Frustrating is a common word among sports fans of any kind. You witness your favorite team do a lot of things right but still lose somehow. It's the exact feeling of most New Jersey Devils fans after witnessing tonight's 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars.
The first period seemed even in terms of shots (11-9 to the Devils), and even then the Devils enjoyed the better of possession. The Stars did score when Loui Eriksson, who's only the team's leading goal scorer, got the puck all alone in the slot and had Johan Hedberg dead to rights. The Devils steamrolled through the Stars in the second period 12-4 in shots and tied up the game in the process. Petr Sykora fired a nice shot off a faceoff; alas, it would be the only fruits of their labor from that period. They owned the neutral zone and just pinned back Dallas over and over. Only during a Stars power play to end the period did the home team look dangerous. Yet they Devils could not crack Kari Lehtonen a second time. The third period was better for the Stars overall, though Johan Hedberg came up huge on several rushes. As dangerous as those instances looked, it was something more harmless that ultimately cost the Devils points tonight. Yet, as the Devils struggle to find that so-called "finish," Vernon Fiddler banked a wraparound shooting attempt off Mark Fayne's skate - and through Hedberg's legs. That's was the eventual game winning goal: a fluke deflection that wasn't even intentional. A cleared puck into an empty net made it 3-1 and sealed the loss for New Jersey.
The Devils lost the game on a bad break despite doing a lot of things right on the ice. That's nothing but frustrating.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's take, please check out Defending Big D.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The Time on Ice Shift Chart | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlights: Do you want to see a fluke goal win a hockey game? You can see all that and more in this highlight video from NHL.com:
Hard Work Is Not It's Own Reward: At least, it's not in the NHL. The Devils out-shot the Stars overall 32-23, and out-attempted them 60-51. The Devils were superior at even strength, leading 30-18 in shots. The Devils were by far the better team in terms of approximate possession from the first period onward: +11 in Fenwick and +15 in Corsi. The Devils were usually quite good at cleaning up pucks in front of their net tonight; so they did tighten up on defense. In my opinion, the Devils were the harder working and better attacking team tonight.
Yet, as it so happens in hockey (and in several other sports), you can do all of these things and still manage to lose. That's what happened. It's frustrating that the Devils were only able to get one past Lehtonen this evening. They were so close on so many other chances. I'm sure some fans will love to point out how the Devils didn't have that "finish," and need to work on that. How, I couldn't tell you. Regardless, as strange as it may be to read, tonight's effort at even strength was something that I would like to see more often from this team. If you manage to out-shoot a team by 12 at 5-on-5 play and dominate them in attempts, then you're eventually going to control more games and see some more of those shots get in the net. Every opponent won't have Lehtonen - who came into this game with a very high save percentage, so he was doing quite well - in net, and even those goalies can have some off nights. Will the team will get discouraged from tonight's game in spite of the performance itself? Thankfully, according to this post-game post by Tom Gulitti, Peter DeBoer's comments after tonight's game suggest otherwise.
As an aside, I'm going to be very interested in how C.J. recorded the chances in this game. Either it will provide further evidence in favor of the Devils' effort tonight, or it will present an argument that the Devils maybe weren't as effective as we thought - goals notwithstanding.
The Right Wing Switcharoo: For tonight's game, Nick Palmieri and David Clarkson switched spots. That's right, Clarkson was to the right of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise; while Palmieri was lined up with Adam Henrique and Mattias Tedenby. Both didn't have very memorable nights. Clarkson managed to get no shots on net; though he was a +4 in Corsi. He was just sort of "there," but perhaps that's to be expected from regularly playing with super-offensive players for the first time. It's not like he impeded Parise (3 SOG) or Kovalchuk (7 SOG) from having good nights in my opinion. Maybe he'll join in on the action a little more in future games.
Palmieri was a little worse. He too also had no shots on net; but he managed to finish -2 in Corsi. He was the only skater to finish with a negative Corsi value that wasn't on the fourth line. The third line as a whole didn't have a good night, and I wonder if the switch may have facilitated that? Clarkson's not going to be the main shooter when he's lined up with two guys you'd rather have shoot the puck. Since Palmieri's season can be described as nondescript, who is now the main man on that third line? Again, it was just one night, so perhaps Palmieri will fit in a little better with some practices.
Petr Sykora and the Mostly Good Game: Petr Sykora was the one right winger who had a mostly great night. He had 6 shots on net, he scored his first goal of the season, and finished with an outstanding +12 in Corsi. In a game where everything went right but the puck not going into the net, respect has to be given to the one who managed to score. The only reason why I'm including "mostly" is because his goaltender interference penalty was quite stupid; he just bowled into Lehtonen. Fortunately, Dallas didn't take full advantage of that call.
