Both the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers came into this game as strong puck possession teams with very low shooting percentages (Sh%) at even strength. I pointed that out in my preview of this game. It even was a part of Monday's post about how good the Devils are possession and how most teams that are good at possession get into the playoffs. Tonight, the team shooting 6.93% at even strength went 2-for-20 at evens. The team shooting 7.03% at even strength this season went 1-for-22 at evens. Tack on a special teams goal for each and that adds up to a 3-2 win in favor of the New York Rangers over the New Jersey Devils.
Once again, the Devils out-shot their opponents in all situations, 31-22. Once again, the Devils out-attempted their opponents with a +4 in Fenwick and a +11 in Corsi. Once again, the Devils did a lot of things right; they drew calls, they forechecked, they got extended attacking shifts at times, and so forth. Once again, they couldn't score enough to win and their mistakes did them in. I'm honestly getting sick of writing these recaps because I'm really just repeating myself at this point. The Devils had a good performance but their production sucked. Therefore, so some boneheaded decisions cost them the game even though the team. That's tonight's game. That's Saturday's game against Montreal. That's a lot of other games from the past month or so.
The root problem remains the lack of goals, lest you really think the team can play a mistake-free game - albeit, I would agree it didn't have to be tonight's mistakes. The possession is there, the shots are there, and even when the defense and/or Moose has a good night, it's all for naught because this team isn't scoring enough goals. Would a scoring winger help? Absolutely; somebody who isn't slumping would be a gift from a higher power (take your pick, readers) for this squad at this point. But I don't see 2013's version Jeff Carter-to-a-slumping-team-to-coincidentally-turn-it-around coming to this team. Maybe you can?
Anyway, the Rangers took full advantage of the team's mistakes and weathered whatever pressure they got even though Henrik Lundqvist looked shaky in net tonight. They won as Montreal won as a whole bunch of other teams won. It wasn't pretty but it got the job done. And I will admit, I'm more bitter than usual because it is at the hands of Our Hated Rivals, a team who's had similar struggles this season. I am a Devils fan; losing to the Rangers should feel irritating, enraging, annoying, and/or bothersome to some degree. They are Our Hated Rivals, it's just not the same when something like this comes at the hands of, say, Carolina. I'd be lying if it didn't.
Nevertheless, the Devils should now be right below 7% at even strength at this point. The exact percentage doesn't matter, the Devils will be among the worst teams in the league in that statistic. That means their poor shooting percentage from the last month continues to drive a strong percentage from earlier in the season into the toilet. The 5-2 win over the Flyers was just an oasis; the Devils remain in the Desert of Nonproduction. How do they exit? I don't know. Same low Sh%, different night, same result: a regulation loss.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Faceoff Comparison | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Report | The Time On Ice Corsi & Fenwick Charts | The Time On Ice Even Strength Head to Head Ice Time Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Bryan Winters and the Rangers faithful are appropriately pleased with the team in their recap at Blueshirt Banter. They needed these points in their scrapping effort to get into the postseason and they got them.
The Game Highlights: There were highlights of sorts. More for the opposition, though. Here's the video from NHL.com:
The First Period or The Harrold Experience: The first period had all the makings of an odd one. It included four goals and I'm sure fans on both sides The Devils looked very good to start but disaster struck on their power play. A puck sailed all the way down ice and Johan Hedberg came way out of his net to deny Derek Stepan a breakaway. Instead of immediately knocking it away from him, he delays, Stepan takes it away, Hedberg gets it back, and as Moose rushes back to his net, Peter Harrold loses the puck to Stepan along the boards. Ilya Kovalchuk is left on an island trying to deny the pass, no other Devil backchecks to take Michael Del Zotto, and he swats one in. Moose is at fault partially because he could've prevented the whole incident had he made a decision to play it away. Harrold is at fault partially because he couldn't keep a puck despite good position. And the nobody picking up Del Zotto really wasn't a great effort.
Fortunately for New Jersey, the Devils answered back on their next power play minutes later. After a faceoff win, Harrold fired a shot from the top of the point and it got partially blocked. Travis Zajac scooped it up from the middle of the ice, fired one shot that was blocked, and then a second that got through Lundqvist's five-hole. It was a big goal for Zajac since he hasn't been firing them in; it was a big goal because the power play succeeded; and it tied up the game.
Not long after that, the Devils got stuck in their own end for a little bit. Ryan Callahan threw the puck back to the left point to Dan Girardi. Girardi fired a shot off the end boards that bounced to a wide open Carl Hagelin at the right post. It was a 5-on-5 situation and nobody saw the winger down low on the weakside. By the time Harrold turned around, Hagelin tapped it into an empty net to make it 1-2. It's not like Girardi made a stop at the point so the Devils were hoping to get out. Harrold just lost his man.
