In the preview for this game, I made a big deal about how strong Vancouver was as a team. I noted that they're a positive possession team, they have received excellent goaltending from both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schnieder, they have a very good top four on defense, and they are strong up and down their forward lines. They truly are an excellent team. Even with playing Detroit on the road for 65 minutes in mind, I figured it was going to be a difficult game for the New Jersey Devils.
The good news is that the New Jersey Devils put in a great effort. After Vancouver's first goal, I felt the Devils were the better team on the ice for most of the 50 out of the 60 minutes played. The first 10 was a wash, with the Canucks getting one good shift that cost the Devils early. Still, while the Canucks would have a good attacking shift here and there, I felt they just responded to the Devils' actions instead of trying to carry the play for the most part. As a result, there's a lot of positives to take out of this game. The Devils were able to keep the Canucks at bay offensively for the most part, which is really good considering they're one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL. The Devils were diverse on offense, both winning dump-and-chases and carrying it in. They got shots from distances, shots in close, and tried all kinds of plays. The Devils penalty kill forced the Canucks to defend more on their power play than they did in attacking. The Devils kept the Canucks' top line quiet and won most of their matchups.
The bad news is that the Devils still lost the game 2-1. A mistake by Steve Bernier after a bad shift by the Zubrus line allowed Aaron Rome to get free and pot in a rebound for the game's first goal. Early in the second, Mason Raymond trailed David Booth and fired a shot that seemingly surprised Martin Brodeur. It certainly surprised me at it was their first shot on net since the Rome goal. With a two goal lead, it quickly became clear that their biggest issue tonight was Schneider. It wasn't so much the Devils intended to fire pucks at his chest, but Schneider read most of the Devils' shots well and positioned himself accordingly to cleanly stop the puck. Even when Schneider was forced to move, he was able to get a piece of everything else. Schneider was fantastic as the Canucks sat on their 2-1 lead. Yes, he was beaten once - when David Clarkson knocked in a loose puck from an attempted pass by Patrik Elias on the goalie's flank. However, that would be the one bounce the Devils would get on offense.
I will say, the Devils could have been sharper on offense. It would have been great if some passes didn't just bounce off sticks or handcuff their targets. The power play could have been less dreadful. There were a few players who had an off nights or made some careless errors. Overall, the Devils did very well in most facets of the game. They out-shot the Canucks very well at 31-17. They out-attempted them by a solid amount: +11 in Fenwick, +13 in Corsi. Based on Cam Charron's count, the Devils out-scoring-chanced them by +14 (21-7). The Devils never gave up on the game even in it's final seconds. They made it a competitive game in spite of their issues while excelling elsewhere.
But as it came right down to it, the Devils needed a good bounce or two to get that equalizer against Schneider. It just didn't happen tonight. That's really the long and short of it for what happened tonight. The Devils put in an appreciable effort against an elite team on Doc Emrick Night; but there are no points awarded for trying.
I have further thoughts about the game after the jump. I am aware that the Devils made a trade for Marek Zidlicky this evening. Do not discuss it here, please go and check out Kevin's post on the deal and talk about it in the comments there. I'll put together a closer look at the defenseman sometime tomorrow. For now and this post, please let's focus on tonight's game. Similarly, if you would like an opposition point of view, please visit Nucks Misconduct. For scoring chances, Cam Charron of Canucks Army has this report of the game.
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: It really was the Cory Schneider show. Check him out in this highlight video from NHL.com:
Doc Emrick Night: Before tonight's game, the Devils honored long-time former play-by-play commentator and legendary broadcasted Dr. Mike Emrick. As you know, Doc left doing full-time duty with the Devils for MSG for a less taxing schedule with NBC. Still, he's regarded as a part of the Devils organization and so tonight was to be his night. So it was with Doc being rewarded with a video tribute; an all expenses paid vacation to Mackinac Island in Michigan; a watch from the players; a personalized ("DOC") framed jersey; and a fully loaded Lincoln MKZ leading to a priceless response from Doc's wife Joyce. As usual with these ceremonies, we got the chance to hear Doc speak in his own words to close it out - after an appropriate "Thank you, Doc" chant from the fans at the Rock.
