Hockey is a results-oriented business. Performances tend to drive results. Not always, but over time, teams that regularly play well usually have good records. The opposite is true. The New Jersey Devils demonstrated that a really bad performance on the ice will lead to fully deserved losses. Tonight was a very good example as they lost 1-3 to the Winnipeg Jets.
The Devils kicked off a four game road trip through Western Canada tonight and had two nights to prepare. They even had Adam Henrique return from injury. They were to play a team they were familiar with, having had beaten them in a shootout. There was at least a little reason to think the Devils could get something tonight. Then the game actually happened and all of that was thrown out the window.
The first period was an eyesore of hockey. Yet, the Jets managed to put up 19 shooting attempts, thanks in part to getting two power plays in a row. Nine of those attempts were on net. The Devils only got nine and had three of them get to Michael Hutchinson. The Jets were sloppy at moving the puck. The Devils were even worse and the Jets made a concerted effort to backcheck anytime a player in white had the puck. Therefore, the Devils didn't have the puck for very long. The only legitimate positives were that the score was 0-0 and the penalty kill survived two penalties back-to-back.
The second period was arguably worse. The Jets managed to score the goals they deserved. Whereas the Devils were all about chipping and throwing pucks away, if not losing them; the Jets were able to keep coming at them. The first goal against came right off a defensive zone faceoff loss. Mark Stuart was able to find a passing lane to the slot from the sideboards after a draw and Michael Ryder demonstrated what bad positioning looked like. Ryder was bodied out by Mathieu Perreault, who delayed and flung up a backhander past Cory Schneider. Minutes later, a long pass sailed high and hit Dainius Zubrus high. As #8 was in pain, the Jets counter-attacked. Michael Frolik fired a strong low shot and Mark Scheifele blew past Stephen Gionta to get to and put in the rebound. These goals were early in the second period and they inspired the Devils to not really do anything different. Same lack of puck control led to the Jets out-attempting the Devils 24-14 at evens, 26-14 overall, and out-shooting them 14-5. Yes, the team down two still got heavily out-shot and out-attempted. How can score effects even begin when zone exits and entrances were so poor and every other decision to pass the puck turned out to be wrong? They don't. Puck control and movement were horrid for the Devils and that's why they only had nine shots on net whereas the Jets got 25.
A lifeline came in the third period. The Devils' power plays were ugly all night but this game yielded a real ugly goal. Patrik Elias fired a shot, Hutchinson never really had it, and the ensuing scrum led to the puck going into the net. Elias' goalless streak and the PPG-against-a-goalie streak were snapped but not in the way one would hope. The Devils' puck movement was better in the third period than the other two periods. But the Devils found other ways to undercut their efforts at trying to snag an undeserved point. The Devils would still get hemmed in from time to time in their own end. Two penalties forced the Devils to go back into defense-first mode for two minutes at a time: a high-stick by Travis Zajac and a holding call by Ryder. The Devils did come close and actually got 13 shots on Hutchinson. Mike Cammalleri hit a post with authority. But the killing blow came thanks to #2. Marek Zidlicky attempts a pass from his own blueline and hits Adam Lowry instead. Lowry takes it in, fires a hard, low shot, and Schneider denies it. As Eric Gelinas and Elias focused on the puck and the middle man, that meant no one had Michael Frolik. Frolik got the short rebound and put it home to end any shot at an undeserved point.
This is supposed to be where I get mad, but how could I? Not a single thing from the first forty minutes suggested that the Devils were really prepared. They were even out-shot at even strength in a third period where they were only one shot away from a surprising tie game. Prior to that, again, they were out-shot 9-25 in the first two periods. The team took five penalties and while the penalty kill was really good, that's about ten minutes of having to defend amid not getting much offense going for most of the game at evens. The two power plays the Devils had were terrible, PPG aside. Two of the goals against were rebound goals scored by guys who were uncovered. At what point among all of this The problem tonight wasn't Peter DeBoer deciding to play Damien Brunner over Jacob Josefson, Cory Schneider starting 19 straight games, or whatever outrage of the moment. The real problems that led to tonight's result are simple fundamentals: failure to move or control the puck effectively, failure to be disciplined not just with respect to fouls but picking up open Jets, and a failure to get clean exits and entries. These are the same problems that plagued the Devils when they had a four-game losing streak and when they struggled on other nights.
Is that Peter DeBoer's fault? The players? The answer in my eyes is yes. The result remains and it's no less deserved no matter how much I write about it.
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: Daniel Lipson has this recap of the Jets' win at Arctic Ice Hockey.
The Game Highlights: There were many Jets highlights tonight. Here they are in video-format at NHL.com:
If You Want A Game to Point at Stephen Gionta & Proclaim How Bad He Is, Then Tonight Was Your Night: Dainius Zubrus, Stephen Gionta, and Steve Bernier have been a line for a few games. They were excremental tonight. Here are their Corsi for-against values at even strength: Zubrus, 1-10; Gionta, 2-10; and Bernier, 0-10. Zubrus and Bernier weren't on the ice for a single shot by the Devils at evens; Gionta was when he was with others - and that was only for one. When they were on the ice, they were often seen defending. This line got destroyed in terms of possession in the six-to-seven minutes they played tonight. On top of that, Zubrus took two penalties. The Gionta line isn't expect to be a dynamo at puck control, but their role is to keep things low-event to give other lines some time to recover some energy. They failed at that tonight. Their performance (and the team's?) could be summed up by Zubrus taking out Gionta in the neutral zone by accident.