I noticed during the game that Gus Gulutzan, the Stars' head coach, had to shift his match-ups against the line of Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias, and Sykora. They often swarmed Dallas on offense and so Gulutzan ended up sending out the Mike Ribiero line and the Jamie Benn line almost in equal amounts of ice time - a little more went to the Ribiero line. That's a positive sign among a game full of them for New Jersey except on the scoreboard. Expect Peter DeBoer to keep that line intact as they continue to get good results.
Poor Mark Fayne: He falls down during the Stars' cycle in the first period that helped lead to Eriksson's goal and it was his skate that the puck bounced off of that resulted in the Stars' game winning goal. He really wasn't all that bad tonight, either.
Poor Johan Hedberg: Johan Hedberg had no chance on Eriksson's goal, he was swarmed when Dallas had a power play, and he got beat a second time on a bad bounce. The Moose did make a lot of important saves among Dallas' relatively few shots. His blocker save on a close shot in the first was big, and he robbed a couple Stars off the rush in the third period. Hedberg wasn't left out to dry by his skaters like he was to a point against Phoenix; but he bailed out the Devils a few times. A good game marred by a few events. Unfortunate.
The Unsung Defender: Anton Volchenkov had a good game in my opinion. He was most often out there at evens against Michael Ryder, Ribiero, and Brendan Morrow, one of Dallas' top lines. He was also most often out there with the Henrique line in front of him, which didn't have a good night. He still came out ahead in terms of possession with +8 in Corsi, managed to get 4 shots on net, and very nearly tied up the game on a rebound when he jumped into the slot during an attack in the third period. Let's hope Volchenkov can go strength-to-strength from this performance in furture games.
A Question of Discipline: Niklas Grossman hits Dainius Zubrus away from the play, a more overly physical move than what Ryan Carter did which earned him an interference penalty. As the whistle blows, the refs send Zubrus and a Star (Grossman had to be tended to medically as Zubrus' fall from the hit resulted in his skates striking Grossman's face) to the box. Grossman was assessed a tripping minor and Zubrus was given two minutes for interference. Here's the question: What did Zubrus actually interfere with on that play?
Something I Learned Today: You cannot intentionally move (or shoot as Chico called it) a stick on the ice towards a puck carrier. That's an interference penalty. I'd like to thank Ryder for teaching me that near the end of the game.
Powerless Plays Again: The Devils got three power plays this evening and they didn't score on any one of them. In a close game, that only adds to the frustration. In a close game where they had a 6-on-4 situation and needed an equalizer, they not only failed to get a shot on net but Sheldon Souray rocketed an empty net goal - which adds more frustration to the frustration pile. In the case of the Devils, it's even more maddening as they haven't scored on one since five games ago (Elias PPG against San Jose). I felt the Devils had good possession on their first two power plays; and considering just breaking into the zone was a trouble last season, this a good step in the right direction. Yet, when they did set up, they were too static in moving the puck around. They passed up good looks in the hopes of better ones. As a result, they only got 2 shots on net across all three opportunites - that's not enough. I feel the Devils need more than just work; they need some new game plans.
Dallas fans probably feel the same way, despite winning. As great as their power plays looked in creating chaos and coming ever-so-close to scoring; they didn't succeed either. But the Stars did eventually win this game. Therefore, that part of the game doesn't stick out as much.
Much Ado About Ilya: I'm sure some fans are pointing the finger at Kovalchuk. After all, he only has 2 goals and he hasn't registered a point in the last three games. For a guy getting so many minutes and dollars, it's a disappointment so far this season. Yet, I wouldn't pick this game as a bad one; there's not much evidence in supporting it. Kovalchuk's normally not a possession player, but he managed to finish +3 in Corsi despite getting some shifts with a fourth line that was a net negative all night long. The guy fired off 7 shots on net, too, so it's not like he's always passing the puck away either or not making any attempts (he also had 2 blocked, so he could have had 9 SOG). Yeah, it would have been nice if he stopped in front of the net instead of just gliding on a particular chance in the second period; but the Devils still managed to tie the game up all the same. I'm not really sure what else he can do that would end up getting some points on the board. If it were me, I'd just keep doing what was done tonight - eventually, those shots will fall in or get knocked in on a rebound or something.
A Disappointing End to the Road Trip & October: Regardless of how much of a fluke Fiddler's goal was and how well the Devils did on possession, Dallas still won, the Devils' road trip ends at 1-3, and so the Devils fall to 4-4-1 for the month. That's not a death knell for the season, but it's something the Devils can improve upon. Fortunately, they'll get 3 days to work things out a bit in practice and start to attack. The overall lesson from this trip is that the Devils will put up a fight against anyone in the league for at least part of the game. As good as that is, now it's on Peter DeBoer and the players to turn the effort - something the Devils clearly displayed - into points.
Those are my thoughts on tonight's game. What are yours? Are you also frustrated by tonight's performance? Do you think the Devils will turn it around when they come back home in the coming week? Who on the Devils pleased you the most and why? Who on the Devils frustrated you the most and why? What do you think of the Stars now, after you've seen them play for 60 minutes? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.