Tonight's 2-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche is easy to summarize. The New Jersey Devils scored first in the third period to go up 2-1. Erik Johnson goes coast-to-coast and gets a shot that trickled through Cory Schneider's legs to make it 2-2. After the horrid goal allowed by Johnson, the Avs get the go-ahead goal when Matt Duchene was found wide-open for a loose puck to past Schneider's right flank. The Devils tried late but couldn't score a third goal. Devils lose, everyone who counts (Devils fans) are unhappy. This is all true. It is not the whole story.
As I got to wait quite a while for my train, I noticed a trend among the tweets by Tom Gulitti after tonight's game. They were quotes from the players. Gulitti compiled them into this post-game post at Fire & Ice and the players seemed to think they should have gotten a result. From a standings perspective, sure. The Avs are in the wrong end of their division while the Devils are still around playoff status - even after tonight. From the actual play on the ice where the records don't matter so much, I can't agree.
After a great start, where the Devils were just dominant on the puck and in the neutral zone, the Devils reverted to dump-and-chase hockey. The Avs followed in kind and so by the end of the first, the great start felt like ages ago. The Devils were quite sloppy on their zone exits for most of the second period. The Avs took some advantage from this, but the bounces and reactions by the Devils denied them taking the game fully over. After a massive four-minute penalty kill, the Devils got back on track with a late period power play in terms of tilting the ice, but it was ultimately slightly edged towards Colorado if only for out-shooting the Devils. The third saw pushes from both teams with only an edge coming from Colorado as they were down 2-1 and the Devils unable to really connect going forward. The Washington game showcased a better gameplan and performance. This was more like the Minnesota game, just not a pretty game. And not one where the Devils should feel like they deserved a 'W.'
But don't just take my word for this game not being one the Devils should've won. The Corsi or Fenwick counts would concur my theory that this was more-or-less an even game. At even strength, the Devils led in all attempts 36-32, tied 29-29 in unblocked attempts, and were actually out-shot 20-25. It's a similar breakdown for all situations: 43-37 in all attempts, 35-34 in unblocked attempts, and out-shot 25-29. The second period was very even and the third period was slightly in Colorado's favor - big push at the end by New Jersey notwithstanding. None of that shows that one team was really doing well. If anything, it was an even game, more or less.
Again, this doesn't invalidate what I wrote in the beginning. Gelinas' goal in the third was seemingly out of nowhere. It was a wrist shot off a faceoff win that touched off the boards that managed to pick a corner over Seymon Varlamov I don't think anyone expected it. Minutes later, Schneider did concede a terribly soft goal. Five minutes after that, a Tyson Barrie hits off Adam Larsson's skate in front of the crease, which went right to an uncovered Duchene. This all happened and it's ultimately disappointing. It's just that the Devils could have made a better effort building off that strong start in the first period, should have done far better on the puck in the second, and . If they did that and still lost, then yeah, I'd agree that points were lost. But they didn't. Regardless, the results remain the same.
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: Cheryl Bradley has this recap up at Mile High Hockey.
The Game Highlights: With both high and low-lights, here's the video from NHL.com:
The Top Line Wasn't: Normally, the Devils' forward line of Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, and Jaromir Jagr would lead the way on offense. That was not at all the case tonight. The trio were defending much more than attacking tonight. They struggled against Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson, who each got plenty of ice time against. It showed on the ice. Cammalleri was just too loose with the puck, most notably losing it while skating up the middle of the ice in his own end of the rink. Jagr was just not all that effective; when most of the ice time is spent not attacking, it really shows with #68. Zajac was just "there," though I liked his work on the PK. The three combined for only two shots on net - two by Jagr at evens. Given that this unit has been productive as of late in terms of points and shots, I would just chalk it up to a bad night. However, when they struggle, it really undercuts the offense to a degree. 25 shots on net spoke to that this evening.
One For, One Against, and a Falsely Called Penalty: Eric Gelinas had an odd summary of events tonight. He was culpable on Colorado's first goal against. On their first shift of sustained pressure, Gelinas decided to chase after Gabriel Landeskog going around the net with Damon Severson chasing after him. Gelinas was originally in front of the crease, so that dangerous part of the ice opened up. John Mitchell filled it, Landeskog got the pass off, and that's how the game was 1-1 in the first. Gelinas can at least say he made up for it. His seeing-eye shot off a faceoff win made it 2-1 in the third for a few minutes. The goal was his third shot of the game, so he was back to his shooting ways. We didn't see The Truth really busted out but it's a step forward in terms of contributions. Overall, he was only just below the breakeven point in possession and was really only picked on by Mitchell among Avs forwards.
