At the risk of incurring a lot of ire from other fans, I don't think the New Jersey Devils played a bad game tonight. They just didn't get the bounces and two lethal errors sunk them in their 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The Devils had a disaster to start the game, they had a disaster to open a 4-on-4 situation, and they couldn't find the back more than once. The third goal against was an empty netter. This was a close game and it just wasn't in the cards tonight.
Of course, the disasters deservedly stick out as the takeaway memories from this game. The first was a history-making moment. Right off the opening faceoff, the Jets win it and Ron Hainsey tosses it to his defensive partner Zach Bogosian. As Bogosian has it, the Devils converge with Marek Zidlicky jumping to the center. Bogosian sees Andrew Ladd and lobs a pass his way. It goes off Bryan Little, Zidlicky, and then right in front of Ladd. He goes in all alone on Johan Hedbeg. and scores eight seconds into the game. That was the fastest goal the Devils have ever given up to start a game. That's the achievement unlocked for Ladd and their reward was more pressure throughout the first period. The Devils came close thrice only Ilya Kovalchuk hit a post, Patrik Elias missed, and Bobby Butler got denied in the slot.
The second disaster came in the third period, when the game was opening up to a back-and-forth affair. The game was tied and the Devils were largely enjoying the better of possession. Behind the play, Nik Antropov cross-checked Steve Bernier, Bernier was tagged for embellishment, and so it was 4-on-4 for two minutes. Right off the draw, the puck goes back into the zone, Grant Clitsome laid it off for Dustin Byfuglien, and Big Buff decided to go coast-to-coast. He got past the forechecking Adam Henrique, he turned Andy Greene, and, worst of all, got Hedberg to stack his pads at the net. I have no idea why Hedberg sold out immediately to his left as Byfuglien came charging in. I have no idea why he didn't remain standing or go butterfly along the post. Instead, he takes himself out of the play as Byfuglien correctly goes for a wraparound. Marek Zidlicky got a piece of the attempt, Greene's stick got caught in the net so he couldn't clear it off the line, and Ladd tapped it in to make it 2-1.
Those were the Jets' main moments of success tonight. After the first period, the Jets were out-shot by the Devils. They were out-attempted by the Devils. Even their power play performed worse than the Devils, not that is saying all that much. But the Devils only got one puck past Ondrej Pavelec. Andrei Loktionov burst through the neutral zone with the puck off an Alexei Ponikarovsky pass off the boards, got the puck under Hainsey's stick, and wristed one past a frozen Pavelec. It was a lovely move, a good equalizer, and the Devils put the effort in to build on it. It just didn't happen.
That's why most fans are understandably (and justifiably) frustrated with this loss. It's not like the Devils didn't try out there unlike, say, Sunday's third period. They did quite a few things right. They killed all their penalties and did a great job with it. Multiple lines got offensive shifts to pin the Jets back. They created chances. But they didn't go. And it's hard to say, "keep trying and they'll get it," after seeing Henrique miss a breakaway to tie it late in the third, Kovalchuk hit a post and make plays that don't succeed, Ponikarovsky robbed on a rebound. several scrums in front where the Devils just couldn't jam it in, and almost have as many attempts blocked (22) than shots on net (23). We know that in the long run, this team will score goals, it will be glorious, and there will be some wins. Right now, it's three losses in a row, with a third period defeat, and it's to a team the Devils lost to once already. It was another night limited in production and so the big errors that cost them were enough to sink them, even if there was only two of them. I get that you may not be happy. I'm not too pleased myself, but at least agree that this wasn't the awful game the "L" makes it out to be. I'll try my best to explain it in this recap.
The Opposition Opinion: The Jets have been rolling and won another close game. The good times are, indeed, rolling for them according to Philip K's recap at Arctic Ice Hockey.
The Game Highlights: There were indeed some moments worth capturing. NHL.com has a video of said moments.
The Corsi Charts: The Devils out-shot the Jets 19-18 at even strength. That's not that much, but remember that Corsi includes blocks and misses. And that's where the evidence of the Devils' possession edge at even strength lied tonight. In the first period, the Devils were only out-attempted 15-14. Not that great since they were down 1-0 after the first one of the game, but they had time to recover. In the second, the Devils out-did the Jets 13-9 and they really put the Jets to the sword often at 23-11 attempts.
Overall, the Devils out-attempted the Jets 50-35. Again, the Devils put in the effort to either take the lead at 1-1 or try and get a goal down 2-1. It just didn't happen. Given that so few of those attempts actually got to Pavalec, they could have used more accuracy tonight. The same can be said about the Jets, too.
