In my preview, I stated that the goal for the New Jersey Devils was to not let up against the San Jose Sharks. From the surface, it seems that's exactly what happened. The Devils had a 2 goal lead, but it was blown in the second period as the Sharks tied it up. The Devils got one relatively late in the third period; and the Sharks get another equalizer with 33 seconds left to play. The Devils managed to get this game to a shootout, put up a 1-0 lead; but then the Devils are stopped twice as Sharks score twice to win it - and the game. The Devils seemingly didn't put away the Sharks and it burned them. A disappointing loss.
I can agree that tonight's game was a disappointment. What I don't agree with is that the Devils "let up" in the game. No, the San Jose Sharks imposed their will on the Devils in the second and third periods. The Sharks out-shot the Devils 41-19 in the whole game; 33-11 in those two periods. This was not a case where the Sharks fought back from being down two goals and so the shots are titled in their direction. Oh, no. They were regularly pounding the Devils on shift after shift after shift. If the Devils had the puck, they didn't keep it for long enough. Their puck possession and movement wasn't very good. When the Sharks inevitably took it back, they went right up the ice and worked over the Devils in their own end to create shot after shot after shot. The Sharks are a deep team up front, they have some offensive blueliners to diversify their attacks, and they just out-classed the Devils from match-up to match-up. The Sharks' skaters steamrolled the Devils' skaters. It didn't matter what the Devils were trying to do.
Johan Hedberg was the sole reason the Devils managed to get a point out of tonight's game. I don't care what you feel about the goals or whatever else. If a team is being out shot 3-to-1 for 40 out of the game's 60 minutes and somehow gets into overtime, then it's clear the goalie's keeping them in it. Hedberg made some absolutely unbelievable stops going from post to post. He also had some incredible luck with various Sharks not really making the most of their opportunities or an unseen puck going wide or right to his chest. Either way, #1 somehow kept the puck out of the net on several occasions when the Devils needed it most. While he wasn't perfect, Hedberg was brilliant in just keeping this game close.
Beyond that, I can't say I'm disappointed by the result. The Devils got a point they didn't really earn tonight. I'm more disappointed in the performance, and I'll have more about that after the jump. For the opposition's side, please check out Fear the Fin.The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlights: Do you want to see the Moose make a lot of saves? Then watch this NHL.com highlight video of tonight's game. Also includes: goals.
While Hedberg Deserves All the Accolades...: I got to say, the first goal he gave up tonight was pretty weak. I don't want to beat up on him too much since he made a lot of incredible stops tonight. Plus, the goal was scored by Joe Thornton, who's not at all a bad shooter. On top of that, it was a make-shift odd man rush as the Devils were caught in a line change and so some skaters were still catching up. That all said: Come on, Moose, you should have stopped that - he saw daylight under your pads and took full advantage.
In the interest of completion, let's talk about the other two. Those other ones that got past Hedberg were definitely not his fault. Ryan Clowe got the game's second goal amid a goal mouth scramble. The puck bounced off a skate and trickled in. That's just a bad break. The late equalizer in the third was another chaotic play that resulted in Hedberg being behind a few bodies, someone (supposedly, video isn't clear) grabbing his stick, and Joe Pavelski getting the puck just enough away from the traffic to pick a corner. There was nothing Hedberg could have done on that one. There may have been something a Devils skater could have done; but I leave it you to determine whether it meant getting the puck out earlier, fouling someone to get a stop, or a backchecking forward picking up Pavelski (kind of hard to do in a 6-on-5, but whatever).
Overall, I can't get too upset about the one soft goal if only because Hedberg made so many marvelous moves in net. Very few of them were marvelous outside of the net, but that's the risk that comes with Hedberg in net. It was risky quite a few times, too. Let's hope he improves there.
San Jose Predictably Owned Possession: Well, when a team outshoots their opponents by a ratio of more than 2-to-1, it shouldn't be surprising the Devils were a -14 in Corsi. Only two Devils were positive: Jacob Josefson at +1 and (this is a surprise) Ilya Kovalchuk at +2. Nick Palmieri and Dainius Zubrus came close at even. The vast difference in Corsi by team and the stark difference between the number of players on each team who were positive justifies what I saw: a deep, talented Sharks team bossing the Devils around. I'm not even sure there was a match-up tonight that I can say the Devils won. Maybe I missed it?
