The New Jersey Devils came close to getting a result in a game they really shouldn't have gotten any. However, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and maybe a few other things. So the Devils didn't. They went down to Raleigh and lost 4-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes. That it was close at all at some point in the game was a feat in of itself.
The first period wasn't so bad for the Devils. They out-shot the Canes early on, only allowing a Chad LaRose breakaway as the home team's lone shot on net for the first 7 minutes of the game. The Devils were looking OK. Then they got a power play and disaster struck again. Tim Gleason picks up a loose puck after an Ilya Kovalchuk slapshot was shot and chips it up-ice. It bounces off Kovalchuk and gets behind him. Brandon Sutter swoops in, heads up ice in a 2-on-1, and beats Johan Hedberg cleanly to put the Canes up 1-0. The goal against was the 11th shorthanded goal against by the Devils. That would be the first of two low points for the Devils in the first.
The second came when Ryan Carter needlessly and recklessly hit Jaroslav Spacek from behind into the endboards. Carter earned a major penalty, a game misconduct, and an ejection for the hit; and the Devils would have three minutes of power play time to kill (Bryan Allen jumped Carter and got 2 for roughing after the hit). Zach Parise added to the woes with a tripping call during the 4-on-4 play, so the Devils had to kill a 4-on-3 situation, then a 5-on-3, and then a 5-on-4. The Devils did so. Outside of that mess and the SHGA, the Devils weren't so bad.
In a stunning twist, the second period decided to be the period of doom. In a word, it was MacLean-ish. Yes, the Devils played as poorly as they did in many of the second periods from last season when John MacLean coached the team. How bad was it? It took the Devils 16:13 to get their first shot on net, a weak, sharp-angle shot at Cam Ward's legs by Dainius Zubrus. By that point, Tuomo Ruutu made it 2-0 Carolina and not long after Zubrus' shot, Anthony Stewart beat Hedberg shortside to make it 3-0. It was a horrid period all around, save for possibly Hedberg - and even he messed up on Stewart's shot.
Amazingly, the Devils eventually attempted a comeback in the third period. I have to emphasize eventually as Carolina kept pace with them shot-for-shot. They had 10 on the board before New Jersey got on the board. David Clarkson hammered a shot from distance, a play created by Anton Volchenkov of all players working and winning the puck down low. It seemed to be a consolation shot until Volchenkov set up Clarkson for a shot in the slot with 2:22 left. Ward stopped it but couldn't stop Adam Henrique putting in the rebound. It's 3-2 Carolina and the Devils had a conceivable shot at a late equalizer. A miracle comeback wasn't impossible at that point in the game.
The Devils didn't generate much; as Carolina collapsed hard in front of the net. Even with an extra man, the Devils only got one shot on net since Henrique's goal. That shot of a comeback died when Ilya Kovalchuk had the puck in the corner, saw Henrique and attempted to hit him with a pass. Henrique falls and the puck slides all the way into the empty net. Carolina won 4-2. Oh, and Cam Ward got credited for the goal since Sutter didn't touch Kovalchuk's pass. I and the scorer thought so at first, but nope - Ward was the last Cane to touch it.
As disappointing as it felt watching it happen in real time, I'm not concerned about that ENG. I'm far more concerned that close was the best the Devils could do given their performance. The Devils started off well, but they coughed up another SHGA and stupid offensive zone penalties helped Carolina at least settle the Devils down. The second period was a nightmare by New Jersey and fully deserved to lose the game outright on that alone. Even in the third period, the Devils didn't exactly out-play Carolina and needed Anton Volchenkov to make a big offensive play as well as a long shot from Clarkson finding it's way through traffic to just get on the board. If the Devils somehow got an equalizer, then the team would have had to been arrested for grand theft of a NHL standings point. The Devils, overall, played a bad game of hockey. They didn't deserve to get close, and so they didn't deserve a result. If they wanted one, maybe they should have played smarter hockey in between the first and last 7 minutes of the game.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's perspective, please check out Bob Wage's recap at Canes Country.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Game Highlights: If you missed the rare Volchenkov two-assist night, then you're going to want to see this highlight video from NHL.com.
MacLean-Ish: I have to empahsize how bad the Devils' second period was. The Devils didn't get their first shot on net until 16:13 into the period and that shot was a weak one. The Devils had a few opportunities earlier; but they either literally or metaphorically passed them up. And the Stewart goal didn't get the Devils fired up either. The Devils were out-shot 13-2 in the second period. The Devils were out-done in Corsi, going from 0 at the end of the first period to -15 at the end of the second period. That's straight up abysmal. That's just like some of the worst performances during that infamous John MacLean era.
