Consider a nasty rain storm. It does not come suddenly. There are auspicious signs that happen before the hard rain is everywhere, the winds get crazy, and legitimate damage happens. It is this imagery that comes to my mind In tonight's game, the New Jersey Devils were not immediately wrecked by the Pittsburgh Penguins. They actually scored the game's first goal: a Dainius Zubrus shot that touched off Kris Letang's stick from distance and fooled Marc-Andre Fleury. They could have had more: Travis Zajac and Marek Zidlicky both found iron. They actually killed a penalty - and even got a shorthanded goal from it. A breakaway from Jacob Josefson of all players. The Devils' fourth line even built off of that. Stephen Gionta put a low shot on net and Tuomo Ruutu put in the rebound. Cory Schneider turning into Johan Hedberg for a few seconds in the first period aside, and the Devils were looking good. Or at least OK. Then the dark clouds came in and it began to pour.
It was just into the eighth minute of the second period. Damon Severson took a minor penalty for holding Evgeni Malkin. It wasn't a very significant hold, but the referees felt it was worth calling. OK. The Devils were actually doing a decent job against the most successful power play in the league. Then Travis Zajac jumps on and makes a play in the neutral zone. The problem was that there was another Devil on the ice. Yes, a too many men on the ice call on a penalty kill gave the Pens a 5-on-3. Malkin hammered a shot over Schneider's shoulder. 3-2.
The Devils kill off the too many men on the ice call. Play continues. Severson finds
Zajac Reid Boucher at Pittsburgh's blueline with a pass but Zajac's Boucher's stick breaks. Simon Depres takes the puck, calmly looks up, and found the entire right side of the neutral zone open with Patric Hornqvist flying through it. Depres hits him with a pass, Hornqvist easily gets an angle around Jon Merrill, and Hornqvist fires a laser over Schneider's shoulder. One would have hoped Schneider took a better angle or stood up more, but it was a really, really good shot all the same. And an equalizer. 3-3. The rain begins.
Thunder rumbles when the Devils get a power play in the later parts of the second. Craig Adams, who is still playing hockey, boards Jacob Josefson. The Devils generate next to nothing on the power play, despite possession in the second minute. At the end of that power play, Adam Henrique gained the zone and hits Zajac with a pass across the zone. Zajac takes a step, looks up, and tries to find Jaromir Jagr with another pass across the zone. Yet, he botches the pass. It goes right to Brandon Sutter, who was hanging out in the high slot. This is right as the penalty ends, so Sutter immediately fires a pass up the middle of the ice to Adams coming out of the box. Adams gets it and has a breakaway. He scores cleanly. 3-4. The rain picks up and the storm begins to set in.
Lightning strikes, the rain just comes down in buckets, and it's beginning to get hard to see. In a little over a minute after Adams' goal, the Elias line gets stopped on offense and the Pens counter-attack. Chris Kunitz passes the puck off to Despres in the neutral zone to change the point of attack. A number of Devils and Penguins drop back close to Schneider. Two Devils and three Penguins. Sidney Crosby was there first and hung out just away from the bodies in front to Schneider's right. Despres held up after gaining the zone to let his teammates catch up. He took a shot, Kunitz re-directed it, the puck bounces out right to that third Penguin. The open Penguin. Crosby. He scores. 3-5. Four unanswered goals and water is piling up.
The melt down continued in the third period, where the Devils were the proverbial cake left out in the rain. It was in bad shape after the second. It would be obliterated in the final third of the game. Scott Clemmensen replaced Schneider, who had a bad game (created the first goal against, got beat clean straight up on the third and fourth goals against), and the Devils' performance did not improve. The Penguins have had trouble with leads of their own but the Devils did not really threaten. Discipline broke: Bryce Salvador brought down Sutter, who got by him, which was called. On the PK, all four defenders watched Downie win a puck from Greene along the left boards. Pascal Dupuis was open across the middle and Steve Downie found him for a score. Only Stephen Gionta saw Dupuis dropping in but he was far, far too late. 3-6.
