Way back on November 2, 2013, the New Jersey Devils played an absolutely dreadful game against the Second Rate Rivals. The game itself was just some terrible hockey as both teams just struggled to score. The lone goal was just a deflection in front. Everything else was just, well, there. The game ended 21-14 in shots in favor of the visitors, and everyone who watched it was worse off for it. Tonight, the New Jersey Devils managed to top (bottom?) that glorious night of futility against the Detroit Red Wings. They lost 3-1, they put up 26 attempts total, and got 11 on target. Maybe the scorer missed one or two shots, but the performance was as pathetic as those numbers look.
I'll give credit to Detroit. They're a good team and it showed tonight. While they themselves weren't high-flying, free-wheeling offensive machines, they looked leagues better than the Devils tonight. Of course, any time you hold an opposition to eleven shots on net, it's real easy to look good. Detroit put up 21 shots on net and did things like "not passing up shots" and "crashing the net" and "firing pucks towards the crease." Their goals weren't brilliant plays or anything like that. Let's talk about them for a bit. Drew Miller putting a puck off Cory Schneider at the goal line. As the puck bounced out to the middle, which was likely Miller's hope, Joakim Andersson drove to the net and batted the puck in behind Schneider. For the second goal, Tomas Tatar wheeled around Andy Greene and flung the puck to gustav Nyquist to the other side of the zone behind the net. Nyquist realized that not only no one was near him but that Johan Franzen was in between players. Nyquist had a passing lane and didn't think twice about it. He fired a pass to Franzen and Franzen re-directed the puck, which went off Schneider's butt and into the net. The third goal started from a faceoff after a bad penalty call; Andy Greene coughs up the puck out the slot and Tatar slams it behind Schneider. Nothing brilliant on all three goals, just some reasonable decisions by players involved against a defensive effort that was just a mess at times. On top of that, they held the Devils to eleven shots on net.
The Devils helped the Red Wings out with that extreme of shot prevention. Does anyone on this team know they can fire backhanded shots? Do those with the puck at distance know they can fire wrist shots? Even if Peter DeBoer isn't watching the shot count, it's clear as day on RockVision above the ice. Surely someone in red and black would have thought "We don't even have ten shots on net? Well, let's just get something on net," right? Wrong. It's not that the Devils didn't work hard. They worked hard at things that didn't ultimately didn't matter much. They battled for a lot of pucks along the boards only to lead to nothing productive. And over time, even that didn't happen. It was just pathetic.
Adding to that was the fact that the first period really wasn't bad. Jaormir Jagr had two great chances to score and missed on both by not much. Jacob Josefson hit a post. Travis Zajac just had a bad angle on the first shift of the game, though he fooled me in Section 1 about that going in. And the Devils actually got a goal. Andy Greene charged to the net after carrying the puck in on a power play. Patrik Elias got the pass to go out to his left, he saw Greene in position, took a chance, and Greene knocked it in Jonas Gustavsson. Jagr misses, a post, and a goal in one period isn't bad at all. I'll take that, especially after a period where Detroit really pinned New Jersey back. But all it really did was give me false hope that the Devils would do something like, say, try to get more chances. Adam Henrique did have one really good one early in the second that Gustavsson stopped with a behind-the-back glove save. Did he or his teammates challenge him much beyond that? Nope! Instead of forcing the goalie to make more ridiculous stops, much of the remaining forty minutes of some of the absolute worst hockey I've seen from the Devils. How bad was it? The Devils got two more power plays and on each one, they actually gained the zone, got set up, and moved the puck around. All for just two shots. That also means the Devils racked up five shots total at even strength in the latter two periods. I don't know which is sadder other than yes: they are sad.
The root of that may have been from the defensive zone. There were way too many "burn this shift" situations tonight. There were marathon-like shifts from Marek Zidlicky (his passes were just really off at times, the Gambler was annoying tonight) and Anton Volchenkov where pucks couldn't get out. There were all manners of zone exits denied by even stupid things like mishandling a simple pass (I see you, Mark Fayne) or deciding to go backwards instead of up the boards or whatever you'd like. The normally awesome Greene had a killer giveaway, though the goal was just insurance. And the forwards weren't all that helpful in the Devils' end. Ryan wrote that this was one of the worst nights for all the skaters when it came to zone exits. I could have told you that but having the data makes it crystal clear how horrible they were. When they tried to get it out, the puck was often not on the Devils' sticks. That meant little transition offense and more approaches from the visitors; both of which helped the ice tilt against New Jersey. The Devils didn't concede a lot of shots but Schneider had to be on his toes early and often. He some how kept putting loose pucks out of danger despite a lot of bodies and attempts by the Red Wings to bang pucks in close. The thanks he got, especially after the first, was a lot of dump-and-change hockey, little offensive pressure to hold Detroit back, five penalty killing situations, and a hit to his save percentage due to three goals allowed he had no real chance at. He should be mad.
