Over the course of an 82-game season, any team regardless of their quality is going to have some bad nights. Some of them will be where nothing goes right. Some of them will be where the other team simply steamrolls them. Some of them will feature a lead being choked away . As a fan, you just hope those games don't happen on a night you're attending and against a hated rival. Yet, that is exactly what happened at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey this evening. The New Jersey Devils were up as much as 3-1 early on in the third period against the New York Rangers. They had the better run of play at even strength. Yet, they found a way to lose the game. In overtime, 4-3 because no one picked up a trailing bottom-pairing defenseman named Kevin Klein. The silver lining is a point, though it's a double-edged lining as a Devils winner would have still given a division opponent a point.
It was maddening to witness the Devils concede three unanswered goals on a night where the Devils power play scored three goals. And they were good goals off mostly good set-ups. Damien Brunner missed his shot, but Jaromir Jagr was in a position to pop it in. Jagr made a sweet pass to the left dot where Adam Henrique beat Henrik Lundqvist shortside. Brunner managed to win a puck and play it out to the other end of the zone for Jon Merrill to pick it up; Merrill stepped up and beat Lundqvist with a lovely shot. With all due respect to the power play, I'm pretty sure a three-goal night from them isn't going to happen a lot this season. So seeing that wasted was disheartening.
The comeback effort itself was disheartening to see and hear. The Rangers had one on the board in the first period when the Next Ryan Callahan, Chris Kreider pounced on a rebound unannounced and scored the team's first power play goal this season. Later in the third, in an attempt to exit the zone, Mike Cammalleri whacks a puck in mid-air. It goes over the glass and gets called for delay of game. Even if the puck hit the glass or got past the defender, I'm not sure what Cammalleri was going for. So his "bad luck" put the team down. It didn't take long for Ryan McDonagh to sling a cross-ice pass out of reach of Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique to Chris Mueller, who one-timed it past Andy Greene and Cory Schneider. That made it 3-2.
Marek Zidlicky, who's very much like that guy at a local pick-up basketball game who feels he needs to show off all of the moves he learned from watching And1 tapes all week regardless of you're ready for them or not, created the equalizer. The puck was dumped in by Mueller and Schneider slowed it down. Zidlicky picked it up and decided a no-look backhand pass from behind the goal line was a good idea. It was not. It almost never is. He did it, he missed Travis Zajac (read: this almost worked), and found Kreider (read: this so did not work), who hammered a low shot on net. Schneider stopped the puck and didn't leave a big rebound. Not that he needed to because as Zidlicky was up to his old tricks, Rick Nash peeled out of the corner and headed to the net. No one could get him, no one could stop him from getting that puck, he made sure not to crash into Schneider again, and no one could stop him from burying it. 3-3 and, no, Zidlicky did not get a deserved secondary assist on the goal.
The Devils responded well to the goal by bringing the house to Lundqvist. They weren't so much knocking on the proverbial door as much as they were slamming that knocker that some large doors have. But Lundqvist and bounces salvaged them. In overtime, a four-some of Dainius Zubrus, Ryane Clowe, Greene, and Damon Severson was out there. It wasn't hideous as Severson put a sweet move past Kreider, but he fired his shot wide. The Rangers counter-attack but both defensemen were back. So was Zubrus, who wasn't paying attention to Klein coming up from behind him. He was puck-watching the whole way. He never heard - or possibly wasn't told - to look out for the man from behind. Kreider, back to goal, passed it back to Klein. The defenseman took a step into space and beat Schneider clean. Bad combination on the ice by Peter DeBoer, ugly goal to allow by Schneider, horrible backchecking by Zubrus (who should know better), and a disgusted arena not-even-close-to-full of Devils fans.
Let me put this more directly: the Devils rebounded from an early deficit to make the Rangers suffer on three power plays to go up 3-1. They were otherwise doing more with the puck at even strength. But their PK gave an opposing team life, they paid dearly for the horrible mistake of a giveaway, and a lack of proper execution doomed them in overtime. All against a hated rival. All in front of a not-even-sold out crowd. Tonight was an embarrassment on all gameday fronts for the Devils, plain and simple.
The Game 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 Devils Time on Ice Report | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Bryan Winters has this recap up at Blueshirt Banter.
