Everyone on the New Jersey Devils got beat by the Chicago Blackhawks. From the first line to the fourth line. From the first pairing to the third pairing. From the starting goalie to, well, just the starting goalie as the backup did not appear. From the head coach to the assistants. All 19 players that suited up and played even just one solitary second were beaten by the Blackhawks. The Devils lost 5-2 and it could have easily been far more if it wasn't for the post.
This wasn't a 5-2 loss where Cory Schneider filled his pants as the Devils couldn't find the back of the net. This wasn't some wacky, up-and-down game where one team . No, this game was Chicago's right from the start. The Devils were held to only 12 shots on net, only one more than their season-low of 11. And it wasn't until the very end of the game and possibly a generous scorer that they avoided lowering that ignoble mark. The Blackhawks did whatever they wanted when they wanted. They took 37 shots on net and hit at least three posts. Without even looking at the attempt differential, it was obvious to anyone who paid attention to the game that the puck was on Chicago's sticks and in New Jersey's end way more often than the other way around.
They scored goals Schneider wished he had back and goals he had no real chance at stopping. They got bounces and created many more opportunities for them. They got power plays and actually did something with them. If Marian Hossa made better decisions, he alone could have had a few goals. But it's all good for Chicago as Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Bryan Bickell, and Nick Leddy all scored plenty to see them win comfortably. Even if they didn't beat Schneider eight times (five goals, three posts), they would have likely cruised because they controlled the flow the game. I said that the Blackhawks were like the Kings except they scored goals in my preview. We got to see what the game in Los Angeles would have been if Schneider wasn't amazing and Lady Luck would throw a bone or two to the home team. A deserved and decisive loss.
I'm not going to insult the Chicago Blackhawks by saying something flat like "The Devils took this game off" or anything like that. The Blackhawks are an awesome team. They lectured every hockey fan by proving a simple thesis over and over: "Possession is everything." As a team, the Devils often could only chip the puck out of their own end. The Blackhawks frequently had one to three players back to collect to restart an attack. On defense, they made very few errors and made many plays to knock pucks off sticks. Their clearances often involved possession. The forwards swarmed all over the place. The only downside for Chicago would be Antti Raata conceding two goals on twelve shots. But given that the first goal was a deflection off a re-direction from a skate and the second was a scramble for a loose puck, I don't think he was particularly bad.
No, the bad players were all on New Jersey tonight. With only twelve shots and 32 attempts on net, the offensive effort was pathetic. They were lucky to get two goals. Maybe there could have been more if it wasn't for some agonizing misses or bad decisions like passing the puck away from an open shot (Patrik Elias did this exactly twice). What was worse was the consistent lack of an attack. The Devils' two shots in the first period all came from at least 55 feet out. They were rarely in Chicago's end. A big root cause of that was the defense, which was simply worked over. They couldn't generate many zone clearances that would lead to potential offense in transition or at least have Chicago hang back a little bit. They had to make a lot of important interceptions, blocks, and checks and yet they still conceded 37 shots and 65 attempts. Peter DeBoer may not be working with a full roster, but his game plan was blown up and his adjustments yielded little success. The penalty kill was tested numerous times and was eventually beaten. The power play returned to it's typical, lackluster form. On top of that, Schneider was beaten numerous times. Was he hung out? You bet. Did he let in goals he should've stopped? Absolutely. Again, the Devils were beaten from top to bottom and beaten badly.
Here's the main takeaway from this game. The Blackhawks are truly the top team in the NHL. A loss to them isn't all that surprising. What was surprising was how easy they made it look.
The Opposition Opinion: Here's the post-game post from Second City Hockey. I expect a very complimentary recap because Chicago really did little wrong tonight.
The Game Highlights: If, for some reason, you want to see the highlights for this game, then here's the video from NHL.com
Litmus Test: The New Jersey Devils were down 1-3 after two periods tonight and on Saturday against the Capitals. If you want to see whether your fellow fan pays attention to the game and recognizes what teams do differently, then these two games provide a great contrast. Against the Caps, the Devils were owning the neutral zone, the Travis Zajac line was wrecking soft coverage, and they did a great job retaining the puck from Washington's clearances to keep attacking. A comeback was entirely possible and one was made. Against the Blackhawks, the home team rarely conceded the puck away to the Devils, their forwards kept the Devils more than honest after they made it 4-2, and they were constantly in a good position to make a play. These concepts of possession, positioning, zone exits, and so forth that we go on about can make a difference. These two games showed it in a stark manner. It's my third takeaway from this game beyond the Blackhawks are the top team in the NHL and top teams can make otherwise decent teams look awful. If whoever you've asked whether they spot the difference, then please be polite and educate them.
