If I had to describe tonight's 5-3 loss by the New Jersey Devils in just two words, I'd have to go with thoroughly poor. The Devils were poor going forward as the official scorer marked a mere 23 shots on net. This in a game where the Devils were playing from behind throughout the game and they received ten - yes, ten - power plays. The New York Islanders nearly matched the Devils totals in shorthanded goals or breakaway goals alone. I must point out that none of the five goals allowed could be described as both of those types. Defensive errors were the point of the day and the Isles made the Devils pay the price with four in the first period alone. A broken stick in the neutral zone led to an insurance goal that put an interesting scoreline of 4-3 to a more daunting 5-3. Then the Devils put up only a handful of shots to ensure that there would be nothing more interesting.
Alas, the big story of the game could very well be the sheer number of penalties in this game. Both teams combined for 112 penalties in minutes, with the Islanders leading 69-43. While Brett Gallant led the team with 25, Eric Boulton put in a standout performance in terms of fouling Devils. He was a constant minor machine as provided half of the Devils' power plays all by himself. He got the extra ten (as well as his fifth minor) after complaining about a boarding call to a ref, presumably with some bad words and then was thrown out. Keep in mind that Boulton was on the ice for 7:09. At the same time, he served a more significant role. He scored the eventual game winning goal (!) as he left the penalty box behind the entire New Jersey Devils, received a breakout pass from Anders Lee (!!), and scored on a breakaway against Martin Brodeur (!!!). It was sickening. One of the villains of the night was a hero for the visitors. Life remains unfair.
Regardless, the Devils only converted on one of their many power plays and struggled to gain the zone many more times than they got shots on net, which was officially nine. I felt the scorer should have added two or three more, but the point remains the same, the Devils squandered a lot of the opportunities provided by Boulton and his teammates. Adding to the frustration was that the Devils gave up two shorthanded goals. Both involved Marek Zidlicky turning the puck over from the blueline. Both involved Jon Merrill covering the puck carrier on a two-on-one and not, you know, succeeding at it. The goals against were a bit different. The first was Kyle Okposo finding an open Josh Bailey for a one-timer in the slot off the rush. Not too different from their power play goal, where Brock Nelson fed an open Anders Lee for a shortside one-timer. It's possible no one could have caught Bailey. The second was Marek Zidlicky attempting to clear a rebound, only for it to go off Bailey and past Brodeur. It was that kind of game. In that sense, Eric Gelinas getting a puck knocked off his stick by an errant broken stick in the neutral zone, freeing it for Peter Regin to go in to score on a breakaway against Scott Wedgewood didn't seem completely out of the ordinary.
There weren't a whole lot of positives outside of the Devils getting three goals off shots from distance. One each by Zidlicky and Merrill got through Kevin Poulin; and the power play goal was an apparent deflection by Rostislav Olesz off a Merrill shot. Given that the Devils have lacked offense from their defense, that's heartening to witness. But the truly good news about this sort of poor performance is that it's meaningless in a week or so. Those who haven't played got some minutes. Those who have played their second game continue to get the rust off. The team as a whole got a reminder that they still need to keep grinding on their game.
Clowe's Injury & Barch Getting Tossed & Rust: Thinking about the game more, I wonder how much fatigue had a factor on the team's performance on attack. Ryane Clowe only played 2:01 tonight and left the game early in the first period. According to this report at Fire & Ice by Tom Gulitti, Peter DeBoer stated that Clowe's issue was a minor "charley horse" like injury; they didn't want to push him in a preseason game. I get that. What that meant was that the team was playing with eleven forwards for most of the game. Enter Krys Barch. He's not much good for anything beyond "enforcing," except for occasional blooper, which he provided in the second period when he tripped over one of the lines and lost the puck. Barch threw down not once, not twice, but three times with Gallant. With every major and Barch getting thrown out of the game after the third fight, the Devils were reduced to ten available forwards. I'd like to think this had some effect on the game as the team went for the old dump and chase routine more often as time went on and didn't win a lot of the chases.
The Isles lineup tonight was all about playing physical too - What a shock! Barch's efforts did nothing to deter them! - so a shortened bench took quite a bit of pain tonight. Andrey Pedan, in a particular, used his body rather effectively. Combined with forwards taking additional shifts, some of those forwards playing in their very first game this preseason, and getting thrown out there with linemates they didn't skate with this morning, it's not at all an ideal situation. A shortened bench plus rust from a lot of players is a bad combination. As such, I think this led to a lot of potential attacks getting deterred. When that happens, the team looks much slower and they are much less effective in their overall game. In other words, it at least partially explains why the team looked so crummy this evening. In retrospect, not that Barch could do much else, he could've at least realized his team is down a man permanently and not find a way to make it two in the third period.