The foundation continued to sink with another penalty. Ruutu tripped Kunitz past the halfway mark of the third period. During this kill, Patrik Elias was pasted into the corner and there was no call. Those who wanted head coach Peter DeBoer to be more firey and say things got what they wanted. It got another bench minor for abuse of officials. The Devils survived the 5-on-3 rush. Seconds left on that bench minor, though, another goal was conceded. Sutter fired a shot on net past Merrill (he attempted a block) that Clemmensen stopped. Blake Comeau chipped the puck ahead of him because he saw Damon Severson facing Clemmensen and Downie wide open behind the rookie. Downie got the puck and put it home. 3-7.
The worst of the storm was over but the rain still poured in one final push. At about 16:35 into the third, Merrill attempted to find an outlet from the boards in the neutral zone. He coughed it right up to a streaking Crosby. Crosby took the puck into the zone and beat Clemmensen. 3-8. The storm ended minutes later and the Devils were just done. Melted. Wiped out. Blown away. This is what happens when one is not prepared for a severe storm. This is what happens when a awful performances from several come together to ruin even a promising score against a really talented team. This is what happened in Pittsburgh tonight. And, like both, the only positive feels like that the sun will come up.
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 Log | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Hooks Orpik is clearly pleased with Pittsburgh's blowout win. Read all about it in his recap at PensBurgh.
The Game Highlights: Watch the first third of this and then just turn it off unless you like pain. Video from NHL.com:
It Was So Bad, the Even Strength Numbers Say Little: Normally, I use the charts at Natural Stat Trick to justify or find reason to highlight a player or a match-up. But blowouts are bad times to do so because things usually fall apart in a bad way. So they don't say too much. Further, those numbers are best looked at for even strength. In addition to this game featuring ten power plays lasting over eighteen minutes, the Devils were out-shot 17-19 at evens - which is rather close considering it ended 19-33 overall.
Pain was felt throughout the lineup. The only one who got really hammered was Jon Merrill. No, a -3 in Corsi isn't bad. Combined with five goals against, that looks more like a hammering. But I wouldn't even harp on that. Merrill was really only at fault on arguably two of them: Hornqvist getting past him for his score (and maybe Merrill was just caught by surprise) and Crosby's second that he unintentionally set-up. He definitely wasn't good, but it wasn't as if he was responsible for all five even strength goals against - or the third power play goal Pittsburgh scored.
Making the Case: There were Devils who were a bit better than decent in my eye. Jacob Josefson was rewarded for his good play with more minutes in the third period. Zajac stinking helped that move, but he got to play over twelve minutes. He drew a call, scored a sweet shorthanded goal, and only got caught watching the puck instead of watching the other Penguins on Dupuis' goal. I'll call that a good result for a player who needs them to stay in the lineup.
The fourth line in general was much better than what we've seen recently: two goals contributed (one as a line, one from Josefson), didn't get beat in possession, and even in penalties. I sure would like to see Ruutu, Stephen Gionta, and Josefson together for a few more games.
Poor Schneider: No, that's not a sympathetic sub-section title. It's not, "Oh, poor Schneider." It's "Poor Schneider" as in Schneider was poor tonight. He played a puck behind the net right to Dupuis that quickly ended with Comeau making him pay for the error. His Hedberg moment was costly. I understand the desire to not have him play the puck behind the net, but it's a basic for any goalie in the NHL. Don't hesitate and know where you're putting it. Simple.
In general, Schneider struggled to square up for shots and hold onto them. I cannot fault him for Malkin's or Crosby's goals. No goalie would have really stopped them. But the Hornqvist goal wasn't good looking, and the Adams goal was downright hideous. The latter ultimately completed Pittsburgh's comeback at the time. Schneider was understandably and deservedly pulled after the second period. I'm not one of those fans that demands that any goal allowed must mean the goalie must be terrible. But no one can deny he was part of the reason for tonight's melting at the Neo-Igloo.
Scott Clemmensen got ten shots of work in twenty minutes and was beaten three times. Crosby's was the only dubious one. As it was 3-7 at the time, I'm struggling to get up in arms about that one. Still, I'm not saying the Devils need to call up Keith Kinkaid right away, but they should think about it. They should also think really, really hard about giving Clemmensen a start soon. You may be tempted to think Winnipeg is a good game to do so, but that Jets team just beat the Isles. That's more or less for the next preview, but it must be said given the amount of tweets pondering or demanding he get a game.
