Tonight was dreary for the faithful at the Rock. The New Jersey Devils managed to grind out a point against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Brodeur did whatever he could to keep the score low. Adam Henrique banged in a rebound to make it a tie game in the third. But the ice was often tilted against the Devils as the Blue Jackets out-shot the Devils 30-17 and out-attempted them 44-34 in 65 minutes. Brodeur really did stood tall. While the shootout woes continued and the Devils lost in it 0-1 to make it a 1-2 loss on the books, the Devils were fortunate to get that far. Martin Brodeur really had a great game tonight. A shame most of his teammates didn't help him out.
Let me put the overall experience of watching this game in this manner. As some of you may know, I have season tickets to the Devils. I try to make every game I can and I'm pretty good for only missing a handful of games. I only have the one season ticket; I am almost always by myself. I do not usually bring a guest, such as beloved family member, a good friend, a solid coworker, or an attractive woman I'm trying to woo. After a game like tonight would have made all of them would have turned to me and said, "Do you not like me or something? Did I do something to upset you?" It was that bad of a viewing experience.
Full credit to the Columbus Blue Jackets for making it that way. They were forechecking two skaters early and often, bothering the Devils greatly. They let up a bit in the third, but they hit back in transition as they out-shot the Devils in every period. Brandon Dubinsky played like his contract was on the line and he could have scored four goals by my eye. Reid Boucher certainly gave him a great chance at it. Mark Letestu was on fire with six shots out of nine attempts. Lower minute players like Boone Jenner and Corey Tropp made a lot of noise, especially Jenner with drawn calls and rushes up ice. Even Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson didn't have to spend their entire night skating like headless chicken in their own end of the rink. The Blue Jackets played a very good game and they likely would have won decisively with this effort if it wasn't for Brodeur playing like it was 2003.
Of course, the Jackets got plenty of help from the Devils. Zone exits for all four lines and three pairings were a struggle at times. Plenty of them were just chips out of their own end, which meant a Columbus player, usually a defender, recovered them and immediately looked up to start another attack. The Devils didn't do a good job at all at shot prevention as Columbus put 30 out of 44 attempts on net. Jon Merrill was especially beaten, but each defender seemingly had their moment of non-glory. They ranged from Andy Greene going and failing for a hit that helped create Columbus' goal to Mark Fayne throwing a puck over the glass in his own end to Eric Gelinas getting beaten and taking a foul (and still didn't deny the rush) to Marek Zidlicky's Random Offensive Decision Generator that ended up on "Do something clever and hope it works" a few too many times.
The Devils forwards exacerbated the problem with their own approach to attacking. The first period was a throwback to the Brent Sutter days of just dumping-and-chasing. Given how much time the Devils spent in their own end, some of these were just dumping-and-changing; especially in the second period. The Blue Jackets were well prepared for when it was a dump-in to gain the zone for about forty minutes. When the Devils tried to carry it in, they would almost immediately pass it to the side as if there was a rule of going ahead forward. The Devils got smarter about this in the third and found more success at trying to win pucks. But overall, the Devils could have had more than 17 shots tonight but their own decisions went awry. In hockey, that means more pucks on the opposition's sticks and more opportunities for them to attack.
Amazingly, Martin Brodeur did everything he could to keep every attempt out of the net save for a backhander by Artem Anisimov. That goal was preceded by a desperate split that denied (who else?) Dubinsky a goal with his toe. Brodeur did it all until Cam Atkinson beat him in the shootout. In news that shouldn't surprise any fan, the Devils didn't score once. The Devils would've needed two to win as it turned out; no one has more than one goal across the entire team.
But I can't and won't get mad about the shootout; they were lucky to be playing beyond regulation. That's what I'm unhappy about. Despite three days off, the return of Ryane Clowe, a mostly packed arena, and an important game against a division opponent, this was the effort. Brodeur more than did his job and while they had one rebound put-back by Adam Henrique to tie it and Travis Zajac hitting the post(s) late in nearly stealing it, there certainly wasn't enough for the Devils to be in this game, never mind taking it. Sadly, this wasn't even the worst game in this month (the Detroit game); but it's more evidence that the Devils are going to have to scrape for everything in the second half of this season and hope for the best. It's not technically beginning tomorrow, but it's just about a must-win in my mind. If only to show that this team can put out a better performance.