Picked On: Adam Larsson and Seth Helgeson have done well in their first three games together. Not great, but pretty well. Not tonight. Paul Maurice gave them plenty of ice time from Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, and Mathieu Perreault and it was absolutely the right move by the Jets. Likewise when they got a couple minutes' worth of Scheifele, Frolik, and Lowry. While I wouldn't say they were at fault for two goals against they were present for; they absolutely struggled to tilt the ice the other way. At even strength - 5-on-5 hockey, no man advantage, etc. - both Larsson and Helgeson were on the ice for one shot by New Jersey and 15 against. Defending isn't just trying to stop the opposition from getting glorious chances on the goalie; it's to get the puck back and start moving it forward. I'm not saying the pairing needs to be blown up, but it was a performance that should pump the praising brakes on both (and I'll admit to praising Larsson a bit too quickly).
But they weren't the only ones significantly out-shot. There's the Elias line. I will say this about Patrik Elias' night. He fired away with four shots on net and he got credit for a goal to end his long dearth of goals scored. That's good. Getting out-shot 4-14 at even strength is not. Marty Havlat didn't fare much better. Ryder was positive but his awful non-coverage on Perreault plus his holding penalty was such a dumb one to take at a poor time plus two shots on net means there's not much to like either. He got replaced with Adam Henrique later in the game. I can't blame DeBoer for doing that; not that Henrique was all that good in his return. He was picked on as well, again mostly by the Kane line. His starting linemates of Brunner and Tuomo Ruutu were essentially non-factors tonight.
Let's go back to defense. Eric Gelinas and Marek Zidlicky didn't get as badly pinned like Larsson & Helgeson. But this unit is supposedly supposed to provide some offense. They combined for two shots on net - both taken by Zidlicky. They saw more events at evens than any other Devils skater and came out negative and out-shot. Zidlicky could have been credited a secondary assist on Frolik's goal whilst Gelinas (or Elias) didn't help matters by focusing on the puck instead of who could be around him like, say, the eventual goal scorer Frolik. Because they and the team were so poor at moving the puck, they looked rather slow. Gelinas, in particular, as he was beaten to pucks easily by Kane and even Dustin Byfuglien (on an iced puck no less!). When you don't maintain control of the puck well, then you're not going to be fast but this pairing really highlighted it.
Long section shot: a lot of Devils played bad and deservedly got wrecked in possession.
The Exceptions: The Zajac line ended up positive. To their credit, they were the team's best hope of an equalizer. Cammalleri did hit a post and the unit were able to actually get clean zone entries more than just rarely. Their problem was that they didn't really get their attacks going until the third period. Plenty of their play in the other forty minutes was to go forward and make a pass right to the opposition. That's not going to lead to Devils offense and it didn't. When Jaromir Jagr, Cammalleri, and Zajac actually read their situation instead of where they thought their teammates should be, the play improved. We can wonder what could have been if Cammalleri hit the post. I'd rather think about what could have been if they were able to move the puck more effectively in the first and/or second period. Yes, Elias got the credit for the goal, but these were among the few Devils that didn't have defend more often than they attacked. The other few: Andy Greene and Damon Severson, of course.
One Step Forward, One Kind of Back: I really liked what the penalty killers did tonight. They went up against a poorly converting Jets team and didn't have to weather too many storms. Byfuglien missed what appeared to be a gimmie in front of the net, but other than that, the Devils were able to limit the Jets to three shots. The team made a point of it to fill in shooting lanes and sell out for blocks. I don't know if that's wise to do on the start of a road trip, but it kept the Jets at bay for the most part. The team has a legit PK streak and it's very good to see considering their miserable start in shorthanded situations/
Now if they can figure out what happened with the power play, they'd be really dangerous. Goal aside, the theme of those man advantages were largely ones of lost opportunity. Yes, they got plenty of goals from distance but they have been struggling to set up even those as of late. Maybe they need to get back to that first and build from there? I don't know.
I Don't Know: Ultimately, that's where I'm at right now after writing about 2,000 words about a really poor performance. The team isn't playing well at all and it's apparent on the ice to any viewer. This, despite a really good gameplan in D.C. only two games ago. Jacques Lemaire preached the importance of the neutral zone for a reason and it's like the Devils seemingly forgot about that simple fact that most of the league knows and has practiced against the Devils and others. They aren't so bad that they can just blow up the team. As someone who's paid a lot of money to watch this team and spends a lot of time writing about them, I really am against the notion of tanking. But nights like this certainly aren't mediocre. Mediocre is akin to that 0-1 loss to St. Louis; play a decent game, don't get the result, shrug your shoulders and move on because it wasn't that bad. It's not failing to even get ten shots on net in forty minutes of play. What if the Devils did get a second goal and they won/lost in beyond regulation instead? Would things be that much different? It's almost sexy for fans to believe that a coaching change (namely this, which I am wholly not convinced would help much) or a trade or some "shake up" will set things right. Or would setting things right come from getting the fundamentals more correct in games and not really due to any of that? I don't know.
And I could have a fully different opinion days later depending on the next few games. Like any fan, I'm fickle.
Your Take: What do you got after a game like this? What happens now?
Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and followed along on Twitter through @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.