The Jets' chart reveals that while Andrew Ladd scored twice, his line got beaten down otherwise:
The Devils did the job against Ladd, Blake Wheeler, and Bryan little. They held them to five shots total all game long. Alas, three of them were goals: two by Ladd and Wheeler had the empty net goal. So even though they were out there for 18 to 19 attempts against, it didn't result in goals against. Hockey is funny in that way. Not funny "ha ha," but "scratch your head" or "furrow your eyebrow" funny. Anyway, the Devils found a lot more success against Hainsey-Bogosian at even strength compared to Sunday so that's a plus. Byfuglien-Clitsome had a better game than they did on Sunday, though. They also helped create Ladd's second goal too.
Incidentally, I'm wondering what Claude Noel did with Evander Kane. Kane had a strong game with four shots on six attempts. But he lost the possession battle while his usual linemate Olli Jokinen came out fantastically. Anthony Peluso, who sometimes gets shifts with Kane, had a great night in possession. But Kane, who led the team in shots tonight, did not. I find it peculiar, but I suspect there's a good reason for it somewhere.
Since the Devils decisively won the possession battle as a team, how did the players do?
The one big positive for Marek Zidlicky tonight was that when he was on the ice, good things tended to happen. Even as Bryce Salvador did not manage to do as well. Peter DeBoer definitely switched things up on defense as Zidlicky got shifts alongside Henrik Tallinder and they came out incredibly well in possession. Adam Larsson and Andy Greene came out negative but I suspect they took a lot of starts in their own end, so that could skew things. Mark Fayne stood out well and joined Salvador in-game, just like he was when the Devils were on a winning streak.
Offensively, there's a lot of positives. Ilya Kovalchuk only came out negative due to his extra shifts as Henrique and Loktionov did pretty well. The fourth line of Bobby Butler, Tim Sestito, and Stefan Matteau were the only solid negatives as they didn't create much of anything and got pinned back. Matteau played about ten minutes, close to double the amount Sestito and Butler did tonight, so he had some more chances to make something happen. The rest were solid. David Clarkson led the Devils in shots with four and in Corsi for events as he kept attempting to put pucks on net; Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias were more than willing to help - and they succeeded. Again, the Devils did a lot right and much of this started when it was 1-1 so it wasn't like they just turned it up at the end. That's what makes this loss seem more frustrating than most; the Devils did the work but didn't get the reward.
The Exception to the Effort: The only part of that third period effort I didn't like was how they played with Hedberg pulled. The Devils struggled to get into the zone, they had to block out one attempt at the END, and unless I'm mistaken, they really only got in twice. The second one was when Kovalchuk just went end to end and nearly had Elias in the slot only for the pass to hit his skates and go out for a clear. The Devils didn't manage one shot on net with Moose pulled and ended up eating an ENG. That was the final 1:30 or so out of an otherwise attempt-filled period.
Torts Loves This Boxscore: I'd love to see a Fenwick timeline of this game because the scorer counted a bucketload of blocks for both sides. I know Arctic Ice Hockey should have one up tomorrow, so look for that then. Fenwick counts all attempts except for blocks. Given that the Devils were blocked 22 times in all situations and the Jets were blocked 21, that's a huge chunk of how many attempts they had. The sheer amount of pucks going into bodies explains why shots ended at 23-21 and why the game didn't really open up until later on. I don't know whether the Jets scorer overcounts blocks, but I will say there were a lot of shots denied by skaters in addition to goaltenders.
Zidlicky is a Third Pairing Defenseman, He Should Be Used As One: A lot of Devils fans aren't happy with #2 and I am one of them. He made the wrong move off the opening faceoff, which gave a ton of space for Ladd to score on a breakway eight seconds into the game. Not long after Loktionov scores and the Devils get some offense going, he hits Kane away from the puck to prevent him from going forward. It was a legitimate interference call and forced the Devils to defend. When he returned to the ice, he got beaten in some cases, he came close to coughing up the puck, and he added little to the offense with one shot out of five attempts. Zidlicky brought nothing to a power play that needs something and he remained unsure in his own end. Even though the Devils held the Jets to only 21 shots tonight, his play is what causes fans to complain about the defense not being good. Zidlicky has shown to be more effective, more in control, and more aware than he has been in the past. I fear we're not going to see that soon. Therefore, I think he should be limited in action.