Amazingly, the Devils would equalize not long after that with a goal from somebody nobody expected: Anton Volchenkov. Seriously, A-Train scored a goal. Stephen Gionta played a puck back to him along the boards. Volchenkov figured that since he was open, he'd just put it towards the net. It somehow goes through several bodies and gets past Lundqvist. It surprised me, it probably surprised you, and it definitely surprised the Rangers. It's 2-2 thanks to Anton Volchenkov. If you want one more reason to grouse about this game, then consider that Volchenkov scored a goal and the Devils still couldn't find a way to win.
The Second Period or One Too Many Mistakes...: The Devils and Rangers played an up-tempo first period and continued it in the second period. Both teams traded offensive attacks. The Devils tended to set-up more and attack from various angles. The Rangers were able to get several odd man rushes by getting stops in their own end plus certain Devils like Marek Zidlicky, Marek Zidlicky, and Marek Zidlicky caught pinching. Hedberg was massive in stopping those two-on-ones - except for the one he didn't. After Alexei Ponikarovsky came close to scoring in front, the Devils decided to go for a line change without possession. Big mistake. Del Zotto sprung Rick Nash out wide and Nash & Brad Richards had a two-on-one against Harrold. Nash didn't even look to pass. Moose didn't square up for any potential shot and so Nash just fired a blistering wrister through his legs to make it 3-2. An awful line change, bad form by Moose, and it turned out to be the tipping point in tonight's game.
Unfortunately, the Devils couldn't find a quick response. They tried many times and came close several times to beat Lundqvist a third time. Even though the Diving King laid out many rebounds, either the Rangers cleaned them up or the Devils couldn't take full advantage of them. The Rangers came close to making it 4-2, but Moose was very strong after a weak goal allowed on all shots, especially on the 2-on-1s mostly allowed by Zidlicky.
The Third Period or Didn't We See This in the First Against Montreal?: It was still very much a game but what was an exciting, playoff-like game for two periods degenerated into a more sloppy affair with all kinds of faulty passes, dump-ins, and infuriating decisions to pass up open shots to lead to nothing. It was a lot like the first period against Montreal on Saturday, only the Rangers didn't take full advantage. The Rangers had one fantastic chance early on when Jeff Halpern got a free shot in front. Thankfully, he's Jeff Halpern so Moose stopped him. But the Devils' attack wasn't so successful. Down a goal, they only out-shot the Rangers 7-4 and two of those seven shots came on a power play. As time ticked down, the Devils' offense was almost like squeezing blood from a stone once again. The possession may have been there, but the pucks weren't going on enough. Despite an extra man late, the Devils once again failed to find that additional goal they needed.
The Somewhat Even Even Strength: The Devils did out-attempt the Rangers by 11 if you include blocks and by 4 if you don't. The problem with that is that actual shots on net were close. The Devils only out-shot the Rangers 22-20. For a team that was down a goal for over half the game, that's not really all that great. If you look at the Time on Ice charts, no one on New Jersey stood out in terms of shots except for Anton Volchenkov. The non-shots on net speak to how much the Devils had the puck to make those attempts, but they were about as effective at scoring goals as not shooting it at all.
Neither were some of the individual numbers. Ilya Kovalchuk was shotless at even strength. David Clarkson and Anton Volchenkov were tied with four shots at evens. Yes, that's right, Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, Zajac, and the other forwards. A-Train got more rubber on net than you at evens. And in all situations too, except for Kovalchuk and Clarkson, who had five total. I liked how Volchenkov played tonight, but it's simply not good that a guy who only played 14:14 total had more attempts get to the net than nearly all of the forwards.
The Somewhat Effective Power Play: Four attempts, nine shots on net, a post off a deflection that I and the thousands at the Rock thought was a goal but was not, and a goal by Zajac. Kovalchuk was especially strong here as all five of his shots on net tonight came on the man advantage. The Devils' two power plays in the first period were their most effective with five shots and a goal. The one each in the second and third periods weren't bad with two shots each, but they could have had more with more aggressive shooting and better zone entries. Of course, the shorthanded goal was abysmal by both Moose and the skaters so I can understand if you don't want to praise the PP all that much. Still, nine shots out of four attempts and shots on each opportunity are a lot better than what we've seen in some games.
The Absolutely Awful Refereeing: Dennis LaRue and Kelly Sutherland were simply terrible tonight with a number of no-calls on the Rangers. They saw and did not call Brian Boyle setting a pick on Patrik Elias in his own end; they did not call anything when Bryce Salvador got clipped in the face and play continued until Hedberg robbed Hagelin in the slot; they did not call anything when Elias was hit in the face going into the neutral zone and went to his knees; and they did not call Rick Nash for hitting David Clarkson's leg to deny him from chasing a puck. There were several non-calls that were just mind-boggling. The calls they did make were all legitimate except for one.
