Like so many times last season, I'm sort of at a loss of words of what to say. So I'll focus on what happened and figure it out from there. The New Jersey Devils hosted the Second Rate Rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils needed to win badly for a number of reasons. They needed to make up ground in the standings. They needed to pull the Flyers down a bit as a murkier standings is beneficial for the Devils at the moment. They needed to avoid three winless games to kick off 2014. And it's always a good thing to take a rival down a peg. The Devils did not meet this need. They lost to the Flyers 3-2 in overtime. While one point is better than none, it's still two points to a crew they're chasing.
It's not as if the Devils didn't try to meet this need. This is where the frustration comes in. I mean the actual "what more do you want" kind of frustration. The Devils, who don't shoot a lot, put 33 on Ray Emery tonight. Yes, plenty of those shots went right to the logo on his jersey. Just as many were scrambles and close-stops where an inch or two or a different bounce would have made the difference. Give credit where it's due, Emery played very well; it wasn't all luck and presents. Martin Brodeur, who I didn't want starting in this game, bailed out the defense (Bryce Salvador comes to mind) quite a few times and really was beaten off a double-screen, a 3-on-2 he should have done better on, and a backdoor play only Marty McFly coming back to 2014 could have stopped for he knew what would come. He certainly wasn't perfect (though he sparkled in the second), but he was not awful like a pile of dirt. While the Flyers ultimately came back in the game, the Devils still finished ahead in possession 40-35 in 5-on-5 play. So what went so wrong tonight?
Penalties stand out as a flaw. Perhaps Mike Leggo and Chris Lee were a bit, shall we say, generous with some of the calls. Still, the Devils managed to take four penalties in a row out of a total of five tonight. The third one, an interference call against Mark Fayne on Scott Hartnell in the third, was the costly one. While they didn't always look their best, giving a team as good as Philly on the power play multiple chances is a big risk. Claude Giroux provided the reward when his shot from the right point appeared to bounce off at least one player through traffic and find the top left corner past Martin Brodeur. In total, the Flyers got seven out of their 28 shots on net on the power play. Not a bad output. It got them on the scoreboard as the Devils were leading 1-0.
But more important than the calls was a case of not something going so wrong, but something not going so right. The Devils scored less than a minute into the game on their shot on net. Jaromir Jagr weaved his way down low, Ryane Clowe touched off a puck from Jagr across the front of the crease, and Adam Henrique buried it. The Devils went on to simply pound the Flyers in their own end for much of the first period. I'd go as far as to say it was one of the best periods the Devils have played all season. You can count the number of bad shifts on one hand they had. The Devils' forecheck found success, pucks were just going astray from the Flyers, and the Devils came remarkably close several times to score.
That last point is crucial, sadly familiar, and ultimately hampered them tonight. They just couldn't find that finishing touch among other phrases. Emery was giving up rebounds, the Flyers were caught out of sorts at times, and the Devils did everything right on some occasion but just have the puck just go into the net. Jaromir Jagr and Ryane Clowe were absolutely determined to score but their combined thirteen shots (7 for Jagr, 6 for Clowe) couldn't get in. The bottom six - especially the fourths - had flourishing shifts but couldn't bang one in. It wasn't until near the very end of the game when a bad angle attempt by Marek Zidlicky led to a lay-up for Michael Ryder. You know, just a simple 5-on-5 empty net shorthanded and so-desperate-Ryder-is-taking-PK-minutes situation success.
When you do everything right but score outside of desperation time, then you're in trouble should the opposition put something together. The power play goal from Giroux was a fortunate case. The goal from Scott Hartnell was just killer. Not only did it come after 49 minutes of the Devils not scoring, not only did it put the Flyers up 2-1, but I think it was the first time the Flyers successfully turned an odd man rush into a shot all night long. They had other rushes but the cross-ice pass kept missing it's intended target, thus killing the potential off the rush. Of course, the one time they get it, it's in the back of the net. Brodeur should've had the shot (he was in position), Marek Zidlicky shouldn't have just bodied up the middle guy which helped open the passing lane (why, Marek, why), the skaters possibly shouldn't have conceded such a rush, and it wouldn't have been so deflating if it wasn't for the lack of goals at the other end. The Devils did eventually answer it but it was so commonplace with so many games last season. Perform well enough on the ice to score plenty but only get one; have one or two errors go into the net; and lose the game.
In overtime, the finish was nearly poetic. After about a minute and a half through overtime, Stephen Gionta manages to get the puck in a dangerous locale in Philly's end. About the umpteenth time tonight for the Devils. He fires a shot going far post that beats Emery and hits the inside of the post. Not the post head on, but the inside of it. He was less than an inch from being the hero. The play comes the other way; all four Devils focus on three Flyers on the right side. No one noticed, much less picked up Brayden Schenn coming in on the left. Nicklas Grossman gets it to Schenn and all Schenn had to do was not screw it up. He didn't screw it up and so the Devils lost shortly after nearly winning it. A chance gone begging led to an answered one by Philadelphia.
On another night against a non-rival and with the Devils not in dire need of points to keep pace in the divisional standings, we could just say "Not their night" and move onto the next one. But it was against a rival, the team does need points, and there are no easy answers as to what to change.
The Opposition Opinion: Unlike the last Devils-Flyers game, there's a recap at Broad Street Hockey. Albert Kleine calls the Flyers "Third Period Thieves." OK.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's the highlight video from this game:
I Don't Think Cory Would've Equalled a Win: Would Schneider have stopped Hartnell's shot in the third? I'd like to think so. 3-on-2 situations aren't easy ones though. Would Schneider may have been beaten elsewhere in the game? Quite possibly. Would Schneider's presence have made the Devils score more goals (or take fewer penalties) and not have to play on this game on the edge of a knife? I don't think so.