True to Doc's form, he treated Matt Loughlin's introduction like it was a toss and proceeded to highlight how exciting tonight's game should be (and it was) and brought up three people that aren't necessarily famous but are important for they are fans. Doc went on to thank the many people who helped him out, he called out the Devils' Eastern Conference Finals series in 2000 as his favorite moment - specifically referencing Larry Robinson's spirited speech after Game 4, he individually thanked his family members at the event, he highlighted the benefits of adopting a dog, and his final words were perfect: "Thank you Devils. Thank you Canucks. Let's play hockey, God bless you all." I don't know how Doc felt about it, but it was nothing but excellence from Dr. Emrick. Thank you, Doc, indeed.
The Shot Machines: The Devils out-shot the Canucks 31-16 overall and 28-15 at even strength. What's impressive about this total is who was leading the charge. Normally, Ilya Kovalchuk has been a regular leader at attempting shots on net and getting them on net. Tonight, it was the captain's turn to take that role. Zach Parise attempted 12 shots and got 7 on net. He definitely tried to make his mark on the game. David Clarkson did the same, and even got a garbage goal to put the Devils within one goal. Clarkson had 12 attempts as well, he got 5 on net, and was blocked 6 times too. Clarkson and Parise each had great chances to score (again, in Clarkson's case) but Schneider was just too good.
This isn't to say Kovalchuk was poor. On the contrary, he got 5 shots on net out of 6 attempts. The Henrique line as a whole was excellent in possession: Kovalchuk was a +11 in Corsi, Parise was +10, and Adam Henrique was +7. They got the Ryan Kesler line for a majority of the time as well as the defensive pairing of Andrew Alberts and Alexander Edler. Normally, Sami Salo is paired with Edler but he was a late scratch. Thankfully, Peter DeBoer picked on that late change with his power line and it worked beautifully. The Henrique line did everything right but score. On another night, they probably would have but again - it just wasn't to be tonight.
Clarkson, on the other hand, had a rougher time of it in the run of play. While he was prolific in shooting, he ended up only at +5 in Corsi and +1 in Fenwick. Clarkson, along with the Patrik Elias line, constantly saw Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis and they put up a tougher fight than Edler-Alberts. So did their forward match-ups against the Sedin and Malhotra lines. They did end up positive and they got a goal, they weren't bad. They just weren't as dominant on the ice as the Henrique line tonight.
Call it Confirmation Bias But...: ...I really think Patrik Elias had a poor night with the puck. Yes, everyone on the Devils had their moments where pass bounced off a stick (e.g. the most painful one - a long pass to Kovalchuk for a breakaway was denied by one) or the puck ended up in the skates of the target or just out of their reach (e.g. seemingly a third of the passes to the point). As a whole, the offense seemed like they just guessed wrong at times, especially in trying to get to rebounds. They still got 31 shots on net so it's not like they were seriously undercut by it. Yet, I felt that more could have been done, especially with Elias. Elias ended up with no shots on net, only one attempt on net which was an epic miss from in front that could have been the equalizer, and many of his passes just went awry. Even his one assist had to bounce in the right place for Clarkson to put in the net. I don't want to pick on Elias for the loss. I just do not think he played well and I feel his night was symbolic of the team's struggles on offense. I'm confident both will enjoy better days.
It Was A Step Up over Toronto: After coming away with nothing in three opportunities in Toronto, the Devils at least got shots on net on their power plays tonight. They got credited with three over two opportunities. However, the Devils weren't able to set up more often than not, leading to an easy clear for Vancouver. Chris Higgins very nearly scored shorthanded after getting through three Devils (definitely not Mark Fayne's finest moment) to fire a difficult shot. It rang off the corner of the post and the crossbar and it was the best shot seen during New Jersey's man advantages. Yeah, 3 shots on net after a big fat nothing is a step forward, but the Devils PP didn't really threaten. To be fair, the Canucks have a very effective penalty killing unit and Schneider was on his game tonight. I still wanted to see at least the Devils set up more often and spend less time chasing the puck.
