Last night, the New Jersey Devils played a very good game against the Atlanta Thrashers and fully deserved a decisive 3-1 win. In the recap, I highlighted how it was the second straight solid game by the Devils as a team. Would they make it three good, competitive efforts in a row against Carolina?
The answer was a definitive "no."
Tonight, the New Jersey Devils absolutely flopped in the first period as the Carolina Hurricanes simply walked all over them. The Canes put up 4 goals on 11 shots, and an out-of-nowhere Rod Pelley goal was the only blemish by the home team. They came out hustling, they drew some questionable penalties, they scored on the resulting power plays, they chased Martin Brodeur out of the net after the third goal against and pounded the Devils until Zac Dalpe got his first NHL goal on Johan Hedberg, and so the game was out of doubt by the time the first intermission came.
Needless to say, I now have a new perspective on Jacques Lemaire's claim earlier this week that the Devils were "out of shape." I know they played on Friday night, but they looked like they were skating in cement to open up this game. Carolina took full advantage early and ran away with the game in just the first period alone. Because Carolina got such a big lead early, they just cruised the rest of the way, attacked enough to keep the Devils honest from time to time, and still managed to put two more pucks past Hedberg.
I think the only major positive was that the goal-challenged Devils managed to put 3 past Cam Ward. Other than that, I don't got much else to say other than a whole lot of criticism. Won't you please read about it after the jump? If you're interested in a Hurricanes-based take on tonight's game, please visit Canes Country. They will be pleased over there, and if not they should be. They outclassed the Devils tonight; even when they "let up" they tacked on two more goals to ensure the game was there.
Here's the game highlights video from NHL.com. As much as it may hurt, pay attention to the goals allowed.
By my count, that's one goal off a deflection (the Tuomo Ruutu power play goal off Joe Corvo's shot); three goals off rebounds (Jeff Skinner's first goal, both of Sergei Samonov's goals); one shot through a screen that beat Hedberg (Zac Dalpe); and a one-timer right in front (Skinner's second goal).
Precisely, how am I to blame either goaltender for any of those? Yes, it's not good to see Martin Brodeur give up 3 goals on 8 shots; but Hedberg finished that first period with 1 allowed on 4 shots and then went on to allow 2 more on 12 more shots. Neither looked good by the numbers. But by seeing the shots that went in, I'm basically complaining that the Devils goaltenders aren't Stretch Armstrong to stop the goals via rebounds or psychics to see where the puck would go off the deflection, how it would go through the screen, or how the one-timer would go. The rebounds that Carolina put back weren't even big, juicy ones, they traveled not more than just a couple feet away from them.
It would have been fantastic if Brodeur or Hedberg stopped them, sure, but I don't think it's fair to fault the goaltender for not getting the help by the defensemen in front of them? After two straight nights of solid defensive effort, simple tasks like getting to rebounds or protecting the slot were suddenly alien to the Devils tonight. Matthew Corrente played like an third-pairing AHL defenseman as opposed to a third-pairing NHL defenseman; he looked especially bad on Jeff Skinner's goals. Henrik Tallinder got caught flat-footed as Samsonov took the rebound, put it on his backhand, and rounded a sprawling Brodeur. While it happened in the second period, Anton Volchenkov was physically present at the front of the crease on the 5-on-3 PK and did nothing as Samsonov went for his second goal off another short rebound. I think the only defenseman on New Jersey I could say had a decent enough night was Andy Greene. Hopefully, Colin White gets healthy soon, the team missed him tonight.
I am absolutely astonished how a team does a good, mistake-free job for two straight games and then puts out a defensive effort where they are chasing the Canes more often than not and aren't battling for loose pucks off rebounds or blocks. It was like night-and-day compared to yesterday's game and I have no reason why this was the case. Again: I hope Colin White is good to go for the next game - he can't possibly have made this group be worse than what they were tonight.
As an aside, I have a quibble. I don't the Devils to establish a physical presence in the slot or in front of the crease. They have been physically present a lot. I want them to do something when present. I want alertness in front of the net. I suspect that I'm not saying anything new, so I'm really quibbling about semantics.
Anyway, the Canes had such a wonderful time storming the Devils in the first period as the New Jersey offense also did very little until Carolina built up a substantial lead. It took 6:30 into the game before the Devils got their first official shot on net (Travis Zajac's first of four), and the Devils were already down 2-0 at that point. Their second shot came at 7:40 in (Jamie Langenbrunner's first or two SOGs) and before Samsonov's goal which made it 3-0. The Devils would only have one more shot on goal before 10 minutes passed in the game, where upon the Devils were pretty much dead at 3-0. The puck at the beginning of the game was largely in the Devils' end or on Carolina sticks looking to go forward.