The Devils, if anything, helped them by not moving the puck consistently well going forward. Attribute it to the long break or just a bad night, but that was the disappointing part. I'm sure the players wanted to give the Sharks a better fight and the fans a game that wasn't titled at one end of the rink. Yet, they couldn't make it happen because they just struggled to make good passes either to start an attack or to sustain the attack. It explains why not getting a shot on net until 7:47 into the third period in a 2-2 game 19 shots isn't going to get it done short of scoring a bunch of goals off of it.
Playing with Fire: The Devils took 5 penalties tonight and 4 of them weren't good ones. I felt the Nick Palmieri's interference call was ticky-tacky; but I felt the hit he threw on Mitchell was worth 2 minutes. I didn't see the shot to Mitchell's head, so from my perspective I thought it would be a boarding call. In any case, Larsson's stick-hold on Thornton was obvious and quite dumb due to the type of penalty and when he took it (31 seconds before the end of the first). Bryce Salvador stood up a Shark at the blueline way too early, so that was an easy interference call. In the third when it was tied 2-2, Rod Pelley's trip on Thornton really wasn't smart.
While the Devils didn't pay the price for their fouls, the Sharks utilized those 10 minutes to attack and ultimately put 12 shots on net. Given the Devils' struggles in generating offense tonight and in defending the Sharks, playing a sixth of the game down a man hurt a little bit. Thankfully, Hedberg bailed them out and the PK can claim a goal thanks to Zach Parise, who scored on a penalty shot, and Brent Burns, who fouled Parise that led to the penalty shot. Nevertheless, I want to see better discipline because it's these sorts of penalties that are avoidable and can kill a team on some nights. Fortunately, it wasn't tonight thanks to Hedberg.
The Effect of Injuries: The long-term effect from tonight's game has to do with Josefson. On a power play, Josefson crashed into the end boards after a weird decision to make a back-pass and directly skated to the bench. He would not return. After the game, Tom Gulitti confirmed that Josefson suffered a broken right clavicle from the play. While it's not clear how long he'll be out for, it'll be for quite sometime. This hurts the Devils' depth at center even further. They could call up Adam Henrique and see how he fits in, I think that's what they'll do - though it's not official yet. All the same, it's a terrible that a player who actually looked good in this game and who was developing as a player,
Within the context of tonight's game, going to 11 forwards forced Peter DeBoer to really mix up his lines. In fact, consider it 10 since Eric Boulton didn't see too much of the ice either. I think this most certainly helped San Jose really flex their proverbial muscles in matching up against these lines. Devils forwards had to take shifts where they were lined up alongside players they normally don't play with. Given the quality of San Jose's depth at forward, it just exacerbated an already difficult match-up battle for DeBoer and the Devils. And it was difficult, with Zach Parise and Patrik Elias getting the Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski line with Dan Boyle and Brent Burns behind them more often than not. That five-man unit combined for 23 shots out of San Jose's 41, by the by.
While the Devils suffered with Josefson, San Jose lost Torrey Mitchell early on. Nick Palmieri hit him along the sideboards and Mitchell held his arm in pain after the hit. The refs gave him a penalty for a hit to the head; but the damage was done well below it. The Sharks were shorthanded at forward 6 seconds into the game; which makes their performance a little more impressive now that I think about it.
Yes, Ilya Kovalchuk Played Over 30 Minutes Again: Since Josefson couldn't continue, among the many changes DeBoer made, #17 became a lot more noticeable. Kovalchuk played over 30 minutes yet again, trying to drive the play forward in making the best of some non-ideal lines. For the most part, he wasn't bad. In retrospect, I would have liked him to have attempted more than 3 shots and got more than 1 on net. Yet, he was setting up his teammates and was more successful at it than many other Devils - who just struggled for a majority of the game.
What was different was that DeBoer gave Kovalchuk penalty killing time. Not just in the last few seconds of the PK, but right from the first kill onward, Kovalchuk got a regular shift on the penalty kill. This really happened; against the high-powered San Jose power play of all units. I'm hesitant to say that he did well in the 4:03 he played, but he didn't get totally torched either. I'm not sure whether I want to see him on the PK more often, but this may be something we may have to get used to in the future.
