL. They went off the ice at the end of regulation as the second-best team on the ice. In other words, they lost. And it wasn't just any loss. No, it was a bad. Real bad. A 2-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Already unhappy with how the Devils lost to Calgary 5-3 on Friday, this loss only angers, frustrate, and disappoint the fans even more. Get ready to read a lot of comments about how "THE DEVILS LOST TO THE OILERS!!!111 THE WORST TEAM IN HOCKEY!!!1111" Well, not from me, but that will be the underlying sentiment. I can't say I blame them.
What they will (and should) not tell you that the game ending 2-0 would be a surprise. In fact, Devils fans with proper memories will tell you that the kind of game the Devils played tonight is some kind of a new low. The Devils looked this bad against the Islanders on January 18 (4-0 loss); against the Senators on January 26 (3-0 loss); and against the Maple Leafs on February 2 (3-0 loss). All games where the offense was punchless and the defense was beaten.
That's the sad reality. It's not just that the shutout loss to the Oilers was bad enough; but now the losses are starting to repeat. I know in December, the Devils put out a lot of sub-optimal performances by the Devils but at least they were winning those games. Where is that team? I don't know. Only the Devils players can answer that question.
If you'd like the Oilers' take on this win, check out Benjamin Massey's post-game report at The Copper & Blue. Amazingly (or not?), the Oilers did all this without Dustin Penner, their leading forward, playing well. If you'd like to read more about this game, check out my additional thoughts after the jump.
I don't care if you think I'm being some kind of an apologist or whatever jive you'd like to spout, and I don't care if the following may offend you. If you're going to fault Martin Brodeur for tonight's game, then you're being completely daft. Moronic. Idiotic. Totally unreasonable. And so on.
The Devils' defense was caught in bad positions, leaving Oiler skaters wide open in the slot for shots. Brodeur stopped those shots. The defense gave away the puck - and no, I don't mean a bad clearance, I mean giving the puck right to the Oilers' forwards in the slot (I can't forget that one by Bryce Salvador, it was so awful - and Brodeur bailed out the D with several big saves. Brodeur faced 35 shots, many of them coming on an Edmonton counter-attack, and he was beaten twice:
Two one-timers in the slot, the first by Gilbert Brule and the second by Marc Pouliot. Great shots by both players who weren't covered enough. They placed them perfectly, they were lightning fast in their shots, and they were close enough to the net for the whole play to happen instanteously. They are picture perfect examples of why teams try to send passes into the slot - to set up shots like that. For those are incredibly tough shots (if down right impossible in some cases) for any goaltender in the world to stop. If you honestly want to argue that Brodeur should have had those too, then I'm sorry, but I got no words for you.
I'm writing so many words about Brodeur because he was the only one in a New Jersey Devils uniform to actually show up and play hard in this game. He made big saves, he robbed several Oilers of goals, he was the big, solitary reason the Oilers didn't just rout the Devils. Brodeur did his job and did it as well as he could have. Brodeur did as well as anyone can honestly expect from him.
The other guys in Devils uniforms did not.
Now, the Oilers utilized one of their strengths as defined by Derek Zona in the preview incredibly well: their counter attack. From the second period and onward, the Devils would get the puck into Edmonton's zone and quickly lose control. The forwards would force passes, take shots that weren't there, and generally concede possession. The Oilers defended the Devils well enough and would just strike on the counter attack. Up the ice they went and the Devils were often on the heels of their skates. Brodeur would make a save or the defense would get lucky and get a stop, and repeat the cycle. Since the early goal by Brule, the Devils players wanted to get in deep to set something up. But because of a bad pass or a shot, the Oilers' defense collected it and rushed up ice as soon as they got control. Therefore, the Oilers had several 3-on-2 and 2-on-2 chances. This leads to open shots for the Oilers and they took them over and over and over.
While they didn't score so many goals thanks to Mr. Brodeur, they put up 16 shots in the second period. 16! After a first period where they had more possession but were well defended by the Devils and looked out of sync. They only had 3 shots on net in that first period; to allow 16 in the following period is obscene. Especially when the Devils' PK units totally thwarted the Edmonton power play twice in the second. The Devils' lack of offensive pressure really hurt them tonight.