You can't win hockey games that way. And Carolina torched the Devils enough to make sure there would be no comeback.
The scoring effect of losing took hold after the first intermission as the Devils proceeded to skate with something resembling a pro hockey team. The Devils would go on to out-shoot the Canes 24-15 at even strength per the event summary. That accounts for the large Devils dominance at Corsi per the 5-on-5 Time on Ice charts.
However, three Canes stood out for having positive 5-on-5 Corsi in spite of the Devils dominance at shooting in that situation: Tuomo Ruutu, Jeff Skinner, and Chad LaRose. They were dangerous throughout the game. As such, they earned their points: 2 assists for LaRose, 2 goals (on both of his 2 shots on net) for Skinner, and a 4-point night for Ruutu. Sure, Eric Staal was fairly quiet with only a secondary assist and one shot on net; but that's no big deal when others strike for goals. I said in the preview that the Canes had depth at forward, and they certainly showed it tonight.
The only Devils line that was on that line was Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, and Jamie Langenbrunner. While the captain had a more quiet game, he helped the line go forward. Elias came up big with 5 shots on net, 4 blocked (which led to Travis Zajac's goal), and he scored the team's third goal tonight. Elias had a productive night, at least. Arnott had 3 on net, 3 missed, and was positive on faceoffs by going 10-for-17. At least one line showed up, even if it was later than I would have liked.
The rest of the team? Not so much. Ilya Kovalchuk didn't turn his possession into much on net. Dainius Zubrus wasn't a positive force going forward. I liked what Travis Zajac did on his goal, so there's that beyond the Elias-Arnott-Langenbrunner. As far as the fourth line goes, I suppose I can't complain that Rod Pelley got a goal or that tonight further confirmed that Adam Mair isn't an offensive player.
Yet, the final shot count was 28-25 per the game summary. Why? Carolina made the most of their six power plays, with 3 goals on 10 shots amid 7:32 of PP time. The first two penalties on the Devils were sketchy, but the rest were more legit and simple calls for the refs. What gets me are the 3 minors after the first period. Hey Devils, you made it 4-2 early, why give the other team a chance to attack? At best, that's 2 minutes off the clock; and a chance for them to score at worst (which they did thanks to two straight dumb hooking calls leading to a 5-on-3). If defensive coverage was the biggest fault by New Jersey tonight, discipline runs a close second. And Sergei Samsonov made them pay twice for those discipline issues.
Onto a more minor complaint, I have to say, I didn't understand the decision to have Nick Palmieri play tonight. He wasn't doing well in Albany and he comes in place of Vladimir Zharkov, a speedy winger who has looked very good on the third line with Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson in the last two games. Palmieri didn't do too much tonight in 12:40 of ice time, he had two shots on net, but he looked out of sorts with Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac. For a guy who was given a chance to make his case to stay in NJ, I wasn't really impressed by what he did.
One thing that definitely threw me and a number of Devils fans was Mattias Tedenby. He only got 5:28 of ice time tonight. I have no idea why he saw the bench so much. He took the Devils' first penalty, a "high stick" on Skinner where it didn't look like he even touched Skinner's head with his stick. The Canes scored on that first power play they got, but Tedenby got a little time afterward. This was a mistake by Lemaire, and per Tom Gulitti's post-game post, Lemaire admitted it:
"I sat him because I thought he took a bad penalty and I realized after the period it was not a bad penalty. It was not a penalty," Lemaire said. "So, I played him then."
Well, fine. Though, Lemaire could and should have played him a lot more in the second and third periods.
Overall, though, the team pulled a turnaround defensively and that's what killed the Devils. Blame the goalies as much as you'd like, but it was clear the team didn't come out ready to play and Carolina rightfully took full advantage. The Devils scored 3 goals, but that's cheapened by how they did in their own end and how awful they were in the first period. Clearly, the Devils have more work to do to "get in shape" much less get two wins a row.
That's my take on the game. What did you think? Do you agree the Devils lost this game in the first period? Do you think there were any other positives outside of the Devils putting up 3 on the scoreboard? What would you do to Corrente after tonight? Was there anything I missed? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you to the commenters in the Gamethread and thanks to you for reading.