The Game Highlights: First the ecstasy of goals scored, then the agony of defeat. Here's the video from NHL.com:
The State of Your Business or This Is How I Know Your Tickets Are Too Expensive: Before I get into the hockey, let's talk attendance. This game was not a sellout. I repeat: a Devils-Rangers game early enough when nobody's out of anything and the second home game of the season did not sell out. It was not even close. There were large swaths of empty seats in the 200 sections. Some, like 209, were barely half full. There were pockets and stretches of rows of empty seats in the ends of the lower bowl. I'm pretty confident the boxes weren't all sold. The Devils, to their credit, announced a more realistic 14,484 number. But the fact that this wasn't close to sellout is an embarrassment to the business.
Devils-Rangers is arguably the easiest game to sell on the schedule as it's the biggest rivalry. We hate them and they hate us and that should equal money for any competent sales department. Instead, the Brand-focused Devils decided to jack up the variable pricing for the Devils-Rangers game. Charging a bit more for this game, I can understand. But it's ridiculous. My own ticket is listed at $130 before fees, and I'm in Row 16 of Section 1, the cheapest section of the lower bowl for that section. For comparison's sake, my ticket for Friday night's game - Chico Night against Dallas - has a listed price of $50. Even though it's on a weekday night, it wasn't a promotional night, and against a team arguably better than the Rangers, it's worth $80 more? Come on, son. I can only imagine the markup elsewhere in the arena. Clearly, those who would want to sit in the 200s or in the lower bowl or elsewhere voted with their wallets.
For all the talk of wanting to be more family-friendly and inclusive and welcoming, the pricing is truly the thing holding them back. How can I, a mere fan and blogger see all this. But not someone with the resources of the sales department for a regime that had a season to figure things out? Not the Devils Dancers, now replaced with a "Spirit Squad" and a nervous hostess. Not a lack of a new look for the concourses, which does look spiffy. Not food options, though I appreciate the new ones, pricey as they are. Not fans yelling "You suck" during the goal song, which the fans have started to figure out tonight - good for them. It's the ticket prices, plain and simple. Anyone who disagrees needed only to be at the Rock tonight.
Let's Get Back to Hockey, Speaking of, Let's Welcome Back Adam: Adam Larsson made his season debut tonight. He played a whopping 12:30, finished even in possession, and looked more tentative than anything else. A defenseman doesn't have to be aggressive - looking at you, Zidlicky - but there are situations where he need to be more forceful. His clearances weren't strong enough, he didn't make many clean exits, and he didn't exactly play the toughest competition. When Damien Brunner made his season debut, he made a point of it to keep his feet moving and be somewhat notable. I can't say the same for Larsson and not in the good way for defensemen not being noticeable being a good thing. If anything, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson looked far better - which is rather telling as Larsson has more NHL experience than both. Bellyache as much as you want about Peter DeBoer not playing him more, but I don't see why he really should play regularly over Eric Gelinas. I would not be surprised if Gelinas returns to the lineup on Friday, actually.
Switch Not Effective: Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat, and Patrik Elias didn't do so well. I felt Havlat was lost more often than not, despite a positive possession night. Elias' passes weren't all that strong. Cammalleri had an awesome shot hit the crossbar, but he only had one other shot on net. This trio didn't do so well.
On the contrary, Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, and Jaromir Jagr looked like, well, like they did last season at times. They drew the tough matchup of Dan Girardi and McDonagh and generally won that one. The threesome combined for seven shots and came close to scoring multiple times. But I don't think the idea was for them to get close to scoring. While the Devils scored three on the power play; none were at evens and that's no good. I would like to see Cammalleri and Zubrus switched back for the next game.
Surprisingly Effective: Surprising to me, the Adam Henrique line had a good game in terms of possession in spite of Michael Ryder being a drain. They did much better when Damien Brunner was moved up for a shift or two. As did Brunner himself. Brunner's two assists on the power play were good to see, but being a positive player in possession will help him stay in the lineup. Stephen Gionta (who played with Cammalleri for like 1:40 for zero shots for/against and that made some people upset) and Jordin Tootoo did little at evens again and were negative for the night. Brunner wasn't, which speaks to how good his few shifts were with others. That's a pleasant finding on an otherwise rotten-feeling night.
