Tonight the New Jersey Devils lost their third straight game after regulation, 5-4 to the New York Islanders. Of the last three games, I am the most disappointed by this post-regulation loss. Whereas the Devils were fortunate to get a point out of Montreal and survived a third period blitz to get into overtime in Boston, the Devils shot themselves in the foot in handing the Islanders a second point. There were plenty of positives in tonight's performance but they are overshadowed by the bad performances. I'll bring up the usual stats first.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey is pleased with the Isles coming out winners of a wild 5-4 OT win in his recap. He notes how some of the officiating was off and he's right. Brodeur did get away with a trip. No matter, the Isles actually took care of business on the power play whereas the Devils did not.
The Game Highlights: With nine goals scored tonight, this game highlight video from NHL.com is for you fans of lamps being lit.
The Bad, Part 1: First and foremost in my mind are special teams. The Islanders were absolutely great on the power play and the penalty kill tonight. The New Jersey Devils headed into tonight's game against the New York Islanders with one of the more successful penalty kills in the NHL. While the Islanders were more successful, the Devils have been quite good when it came to preventing power plays and shots on said power plays. Their aggressive style has also yielded a couple of shorthanded opportunities to further keep their opponents at bay. We didn't see any of that tonight.
Out of the four power plays the Islanders had, they converted on three of them and nearly got a fourth. All four them came on calls that the Devils didn't need to take but they did. They scored the game's first two goals and the last one in overtime. They piled on shots, putting up 14 of their 35 shots on net on the man advantage including three of their four shots in overtime. They made the Devils look completely out of place and all three power play goals were near-gimmies for the scorers: John Tavares, Keith Aucoin, and Brad Boyes. Coincidentally, all three PPGs came off penalties taken by defensemen.
Worse, each of those PPGs had at least one Devil at fault. On the first, three penalty killers were caught on the left and Ilya Kovalchuk had to make a last-second stop on Brad Boyes in the slot. The puck happened to slide to a wide-open John Tavares for the score. On the second, Martin Brodeur botched a clearance and while both teams got "set-up," Henrik Tallinder was unaware of Keith Aucoin getting behind him. Pass, shot, score. On the third and game winning goal, Brodeur needlessly, wrecklessly, and stupidly gave the puck away behind the net. In the ensuing scramble, no one in red was able to get the puck (Bryce Salvador tried to block the net, Anton Volchenkov just sort of stood there) - and Brad Boyes slammed it in to end the game. The "powerkill" we were used to seeing was replaced by the "awfulkill," and it was a big reason why the Devils lost the game.
The power play was a big reason why the Devils didn't win the game. Those are two separate concepts. The Devils had opportunities late to win the game outright. They had chances earlier in the game to generate the kind of offense they had at evens. Instead, we saw a lot of possession at best with not a lot of shooting. Nine shots on net over five power plays isn't bad; but the team left a lot of chances gone begging. Both Marek Zidlicky and Kovalchuk passed up good shots at the point hoping for better shots that didn't happen. David Clarkson got a breakaway chance but couldn't pull the trigger (and oversold a "trip"). Patrik Elias was all about the dishes and while I know he's a playmaker, he didn't fire when he had the chance. The Devils got the benefit of some calls but they didn't do much and it's a reason why I'm writing about a 5-4 OT loss instead of some other result.
From what I saw, the Devils were better in 5-on-5 play but the Isles owned special teams and weren't so bad at evens to pull out the result.
The Bad, Part 2: Second and nearly as foremost was Martin Brodeur. He's an absolute legend when it comes to playing the puck. Tonight, he was just awful with it. Hedbergesque would be a good, made-up term to describe it. It's not so much he mishandled it, but misfired the puck a few times. At best, it would be put into open space and the skaters would clean it up. At worst, it led to Islander attacks that led to goals. A bad toss was stopped by Aucoin, which led to the sequence that ended with Travis Hamonic feeding Aucoin for the Isles' second power play goal. An even worse decision came when he came out of his net . In terms of saves, he was mostly OK but he got burned on the Isles' third goal and beaten on a breakaway by Michael Grabner, saved only by the post. Let me describe the goal, though. Tavares was storming up ice and beat Salvador to the puck. Big surprise, I know. Brodeur rushed out to try and deny him, which is a good move in theory. However, Brodeur came out in such a way that the shortside was open. Tavares had the strength and kept the puck away from Salvador's swinging stick, and just swept it around Brodeur to make it 3-2 in the second period, sucking up a lot of the excitement at the Rock a minute after the Devils just tied it up. Brodeur can't be faulted for GA #1 and #4 and I'm confident he'll be better with the puck in the future, but he definitely had a bad game tonight. His errors helped the Isles win this one.
The Bad, Part 3: Third and what will be a popular topic will be the defense. They gave up 35 shots, and while they only allowed 19 in 5-on-5 play, they Adam Larsson came in and looked OK until he made two absolutely critical errors. The first was carrying the puck across the middle with pressure, which thankfully didn't lead to a lethal turnover. The second was lethal, throwing his stick out into space to try and stop a shot. Instead, he deflected Mark Streit's long shot, which beat Brodeur. And I was so close to saying he did OK in his first NHL game this season. Now I'm wondering if he paid attention to his past coaches telling him about defensive fundamentals because he clearly forgets them on the ice at times.
