The 2012 Stanley Cup Finals began tonight at the Prudential Center, with the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings. Both teams stacked up well on paper against each other and both teams played an up-tempo, offensive style of game to get this far in the postseason. We didn't see too much of the "offense" from either side, as the game turned out more like a rock fight than a game filled with offensive pressure. The Kings were sloppy, the Devils were far sloppier, and the Devils lost Game 1 in overtime when their second big defensive breakdown resulted in Anze Kopitar getting a huge breakaway on Martin Brodeur. Kopitar showed his backhand long enough for Brodeur to take it, and then Kopitar went forehand to win it 2-1 for the Kings. The result certainly was disappointing.
Yet, I think the real disappointment lies with the Devils' performance. They were just lucky to be in overtime at all with an opportunity to steal the game. The bad ice and the layoff in between their last game and this one certainly had an effect on both teams. However, the Devils have played on this ice before in this postseason it's not like five days is enough to undo what they've done so far in this postseason. It would be one thing if the Devils only suffered in the first period; but they went through long stretches in each of the three periods without a shot on net. The Kings didn't exactly make it rain pucks on New Jersey either; they struggled at times as well. That said, they were more successful tonight, out-shooting the Devils 25-17, out-attempting them in all situations 55-34, and out-doing them at evens with a team Corsi of +16. Getting 25 shots on net in about 68 minutes isn't exactly what I would call good, but was a lot better than what New Jersey could muster up tonight. All they need to be is better than New Jersey now, and they were.
The Devils' offense simply disappeared at times and it's a real shame because it wasn't like Los Angeles was so great. It was real frustrating to see the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk or Adam Henrique throw passes to no one or miss their targets entirely. It was bothersome to see the likes of David Clarkson mishandle an otherwise good pass to kill an attack. It was bewildering to see Zach Parise and Travis Zajac spend far more time defending than attacking. It was infuriating to see the Devils get a rush up ice or an opportunity to get a shot, only to pass the puck away and squander the opportunity. And it's not like those specific players were the only ones, almost all of the skaters were just so, so bad at moving the puck forward tonight.
As a result, the Devils got soundly beaten in possession, shots on net, and attempts. Jonathan Quick really wasn't tested and he was prone to giving up some big rebounds, too. One would think that after a five-shot first period, the Devils would try to make him work a little more. They responded with three in the second, with the first one coming at about the halfway mark - generously given to Parise. Sure, Anton Volchenkov's shot got in thanks to a deflection of Slava Voynov's shoulder, but it was a miracle given how the rest of that second period went. The third period showed a much better effort, including a disallowed goal on Parise for knocking the puck in with his hand. Yet, after that initial surge, the Devils went back to losing pucks in the neutral zone, dumping in pucks to no avail, and struggle to get into the blueline. Credit has to go to the Kings defense for making it difficult, but it seemed to me that the Devils just made a lot of bad decisions going forward and didn't adjust enough.
Simply, this was a bad performance by the Devils. Martin Brodeur did what he could to keep it a game, but he can't score goals or have the Devils perform a successful breakout play. A win in overtime or in the third period on either of the open net opportunities would have been wonderful. Yet, it would have been a stolen victory. The Devils didn't deserve to win this one, and they didn't. Kopitar's game winning goal came from a grave defensive error; but the horrible puck movement and lack of offense doomed the Devils tonight. Peter DeBoer and his players will have plenty to look at and hopefully adjust over the next two days.
For an opposition take on tonight's game, please visit Jewels from the Crown. For more thoughts about the 2-1 overtime loss in Game 1, please continue on after the jump.
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 sure some highlights in what turned out to be a hockey game. NHL.com has them right here:
This is What You Get When You Hang a Goalie Out to Dry: Martin Brodeur didn't see a lot of pucks, but the two that beat him came from open Kings in dangerous situations. The first goal against was scored by Colin Fraser, the fourth line center on LA. While the shot went through the five-hole, Fraser was wide open inside the right circle for a one-timer. It's not at all an easy shot to stop. Given that it was even strength and the Devils' top line was out there, it's baffling that anyone could be left open in a prime position. It doesn't matter if it's Kopitar or Fraser, it's never a good idea to leave open players like that. But he was, and when he got the puck from Jordan Nolan, he made the Devils pay. Awesome lack of coverage, guys.