Why There Is a Goalie Tandem: Martin Brodeur definitely would not have secured his team a win tonight given how the skaters played. But Schneider did himself no favors to get starts tonight. I know he's been the better goaltender by far. I know the 27-year old is a better bet to do well than the 41-year old. But nights like this one highlight why Schneider isn't running away with the #1 job. His goals against were, in order, a Patrick Sharp shot that re-directed past Schneider off Mark Fayne's hand; Patrick Kane putting home a rebound created by Schneider unable to grab a Nick Leddy shot with his glove; a wide-open Bryan Bickell firing a wrister through a screen; Sharp scoring on a breakaway; and Leddy putting a shot under his left arm. The Kane and Leddy goals were the bad ones. I wouldn't fault him on the other three While the team still would have lost, I'm tired of witnessing him give up goals he should not be allowing. I don't like it when Brodeur does it even if he's more prone to them now at his advanced age. So I don't like it tonight. And that doesn't even include the three times he got beat but the goal frame saved him, or that one weird play by Marian Hossa was free in front but knocked the puck just wide of the far post in the second period.
I understand he was under siege and he was going to go up against an elite opponent and the loss isn't all his fault. However, this is a results-oriented business and the desired result is a good goaltending by a good goaltender. Schneider just being slightly ahead of Brodeur in save percentage isn't necessarily good. That's why Brodeur is still getting starts: Schneider hasn't been consistently good. Tonight was rough for everyone but it's another reason why.
Several Quick Thoughts: Patrik Elias wants to hit 1,000 points this season. He's not going to do it by passing up shooting opportunities when he's open and has a clear look at the net. He did this twice tonight and while Raanta may have stopped the shot; they would have been better plays than throwing it the puck across, having it miss, and allow the Blackhawks to go on their umpteenth attack.
Mattias Tedenby is not a NHL player. I was further convinced of that tonight. He is only in the lineup due to a lack of choices. With Damien Brunner hurt, the Devils need a winger. Given that the opponent was deep and Andrei Loktionov has been sick (and doesn't play wing anyway), Adam Henrique had to play center. Reid Boucher, who looked very much like a rookie tonight, in the top six against a strong Chicago team isn't a good choice. Tim Sestito is not a good choice and should nowhere be a top nine. Ryane Clowe isn't ready and even if he was, Chicago would have gleefully torched what would be a very rusty winger. So I understand why Tedenby had to play. But he was awful once again. I cannot wait for this team to get healthier so he can go back down to Albany.
The fourth line of Jacob Josefson, Cam Janssen, and Stephen Gionta at least did not get scored on. They actually got a goal as Gionta tipped Jon Merrill's shot. Josefson got the puck to Merrill so he got his first point of the season. I suppose this is as much of a positive from the skaters beyond not getting shutout or getting hurt. Even so, this line did very little. I'll say that among the
Speaking of Merrill, I liked his one shot that got knocked into the net. It was low and crisp. Unfortunately, he gave one back tonight. He fired a shot from the point that Brent Seabrook stopped and immediately saw Patrick Sharp past Merrill in the neutral zone. That created the breakaway that Sharp scored on. I'm not going to praise the defense given how much they conceded, so this note will suffice.
Michael Ryder showed up for 15 seconds tonight to put that loose puck home. That's my thought on that.
The unit of Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus, and Jaromir Jagr is effective when they are able to get the puck in deep and battle along the perimeter to create space. The Devils rarely got the puck in deep and so this trio was rendered toothless. Jagr's point streak is now broken and it was done on the line's saddest-looking performance in a while. Jagr's highlight was losing a puck to Kris Versteeg and hooking him to deny a potential breakaway. Of the Devils' four penalties, his was the one I could live with. Of course, Leddy converted that one. Still, not at all a good night by 8, 19, and 68.
I still don't know how Eric Gelinas missed two free shots in the third. Did he replace The Truth with The Conjecture? The Hearsay? I don't know. Like Merrill, he wasn't supremely awful on defense. But I can't in good conscious praise a defender on a night where 37 shots and 65 attempts were allowed.
I want the Devils to take a good hard look at the Chicago power play. While they only got five shots on net (and a post), it was remarkable to see a team repeatedly and easily enter the zone with the puck and get set up. The Devils' penalty killers hustled to get blocks and deny potentially lethal passes. But the Blackhawks just kept coming back in without much of an issue. Given that the Devils struggle to do that, I hope the coaches have that on tape for review.
Jonathan Toews, Hossa, and Sharp: this line ruled it among a massive performance by their forwards. The Seabrook-Duncan Keith pairing also ruled it. There was so much ruling. I think I got ruled by the Blackhawks tonight. Maybe you too?
One Last Point: The Devils will no longer have to play this team again after January 3, 2014; and their back-to-back after Christmas won't involve a team nearly as good as Chicago. There's that to look forward to, at least.
Your Take: This game is over. What was your take? Who on the Devils was the worst in your opinion? How floored were you at how easily Chicago made the game look at times? Will you have a happy holiday? You should as letting this game spoil it would just be terrible. Thanks to those who commented and followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading and have a lovely Christmas.