Blocks, in the bigger picture of a season, are not usually worth that much. They are examples of an attempted shot that didn't get through to the net, much less on it. Over a season, these instances don't matter so much. Within the context of a single game, they can be important. It could stop a great chance for a goal. It could stifle an offense. With the right bounce and players in certain position, they can even create offense. And when you see it over and over, you just develop a headache and wonder why these guys keep trying to shoot through plastic, fabric, flesh, and bone.
The official scorer at the Rock undercounts events. Officially, there were 14 blocks by the Winnipeg Jets tonight. There were easily many more than that. The New Jersey Devils had plenty of zone entries, pucks won, and even control. They won more pucks in the neutral zone. They pushed forward more often. This was evident in the second and third periods. It was also necessary as the Devils were chasing the score. Yet, so many blocks denied so many potential opportunities to score. Some were a result of a Jet just getting in the way just in time of the shot; the Devils only helping them in that regard as the skater often had to take an extra touch or second before shooting off a pass. Some were just poor decisions, as if the puck-holder decided they were going to fire one off, regardless of whoever in front of them. Either way, the Devils' offense was undercut by it and it played a big role in what happened in my eyes.
The Devils lost tonight's game 3-1 to the Jets, with the third goal being an empty netter to ice a frustrating night for the Devils' offense. Even though they out-shot the Jets 26-22, there easily could have been more shots by the home team had they not fired so many pucks into skates, shins, bodies, and sticks. Exacerbating the problem was how the Devils insisted on going lateral with their passes. That in of itself isn't a bad thing but it is when the pass isn't right on target. Instead of a potential one-timer, the receiver often had to take a moment to collect a puck and then attempt a shot. By that time, Ondrej Pavelec got into position as did a Winnipeg skater. Throw in an array of passed up shooting opportunities - especially on the power plays - and it's an underwhelming and sometimes stupid-looking attacking performance.
Surpisingly, the one goal the Devils got was off a deflection. Andy Greene's shot hit Patrik Elias' stick in the slot just right to beat Pavelec. They had other great opportunities to score, such as Jaromir Jagr to Pavelec's right in the second period off a give-and-go, two shorthanded two-on-ones, and other shots off the rush. But the Devils largely have themselves to blame for not getting many more shots on net despite having the puck more often.
The Jets faithful can't exactly boast either as their high-shooting team was held to only 21 shots on Martin Brodeur and 26 attempts overall. Of course, they scored on their opportunities. The first period goal came on a 3-on-3. Mark Schiefele was the wide man and somehow Michael Frolik's pass got to him. The rookie had all the time and space to shoot and he beat Brodeur. I wonder whether the Devils saw that and figured they needed to keep going lateral themselves, only they rarely had a man open to hit him with a pass. The second goal was right off a defensive zone draw. Olli Jokinen won it cleanly from Travis Zajac, Evander Kane got the puck right by the side boards, and slammed a shot that beat Brodeur. It wasn't a good goal to give up and it just put the Devils in a deeper hole. After that, the Jets had some lovely chances that Brodeur did deny before deciding to mostly dump-and-change the rest of the game until the net was pulled.
Overall, I can't say the performance was bad because it wasn't. It certainly was lackluster given how little the Devils made with the most of their chances. Despite a Jets team just conceding possession for the final five minutes or so, the Devils fittingly managed to do so little with six skaters. Instead of carrying the puck in the zone like they were able to do so much tonight, they just dumping it away. They lost the corner battle, the winger is able to get a chip out, and repeat. Again, a bad decision amplified by not getting the puck. Devin Setoguchi put the Devils out of their misery, to be frank about it. In a word, "Blegh."
The Opposition Opinion: KMcClintock85 has this quick recap up at Arctic Ice Hockey.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights for tonight's game:
The Shooters: Despite such a low event game, each team had a player rack up the shots. Jaromir Jagr had 5 for the Devils while Evander Kane had 6 for the Jets. Kane's output was buoyed by his teammate Setoguchi putting up 3 shots of his own. That Setoguchi-Jokinen-Kane line was clearly Winnipeg's best going forward. It's no surprise they were three of the five Jets to rise above even in possession. On the flipside, Jagr and his line didn't do so well in possession. That's because Jagr, Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus did see a lot of that Jokinen line at evens. Still, Jagr did his part trying to get the scoring going. I can't fault him for that. It would have been cool had Zajac registered a shot on net, but Zajac did make some of those plays possible for #68.
Who I'm Sick Of: Damien Brunner and Michael Ryder are really drawing my ire as of late. It's one thing to not put up points. Hey, lots of Devils don't. But guys like Adam Henrique, Zajac, Zubrus, and even Andrei Loktionov (who had a nice little game, two shots, good possession, nice shorthanded 2-on-1, etc.) manage to do some other things like lead breakouts, play on the penalty kill, actually come back on defense, fight for pucks, and so forth. I don't expect Brunner and Ryder to do all that but I do expect them to do something. Neither got a shot on net. Ryder was officially blocked three times and likely a few more times, while Brunner couldn't find the target. When either player isn't getting pucks on net, then what good are they? At least Steve Bernier (who also had a nice game, three shots, good possession, nice screens) isn't a waste of ice time if he's not pushing up. I don't want to see either of them together late in games with Elias because that's not working because they're not getting it done prior. I don't know what the solution is for either player, partially because I'm not seeing either put in a full effort to their capabilities. Float out to the circles to give the guys in deep an option that's not the point. Look when passing the puck. Recognize when to shoot instead of hestitating. Whatever. Do something different because whatever you're doing now is not working.
