The New Jersey Devils lost the last game of the regular season to the New York Rangers 4-2. Losing to a rival doesn't feel good. Losing to a rival after having a really bad game against a top team is never a positive sign, it shows that the proper adjustments and improvements after the bad game weren't made. What really makes me unhappy about this game was how the Devils gave away the game to the Rangers. Literally.
Let's work backwards. The Devils made it a 3-2 game in the second period. OK, it was 1-0 to start the second period; but 3-2 is still a one-goal game. It meant the Devils scored two goals against Henrik Lundqvist, and it came from a line that has had some struggles: the Elias line. Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora both scored shortside on Lundqvist to the right post. They didn't look like good goals to give up and with the Devils out-shooting the Rangers 10-7 in the period, there was reason for some hope. How did the Devils play in the third period?
Like garbage. They put up six shots on net and two of them came in garbage time. Why didn't they shoot the puck more? Because they often didn't have the puck in spots to shoot in. They attempted passes that mostly hit nobody or the other team. They dumped the puck in to little avail. Most of all, they just coughed up the puck. Turnovers on offense. Turnovers in the neutral zone. Turnovers in the defensive zone. The Rangers ended up with a myriad of odd-man rushes that somehow didn't end up in the back of the net - except for the 4-on-2 allowed early in the first period that led to Brandon Dubinsky scoring. Martin Brodeur either made a big save, the defense somehow magically recovered, or the Ranger just plain missed the shot. You can't win a one-goal game with such a little offensive effort and you can't get anything resembling a dangerous offense with so many turnovers.
It wasn't just giveaways in the traditional sense of the word. The Devils' gave away the game with a serious lack of discipline. Not long after Elias' goal to put the Devils on the board and in the game, Eric Boulton boarded Ruslan Fedotenko. On the subsequent power play, Mats Zuccarello gets a favorable bounce and easily scores to put the Rangers back up 2-1. The Devils would remain penaltyless until late in the third period when Jacob Josefson struck Ryan Callahan in the face with his stick. It was a silly penalty, it forced the Devils to defend when they needed to attack, and seconds after it ended, Derek Stepan deflected a Brandon Dubinsky shot right in front to make it 4-2 New Jersey. It wasn't a power play goal, but the Rangers' power play helped kill the game and created the game-icing goal. Two penalties directly led to two goals against and they turned out to be the game winner and the insurance goal.
The giving away of the game went beyond a lackluster and turnover-laden third period. There were other areas where the Rangers were allowed to do as they wish. Martin Brodeur has been excellent as of late and he made some huge stops tonight. At the same time, he had two goals allowed that he probably wish he had back: the Dubisnky goal and the Dan Girardi shot that went off him and in. Not that Brodeur got a whole lot of support as the Rangers went up 13-6 in shots in the first period and I suspect the 6 for New Jersey was overblown. Even at the start of the game, we got to see another fourth-line vs. fourth-line battle that ended up with fighting majors for everyone involved except for Bryce Salvador. He got 10 for getting involved to stop one of the scraps ahead of the refs. Yep, a defensive defenseman out for 10 minutes unnecessarily. That's a gift for the Rangers.
All told, the Devils split the season series 3-3 with the Rangers. They've been close, intense, and aggressive games. However, the Devils simply didn't display the latter two adjectives when it came to playing with the puck, puck movement, puck protection, and decision making on offense. It would have been nice if they put as much effort into that instead of throwing checks and whatnot. But the Devils made their choices and so they gave this game to the Rangers early on and gave it to them late to ensure they wouldn't win.
The Rangers got their big win and so the people at Blueshirt Banter are pleased as punch as per Bryan Winters' recap. The Devils faithful like myself aren't happy, and I have a little more to say about the game after the jump.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Shot 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 Game Highlights: Do you really want to see the game highlights? Well, maybe you do. Here are the highlights from NHL.com:
One More Year & A $175,000 Raise: Eric Boulton has one more year on his contract and he'll get a raise of $175k. Seriously. It's at CapGeek, look it up. Remember that after a game like this, where Boulton's contributions were being a part of that stupid line brawl that started the game, tripping Mike Rupp with two minutes left in the first period where the Devils were getting pounded by the Rangers, and boarding Fedotenko which led to the Rangers' third goal. All of that in 6:19 of ice time. Boulton actively hurt the team tonight and it's becoming clearer that Lou's worst move last summer was signing this guy at all, much less to a one-way, two-year deal. I can't believe I'm typing this, but Boulton has made Cam Janssen look good in recent games.