I don't have a lot of love for the rest of the D tonight. I know no one plays a perfect game, but I'm struggling to point out someone who had a solid, all-around game. Bryce Salvador was slow, turnover-happy, and beaten. He also nearly scored an own-goal. In a word: ugh. Marek Zidlicky was frustrating enough to watch on the point on power plays. He also took a lazy tripping penalty that led to an Isles score, struggled to keep pucks in on offense and had some trouble on breakouts. His "highlight" was somehow not getting penalized after Michael Grabner torched him for a breakway. Anton Volchenkov was kept to limited minutes as usual (13:18 at evens) and got PK work where he was part of a largely ineffective unit. Henrik Tallinder got a goal - one I'm sure Nabokov would like to have back - but he got beat by Keith Aucoin on a PK and took a bad penalty that led to the winning score in OT. Maybe Andy Greene was that "solid, all-around" performer? Except his interference call was rewarded with an Isles goal.
In total, the PK "work" juiced the shot total but the team had some struggles in their own end. I hope Mark Fayne will be ready to go this weekend.
The Bad, Part 4: Only the last draw really led to the Devils' doom, but the Devils as a whole were beaten on faceoffs decisively. Only Travis Zajac finished with 50% of all faceoffs won and he went 12-for-21. As a whole, the Devils were at 44% and it would have helped him in spots to win a draw or two either to get a clearance or get a quick shot on net.
The Stud Interlude: John Tavares' stats for the night: 20:20 played, 8 shots on net, two goals, a secondary assist for blocking Brodeur's bad decision to go after the puck in OT on the Isles' power play, and 13-for-21 on faceoffs. From what I saw, Grabner had a good game and Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson looked good. However, the true star of the show for the Royal-Blue-and-Orange was Tavares.
So How About that Attack: One of the big positives out of tonight's game is that the Devils answered each and every one of the Islanders' goals in regulation. They came back from 2-0 to make it 2-2, and before the second period was over, the Devils turned a 2-3 deficit to 3-3. Despite a bad deflection making it 3-4 in the third, the Devils were able to tie it up again. It speaks not only to how porous the Islanders were in their own end, but also how resilient the team can be. The only really "lax" play they had in stretches of time was after the Tavares goal in the first period. The Devils had ten shots on net prior to the penalty, and then they proceeded to generate nothing after that goal. But the goals against, despite the errors and poor play causing them, didn't deter them from going out there and trying to attack. In total, the Devils had 32 shots on net, they had 23 at evens, and they out-attempted the Isles over all situations at 57-47. All four goals came at even strength, too.
The Return of Henrique: One of two debuts for the 2013 season was Adam Henrique's first game back from injury. He started off on the fourth line but quickly got moved up the roster. He even got shifts late centering David Clarkson and Dainius Zubrus. Henrique played 14:19 in total ice time, had three attempts on net, and scored on his only shot on net. He drove to the slot to pick up a puck from Clarkson and put it top shelf past Evgeni Nabokov in the third period to tie the game 4-4. The fans at the Rock chanted his last name on his first shift and they chanted it even louder after his goal. As far as first games back from injury go, I'd say he had a very good one.
The Fourths as Thirds Chipped in Two: Tonight, the unit of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, and Steve Bernier arguably had their most effective night in this short season so far. While they only got five shots between them, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter each scored a goal. Both were off rebounds at the crease. Both got the Devils tied up at 2-2 in the second period. Both came off good shifts. Given that this third line is truly a fourth line, anything you get out of them has to be appreciated. Well, they deserve some now.
Congratulations: Matt Anderson picked up his first NHL point ever with the primary assist on Carter's goal. Good thing Carter had two whacks at the puck, a situation created when Anderson threw it towards the net. He's very much a fourth liner and he sometimes looks shaky, but he hasn't been a liability so far. All the same, congratulations to him for his important assist.
Clarkshooter: While David Clarkson left a breakway chance begging, the Clarkmachine continues to create shots. He had six on net out of nine attempts, leading the Devils in both. He knocked the puck ahead for Henrique to score, so that primary assist extends his point streak to six games. Clarkson's hot right now and the Devils should encourage him to keep going.
A few other Devils had multi-shot nights. Though I can't say I was really impressed. Ilya Kovalchuk ended up with four, though he really had some sore spots with the puck at times. He could have had a far better night. Patrik Elias had four as well, though he could have had more (Aside: He also took an uncharacteristic unsportsmanlike call. Guys, stop saying bad words to the refs.) Zajac had three, including a great backhand chance he just couldn't lift past Nabokov early in the third. In total, I'm not going to complain about 32 shots on net, but I strangely feel they could have done more?
The Bittersweet Feeling: maybe it's me, but here's how I see the game. The Devils got a great return out of Henrique, they got four even strength goals, they put up a lot of shots and attempts against an Islander defense that wasn't tight and a goalie that wasn't on fire, and they battled back from three deficits to force overtime. That's a lot of good things that aren't likely to happen again anytime soon. The offense could have carried the day, but it wasn't to be. They got a point tonight. It could have been two if it wasn't for poor special teams play, a bad game by Brodeur, a bad game collectively by the defense, and squandered opportunities. The finish really left an awful taste in my mouth, so I'm still smarting from that. As great as it is that the Devils keep getting points, they really need to get back to getting wins quite soon. Should some of the bad parts of their performance tonight return and the offense isn't there to make up for it, there will be regulation losses instead of OTLs. If (or when) that happens, we'll be wondering where it started - and it's from games like tonight.
How do you feel about tonight's OT loss? Are you as somewhat bitter as I am, or do you see this game differently? Who do you think was the best Devil tonight? Who do you think was the best defenseman for the Devils tonight? What area do you want the Devils to work on the most? What part of tonight's performance do you think the Devils will be just fine - that they just had a bad night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.