As for the game winner, well, allowing a breakaway in a five-on-five situation takes quite a bit to go wrong. Especially since Kopitar had so much time and space to work with the puck. It was almost like a shootout attempt. The play starts with Marek Zidlicky - surprise! - making a bad decision. He goes in for a pinch, has second thoughts, and backs out. This put him in a no man's land, so Dustin Brown looked like he was going to head up ice with the puck. Kopitar read this as permission to go forward. With help from Zajac, Zidlicky and Brown cancel each other out but Zajac couldn't control the puck (big surprise). So Drew Doughty had no problem chipping the puck past him and up the boards. Bryce Salvador had already dropped back behind Zidlicky as cover, but he couldn't close down Justin Williams in time. Dainius Zubrus was in the neutral zone, but he went towards Williams rather than trying to get into the passing lane or towards Kopitar. Maybe it would have been moot since Kopitar is fast and Zubrus is not. As Salvador lunged, Williams tossed a pass to the already-forward Kopitar - who was wide open. Breakaway, deke, second deke, and it's over.
Brodeur otherwise made plenty of important stops while the Devils seemingly forgot how to make simple or easy passes within the neutral and offensive zones. He had a busier night than Quick with 25 shots on 55 attempts against. Brodeur did his job, in my opinion. Alas, he was hung out twice and they quickly became goals against.
Bad, So, So, So Very Bad: I'm anticipating DeBoer changing lines for Game 2 because the ones used tonight were just not good. The unit of Adam Henrique, Kovalchuk, and Alexei Ponikarovsky were particularly bad. Henrique was invisible at times, Kovalchuk was just poor with the puck, and Ponikarovsky was either panicking or completely lost on plays. All three combined for three shots on net tonight and two came from Henrique. Kovalchuk needs to get more than just one shot on net; and Ponikarovsky needs to relax and play anything he resembled during the regular season. It was hard watching them at times.
Amazingly, they were not the worst line in possession. Oh, they were bad; but the Zajac unit was worse. They did get matched up with the Kopitar line as well as the Kings' top defensive pairing of Doughty and Rob Scuderi. That's not an easy group to play against. That said, Parise and Zajac were each a -9 in Corsi. And they weren't much better in Fenwick (Corsi without blocks) as both were -8. They got pinned back way more than they attacked. Dainius Zubrus helped out a bit, but he was a negative player who got more hits and took many more than attempts on net (two, one shot on net). Of the two, I'm more disappointed with Parise. Considering one his three shots on net was just him moving the puck towards Quick on a PK and forcing a freeze, your team leader in non-dubious shots on net was Ryan Carter. And Ryan Carter actually did more on the ice than Zach Parise did tonight. While he sometimes had weaker opponents, he got 11:31 and finished only -1 in Corsi.
Basically, this top six needs to be reformed and the players on them need to perform better in Game 2. Kovalchuk and Parise have to provide more offense. Zajac and Henrique need to chip in and help out defensively. Zubrus needs to focus less on using his big body for hits and more on using his big body to make plays. I will also say that I want Patrik Elias back with them. Elias led the team in shooting attempts with five and was one of two Devils who were positive in Corsi (+1) and Fenwick (+5) tonight. (Aside: the other one was Stephen Gionta, +1 in both categories.) He was actually not bad, but he could have done a lot more with Kovalchuk and Henrique or some combination of the Zajac line. Hopefully, he'll get a chance in Game 2.
Third Pairing Surprise: I didn't think Peter Harrold was picked on physically tonight. If anything, we saw a lot of Harrold and Volchenkov. Harrold played a total of a little more than 21 minutes tonight and Volchenkov got over 18 minutes. Given that we've seen them play for 13-15 minutes, that's a surprising jump. Were they good? Well, sort of? Like the rest of the team, they struggled to get the puck forward with their passes. They were negative possession players; though Harrold's -8 Corsi and Volchenkov's -4 Corsi were boosted by several blocks. In Fenwick, Harrold was only a -2 and Volchenkov was a +1. That's a nice outcome given that they've been usually the doormats on this blueline.
This all said, it wouldn't surprise me if DeBoer considers adding Adam Larsson in somewhere. The team's breakouts and passes into and through the neutral zone were horrid tonight. While he takes risks, Larsson does have the ability to make excellent passes to open up the game. The Devils may benefit from that. We'll see.