All Right: I will not say anything bad about the power play tonight. Three goals on seven shots is too good to nitpick. That said, the one that Merrill scored on wasn't really effective at all until Merrill scored on it. By the by, Merrill had a good night.
The Calls & the PK, Man: Jagr trips Dominic Moore (who kind of sold it) in the offensive zone. Result is a PPGA. Michael Ryder holds Klein in the offensive zone. Result is a kill. Cammalleri bats a puck in mid-air that goes over the glass. It's good that the Devils kept it to only three tonight, but the yuckiness was amplified by the two PPGAs. I'm almost convinced the team needs to at least communicate better on defense because they're just not reacting quick enough. I think it's because the defender isn't aware until it's just about too late. Something's got to change and it's not as simple as replacing Bryce Salvador or Andy Greene - both PPGAs were on his side, incidentally - with a younger, less experienced defenseman.
Cory: Made a number of tough saves, beaten by a one-timer, two rebounds where no Devil could have cleaned it up, and straight up in overtime. The last one was the one he should have had, even though it doesn't excuse Zubrus not picking up Klein. (Aside: DeBoer putting out Clowe-Zubrus as forwards in OT was a dubious decision, but that also doesn't excuse Zubrus not doing his job.)
Bench & Everyone That I Don't Like: As with most sports, when the team doesn't get the desired result, many fans want players benched and coaches fired. Some with cause, some without.
I can agree that DeBoer should have benched Tootoo and not Tuomo Ruutu. However, I can't agree that would have made a difference tonight. As much as I like Ruutu's game, he hasn't shown much of anything this season either.
I can agree that switching Zubrus and Cammalleri didn't really make sense and didn't work tonight. I can't agree that it hurt the team because that switch really didn't. Cammalleri was a crossbar away from changing a lot of opinions on that too.
I can agree that putting out Clowe-Zubrus in OT or Salvador-Zidlicky were poor choices; but that doesn't excuse the players when they don't execute correctly. Zubrus needed to pick up Klein. Whether he should have been out there is irrelevant; he was out there and he was in a position to do something. He just needed to turn around and do so. (And for what it's worth, Salvador-Zidlicky did a good job in OT.)
I can agree that Zidlicky played a dumb game tonight and Salvador was a net negative again. I can't agree they lost the game entirely, the PK failed solely because of Salvador (he wasn't picked on tonight), and that Zidlicky should sit for his error. As bad as his error was (among others), he also created plenty of the Devils' offense tonight. I suspect Ryan will point that out more clearly. Sitting him would be kneecapping a team attack that actually topped 30 shots tonight, which is atypical for them. You have to take the good with the bad, even when the bad can be as bad as it was tonight. Salvador is bad on the regular and nothing tonight really disputed that. But he wasn't the guy picked on the PK and he wasn't the one coughing up pucks for equalizers in the third period. Furthermore, I must repeat this: He's not going to be sitting unless he's hurt or there's a situation behind the scenes. Neither is happening and I understand you're not going to be happy reading that, but that's been the case for the last two seasons running. And I'm going to keep saying that in various ways as long as I need to. (And it's not really hurting the youth on defense as half of the blueline remains well under the age of 25.)
I can agree that blowing a 3-1 lead within a period is disgusting. I can't agree DeBoer or the coaching staff is solely at fault because they're not on the ice making things happen like coughing up the puck. They share blame, of course, but let's not act as if this could not have happened with someone else behind the bench. That would be a lie.
I'm disgusted with the loss as much as anyone. I don't like watching my favorite team go winless in three because they couldn't close the deal against a hated rival. Especially in a building that should have been full but wasn't due in part of the organization's ticket pricing decisions. But the worst thing the Devils could do now is to fire DeBoer and make wholesale changes to the lineup. If the team was winless in five and getting pounded in the process, then that's a different story. But that wasn't happening no matter how mad you are about the seventh game of the season going so poorly.
Open Ended Question: If the Devils somehow beat Lundqvist in the final few minutes when they stormed his zone or got a shot past him in overtime, then how upset should we be? I think that's worth considering. No need to answer it, though; just ponder it.
Your Take: I got what I wanted to say out of the way. Now it's your turn. What did you make of this performance? How do you think the Devils should spend the next two days before hosting Dallas? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this bad defeat in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and my sparse Tweets with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.