PK Beasts: While they didn't score, the Devils penalty kill really put a scare into the Canucks. Given that the Canucks have the most successful power play in the league, that the Devils tended to push the play in their end and came somewhat close to scoring was remarkable. The fans gave them their due (Henrique and Parise first; later, Kovalchuk and Ryan Carter) and deservedly so. The PK excellence continues.
That Other Goaltender: While Schneider was and will be rightfully lauded for his efforts tonight, I didn't think Martin Brodeur had that bad of a game. He just didn't have a lot to do. The Raymond goal looked soft from my eye. Tom Gulitti tweeted that Andy Greene said the puck hit off his knee, which was possible since Greene was in the path of the shot. I'd have to take a closer, less tired look at the goal to confirm. Still, I can't really say Brodeur lost the game entirely. Had that shot been stopped and all else being equal, the game would have sat at 1-1. Whether the Raymond goal was soft doesn't change from the Devils' inability to get pucks past Schneider. The Canucks essentially sat on the lead late and so the one (possible) error sticks out more.
The Return of Ryan Carter: Carter definitely showed some jump to his game as it was his first in a while, but that's the most I can really say about how he played. He lined up with Jacob Josefson and Cam Janssen, who was in the lineup in place of the now-traded Kurtis Foster. Carter didn't have a lot to do and didn't do a lot. He only played 5:50 and didn't register any shooting attempts. He was a -1 in Corsi but a +1 in Fenwick, so he wasn't really a big negative or positive tonight. I will say he looked a lot better than Eric Boulton and I look forward to him playing on the fourth line more and more this season. Now all the Devils need is a fourth line right winger to replace Cam Janssen and maybe this unit can display some competency across all three positions. Maybe.
Faced Off: The Devils were just horrible at the faceoff dot tonight. Vancouver boasts of the best faceoff takers in the league and they beat on the Devils constantly. The Canucks went 42-for-61 on draws. That's a winning percentage of 69% and the dominance was notable. The Devils' best regular faceoff taker was Dainius Zubrus and he went 6-for-12. The rest were just horrid. Elias went 2-for-12; Henrique went 4-for-18; and Clarkson went 2-for-6. I don't know how big that effect really was since the Devils did out-shoot and out-attempt Vancouver anyway, but some more faceoff wins here and there certainly could have helped the Devils out.
Quelled: Say what you want about the defense, but I can't really complain too loudly about a performance that held the Canucks to 16 shots at evens. Given the strength of their attack, that's the sort of night you want to see from them. The Sedin twins combined contributed only two shots to tonight's game, Alexandre Burrows only got an assist on the Rome goal to go with his one, and no Canuck had more than 2 shots a piece. Kesler had 6 attempts but still ended up negative in Corsi and Fenwick (-3 and -2, respectively) thanks to the Henrique line eating his lunch. While there were some moments of panic - including one where Brodeur had to dive out and prevent a short one-on-one in the slot to bail out the D - I don't have many complaints with how the defensemen performed in their own end. I would have liked better pinching at the point from a few players - namely Matt Taormina - but that goes back to the passing, bad bounces, etc. that made the Devils' effort seem more flawed than it really was.
One Final Thought: At an attempt of solace, this isn't really a bad loss. OK, I would have liked the Devils to have got a result out of this one. Their play deserved at least a point, but that comes from my admittedly biased viewpoint. I just think it's not so bad to lose to a top team in the opposite conference after a very good effort. It is imperative that the Devils end February strong because they'll be facing two Eastern conference teams: the improving Tampa Bay and Our Hated Rivals. Their success will hurt the Devils more directly in the standings than a Vancouver win.
That's my take on tonight's loss, now I want to know your thoughts about the game. What did you make of the Devils' performance? What more could they have done to try and get that equalizer? How well did you think the forward lines did? How about the defense? What do you think the Devils need to improve upon before Sunday's game against Tampa Bay? That Cody Schneider had a big game, didn't he? Please leave your answers and thoughts about the game (not the trade, the game) in the comments. Thanks to those who commented and read through the gamethread and those who followed the sparse tweets from @InLouWeTrust. Thanks for reading.