Well, the Rookie and the Rest of the Team Struggled, but Let's Focus on the Rookie Anyway: Another curious decision in tonight's game by DeBoer was that he kept giving minutes to Adam Larsson and Andy Greene. Many of the Devils skaters struggled tonight, but Larsson really stood out to me like a sore thumb. He wasn't all that swift when going after the puck or in making a read on defense. Larsson had some really awful passes, some that were just straight up giveaways to a Shark in the neutral zone or in his own end. He also took a really dumb penalty; the refs caught him holding onto Thornton's stick. It was so clear, nobody at the Rock booed it. He didn't get a shot on net, forcing two into players. Larsson didn't have a good night, but he still got 23:34 of ice time tonight, with 18:47 of it at even strength. DeBoer did keep him away from the top line of Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Pavelski. Yet, behind them are Clowe (who had 6 shots on net), Logan Couture, and Martin Havlat and they had their share of fun on offense tonight.
I know this could have been just a bad night for the rookie. At the same time, he's only 18 and very few players, much less defensemen, are consistent at that age. We'll see how he does on the road trip to see whether he can bounce back from this kind of performance.
What About the Rest of the Defense?: Well, I really can't praise them. San Jose hammered Hedberg with 41 shots on net in total. As much as I am impressed with San Jose's attack; I can't praise a defense that got beat on that much. I can't even say it for special teams. It's true that the PK didn't surrender a goal. That is in large part of Johan Hedberg, who stopped 12 shots on their 5 power play opportunities. It's great the shots were stopped, but allowing that many shots isn't praise-worthy in my opinion either.
How the Devils Stayed in the Game - Offense edition: While the Devils' offense was stunted by errant passes, giveaways, and just some good defending by San Jose, they did get three past Antti Niemi. Let's go over them. Kovalchuk set up Patrik Elias' goal with a slick cross-ice pass. Elias put it away top shelf past a sprawled out Niemi. The goal was during a power play, so that's a positive for the PP unit tonight. Sadly, they only managed 4 shots on net on 4 opportunities and the first and fourth ones were particularly craptacular. Regardless, Elias' goal gave them a 1-0 lead in the first period.
In the second, while killing Larsson's not-at-all-smart penalty, Parise was taken down from behind by Brent Burns during a shorthanded breakaway. Parise was awarded a penalty shot and schooled Niemi. It was yet another sick move.
The third goal was something I'm still grasping. Mattias Tedenby had to fight through Jason Demers and a referee to get down low; lost the puck for a moment; and still found David Clarkson in front of the net. The pass was knocked away but Clarkson recovered it and dashed it through Niemi with Colin White coming way too late to do anything about it. Tedenby didn't have a good game outside of that shift, Clarkson was a bit better (a plus: drew two penalties, a minus: had a really silly fall in the third period), and yet that play nearly stole the game for the Devils. I'm glad Clarkson scored and Tedenby made it happen, don't mistake me. It was just weird at how it all went down. the goal itself was the definition of "against the run of play," too.
Essentially, it was a combination of stupid mistakes by the Sharks and some luck. Unfortunately for New Jersey, San Jose got some luck of their own and managed to answer each goal.
A Brief Aside: Joe Thornton is a jerk for cross-checking Zach Parise from behind.
First Shootout Loss of the Season: Kovalchuk scored on a sick move, but Niemi got stops on Parise and Elias. Michael Handzus' shot hit the pipe, but it ricocheted right into Hedberg's backside and slid over the goal line. Clowe won it with a backhand to take it. I'm not mad about the shootout itself. Niemi made two tough saves on a night where he went 16-for-19 in saves. The Handzus goal was just another stroke of luck for a Sharks team that hasn't had much of it this season; and Clowe's goal was off a good move. That'll happen eventually over time and it did. Of course, I would have liked to have seen the Devils steal a win after being outplayed for the most part; but events favored the better team tonight, the San Jose Sharks.
Thank goodness, the Devils won't be seeing them again this season (though if they did, well, good). I want to know your take on tonight's game. Was this just a bad game from the Devils? What Devil not named Hedberg did you think had a good night? Do you think they'll do better tonight? Are you pleased they got a point of the game despite the performance? Are you glad the Devils won't play the Sharks anymore this season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who read and commented in the Gamethread; and thank you for reading.