On Tuesday, the New Jersey Devils lost to the New York Rangers 2-0 in a game that I called the most frustrating game the Devils played all season. I spoke too soon. The New Jersey Devils topped that with an even worse performance at Nassau Coliseum. The Devils lost to the New York Islanders 1-0. Yes, after scoring five goals on the Capitals - a team with legitimate playoff hopes - they did not manage to get one goal against a team that is still way out on the outside looking in. Yes, the Islanders started a rookie call-up from the Islanders, Anders Nilsson, and he picked up a shutout in his first NHL victory. Devils fans are irate and they should be.
Let me be frank: the Devils played stupid hockey this afternoon. Just stupid. The first two periods featured the Devils passing up more shooting opportunities than they actually took. The third period saw many more shots on net, but not many of them were threatening. More distressingly, more of them went into the bodies of Isles than onto Nilsson much less the back of the net. The offensive effort wasn't as horrid as they were at MSG last Tuesday. It was still too little too late.
Unlike how they played against the Rangers, the Devils were also dumb in other aspects of the game. The defensive effort wasn't too bad at evens as they only allowed 13 shots on net. However, they had their moments where the Isles pinned back the skaters on long shifts in the first two periods. Botched clearances and just getting beat on coverages were just foolish at times. They also didn't have much of an answer for the Isles' top line of P.A. Parenteau, Matt Moulson, and John Tavares and Martin Brodeur and the goal frame were the only reasons why they didn't score. Of course, the one goal the Isles did get involved Kyle Okposo overpowering Anton Volchenkov and surprising Brodeur with a shot he probably should have stopped. That wasn't smart defending or goaltending.
What was worse - and adding further to the dumbness - were the penalties. The Devils took six minor penalties and handed the Isles five power plays - including a 98 second 5-on-3 situation. The first four calls were exceedingly moronic: a clearance over the glass by Bryce Salvador, a clear hook in front of the ref by Ryan Carter, Zach Parise tripping and knocking down Mark Streit at the blueline during the Carter penalty, and an obvious hold by Matt Taormina along the boards near the end of the second period. All four of them displayed a lack of discipline and it meant more time for the Devils to not attack. The Isles PP didn't convert but they threatened early and often with 12 shots on net and a crossbar.
All told, it was a very disappointing afternoon. The Devils follow up a big win with a big let down. I'd say the Devils shot themselves in the foot, but it's more appropriate to say they shot it into the Isles' foot given 27 attempts were blocked. It's definitely not a good way to start a busy week where the Devils will host the Rangers on Tuesday and then face the Isles two more times. The offensive effort needs to be simpler and smarter. The discipline needs to be stricter and smarter. The passing needs to be sharper. The overall effort needs to be smarter. You can't win in this league without playing with some intelligence. The Devils further proved that theory today.
For a happier take on this game, you'll need to read Dominik's recap over at Lighthouse Hockey. If you want to read more about this game, then continue on after the jump for more of my thoughts on this team.
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: There were plenty of highlights for the Islanders. Check them out in this video from NHL.com:
How Many Blocks?: 27 attempts blocked! The Devils had more attempts blocked than shots on net! I don't know if the Isles scorer overcounts blocked, but I can definitely believe there was 27 blocked shots since it seemed like every other shooting attempt by the Devils ended up in the legs of an Islander skater.
What struck me was who had the blocks:
A List of Blocks - Forwards: Ilya Kovalchuk - 4; Patrik Elias - 3; Zach Parise, David Clarkson - 2; Dainius Zubrus, Petr Sykora -1 Total: 13
A List of Blocks - Defensemen: Anton Volchenkov - 4; Mark Fayne, Bryce Salvador, Adam Larsson - 3; Matt Taormina - 1 Total: 14
Interesting. They were split almost evenly between forwards and defensemen.
Here's a conclusion for both: Stop firing pucks through traffic when it's not working!
The Devils attempted to go long range to bust up the Isles' defense and it really didn't work out since a majority of the blocks came from the defensemen. That the defensemen collectively attempted as many shots as they did speaks to how the Devils struggled to get down low all game long. The Isles' backchecking was impressively effective and the defensemen were stout in their position. The Devils made some dumb decisions with the puck on offense; but the Isles really didn't give up a ton of space when the Devils attack. It's why there were multiple shifts where the Devils would have the puck for 15 to 30 seconds in the Isles end but only attempt one or two shots on net. It definitely made the game easier for Nilsson and more difficult for the Devils. It wasn't too much unlike the Tortorella collapse-five defense.