Poorer Zajac: That second period performance from Zajac was utterly awful. He takes two penalties in the second period. The first one yielded a shorty, but also Pittsburgh coming awfully close to scoring (a video review confirmed it wasn't to be, so Josefson's goal still exists). Yes, a too many men call is against the bench and is on Peter DeBoer. But #19 was the one darting out to the ice to make a play. Had he held up on the ice, they could have gotten away with it. That call was costly on the resulting 3-on-5.
Zajac's stick breaking on a pass is a bad break. (I got this wrong originally, it was Reid Boucher's stick that broke. Thanks to Justin in the comments for pointing that out.) Zajac passing it right to Sutter is a terrible decision. All the while, Zajac's positive contributions was passing the puck to Zubrus within the first few seconds of the game and hitting a post. Zajac saw his ice time cut in the third, and deservedly so.
Poorest Special Teams: The penalty kill was a known known going into this game. It was getting beaten on a seemingly regular basis, with or without the play of Bryce Salvador. The Penguins and their 40% power play conversion rate were able to maintain that percentage by going 3-for-7 tonight. The Pens got a whopping 14 shots on net, including their three scores. The shorthanded goal came off a shot block while the Devils were pinned back for over 80 seconds. It was fortunate Josefson was able to get on the ice because 11, 24, and 6 couldn't change. The powerhouse of a power play lit up the Devils' PK as I feared. It was a significant contributor to why tonight was so terrible.
However, let's not ignore the power play. Well, you could have ignored the power play. You didn't miss much. One shot across three power plays is just unacceptable, even if it included Zidlicky hitting the post on their second power play. Even when the Devils were able to get set-up in Pittsburgh's end, they just didn't generate any good looks on net. They were squandered moments, especially the third one. A successful conversion or even some offense generated would have kept the Pens more than honest, if not re-take the lead. While the Adams' goal was just after the power play, Zajac's giveaway right after the penalty ended was it's biggest contribution to the scoreboard. It was awful. At least they didn't concede a goal, which is only a positive when other situations combine for five goals against.
The Fade Away: As the storm continued, the play of other players just faded into the background. It's not that they weren't there, it's just that they weren't so important. Jaromir Jagr looked strong for half of the game but he was mostly invisible as the goals mounted. I was surprised to learn Eric Gelinas had four shots on net. I guess he looked OK by way of not really playing on the penalty kill. I couldn't tell you what Michael Ryder did in the second half of the game other than serve the second bench minor. Ditto for Damien Brunner. Reid Boucher had an OK season debut as a fill-in, but again, not notable as the Pens lined up the lamplighters. His stick broke that ultimately led to Hornqvist's goal but that's just a bad (and literal) break. It's arguable that many of those players could have helped out in between the Penguins' run of seven unanswered goals. But that's the consequence of a team melting down in a rout. Some players were notably bad (Schneider, Zajac, to an extent, Merrill) and others were just "there."
What of DeBoer?: Well, those of you who wanted him to get mad got what you wanted - and it led to another PPGA. But, seriously, demanding Peter DeBoer to be fired after a 4-3-2 start would be a panic move in my opinion. This was not a crucial, playoff-determining game. It was an awful game in Pittsburgh. Yes, DeBoer has a hand in the loss. Two bench minors plus not switching things up earlier point to that. But DeBoer isn't on the ice to not make the plays, to take penalties, and to get beaten on basic concepts like not giving the puck freely to the other team. That's on the guys in the jerseys, not the guys in the suits.
If you want to demand someone to get fired, why not Mike Foligno? If I recall correctly, his primary responsibility is the penalty kill. You'll have few arguments from anyone that his best isn't good enough so far this season. If not a firing, then maybe a switch among coaches: perhaps giving him the power play so Dave Barr gets back to the PK? It'd be a far more constructive move, though it's not as visible or cathartic as dumping a head coach after a 3-8 loss on the road to one of the contending teams in the Eastern Conference.
You Wrote This Much?: This game simply sucked on multiple levels. But I would be remiss in not going into detail as to how bad it sucked. This is ILWT, after all. I have an ethical duty to give you, the reader, my full opinion on what happened in the game. Even in 3-8 routs.
Last Thought: Seriously, Craig Adams is still playing hockey?
Your Take: So you got my full opinion. Given the reaction throughout and afterwards, what's yours? Are there any lessons to learn from this game? Are there lineup changes you'd want to see on Thursday? (I'm expecting a lot of Merrill-for-Larsson, let's see if I'm right). Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's big loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.