By the by, the late shots for a comeback ended the game -9 for the Devils. Again, Carolina kept pace shot-for-shot with NJ until the goals. At that point, Carolina tried to shut the game down and came close save for that rush up ice that led to Henrique's goal.
The Effects of an Ejection: With Carter tossed from the game, Peter DeBoer had to mix and match his lines, not unlike MacLean's attempts and getting guys going from his infamous tenure. Kirk Muller matched them up fairly well. So we got to see Travis Zajac center Zach Parise and Kovalchuk, which didn't get them going. Only late in the game did we see Patrik Elias with the duo, but perhaps that was in the middle of a change. Either way, they all ended up below zero in Corsi. Due to the Zajac move, Adam Henrique got bumped down to the third line, which didn't work well either defensively, but they achieved something late. Henrique did get more shots on net with 4 than Kovalchuk (3), Zajac (1), and Parise (1). He was also one of the few Devils to get a positive Corsi tonight, if you can believe it.
I think who possibly suffered the most from the forced changes was Mattias Tedenby. In addition to getting nothing on offense, he got absolutely wrecked in possession with a -14 Corsi, tied for the lowest among all skaters in the game. Sure, Bryce Salvador got -14 too, but he's been facing tough competition. Not so much for the diminutive winger.
Carter Should Be Suspended: Carter's hit from behind on Jaroslav Spacek was unnecessary and dangerous. Carter had no chance to get to the puck; he clearly wasn't playing for the puck; he saw Spacek's #8 clear as day; and he just plowed into him. Carter got tagged for a cross-check on Tim Brent in a similar spot earlier in that first period, and in general should know better than to hit a defenseless player like that. He deserved his major penalty, he deserved to get ejected, and I think he should be suspended for the play. If there's any good news out of the hit, then it's that Spacek did return to the ice and played 17:38 overall this evening. My confidence in the NHL's disciplinary committee is rather low, so I suspect if Carter isn't given a heavy punishment, it's going to be because of the penalty given to him and Spacek returning. Still, it's the sort of hit the NHL should be trying to remove from the game, so we'll see if they'll assign a punishment.
Tell Me If You Heard This One Before: OK, so a goaltender allows a goal on a shorthanded 2-on-1 that comes in on his left and sees the shooter the whole lot; gets beaten on a rebound from a loose puck that bounces away from defenders and onto the stick of an opposing player who has the goaltender beaten dead to rights; allows a goal he really should have stopped; and is saved by the post from allowing anything further.
Who am I describing? Johan Hedberg from tonight's game, or Martin Brodeur's game against the Rangers last Tuesday? The honest answer is yes.
Snark aside, it's hard to fault Hedberg for when the team played so poorly for large stretches of the game. That said, Hedberg has now let up 15 goals in his last 5 starts. If anything, tonight put lie to the notion that Hedberg has been the better goaltender in recent games, as well as the theory that the team plays better in front of Moose.
A-Train & Foster Offense: One of the few silver linings from this game was the performances by Anton Volchenkov and Kurtis Foster. Foster ended up with a +7 in Corsi and Volchenkov was a +3, both of which are very good marks considering how badly the Devils were beaten on in possession. Foster had as many attempts on net as Kovalchuk did tonight with 6, had as many shots on net as Kovalchuk with 3, and dumped the puck in for Volchenkov to create the first goal. I felt Foster had a good night, possibly his best since becoming a Devil.
That Volchenkov created any offense at all is worth noting as he's got Colin White-esque offensive skills. He jumped up on the play and won the puck away from Tim Gleason, gets past him, gets through Jamie McBain behind the net, and put a pass perfectly on Clarkson's stick. It was a great effort even if Clarkson didn't score, and since he did, we have video evidence of it. He was just as slick on the second Devils goal. To start it, he handled a bouncing puck in the neutral zone well, skated north and fought off Alexei Ponikarovsky, and gained the zone. He threaded a pass through McBain and Jussi Jokinen to Clarkson in the slot. While Clarkson's shot made the rebound that became the goal, it doesn't happen without A-Train's offensive moves. Do I think he should do it more often? Well, no, but tonight, it gave the Devils some consolation on a night where quite a bit went wrong.