In the second period, Lundqvist stops a puck as Zajac and Girardi skate by him. After a half-second, Lundqvist falls down like he was shot and writes in supposed agony on the ice. After a fracas and a trainer checked on the goalie, the refs send Zajac to the box for goaltender interference. That was an absolutely awful call as Zajac did not even touch Lundqvist one bit. Girardi hit Lundqvist by accident and Lundqvist decided to roll over and act like he was seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. It was worse acting than Dan Carcillo or anytime Fred Sanford claimed to have a heart attack. And they made Zajac pay for it. Justice was served when the Devils killed that power play with no shots allowed.
While I understand that the Devils did come out ahead in power plays and penalties didn't decide the game, it must be pointed out. It was a call that shouldn't have been made and on a night where it was apparently free whack-a-head night on anyone in red, it was an especially terrible call. Watch as nothing happens to LaRue and Sutherland for it. Clearly, it was a candidate for one of the worst calls of the season. At least we can and will call Lundqvist the Diving King, the King of Dives, or Patriarch of the Royal Family of Flop.
The Obligatory Section Where I Wonder Who Sits for Fayne: Harrold had some good games going into this one. Tonight wasn't one of them. He lost a battle that led to a SHGA, he lost his man for the second goal against, and he contributed a mere shot on net, an "assist" that was really a fortunate bounce off a block, and a +4 in Corsi that's mostly driven by misses and blocks. It was not a good night for #10.
Marek Zidlicky didn't do anything that led to any GAs, but the Rangers came mighty close to doing so in the second period on multiple occasions. He did muster a +2 in Fenwick and a +3 in Corsi against the Rangers' top six but he was on the ice for the most shots against at evens. The supposed "offensive" defenseman got no shots on net as all five attempts either got blocked or missed the net. I'm failing to see why he deserves top-four minutes. Given that the team's defense during their winning streak - yes, they had one once - had him on the third pairing, I think that's where he belongs. But you won't get complaints out of me if #2 sits a game.
In my mind, it's either Harrold or Zidlicky who should sit out for Mark Fayne next since those two had especially poor nights. It wouldn't surprise me if Adam Larsson sits a bit since he's been all about making some poor decisions with the puck for the past few games. He's had a few giveaways, a pass on an open shot at the circle, and some botched clearances. Consider him the third horse in the race for replacement.
The Not Obligatory Section Where I Tell Elias A Thing: Seriously, Patrik, you have a good shot. Don't pass up open shots in good spots, whether it's on the rush or you're down low on a power play down a score. Just fire away, like your teammate Clarkson. You may even score.
The Confused Section: Hedberg was all over the place with playing the puck and one delay, while he won the puck back, led to a SHGA. He also looked hideously out of form on Nash's goal. At the same time, he bailed out his team over and over to keep it a one goal game. Was it a good game? A good game with awful mistakes? A bad game with several important stops? I don't even know how to really feel about it. I will say I'm looking forward to Martin Brodeur's return, which should be soon.
The Notes About the Rangers Section: In terms of possession, the Richards line was the best. Richards and Nash combined for seven shots on net and one goal, which was good as Marian Gaborik did a whole lot of nothing on the scoresheet. Carl Hagelin and his annoyingly speedy ways ran up five shots and a goal as his line was just below zero in Corsi. The Devils enjoyed playing against their bottom six, especially Brian Boyle given his -11 Corsi. Del Zotto, Steve Eminger, and Roman Hamrlik all finished at -1 Corsi; their top pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh got it worse in possession at -7 and -9, respectively. Three out of the four penalties by the Rangers came from the defense: McDonagh, Anton Stralman, and Eminger.
The Injury: Alexei Ponikarovsky left tonight's game during the second period and did not return. It led to some jumbling of the lines but eventually Peter DeBoer settled on three lines for the third period. Hope that it's not a long injury because Ponikarovsky was doing the little things Dainius Zubrus did and without him, the team's depth at wing is further tested.
A Final Point: Hedberg bears responsibility on GA #1 and #3; Harrold bears some on GA #1 and #2; and the team bears it on #3 with that terrible timing for a line change. But mistakes happen in games and so it's important for teams to be able to score multiple goals if/when it happens. Yet again for New Jersey, same sh%, different night. I feel that Kovalchuk's back to being cold, Clarkson remains cold, Henrique is cold, Elias is cold, Zajac is slightly warmer, and everyone seems cold. When the puck luck improves, it'll be glorious. When will it change? I don't know. For the Devils' sake, it needs to be soon.
Thank you all for following along in the gamethread and through Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Please leave your comments and thoughts about about tonight's loss in the comments. Thanks for reading.