Did Any One Miss A-Train Tonight?: I didn't. Mark Fayne and Henrik Tallinder both had good nights from my eye. They were wonderful by Corsi differential.
When Only One Goal is Scored...: In a way, I feel bad for Johan Hedberg. He got put in a terrible spot right from the get-go and he had to fend off swarming Jets for the following ten minutes before the Devils settled the game down. The Devils attacked and got one goal, but the skaters couldn't provide another to give him a lead to work with. A goal cushion, if you will. As the game opened up, Hedberg was just as solid as one could ask.
Yet, he made one critical error. It wasn't like his indecision with the puck behind the net in D.C. on Saturday. No, he saw a very large man come at him with the puck - something he's seen before - and makes the bizarre decision to go down and stack the pads at the right net. He came out in such a way that not only did he sell out for Byfuglien going that way, but he couldn't defend the top of the net (he was on the side) or recover if Byfuglien went around him (which he did). All he had to do is what he done to Kane, Ladd, etc.: hold position along the post, challenge him a little, and so if he goes around, he has a chance to slide over to the left. While Ladd got the tap-in, Hedberg was very much at fault for the second goal against. Moose made a bad decision and it cost the team. That said, it was one mistake and the Devils didn't give him a lot of room for error. Ergo, this loss wasn't entirely on Moose freaking out at Byfuglien storming up-ice and towards the net.
So Much for Energy: Tim Sestito played tonight. He played 5:18, went 3-for-7 on faceoffs, had one awful giveaway in the first that somehow didn't lead to a Jets shot on net, and didn't really do much of anything. Meh. At least he didn't kill the team.
Andrei Makes LA Say WHAT: Lokitonov's goal was his only shot of the game, so he made it count at least. He's on a four-game point streak and has been one of the few individual highlights of the past few games. Incidentally, he won all of his faceoffs too.
David & Ilya: I wanted to see more shots from David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk. I got it from Clarkson as he got four shots on net out of seven attempts. That's more like it from #23. I didn't really get it from Kovalchuk with two shots on net out of three (and a post that wasn't recorded). I know Kovalchuk entered the zone quite a bit and his passes were usually pretty good, but I wanted to see him take more attempts tonight. Though, I do realize all of that could have been just blocks given how tonight went.
PK Success: The penalty kill was great tonight. They allowed only one shot on net out of three total power plays for Winnipeg. They even denied them any shots in a 56 second 3-on-5 situation. That two man disadvantage was created when Stephen Gionta needlessly flung a puck over the glass from his end while the team was killing a needless hooking penalty on Bryce Salvador. But even with broken sticks, the PK units kept the Jets from getting pucks to Hedberg, got several good clearances, and even generated two shots, including one 3-on-5 shot by Henrique. Henrique was big on the PK, I liked what I saw from Andy Greene and Mark Fayne, and Kovalchuk looked good too, including one great handling of the puck that saw him evade Jets and then pass it off for the other shorthanded shot on net. After a run of getting lit up on at least one PK because of a bad decision, it was refreshing to see the Devils hang tough. It was even delightful to see come out of it out-shooting the Winnipeg power play.
PP Failure: One shot, Jets clearance, failure to enter the zone, Jets clearance, failure to enter the zone, etc. The Devils did this three times and it was frustrating. I did like Kovalchuk's pass to Butler in the slot on their first power play. I am unhappy that instance was their only good chance on the power play. I don't even know what to suggest at this point to make it effective again.
Keep Chopping: The Devils did put a lot of pucks into Jets players and could have had many more shots. But they out-attempted their opposition, they got a good night from their PK, they held the Jets to only 20 non-empty net shots on net, and they didn't wilt after a horrendous moment to open the game or when Ladd got his second goal. The Jets had the better of the first period, but that was localized to the first ten minutes. That's not evidence of a bad game by the Devils. An unfortunate one, yes, but not an out-and-out bad game. Again, they didn't get the bounces to make up for their errors. All I can say is for the Devils to keep putting shots on net. (Oh, and not so much into the other team.) The goals will come. Until then, everything else has to be very good or the other team has to falter for the Devils to snap this losing streak.
Of course, I suspect you'll have a different view on tonight's loss. Therefore, I want to know what you think. What do you think the Devils did poorly that hurt them tonight? What do you think the Devils did well? Who on the Devils impressed you? Who did you think had a bad game? What do you want to see the Devils do differently - other than score - for Saturday's game based on what you've seen tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's loss in the comments. Thank you to everyone who followed along in the gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thanks for reading.