We all should be mad. I'm mad. The Devils absolutely failed to put up a performance in spite of the fact that Detroit made it 1-1 after the second period and made it 2-1. In a one-shot game, the Devils seemingly tried their best to get none. I cannot stress how bad this game was by New Jersey. It's even more infuriating when you remember that the Devils played much better in their two games against Montreal, a similarly good team, just a few days ago. It was earlier this week where the Devils had two straight games of thirty or more shots! Read those recaps: Monday's game, Wednesday's game. I can better live with those losses as opposed to absolutely lackluster efforts like the last forty minutes tonight. How does one go from those performances to what the Rock had to suffer through tonight? I couldn't tell you and it irritates me. I had to watch this game and write about it. You could have gone on and done any number of things like pay bills or eat a meal or read your car's instruction manual or unbend some paperclips that would have been more enjoyable and productive. This game was a new low of the season.
Thankfully, there will be a game on Saturday night where the Devils can start to redeem themselves collectively as a team.
The Opposition Opinion: David Malinowski says that Tomas Tatar likes his new teeth in his recap at Winging it in Motown. I can't really disagree with that - how could I? - nor his positive opinion of how the Red Wings did.
The Game Highlights: These are highlights mostly in favor of Detroit, as their team actually tried and succeeded at playing a more competent game of hockey.
Venting: After a game like this, or any non-win for some fans, people are rightly unhappy. However, I just want to touch a number of things to provide some helpful perspective.
First, firing the coach for this game would be monumentally stupid. It would be one thing if the Devils put up sad performances like this often. But they don't. The team played excellent hockey on Monday and Wednesday. They are winless in their last three games but given how tight the schedule is, it's not long before it can get better. I'm not going to say DeBoer coached a great game - he didn't - but demanding a coaching change for this would be like Detroit fans demanding Mike Babcock should have been tossed for his team conceding five unanswered goals to turn a 3-1 lead into a 6-3 loss. When did that happen, you may ask? Their last game on Wednesday. This was a bad game. If they continue, then yeah, consider a change. But it's one game. Relax. (This also applies to those who feel the team needs a big trade or something else that is not at all likely going to happen.)
Second, the refereeing was absolutely terrible. The calls that were made over ones that weren't were just mind-boggling at times. It's not that they weren't calls (I did not like Michael Ryder hooking a guy while on offense, Marek Zidlicky tripped his guy, and I can take-or-leave Travis Zajac coming down on a defender's stick), but similar plays by both sides were let go. Then there was Cory Schneider getting tagged for the You-Can-Play-Unless-You're-A-Goalie-So-You-Can't-Play trapezoid rule even though the puck was inside the trapezoid. That led to the situation that Tatar scored on, though Greene had a primary assist on that one. That said, it didn't cost the Devils the game. The Devils' penalty kill - which I've written about for tomorrow - was very good once again. The power play did get a goal, they could have had many more shots but given that my opinion of the PP is so low, I can't say I'm displeased.
Third, Cam Janssen is a useless player. You're not going to get me to say otherwise. But if you think the problem with tonight's game was his or Tim Sestito's inclusion over Mattias Tedenby or his Swiss counterpart Damien Brunner, then I don't think you quite understand the major issue tonight. When a team puts up eleven shots on net, that's not on the guys playing less than ten minutes a night. It would be nice if the Devils have a better fourth line, but they didn't have a competent first, second, or third line tonight. The team put eleven shots on net. 11. If pressed, I may only need one hand to count the number of good shifts by the Zajac or Elias lines. Brunner, Tedenby, your favorite AHL call up, or whoever would not have magically made the Devils put up a decent number of shots or even attempts tonight. They would very likely not pulled a goal out of nowhere, though Josefson, who did play, came quite close. Again, go back to the Montreal games. DeBoer used his fourth line very little and the other nine forwards plus the blueline combined for a lot of shots and attempts against a team that features one of the best defensemen in the NHL. If you don't want to see Janssen, great, I'm with you. But don't pee on my leg and then tell me it's raining and that it was a big deal that he was in the lineup instead of another do-little forward while the other skaters tried to squeeze blood from a stone.
For what it's worth, I'm not unhappy about the fourth line or Reid Boucher (he's a rookie, a call up) tonight. That's not to say I was pleased, I was really only pleased to see Schneider just try to hold it all together. My ire is directed towards the top nine and the defense as a whole. I'd like to think at this point in the recap, my reasons for that are clear. If not, here's a reminder: eleven shots on net in a one-shot game until Tatar's late PPG.
Fourth, the Devils do lean on their top forwards. But I don't think they were overworked tonight. The main reason why Jagr, Elias, Zajac, Henrique, and Dainius Zubrus got upwards of eighteen minutes of ice time was special teams. 14:42 of the game had one team up or down a man; the depth players aren't really going to be involved. Elias, Zajac, and Henrique play significantly on both, while Zubrus got a lot of PK time and Jagr got a lot of PP time. That's why their ice times got big bumps. If there were fewer penalties, then I think we would have seen more of the bottom six. Truthfully, I don't think there's anyone there now that should take more special teams time to help spread that around. I don't know who would be good for the power play - and don't say Brunner, I don't want to see him leading a breakout for a while. Getting Ryan Carter or Stephen Gionta back would help on the PK front.
Fifth, the Devils certainly hit rock bottom so future games should go better...right? Right now, I don't know. Getting a result over a hated rival to kick off a three game road trip against Metropolitan Division teams would make me more confident that the team can't do much worse than this tonight.
Thanks to those who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Feel free to vent and be mad like me in the comments. Thanks for reading.