Of course, more than a few giveaways by the Devils' defensemen (all of them had some kind of a bad giveaway at some point or another in the game) gifted the Oilers a few excellent shots that Brodeur had to turn away. Let me Paul Martin alone can't make the other players remember basic concepts on defense - like not blindly shoveling the puck into the middle or forcing the puck up ice with an opponent in front of you. Bryce Salvador has been worse than Mike Mottau in these three games. Andy Greene was a little better. Colin White may still have marks from being burnt by Robert Nilsson en route to the Pouliot goal. Martin Skoula started off OK in his first game as a Devil, but he regressed badly as the game went on. While that may be excused (to a point) as it was his first game with the team; Anssi Salmela cannot, he was too tepid in his own zone and didn't read the situation right en route to Brule's goal. He may have played himself off the lineup for the next game with the poor play in his own zone.
Going back to the game overall, did the Devils make many adjustments in the third period? Well, the defensemen jumped on the play a little more, but that did little to quell the Edmonton counter attack. So other than that, no. No they did not. Over and over again, the Devils would try to get in deep on offense, fail due to their poor decision making and puck movement, and the Oilers would come rushing up again. The Oilers ended the third period with 16 more shots on net for a final total of 35, they only allowed 7 by New Jersey in response, and decidedly won the game as the better team on the ice. It wasn't so much the Devils played down to them as much as they played right into their hands.
The Devils' poor shooting and passing on offense got them only 22 on Jeff Deslauriers. 18 attempts were blocked by an Edmonton defense who looked very good tonight; and 16 attempts missed the net entirely. I repeat: the Devils were definitely poor at shooting the puck. To be fair, Deslauriers was more than just fine tonight. He gave up very few rebounds, he held onto the puck quite well, and he was always sure to keep his 5-hole closed. Deslauriers played quite well. That said, the biggest challenges he faced came either from just a big scrum in front of the net by ZZ Pops trying to get a "garbage" goal off aloose puck or when Ilya Kovalchuk was rushing to the net.
If you held a gun to my head and demanded that I point out a Devils' skater - forward or defenseman - that played well, then I'd say it was Kovalchuk. He had 5 shots on net; he rarely took a shift off - only leaving one early because he took a stinger to the hand; willed himself to create a breakaway through traffic; and had the best shots that Deslauriers had faced. That said, his performance clearly wasn't enough to get the team going. I felt he didn't threaten on offense consistently over the 21:25 of ice time he got tonight. To say he had a good game would be generous in my opinion. Only Brodeur was the indisputably good Devil on the ice tonight. However, what Kovalchuk did was a lot more than I can say over what David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Brian Rolston (among others) did tonight.
Nevertheless, the offense as a whole by the Devils didn't do much and the defense was shaky. The first period wasn't so bad but when the Oilers started rushing ahead in the second period, the Devils didn't have an answer. Jacques Lemaire and the coaching staff didn't appear to try and change things up. The leadership on the team didn't appear to motivate the Devils work harder or approach the game some other way. I mean, it's almost a sick comedy at this point: this roster can put 4 straight goals on San Jose in their building but struggle mightily against the Oilers.
The reality is that the cliche is true: a team's record means nothing on the ice; on any given day, anyone can beat anyone. And anyone can beat the Devils with the type of performance they put out there, aside from Brodeur. Just like the Islanders, Senators, and Maple Leafs did earlier this season in terrible shutout losses for the Devils. All games where the offense was impotent, the defense was as sturdy as a wet paper bag, and the goaltender was the only reason why the score didn't go completely out of control.
Don't just take my word for it. Zach Parise had this to say after the game, as reported by Tom Gulitti (link also has a very unhappy Jacques Lemaire, by the way):
"It was brutal," left wing Zach Parise said. "We did not play well at all. We deserved to lose."
I appreciate the honesty, but surely the Devils do know that they're the ones who can do something about this, right?
I'm sure you're angry. You're upset. You're confused. You're frustrated. You're disgusted. You're disappointed. I understand. I'm certainly not happy by this either. No Devils fan really should be, not after a shutout loss to anyone, much less the Oilers.
But you can't tell me that you're surprised at the final score given how the Devils played tonight.
Thanks for reading. Please leave your thoughts in the comments. If you want to see them for some reason, here are the highlights to tonight's game from NHL.com: