One could say that the New Jersey Devils blew two points tonight against the Boston Bruins in a 2-1 shootout loss. They had a lead going into the third period, they kept that lead in the third period, and it went up in smoke with just over four minutes left in the game. The Devils couldn't solve it in overtime, they had opportunities to win it as the second team in the shootout, but they couldn't get the job done. If you're disappointed about tonight's shootout loss, then I sympathize. However, the result and events of the game were not as simple as the score line looked.
I was uneasy about tonight's game given the strength and depth of Boston's roster. As it turned out, I was right to think so. The Devils kept even with the Bruins in the shot count and the score board after the first period at 9-9 and 0-0, respectively. However, the Bruins edged them in Corsi 21-17. The first period was fairly open with both sides racking up the blocks and misses. Yet, Boston looked more dangerous more often in gaining the zone, crashing the slot, and testing Johan Hedberg early. The Devils didn't slouch but they didn't respond in the same way all that often. The proof was in the shooting attempts at evens, even if Boston only held a small advantage.
The second period went fairly well for the Devils. David Clarkson deflected a Marek Zidlicky shot past Tuukka Rask to open the game's scoring. It was a great shift from Clarkson as he held possession while wheeling around the offensive zone, before laying it off and getting back in the slot where he eventually had his fortunate tip. Making it more impressive that it was on the power play, snapping Boston's perfect penalty kill for the season. The Devils enjoyed three power plays in terms of keeping the puck, they were solid on their two penalty kills, and in total the Devils out-shot the B's 7-5. At evens, it was a lower-event period but the Devils were strong there 9-3. It was their best period in a while; hanging with the Bruins of all teams in their house.
It went away. Part of it has to do with being down a goal, but Boston eventually took the game over. They ramped up the offensive pressure. They got more favorable match-ups, such as the Krejci line getting direct looks at the Gionta line. Whenever the Devils got into Boston's end, their defense kept them largely from the middle of the ice. Boston, on the other hand, were able to get in more easily and set up potential looks. Bad bounces, bad passes, important interventions by the Devils, and some big stops by Johan Hedberg. They were just denied at moments. A big kill by the Devils would give one hope; but an ill-advised change on defense led to an 3-on-2 rush. Nathan Horton was wide open on the left flank, he got the puck from David Krejci, and Hedberg was beaten five hole. It was an error by the Devils in a period where Boston bossed them around as time went on, and it was an awful goal to give up by a goalie who did as well as you could ask someone who hasn't played in ten months. The third ended at 1-1 and Boston out-shot the Devils 13-8. Not that awful, but the real damage was in the attempts. The proof was again in the Corsi events, where Boston absolutely crushed New Jersey 18-6 in the third. Your eyes weren't playing tricks on you, the Devils really did look second rate. Just like most of the Boston-New Jersey games from last season. The uneasiness was justified, it just took some time before it happened.
Overtime was a bit more even than expected. Krejci just barely missed on a quick feed in the slot, Boston actually got two on Hedberg, the Devils got one on Rask, and Corsi events were 6-4 in favor of Boston. Not a bad overtime after that third period effort, which was mostly Boston just doing everything well. The Devils entered their first shootout of the season. Tyler Seguin and Ilya Kovalchuk scored, Patrik Elias hit the post, and every other shooter got denied except for Brad Marchand in the sixth round. His low shot got through Hedberg's gaping five-hole. Marek Zidlicky had to score to keep it going but he didn't. Hence, the loss.
I can understand if you're not happy about the shootout loss. I can agree that giving up a lead hurts. I can even sympathize with the shootout strategy. However, I thought this was going to be a difficult game for theDevils and it turned out to be one. The Bruins were who I thought they were. That it took six rounds in a shootout to ultimately fall to them speaks to how resilient this team is. There's still plenty of room for improvement and criticism, but a point is worth taking in that regard. If you're going to lose in this shortened season, then getting something out of it is the best way to go about it. The Devils at least did that.
The Opposition Opinion: Stanley Cup of Chowder has full coverage of tonight's game in their stream. A recap will appear there.
The Game Highlights: NHL.com has plenty of Moose sightings, Rask moments, and two goals in regulation in this highlight video:
The Corsi Charts: Since I have a template and I'm learning to use it quickly, I'm going to try and add the Corsi charts for both teams after road games. Remember that these charts are for shots, blocks, misses, and goals at even strength, including overtime. The Devils fell behind Boston 48-36 as a team, thanks to that Boston-controlled third period. Here's the Devils' chart:
That's a lot of negative numbers. Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac ended up on the wrong side of possession with -7 each. That seems right given how quiet they seemed on offense. Stefan Matteau managed to equal them at -7 while playing far less than both at even strength. The real sore spot here is Bryce Salvador. He got worked over tonight. I know he's a defensive defenseman and he doesn't generate a lot of offense. However, seeing #24 repeatedly get pinned back doesn't speak well to his effectiveness. Of course he led the Devils defense in even strength ice time with 18:40. The other defenders not named Marek Zidlicky weren't so negative and even Zidlicky wasn't anywhere near -13. If you're looking for positives for possession, well, the Elias and Gionta lines did a lot better than I thought. They had their struggles but they fought back here and there.
Now let's look at Boston's chart
Tonight, the line of Krejci, Horton, and Lucic really led the way. They were out there for the most events and they had the better differentials. Surprising to me, the line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Tyler Seguin weren't so strong in terms of generating events. They weren't bad, they were just decent to slightly positive. Their bottom two lines were mostly positive. The Boston defense was collectively strong. Aaron Johnson was a particular standout with a +7. I guess that was him keeping quite a few of those pucks on those shifts where New Jersey seemingly spent an eternity in their own end in the third period?
Hot Clarkson: The best Devil tonight was clearly David Clarkson. Not only was he just under zero in terms of possession, but he was firing away. Clarkson led the Devils tonight with seven shots on net, six if you don't count the deflection goal (goals are always counted as shots for the scorer), and he only missed once. Clarkson was strong on the puck and he was more than willing to keep it and drive forward as the situation necessitated. Clarkson has surely benefited in terms of defense and possession by playing with Elias and Dainius Zubrus. All the same, he's really justifying his spot on the second line. If only he scored in the shootout, then it would have capped off a good game for the right winger.
Middling Kovy: Following Clarkson in shots on net is Ryan Carter with three. In terms of attempts, Kovalchuk was second with six total. Alas, #17 only got two on net as the other four were either blocked or missed. Neither of those shots were after the second period. This isn't to say that Kovalchuk did nothing out there. He was really great on the penalty kill tonight. He did score a sweet shootout goal. However, he needed to do more. I know he saw a lot of Chara-Boychuk and it didn't help that Zajac did very little too. Yet, he's the big offensive star for this team and how he does will drive how the team does. I'm confident he'll get back to his usual, take lots of shots to score self. I hope it'll be very soon. It would have been a big help tonight.
Baffling Shootout: As far as shootouts go, I saw two things I never saw before. The first was a re-do. Before Tyler Seguin got past Hedberg's left pad, a fan threw some sort of object on the ice directed at Hedberg. I did a double-take as some yellow object was hurled onto the ice. That's a scummy move by the fan. The refs conferenced and decided to re-do the shot. Seguin went right and scored. Hopefully that fan has been caught and will be punished for trying to interfere with the game.
The second was seeing Marek Zidlicky take a round. I understand it was round six, but a defenseman? Honestly, Zidlicky's shot wasn't that bad. He tried to get it over Rask's left pad but the glove was present. The other Devils shooters before him - Zajac, Clarkson, Jacob Josefson - were all denied. It's not like Zubrus is a breakaway wizard or that there were other, more offensive players on the Devils. If they did, then we'd have to ask where they were for the prior 65 minutes. I guess shootouts get weird when they go deep.
Beneficial Officiating: The Devils actually played a fairly disciplined game. They only took three minor penalties to the Bruins' five. Yes, the other team handed the Devils' more opportunities to score. The interference call on Daniel Paille shouldn't have been counted. He was just in the area as Salvador accidentally clipped Hedberg to take him down. Other than that, it's good to see the Devils get the better of calls by the refs. It also suggest the Devils managed to get the B's to make some mistakes.
The Devils' power play was OK. They got a goal on a team that headed into this game perfect on their PK and put six other shots on net over five opportunities. The Devils had good possession on all but their first one. They could have done more on them but maintaining control of the puck and getting set up more often is a step in the right direction. As an aside, the penalty kill remained strong, allowing only four shots against over three kills.
Mostly Massive Moose: It's easy to point to Johan Hedberg's performance tonight as a positive. After all, it was his first game in ten months. He made 27 saves, saw a lot more attempts, he saw shots from all kinds of angles from Boston, and he made two huge ones on a third period penalty kill, first off a rush and the rebound. Moose looked big in the net for the most part. Outside of the net, well, I'll be nice and just state that he didn't skip a beat when it came to playing the puck.
That said, the two goals he did allow tonight were pretty bad ones. Yes, the Devils got caught in a defensive change and Henrik Tallinder was caught in a bad spot. Yes, Horton had a wide open shot. He could have done much better as he saw the shot clearly and covered his five-hole. That would be a poor goal to allow by any goalie regardless of form and it must be stated. In the shootout, Marchand's winning score got through an even bigger hole between his legs. Ouch.
I'm not saying Hedberg's a liability or that he alone lost the game. Not at all! For one, that would excuse the play of the team in the third period. More importantly, the fact that Hedberg only got beaten once and went deep in a shootout in his first game in ten months is proof that he had a very good night. I'm just pointing out that they weren't good goals to allow.
The Last of Matteau?: Matteau played 8:56 tonight, had some interesting passes, put two shots on Rask, and had a hideous giveaway in the first period. It wasn't that bad of a night from the perspective of an 18-year old playing in the pros for the fifth game ever. That is who he is. But is he an average NHL player? No. Matteau didn't really do anything tonight to justify keeping him in my eyes, and I didn't think so in his first four games. I hope he goes back juniors with his head held high and a purpose to improve.
The First of Anderson: Matt Anderson played his first as a New Jersey Devil. The 30-year old winger was on the fourth line and he looked like someone playing in the NHL for the first time. A bit nervous at times, but he kept it simple. He played 6:57, didn't register a shot on goal, but he did scramble a puck out and nearly ended up with a lucky re-direction in the second period. He also didn't hurt the team much. I still think the team should've called up Bobby Butler in place of Mattias Tedenby instead. I don't know how long he'll be in New Jersey but he'll likely remain on the fourth line until some other roster moves happen.
A Goon Who Wasn't Totally Useless: Krys Barch drew a penalty, got a shot on net in close range, and actually appeared in all three periods if only for a little bit. It took him 4:33 to do more tonight than Cam Janssen has done and could do in weeks.
Block Party: This game was filled with plenty of blocks and it helped serve as to why the offensive attacks didn't always for the goalie to do anything. Nobody was really stood out in terms of getting blocked other than Milan Lucic. He was blocked five times out of his seven shooting attempts; the other two just missed the net. The most blocked Devil was Andy Greene with three. The blocked were spread around each team, as the Devils had 14 attempts blocked and the Bruins had 19 attempts blocked. In terms of who was doing the blocking, Salvador, Greene and Anton Volchenkov led the Devils with five each and Johnny Boychuk led Boston with three. I would think they would get the extra ice packs.
Eight Out of Ten: It would have been fantastic if the Devils got that second point tonight, but it wasn't to be. The main positives was that the first period wasn't abjectly awful, they still took a game to OT after getting crushed for most of the third period, they didn't take a lot of stupid penalties, and their 39-year old rusty goalie got most of the rust off. Peter DeBoer even used all twelve of his forwards in the third period, though he kept a few to less than one minute. Those are all good and it's even better that it happened on the road against a strong team who got good match-ups, did better in the first, and really controlled the third. The next step is keeping that up while cutting down further on mistakes, making it more difficult for opposition teams to get in the zone and get set up on offense, generating more shooting attempts and pressure of their own, and making more of their opportunities.
What did you make of tonight's game? Are you glad the Devils took a point out of this one, or are you more bothered with another loss? Were you convinced of Boston's strength as a team in all aspects not called the power play? What positives, if any, do you take out of tonight's game from the Devils? Which defenseman, if any, do you take out of the next game for the Devils? What do you think the Devils need to work on the most based on tonight's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this shootout loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread, those who followed on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust, and you for reading this recap.