Again - I Love the PK: The New Jersey Devils allowed 33 shots on net and 7:40 of power play time for Carolina over 4 opportunities. The Devils held them to only 4 shots against and even got a shorthanded shot on net. That's simply fantastic work by the penalty killing units. The pinnacle was during Carolina's lengthy 5-on-3. The Devils allowed no shots on net in 1:20 of a two man disadvantage. Given that it was late in the first period and the Canes were up a goal, the PK ensured at the time that the Devils would not head into the second period down two goals. Granted, the Devils managed to flop in the second anyway; but it wasn't because of the PK. The penalty killing units were the only part of the Devils performance that showed up and consistently performed well when called upon. Well done, Dave Barr & Co.
Depressing Power Play Stat Line: One opportunity, 2 minutes, 2 shots on net, 1 goal against. In a word: ugh. I don't even want to talk about it further. Please feel free to insert the standard-by-now "Shorthanded goals have to stop happening" and "Fire Oates" thoughts.
Kovalchuk's Poor Night: While he tied with Foster in shooting attempts with 6; Kovalchuk could have had a better night. I think the puck that got past him at the point was really a bad bounce; but if the plan is to keep #17 at the point, then he should be expecting to face pucks like that from the defense. I think the misfired pass near the end of the game was also a bad break; it's not like Kovalchuk used psychokinesis to knock down Henrique. Still, Kovalchuk didn't have a good game. When the offense was at it's nadir in the second period, he didn't do much to pull them out of it. It was a time where he should've been selfish and just bomb pucks on net at any time he had a clear shooting lane. Even getting pucks right on Ward's chest would have been better than the goose egg put up. Instead, he didn't and that hurt. At least Kovalchuk is cognizant of his performance, as per this post-game post by Tom Gulitti. Me, I'd rather just see him play better.
Parise's Poor Night: While he had a better Corsi than Kovalchuk at -1 compared to -5; Parise managed only one shot on net. One! And he didn't attempt any other shots. One shot on net in 20:45 of play from the team leader in shots on net. Oh, and he took a tripping minor during a forecheck in the 4-on-4 situation in the first period. It may have been soft, but he got his stick on Tim Gleason's skate and had some role in him falling. I have but two words for #9: C'mon man.
To Be Fair: A lot of Devils have had poor nights. Strong start and interesting ending aside, when the team gets out-shot 13-2 in the second period and is even in shots with the opposition while down 3 goals in the third, there's a lot of bad nights going on by various players. As much as we can pin the loss on #1 or #17 or some other scapegoat, this was truly a team loss by the Devils. The Devils shouldn't have to be put into a situation where they need a late equalizer after an improbable comeback within the final 7-8 minutes of the game. They should avoid being down 3-0 to begin with. They should be avoiding getting out-attempted by 15 after 40 minutes. They should be avoiding taking horrible penalties that either puts them down a man temporarily or permanently for the night. There's a lot left to be desired with the performance, which really sticks out for it's lameness since they've played mostly good hockey for the last two weeks or so.
Now, the Carolina Hurricanes obviously played a good game of hockey. They didn't sit on a 3-0 lead, they came quite close to making it 4-0 or 4-1 in the third without the ENG, and Muller did a great job matching up the Devils' mixed lines. They smelled blood in the second period and feasted on puck and territorial possession. While McBain looked bad on the two Devils' goals, he otherwise had a good game. Eric Staal whiffed on a puck giftwrapped for him in the slot; but he was the driver of the strong play by Carolina with a +13 in Corsi. Chad LaRose had three great chances to score and was a bit unlucky not to on either of them. Ruutu was held even in Corsi, but got 3 shots on net and kept his point streak alive with a second peroid goal. Their fourth line chipped in a goal, which turned out to be the game winner. Cam Ward looked good and got credited for a goal, which is a rare achievement. There's a lot to like about tonight's game if you're a Canes fan; I wouldn't sweat New Jersey coming close at the end. While I don't expect Carolina to be anything but spoilers by the next Devils-Canes game, they certainly competed very well and deserved their win.
Two tough games are coming up at home to finish off 2011 and they're not going to get any easier than this one, Devils. The performances will have to be better because a repeat of what happened tonight may not yield a "close" situation in the third period again.
Those are my thoughts on tonight's game, so I want to know your thoughts. Other than the second period performance, what do you think the Devils need to differently on Wednesday given tonight's game? I'm assuming "not play like garbage in the second period" is a given? Do you think the Devils deserved to get close tonight? How come the PK is so good regardless of poor the 5-on-5 play and power play was this evening? Can the Devils a result in their next two games? Please leave your answers and other thoughts from this game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented and read the gamethread, as well as those who followed along on Twitter @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.