The Haunting of the Empty Net, or I Keep Saying You Need Good Bounces This is Why: There were about three glorious opportunities from my vantage point for the Devils to score. In the first period, David Clarkson had a wide open net on a rebound attempt and it just sailed over the glass. Prior to Parise's scrum and the waved-off goal in the third period, Parise saw the puck behind Quick just waiting to be tapped in. It was similar to Henrique scoring in Game 6. Yet, Parise of all people couldn't jam it in. Later in the third, the Devils actually got an odd man rush and didn't waste it. Mark Fayne joined up on the play and while he was open with an empty net on Quick's left flank, he the puck wide thanks to the puck taking an unfortunate bounce. Since the Devils were out-shot, out-possessed, and out-played for stretches at a time, it's easy to regret that they were missed in retrospect. They were chances to steal the game. Neither didn't happen tonight. On another night, one or two of them are goals and we're talking about a different game. The Devils didn't get those bounces and they certainly didn't make a lot of attempts for one to help them.
Letting it All Go: The refs decided to stay out of this one for the most part. They only called three penalties, two on LA and one on New Jersey, and they were obvious calls. Perhaps it was for the best that there weren't many power plays as both teams struggled with the man advantage. OK, the first Devils' power play was good. The second one was awful particularly because the Devils were still at zero shots in the second when it began and it ended that way. One has to credit the Kings' PK for showing up and shutting down the Devils' second power play with seeming ease. They can also credit the Devils' PK for keeping LA from taking advantage of their one man advantage with only one shot allowed. At least the PK units can both claim solid performances.
How Good? Quite: Scuderi and Doughty were great tonight. Scuderi was a +14 in Corsi, Doughty was a +15, and I think the duo are still stopping plays dead in their own end. Whoever went against them - usually the Zajac line - just suffered as they were seemingly everywhere when play entered the Kings' end. They prevented hard dump-ins from turning into possession along the boards. They cleaned up the puck well around Quick. They made a point of it to get the puck up forward quickly, usually to the Kopitar line, which collectively put up 10 of the Kings' 27 shots tonight, including the game winning goal. If there's a unit the Devils may have to specifically plan for, then it should be this one based on what I saw tonight.
Speaking of defenses, I would say both teams have to be at least somewhat pleased with the performances. Sure, they each made mistakes - the Devils made two grave ones that cost them. But those are errors. Overall, they did a very good job preventing the opposition from generating a lot of shots. The Kings succeeded much more in attempts; but holding a team that has averaged over 30 shots per game in the playoffs to just 25 isn't nothing to sneeze at.
Note to Clarkson: You were a shot machine in the regular season and you collected pucks softly so you can turn them into shots. You didn't settle for long shots above the circle, you tried to get in close and throw it on net even if it meant hitting the goalie in the logo. I know you have eight assists, but you would really help the team out if you would shoot more and in closer range. Especially in games where the team struggles to get to 15 shots, much less 20 or 25. A lot of other Devils need to step up after this game, but I feel like I could have typed this in other games. Please shoot more, Clarkson.
Note to Zidlicky (or the Rest of the Team): If you're jumping up on a play and you have a shooting lane, then don't pass it to an unaware teammate (e.g. Kovalchuk while he's turning away). Shoot! And if you're thinking pinching from the point, then either go all the way or don't go at all.
One Final Thought: This is only Game 1 of the series. The Devils lost Game 1 to Philly and New York and those series went OK. I'm not happy that the Kings have taken home ice away for now. Given how the Devils played tonight, I can't say they really deserved to keep it. That all said, the Devils should look to improve in Game 2. They are team that's better than a measly 17 shots on net out of 34 attempts; and they'll have to be if they want a chance at winning it. I am hopeful that they will not be as sloppy as they were in Game 1 if only because that would be really, really hard to replicate. However, the Kings, while victorious, will be looking to improve as well. I can't imagine Darryl Sutter was pleased with only 1 goal out of 22 shots on net in regulation. The Kings also suffered from bad ice, good defending, and bad decisions in passing. They'll likely try to sharpen up as well. It's not going to be easy, but nothing really is in the Stanley Cup Finals
That's my take on tonight's game. What did you think of how both teams played tonight? Would you agree that this was one ugly game to watch? Do you think the Devils deserved to win this game, or would you agree that they didn't? There were a lot of bad Devils players tonight, who was the worst in your opinion and why? What do you think DeBoer should change going into Saturday's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this 2-1 OT loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread as well as followed my sparse tweets with @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.