They Did Break 20, But Not 25: The Devils had 22 total shots on net. That's bad and unsurprising given what happened tonight. Their own failures at playing and moving the puck plus the Rangers' 1-2-2 could only lead to a small shot count. It's technically an improvement over the 14 shot performance against Pittsburgh. However, the Devils needed to do far more tonight. When you're losing for most of the game, then you need to take initiative. A team Fenwick of -8 and a team Corsi of -6 is proof of failure in that regard.
One Line Showed Up: I will say that the unit of Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, and Dainius Zubrus had a good game. Given that they were horrid against the Penguins, this was a pleasant development. The Elias line beat up on Dubinsky, Callahan, and Stepan. Sure, Elias and Sykora were critical in creating the 4-on-2 Dubinsky scored on. But after that, they settled down (somewhat, they were turnover prone in the third too) and actually won the possession game. By the end of regulation, Zubrus and Sykora were both a +5 and Elias was a +8 - the best on the Devils. The threesome combined for 10 out of the team's 22 shots on goal and all of them were at even strength. Most of all, the line scored both goals for the Devils. I can't deny that they had a good night. They were a silver lining in the dark cloud that was the Devils' performance.
The Other Lines Didn't: The Henrique line was just poor. Zach Parise hit the post in a first period and promptly did little else outside of turnovers and touching the puck off for Girardi to take the shot that would get it in the net. Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique got slammed in possession at -8 and -6 Corsi, respectively. Kovalchuk at least can say he set up Sykora's goal in the second period. Henrique just suffered out there tonight. His night consisted of going 5-for-15 at the dot, one little shot on net, and getting beaten a lot. He should have gotten the secondary assist on Girardi's goal, come to think of it. Anyway, the Henrique line really needed to be better tonight and they weren't for a second straight game. How this line got more ice time than the Elias line at evens, I do not know.
What about that third line? Their best moments saw them cycle the puck down low, win battles, and still end up with zero to one attempt on net. That's not effective in general and it wasn't tonight. It didn't even wear down a Rangers team clearly up for this game right from the get-go.
Goodness, Sal: Getting beat by Zuccarello on the PK, taking a roughing minor for beefing with Mike Rupp after a whistle away from the play, and taking 10 for good intentions but still being the third-man-in in a fight. He ended up a +1 in Corsi; but I can understand why he didn't get 15 minutes of icetime tonight. He wasn't all that helpful. I know some fans will point fingers at Adam Larsson or Marek Zidlicky for being the two in the four-on-two that led to the Rangers' first goal, but that's a hard play to defend. I know some will point to Anton Volchenkov and Mark Fayne for being a -6 and -7 in Corsi, respectively, for not doing so well. The Devils defense wasn't so hot at times, but I felt Salvador really stood out for his faults. Perhaps I'm blinded by the 12 PIM nearly matching his even strength ice time: 12:22.
Credit the Rangers: I hate to credit them but when it's due, it's due. Their skaters played a very good game and didn't squander many chances. They scored early and went up in shots 7-1 very quickly. Their power plays resulted in a conversion and one extra shot. The Devils' power plays were large wastes of time, which hurt because the Devils really could have used the offense. They didn't sit on the lead and while their own shot count in the third started low, it's because they kept missing on their odd-man rushes the Devils created for them. They kept their defensive form and didn't stray for most of the game. Lundqvist didn't have the best of games, but tonight, the rest of his team supported him. You know, supporting the goalie. Doing things that wouldn't hurt the team. The opposite of what the Devils have done in the last two games.
One Last Thought: There will be a lot of chatter about the start of the game. Peter DeBoer decided to start the fourth line of Boulton, Janssen, and Ryan Carter. Clearly, DeBoer wanted to goon it up right at the start - just like the last Devils-Rangers game at MSG. There was going to be a fight. It was faker than pro wrestling. It was a bush league move, completely unnecessary, and the resulting line brawl didn't benefit the Devils with Salvador getting a misconduct out of the affair.
However, DeBoer wasn't the only one responsible. As much as John Tortorella spat verbals at DeBoer for starting the New Jersey Line of Sadness, he sent out his own fourth line of goons. He even instructed Stu Bickel, a defenseman, lined up at center. Tortorella could have easily done what every other NHL coach would do against the Devils' fourth line: play actual NHL players against them and pin them back. The result: three fights three seconds into the game that just wasted time before the actual game was played. And when Salvador jumped in to help Carter and got the ten-minute penalty, the game started to go awry.
That's my take on this game. What do the Devils do now? Do they focus solely on getting offense? Should they re-adjust to at least not take eight penalties in a single game? Do they look to support Johan Hedberg so he doesn't get shelled like Martin Brodeur was at times in the last two games? Can they do all of that? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's 4-2 loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread as well as those who followed along at @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.