Scares: At some point in the first period, Peter Harrold looked to be really hurt while clutching his forearm. He would return to play a full game. Eric Gelinas hit Kane's leg while going across him at the blueline in the third period and went right to the ice clutching his leg. The refs tagged him for kneeing while it looked like Gelinas got the worst of it. Gelinas did return to the game in the third period and told the media after the game that it was just a "charley horse," per this post-game post by Gulitti. I was glad to see both continue to play. With Adam Larsson out, one of the last things the Devils need are more injured defensemen.
On the opposite side, Setoguchi took a shot to the face and went right down in the third. After an important stop by Brodeur (or a miss by a Jet) off the loose puck, the play was blown dead as he was attended to. Setoguchi didn't leave for too long and did return to action later in the third. Good to see he was able to continue, though I wish he didn't pocket the empty netter.
Merrill's First Full Game: Jon Merrill was called up on an emergency basis to replace Larsson and he did get through the entire game tonight in one piece. He played 15:17 and registered two shots on net without being negative in possession. He played mostly with Harrold and I'd say his performance was nervy. That's to be expected, I suppose. It was his first full NHL game, he was thrust back into the lineup, and he had to play plenty of minutes against the Jokinen line. He had plenty of pucks bounce off his stick and there were a few cases where he got caught flat-footed. He did play with some calmness so he wasn't just frantic out there. My takeaway is that he really does need to be the AHL now to get further seasoning. He's got some game but he needs more professional experience before he can stick around.
Little Line Playing Small: If you want to talk about missed opportunities, then consider that the Devils pretty much pinned back Winnipeg's top line. That is, their top three scoring forwards: Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, and Andrew Ladd. While they combined for five shots, they got housed in shooting attempts - giving up at least twice as many as they took at evens. Of course, a good chunk of them didn't get on net due to the blocks but keeping the opposition's best trio on paper on defense is a good thing. It also helped that Dustin Byfuglien had to settle for being big in his own end. Given how top-heavy the Jets are, one would hope to take advantage of them not attacking. Of course, the Devils decided to shoot themselves in someone else's feet instead.
A Thought about a Need: You know, when the Devils' defense gets healthy, they may need to move someone. Surely the Jets would be interested in some help on defense. I know they are without Zach Bogosian but their depth looked awful. Mark Stuart and Keaton Ellerby were owned by the Devils and as I understand it, they're prone to being owned by other teams. Just a thought.
Special Teams Were Good: I have to say I liked what I saw out of the Devils' penalty kill tonight. They did more on the Jets' first power play than the Jets. Alas, Elias hit the corner of the frame on a flubbed one-timer and Loktionov was denied by Pavelec. But I'll take that over being overrun. The Jets would get some shots on net on their second penalty but the Devils got plenty of good clears and Martin Brodeur saw everything without issue. Very good stuff, even if the tripping call on Zubrus was weaker than Ryder within six feet of the boards. What I was most impressed by was that the coaches went with Jacob Josefson and Loktionov as forwards - and they weren't bad.
The power play, well, I'm going to get some heat for this but I wouldn't say they were bad. Oh, they passed up a lot of good looks on net. They made some unwise decisions with the puck. They kept trying to make one additional pass only to handcuff or prevent a shot being taken. But consider this: the Devils actually got set up in the Jets' zone and had control of the puck for a significant amount of time on each power play. Given how wretched they have been at just gaining the zone to set up on the power play this season, seeing this was refreshing to my eyes I sympathize with the frustration over the lack of shooting. They could and should have had more than two shots on net. But in the larger context of power plays in this season, this was a step in a positive direction. If the Devils can get in the offensive zone like they did tonight more often, then the shots - and goals - will come. Of course, the Jets may just be not all that good on the PK so it's whatever.
On Goalies: I thought both Brodeur and Pavelec were good. Pavelec was obviously better, he had no chance on his goal. I feel Brodeur should've stopped Kane's shot. He did make some important saves later on so it's not like the carriage turned into a pumpkin, so to speak, after that goal. Of course, when there's only three total non-empty net goals in the game obviously the goalies did their job. It's on the skaters to do more.
Attendance: Officially, attendance was announced at 12,253. Really? I know the Jets aren't a big draw, especially for a Monday night game on a holiday week. But the Rock looked and sounded more filled than that from where I sat. Then again, I have no idea what goes on with that number, much less what management is doing at this point on the sales side. Just an observation more than anything else.
Your Take: Well, that wasn't the way the Devils wanted to start off this final week of November. What did you make of tonight's performance? Would you agree about the myriad of blocks and how it undercut the Devils? Who do you think looked good for the Devils and Jets? What would you do about Ryder and Brunner at this point? What did you think Merrill? What should the Devils work on going into their Wednesday game based on what you saw tonight other than "score more goals?" Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments. Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and followed the sparse tweets from @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.