It didn't start off badly, but the New Jersey Devils were simply overrun by the New York Islanders in a 5-1 loss tonight at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders power play was sublime with three power play goals among seven power play shots in five opportunities. John Tavares was the star with six shots on net, three goals, two on the power play, and an assist on the Matt Moulson's power play goal. Matt Moulson was just as sharp with six shots, a goal, and three assists all on Tavares' goals. The two even strength goals were the first and the last of the game; the former being a rebound by Tavares on a 3-on-2 rush and the latter being an accidental own goal by Marek Zidlicky that was credited to Michael Grabner. The game got out of hand from the second period on for the Devils and they couldn't recover, thanks largely to Tavares.
Amazingly enough, the Devils actually started off this game pretty well. In an up-and-down and up-tempo period, the Devils out-shot the Isles 15-9. Johan Hedberg made some amazing stops and the Devils forced Evgeni Nabokov to be just as good. They dodged a few bullets, such as Moose robbing Brad Boyes of a juicy rebound and David Ullstrom hitting the crossbar on a penalty shot. But they fired back with rushes and rebound opportunities just denied by Nabokov. Considering how poorly they opened their last two games, it was good to see.
But that would be it from New Jersey. The Isles found space in the neutral zone and were able to get several odd-man rushes. The Devils started getting pinned back in their own end more. For about 15 minutes, Hedberg bailed out the Devils repeatedly as the Isles racked up the shots. The Devils had a few of their own but they couldn't keep playing with fire without getting burned. On a 3-on-2, Brad Boyes put a low shot on Hedberg and the rebound went right out to the wide Tavares for the put-back. Given how the Isles were generating more offense, it would be fair to say it was bound to happen at some point. No one can make out-of-their-mind stops on rebounds forever, not even Hedberg.
The Devils responded by melting down. Bryce Salvador took a completely unnecessary retaliation penalty against Matt Martin behind the play. Seconds later, Tavares darts into the slot with no pressure after a Moulson shot is stopped, and just bats the puck low and through Hedberg just before it hit the ice. About a minute after that, Henrik Tallinder takes down Kyle Okposo with a trip behind the net. Islanders win the faceoff, three Devils - Anton Volchenkov, Salvador, and Adam Henrique - go after the puck behind the net. None of them got to it but Boyes did. Moulson was all alone in the slot. Pass, shot, and it's 3-0 Isles. Two bad penalties, two quick power play goals, and it's 3-0 Isles at the end of a second period where they led 14-5 in shots. It wasn't a good period for New Jersey before the flurry of three goals against. It was simply terrible after them.
Unlike last night, there would be no comeback attempt. The Isles managed to keep getting rushes up ice and shots on net. The Devils did convert on a power play; Marek Zidlicky banged in a shot from just inside the left circle. At 3-1 with a little over 11 minutes left, it's understandable to think, "Well, if they get one more soon, then this could be interesting." Instead, the Devils flopped. They tried in spots but any attacking shift was responded by one by the Isles. On a power play minutes later, Zidlicky killed it with about 25 seconds left with a holding-the-stick call. As the Isles attacked on the power play, Alexei Ponikarovsky tackled Josh Bailey from behind in the slot among a scrum. That interference call made it a 5-on-3 and Tavares sniped one past Hedberg for his hat trick, his team's fourth goal, and truly sealed off the game. A blooper of a play and an accident by Zidlicky made it 5-1 and a little more salt to the Devils' wounds.
Ultimately, the Devils lost this game due to poor decision making in their own end. All three penalties that led to power play goals were in their own end. The penalty killers were caught unaware on the first two PPGs and the third was a 5-on-3 created by a call from a penalty killing effort. Hedberg was forced to be brilliant - and he was - early but he didn't get the support necessary when his stops led to more rebounds and then more shots. They made these bad decisions in bunches and the Isles made them pay dearly. The Devils have no one to blame but themselves for this one. While the Islanders faithful have every reason to feel good tonight.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Official Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Faceoff Comparison | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Report
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik's recap at Lighthouse Hockey highlights John Tavares. As he should.
The Game Highlights: If you want to be disappointed by five Islander goals or see some ridiculous saves by Moose, then this highlight video from NHL.com gives you what you want:
Stars of the Night: The Devils had no answer for the unit of Tavares, Moulson, and Boyes. I'm not sure when Jack Capuano replaced Okposo with Boyes but it's looking like a genius move. All three fed off each other at even strength and on the power play tonight. They combined for 14 of the Islanders' 33 shots on goal and 21 of the team's 55 attempts. They were fantastic and got their just reward for it. By the by, get used to seeing John Tavares looking brilliant regularly. If tonight didn't prove it to you, then you have some incredibly high standards. He's the Islanders' main man and even if he doesn't score, then you know he's racking up the shots and driving the play.