I Also Don't Think Eric Would've Equalled a Win, But...: Eric Gelinas was called up for this game. Strangely, he did not play. I don't know what the purpose of calling him up was then. Even if the Devils were thinking about having him around in case someone falters so he could step in, the Devils could have called him up tomorrow or even Thursday morning. Gelinas wasn't playing well prior to being sent down so it's not as if I could reasonably say he would be rather better than someone.
That said, I really did miss his shot on the power play. The Devils' three power plays not only did not convert but only generated two shots on net. There was plenty of possession at the points. A big, booming shot like The Truth could have caused almost as much chaos as the first scramble in front. Of course, I'm presuming such a shot gets through and that's always a big presumption given that it's a 50-to-60 foot shot, there's usually bodies in the way, and shots don't always go the way you'd think. I don't know, maybe we'll see him on Thursday.
Curious Benching: Someone - I didn't catch his name - pointed out to me at the train station that Anton Volchenkov and Salvador were benched for the end of the third. Sure enough, he was right. Except for the rest of the penalty kill after Ryder's equalizer, Salvador's final full shift at evens ended with 4:42 left. Volchenkov's final full shift at evens ended with 5:16 left. I didn't think Salvador had a good game; his hallmark move was being in the corner with Volchenkov as Steve Downie was wide open in front of the net, forcing a point-blank stop from Brodeur. Sure, the Devils needed offense at the time, but leaning on a foursome including Jon Merrill for close to five minutes certainly raises an eyebrow. Maybe Gelinas will spell one of these two instead of Merrill? Who knows?
Curious Stat: Two-thirds of the CBGB line got pinned back quite a bit. Since it was Gionta and Ryan Carter, I wonder if it was just residual play after some penalty kills? Then again, they probably just got stuck in their own end while Steve Bernier was able to get off in some way. Anyhow, here's the curious part: while they got out-attempted, they still out-shot their competition. It was that kind of night.
Oh, Captain, You Were Not Good: Salvador not only got a bit of a benching, but he was picked on by plenty of Flyers. He was caught out of place multiple times in the second period. He nearly tipped a puck past Brodeur. He wasn't beaten with speed and that's one of the few positives I can say about his game tonight. All of this while DeBoer kept him away from Giroux's line as much as he could. Salvador had a rough go of it for sure. What do you do with him in the near future, I don't know. I can't recall a captain getting scratched. I'd like to say give him a more mobile partner than Volchenkov; but that likely means a rookie or Zidlicky and that could spell more bad news on defense. It's not an easy call, especially after nights like this one where his struggles were noticeable.
You Wanted Kids on Offense, They Were There: The unit of Mike Sislo, Andrei Loktionov, and Reid Boucher continue to make the most of their match-ups. They combined for six shots at evens, very few attempts against admittedly weak match-ups, and they came close to scoring. It's coming for them. I think Peter DeBoer knows that. As a further sign of trust, they got some third period shifts. They're still around the 7-8 minute mark in terms of ice time, but it's far better to have these three get limited minutes than seeing a unit involving a guy who can barely skate at full speed.
Bounce Back: Adam Henrique and his line had a better night in the run of play. DeBoer did try to keep the Travis Zajac line out against Giroux's to some success. Giroux's line was Philly's best in possession; Zajac line was around 50% so they held up well. Henrique, Clowe, and Ryder not facing power showed and they really did attack. Jagr stayed on a shift to help set the first two up for a score. Henrique was very good possession-wise and doubled-up the Flyers in shots. Clowe was an absolute monster out there with six shots on net. He came really close to scoring on his own rebound in the third among his shots; but this was clearly his best game since joining the Devils. They may be dependent on getting a favorable set of opponents on defense, but this trio can definitely do several good things if they get it. With two more home games in a row, I hope to see more nights like this one.
There Was A Top Line, A Top Pairing, Hartnell, And...Uh...: The Flyers' possession was ruled by Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and the returning Michael Raffl. They're followed by Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. While not all that super in possession, Hartnell definitely made his mark with drawing two penalties and scoring a goal. After them, it got messy all the way down to a totally imperfect 0% from Zac Rinaldo, who's probably still glad Emery got some pad on Clowe's rebound in the third. The Flyers' best players were their best but there were plenty of anonymity among the rest. I didn't know Vincent Lecavalier was in this game. I didn't think Downie did anything much after his point-blank shot on Brodeur that was stopped. I knew Luke Schenn would be in this one but I couldn't tell you anything he really did. Brayden Schenn got the game winner in OT but before that, I had nothing much to say about him. I suppose you could add "Only Part of the Flyers Played Well Or Better Than Average" to the list of "Why I'm Frustrated With This Loss."
One Final Point: The Devils played really, really well in the first period. So well that it likely wasn't going to happen again. However, I don't think the Flyers changed a whole lot. I think several of the bad clearances, missed passes, and other ways a puck can get away from a player just stopped going New Jersey's way like it did in the first. That's why we saw longer attacking shifts from the Flyers from the second period onward. The power plays most certainly helped but when everything's not going awry, it's easier to move the puck forward and make positive plays. As such, the Devils didn't have as many chances to do so. They certainly did put the effort in; they were only out-shot by two in the second, matched the Flyers in shots, and held a possession advantage until the third which the Devils regained later. Sometimes it's not an adjustment that a team needs, just not having every other touch of the puck go astray can make a huge difference. The Flyers got that and so they started looking and playing better; I don't think the Devils got way worse or anything like that.
Your Take: Don't misunderstand me, I'm not happy they didn't win either. So share your feelings in the meantime. What do you think really did the Devils in? What can they possibly do for future games? Would it be out of bounds to say "take fewer penalties, play like this more often, and enjoy the W's that will come?" Who was the best Devil tonight? Who was the worst? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.