The Opposition Opinion: Surely, The Cannon should be pleased with a win, though probably not with making it a three-point game. Check them out for a recap on their end at some point.
The Game Highlights: It was the Brodeur show as Columbus gave him a lot of work to do tonight. Here's the video from NHL.com:
Believe it or Not: Martin Brodeur was not named the First Star of the Game by Tonight's Attending Media. It went to Adam Henrique. Sure, he scored his first goal in seemingly forever and it was an important goal. He was also one of the few good possession players for the Devils. He did a lot of hard work on the PK, too. But Brodeur prevented this game from the decisive loss or slaughter it could've been. Among other stops, Brodeur bailing out Boucher's hideous turnover to Dubinsky at his own blueline still stands out in my mind. So does his wicked glove save on a Jack Johnson blast from one of the many lost draws. Brodeur really was great. Sadly, I know it will not last and the Devils didn't take full advantage from the performance.
Oh, the Penalties: The Devils' PK got a lot of minutes they should not have received if it were up to me. No, it wasn't because the calls weren't legit. Only Zajac's slash while forechecking on a penalty kill was a really weak call in my eyes. Though I know the ref looks for that hand contact. No, the other four were just dumb ones to take. To review: Gelinas got beat, slashed Jenner, and it still didn't stop him from setting up his teammate for a scoring chance. Fayne had all the time in the world to clear a puck from the front and lifted it ten feet for reasons I don't know. Merrill was trying to battle Jack skille for the puck and he got his stick high. After an ill-advised line change by the team, Andrei Loktionov held Jenner, who still made it to the net and forced another tough stop by Brodeur. Those last threec came within the second half of the second period. Even when the Devils got clears on those calls, it still meant no offense, which is a big reason why they only got four shots in that period as a whole.
The Zajac slash made matters more dire as there was still about a minute left on Loktionov's penalty. The Devils did a great job killing the 3-on-5. Overall, out of five power play chances, Columbus only got six shots on net. After Loktionov's penalty, Stephen Gionta was set-up on another shorthanded two-on-one. He was denied by the helmet of Curtis McElhinney. The penalty kill was as strong as one could hope for and a goal then would've been sweet (and tied the game). I'm not going to lament that, though; just that the penalty killers were forced to play as much as they did. Again, that contributed to the overall lackluster offensive performance as it meant 8:26 where Columbus mostly controlled the puck.
Silver Lining: I actually liked what the Devils were trying to do on their power plays. As typical, it was either quite good or non-effective. But the four shots they did get to McElhinney were good ones and when they got set up, they were looking calm on the puck - something they really weren't for most of the game at evens.
The Returne: I am not going to put much fault with Ryane Clowe tonight. It was his first game in months. He was bound to look rusty. I was pleased that he started this game with the fourth line, where his minutes and competition would be limited. While I understand it's risky, Clowe's strength lies with his physical game. Seeing him go into checks and take some punishment along the boards without wilting was good to see. Possession didn't go south every time he stepped on the ice. He played with a jump in his step, which is good since he looked super-slow when he started this season. I liked his inclusion on power plays and even the shootout (don't sneer, he's relatively good at shootouts in his history). So I don't have too many complaints about Clowe's first game back.
I think the next step is to see him make some attempts (he had none) and get some shots on net. If he can do that while still skating and playing with vigor, then I think an increase in minutes could be in the future. That would be really helpful since Mattias Tedenby continues to flounder and Boucher is very much someone in his first pro season of hockey.
Your Take: I've pretty much said my piece on this loss. Brodeur was great, the Devils managed to get a point, and that was lucky since their play in all three zones left a lot to be desired. But perhaps you think and feel differently about this one. What's your take on this shootout loss? Did you think any Devil not named Brodeur did well? What did you think of Clowe's return? What should have the Devils done differently tonight? Can they get it together for tomorrow's game in Long Island? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to those who commented here and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.