Moose Deserved Better: Tonight, Hedberg's legs were responsible for keeping scoreboard empty early when the Isles had great chances. I'm sure Michael Grabner is still muttering to himself about getting denied by a split. The Moose was more than fine and what do the Devils do to thank him for it? Leave guys open in the slot, leave rebounds open, and take dumb penalties to force bad situations. None of the goals tonight were really his fault. I believe Tavares' third goal was the only one he had a clear shot at and I'm not going to begrudge him for such a precise shot. I'm not even going to fault him for going ultra-aggressive at Grabner on a potential breakaway. The puck just bounced away and Zidlicky failed to corral it and instead put it past him. I know some fans will see 5-1 and think, "Wow, the goalie must have been awful." I assure you, that was not the case.
That said, Hedberg did have two near-follies in playing the puck. He came out almost all the way to the blueline to play a puck to prevent a Grabner shorthanded breakaway - what is it with Grabner getting these chances against New Jersey? - and played oddly to the side. The Isles nearly had the net but a resulting shot was blocked away. Much later, Moose played the puck into an Isle and the puck just drifted through the crease. I only point these out as reminders that playing the puck can still be an adventure with Hedberg.
Penalty Pacifists: The Devils' penalty killers really couldn't kill anything tonight. The Isles officially went 3-for-6 on the power play tonight. Here were your kills. The first was because Boyes crashed into Hedberg during the Isles' first power play. The second because, I think, Ponikarovsky turned the 5-on-4 to 5-on-3 and that's how the scoresheet counts it. The third was an actual legitimate kill for Krys Barch's unsportsmanlike conduct, served by Steve Bernier. It would be one thing if the Isles just scored on good plays and I would credit Tavares' shot as one of those. But no box-out in the slot and seeing three - three! - white jerseys behind the net as Moulson got the puck was just sickening.
If it feels like a trend, then it is. The PK got busted up by Carolina and Philadelphia earlier this week. Those teams converted thanks in part to the Devils' own errors defending against the man advantage. I'm confident it won't last forever but the decision making and positioning has to improve ASAP PDQ.
Discipline Has to Be Better: It simply does. There's nothing more to say than that.
If Only: Among the 15 shots in the first period, the Devils had several opportunities at rebounds right in front but couldn't find the back of the net with any of them. Travis Zajac was denied at least twice on those, I know David Clarkson came close at least once, and Bobby Butler hit the post following up a wraparound by Krys Barch. It speaks to how well Nabokov did tonight that all were denied. It also speaks to how with an extra inch or two, this night could have gone completely different.
Streaks Continuing: Ilya Kovalchuk didn't have such a great night (only two shots) but he did set up Patrik Elias, who set up Marek Zidlicky for his power play goal. That assist continues his six-game point streak. It also was his 800th career point. Elias had a better night (four shots) and his primary assist extended his point streak to four games too.
Valiant Attempts: David Clarkson really tried with eight attempts. But five of them were blocked and his three shots were stopped. At least he keeps pressing.
I enjoyed what the CBGB line did tonight. Steve Bernier showed off some dash and flash with two shots and came close to setting up a goal for Ryan Carter. Carter had three shots and Stephen Gionta had two of his own. I liked their effort though it wasn't always going forward.
Different Night, Same Team Losing More Faceoffs Than Winning: The Devils went 20-for-54 tonight at faceoffs tonight. Only one faceoff really led to any damage, and that was Moulson's goal. That was mostly due to what the Devils did after losing that one. What's notable that no Devil who took more than two draws won half of them. Not even Zajac.
The No Good, Very Bad, Stinky Return of Tallinder: Mark Fayne didn't do so well against Philadelphia and he was replaced by Henrik Tallinder in this game. Suffice it to say, Tallinder's first game back in weeks was poor. He took two bad penalties, one of which led to an Islanders PPG, he struggled against pressure, and was beaten frequently along the boards. I'll forgive him for the penalty shot awarded to David Ullstrom since it was a very weak, barely-touching-the-gloves among all else. Overall, I see no reason why we shouldn't see Fayne back in the lineup on Monday.
Incidentally, the rest of the defense didn't do so well. Allowing 33 shots total including some really dangerous ones for Hedberg. Adam Larsson was a frequent target along the boards and didn't get much done away from it. Andy Greene was quiet. Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov were caught behind. Marek Zidlicky evened himself up in goals and allowed way more than the six shots he put on net. I'd be shocked if Fayne's not back on the blueline given how the unit as a whole did.
What did you make of tonight's 5-1 loss? Did any Devils not named Hedberg have a good game in your eyes? How impressed were you by the Tavares line crushing New Jersey? What do the Devils really need to improve on for Monday's game against Ottawa? Does this loss raise any serious concerns or do you just write it off and move on? Please leave your answers and other comments about this loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.