In a similar vein, I wasn't a fan of Ryan Carter dropping the mitts to take himself out for five minutes. At least that occurred before Barch was kicked out. I'm not going to criticize Stephen Gionta because it was the end of the game and it was in response to a spearing foul by Joe Diamond. That's a rare call since it is such a dangerous move, most players don't even try it.
Powerless Play: I noticed that the team rotated into something like a 1-3-1 formation during the team's power plays on the occasions that they actually set up a formation. It was an interesting look but it didn't yield much. The Isles maintained a tight box to force Devils to pass away shots and they cleaned up pucks fairly well. The Devils just struggled getting into their zone once the Isles made a clearance or two. Two or even four minute power plays were really only threatening for a fraction of that time as they often failed to keep the puck in their end by way of a dump in or a pass out wide to carry it in. Yes, I know they scored on one of their power plays; but the Devils spent a lot of time gifted to them by #36 and his friends outside of the zone or inside their zone without the puck. That's not an efficient use of time.
Seriously, Marty: Look, Zidlicky exonerated you on the second shorthanded goal and the first two goals were difficult ones for either keeper. But I can't defend Eric Boulton beating you on a breakaway. That's Eric "I haven't scored a goal in years" Boulton. That's Eric "I intentionally charged you earlier this period even though I was beaten to a loose puck" Boulton. That's Eric "I'm a holdover from an era where all teams had otherwise useless players" Boulton. Not good.
If Only: Two moments come to mind that could have possibly changed the game with a little better luck for New Jersey. First, in the first period, during one of the Devils' power plays, Michael Ryder was alone in the slot with a puck coming right at him. He correctly decided to quickly tap it ahead, hoping to beat Poulin on his left side. Instead, it squirts right off the post and away. Had that gone in, maybe the Isles would have been a bit smarter about their play with two power play goals allowed in the first period. Given their roster, maybe not, but who knows. The second moment comes in the third period and not long before Peter Regin made it 5-3. Griffin Reinhart is in the left corner and bizarrely gives the puck away to the slot. Travis Zajac swipes it, turns, and tries to beat Poulin to his left. He is denied at the post. With a different move or Poulin being a little less prepared, it's a 4-4 game where anything can happen. Alas, it was not to be.
Debuts: Michael Ryder had a couple of good shots and some nice passes, but it was clear at times he's still meshing with his teammates. A few drop-backs to no one and not always involved. Damien Brunner looked like he just joined the team, which he really did. Once he gets acclimated, I think he'll perform much better. Clowe is an incomplete since he only had two shifts. I liked what I saw from Eric Gelinas and Damon Severson. Gelinas showed he still has a good shot - could have used it more - and the broken stick play was just unfortunate. I liked Severson keeping things steady at times. Merrill, I'm non-committal on. I appreciate the two shots he had that led to two goals and he's got a nice stride when he moves. But I felt he looked too tentative at times in his own end, especially going after the puck. A little more aggression and perhaps the two shorthanded goals against don't happen. Wedgewood didn't have much to do. The Regin breakaway goal was what it was - not at all an easy first shot against.
A Quick Thought about Zidlicky: I felt he was better defending the empty net on a shorthanded rush than with Brodeur in net. Zidlicky was the worst of the three vets, for sure.
Opposition Praise: The Isles put out Reinhart, Pedan, and Scott Mayfield for a large chunks of the shorthanded situations their forwards gave them, and they came out quite well. Reinhart's big error aside, all three were fairly solid and helped make what could have been a calamitous night for the Isles into a dull one for the Devils. Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, and Kyle Okposo were the top forwards on paper going into this game and they were on the ice for the Isles. Bailey and Okposo were correct to be aggressive on the PK and were rewarded for it. Nielsen didn't pick up a point, but he led the team in shots on net with four of the team's 17. Lastly, Poulin handled long shots much better after Zidlicky's blast. Nice recovery.
Onward: The Isles should ice a stronger team on paper for Saturday and this game thankfully won't matter in a week or so.
That's my take on tonight's loss, now I want to know yours. Which Devils impressed you the most? Did any of them disappoint you? Would you agree that the Devils were just poor all around tonight or where there other positives? Aren't you glad this game won't count for anything? Even so, what from this game would you like the Devils to work on the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.