Feel Bad, Brodeur: Plenty of big saves, the post helped a few times, and he should have had the Okposo goal in retrospect. Still, he was shelled on the PK early on, he robbed Tavares more than once, and the guys in front of him give him nothing on the scoreboard to work with. Games like this are more frustrating when you consider the goaltender has a pretty good game overall and it's pointless because the rest of the team decided to not attack against the Isles like they did against, say, the Caps.
The Zubrus Adjustment: Early in the game, both Steve Cangelosi and Glenn "Chico" Resch noted that Peter DeBoer was trying to get Dainius Zubrus, Jacob Josefson, and David Clarkson out against the Tavares line. That group did fairly well. Each were a +4 in Corsi in a period where the Devils were a collective -4. The problem is that Jack Capuano got them together on the power play and against other lines: like Patrik Elias' line. In those situations, the Tavares line crushed the Devils. Elias and Petr Sykora were -8 each after the first period.
DeBoer correctly identified the issue and moved Zubrus back Elias and Sykora eventually. The move worked out well. Zubrus improved to +8 in Corsi, Elias and Sykora not only became positive in Corsi at +1 and +2 respectively but they also got some shots on net, and the Tavares line stopped bossing them around. Call it coincidence, but I do think Zubrus is really playing some good hockey if he can have such an effect on those two players.
Or maybe it was an effect of Josefson and Clarkson doing fairly well in the possession game all on their own that allowed DeBoer to switch Steve Bernier with Zubrus? Josefson and Clarkson finished the game at +11 and +12 Corsi, respectively. They didn't get worse without Zubrus.
I Told You They Weren't a Bad Power Play Team: The Devils took four stupid power plays and really paid the price on them. No, the Islanders didn't score, but they put 12 shots on net. The first power play was almost entirely in the Devils' end; and the five-on-three involved a lot of breath-holding and Parenteau putting two great chances wide. The Devils' PK got more effective in preventing the Isles from doing much later. There was even a two-on-one led by Volchenkov in a 4-on-3 situation late in the game. But early on, the Devils PK just struggled to even get a clearance. Hopefully in the next two games, the PK won't need several opportunities to get it together. At least Brodeur kept the puck out of the net.
The Devils only got one power play and didn't do too much with it. They only got one shot on net, but it was during a turgid second period performance where attempts by the Devils seemed few and far between. There could have been a few other calls on the Isles, namely Elias getting chopped down from behind during the one power play. However, that's not to excuse the Devils' performance. If anything, the lack of calls on the Isles should have drawn them to go hard at the Isles more often - something I will say they did more of in the third period.
If Only, If Only, If Only: There's not a whole lot I can really say about the game that wasn't impressed on prior to the jump. I will admit the Devils definitely didn't get their share of luck outside of Tavares hitting the post twice. Elias hit a post on a shot in front. Fayne got a Kovalchuk sort-of-pass in the slot and instead of firing high, the shot just sailed into traffic and out. The jam plays in the third period didn't result in the delicious treat of a goal scored. On another night, the Devils may have taken this game.
At the same time, the Devils pressed the issue too late. The effort to go directly to the goal and keep things simple should have started after the first period ended. Or at least a few minutes after the Okposo goal. I can say "If only those other opportunities went in;" but really, the Devils could have and should have done more sooner. Then, there would have at least been more opportunities. Maybe it draws a penalty, maybe they get in the right place for a rebound, maybe they force Nilsson to be great instead of just being big and being wherever he was.
Credit the Isles: Let's face it, the Isles played a solid game. They kept the Devils honest in the third period with 7 shots, their power play tried to make the most of their man advantage, and they could have easily scored more goals. John Tavares is a beast of a player as he had 5 shots on net, 3 blocked, 3 missed, 2 hit the post, and he torched Mark Fayne to force an impressive Brodeur save in the third period. The defensive pairing of Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic took on the Henrique line and gave very little space for Parise, Kovalchuk (no shots after the first period), and Adam Henrique (no shots at all). As a whole, the Isles defense was smooth in getting the puck out of their own end and getting it to their forwards to go forward. Kyle Okposo's goal was a great individual effort. David Ullstrom was quick and went hard to the net when he could. If nothing else, we learned yet again that the Isles can put together a very good performance and give the Devils a lot of problems.
I hope DeBoer, the other coaches, and most importantly, the players learned something today. They're going to be tested by this team again on Thursday and Saturday.
That's my take on this disappointing 1-0 loss. What do the Devils need to improve upon before Tuesday's game against the Rangers? What can they do to avoid a repeat of last week's frustration after frustrating the Devils faithful today? Who needs to have a better performance? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and those who followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.