Then there was the weird: Gelinas was tagged with a double-minor for high-sticking Marc-Andre Cliche. Prior to the play, Gelinas went in hard on an Avalanche player with a good hit and a battle for the puck ensued. Cliche threw his head back and for good reason as he was struck. However, Gelinas didn't high-stick him. He was too busy trying to dig out a puck. Jacob Josefson was the real culprit. So Gelinas got 4 minutes added to his PIM count that he didn't deserve. It turned out for the better as the Devils' PK didn't lose a regular and, more importantly, the Devils killed it. \
You're Killing Me, Cory: Cory Schneider gave up the sort of goal that's going to lead someone to ask me to review goals against now as opposed to in the summer when emotions don't play a role. One of the big reasons why fans like myself were excited for the goaltending situation was that the guy who conceded a lot of soft goals is essentially out of the league and Schneider would replace him. Despite a superior save percentage at evens (93% even after tonight), the bad goals are living bitter pills in the mouths of the Devils faithful and hurting the team. I don't care if a goalie has 18 straight starts or just made his debut, shots like the Johnson goal have to be stopped. Period. Other than that, Schneider did well elsewhere and didn't leave juicy rebounds like Varlamov did. the other two goals were the fault of the skaters. Still, Schneider knows he has to better on them. It's good that he recognizes that, but I want him to do it rather than say it.
A Patrik Appeared: Patrik Elias hasn't scored a goal since the first game of the season. He also had no points in the last four games. Tonight, he was featured on the scoresheet with two assists. The first was the secondary on Marty Havlat's goal. Elias made a smooth zone entry and made a good pass to Michael Ryder. Ryder fired it low, the rebound went far into the slot, and Havlat slammed it in. A very good play by that line. The other assist was winning that faceoff before Gelinas' shot surprisingly went into the net. Elias and his line was present for two goals against, but as far as I could tell, I don't think they were at fault for either. They didn't do all that well in possession but when they attacked, they really did make the effort to get more opportunities to keep pressure alive. Elias disappointingly had no shots on net (a glorious scoring chance in the third was denied by a diving Landeskog), but Ryder had four and Havlat had two so he's making things happen. If that continues, I think the shots - and goals - will eventually come from #26.
Bottom Sixs: I really liked what I saw out of the bottom six of the Devils. Jacob Josefson was flying and was very good on that four-minute penalty kill. He even got a couple of shots. I would have liked to have seen a bit more from Tuomo Ruutu and Damien Brunner, but they ended up going forward more than not. As for the other line (the true fourth line? Bottom six line 1B?), they were good along the perimeter. Dainius Zubrus did Zubrus things. Stephen Gionta was skating well. Steve Bernier played a good role with three shots on net. While they didn't break the game wide open, the play went generally positive with both and didn't hurt the Devils. If both lines can do that more often, the Devils will become a more difficult team to play against.
Seth Watch: Seth Helgeson was solid along with Adam Larsson tonight. His play, like Larsson's, led to more minutes. Helgeson played 15:18 at evens and 16:01 overall. It seems to me that the coaches have been pleased with what he has done. I can't say they're wrong.
The Special Teams Were Good: The power play has continued to slump when it comes to scoring goals against goaltenders. That said, I liked what I saw out of the PP units in general. The Avs' penalty kill has been very successful so far this season, and the Devils were able to threaten them. The biggest issue to me for the man advantage units was how they tried to gain the zone to set up their plays. Tonight, the Devils did a pretty good job of that. The five shots in two situations were indicative that they were able to do so without too much of an issue. Some of the passes could have gone better, but they weren't spending too much time looking for the perfect seam as they did on other nights like, say, the Washington game. It's the sort of performance that I think the team should build on instead of look at as another failure.
The penalty kill deserves plenty of praise. Out of two shorthanded situations that lasted six minutes, the team conceded only four shots on net. They didn't just stand in their box and hoped Schneider would stop everything. They denied the Avs on their entries, which included plenty of dump-ins. Why would you dump the puck in a man advantage situation, I do not know. But when they did, the Devils got onto it quickly. Their clearances were largely successful. They looked like last year's penalty killing units during the four minute double-minor they had to kill. This half of special teams have now went three games without a PPGA and finally bumped their success rate up to the 70% mark - at exactly 70%. The PK was excellent tonight and should be one of the big positives to take away from tonight.
Johnson Boss: Erik Johnson was more like Ryan Suter out there tonight. He was very good at both ends of the rink. He got a gift of an equalizer, no thanks to Schneider. Most of all, he played just over 30 minutes of ice time. When he was on the ice, the Avs out-shot their opponents and that speaks to how well Johnson made stops and how that led to offense. He was easily Colorado's best player on the ice tonight. If only the Devils were able to do more damage against the other two pairings.
Your Take: The Devils didn't really lose a game that they should've won. They lost a game that they should've done better in, though it could have been worse. It's still a loss and the Devils get to go off on a long road trip now. What do you think about this loss? Who could have done better? Who was good despite the loss? What should the Devils try to learn from in this defeat before their next game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread and the sparse tweets from @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.