As you may or may not know, I am not just the guy who started and runs the third best New Jersey Devils blog on the Internet. I am also a season ticket holder. I have the fortune to afford my own seat in the lower bowl and I go to games as much as I can. Sure, blogging would be better off if I were elsewhere, right in front of the computer, generating all-important clicks & page views with up-to-the-date-with-a-super-short-expiration-date kinds of posts. But I prefer it this way. I want to enjoy the greatest sport in the world played by the team that I love. I am a fan who analyzes the team. Yet, performances like tonight's are simply maddening.
The Detroit Red Wings are a legitimately good team. If you were to tell me before the game, "Hey, John, your preview was right, Detroit's a quality team and given how they decisively beat New Jersey earlier this month, would you think a point would be acceptable?", then I would have reluctantly agreed. But not like this. The Devils lost tonight's game 4-5 via a shootout. Detroit won their first shootout of the season against the team whose fanbase has come to regard it as an automatic 'L.' But that's not the maddening part. The anger comes from the fact the Devils were up 4-1 early in the second period and the team managed to squander the sizable lead to have to play beyond regulation. It's not that the Devils needed to keep it at 4-1 or extend the lead, but it should not be unreasonable to expect them to not concede three goals in less than forty minutes. Yet, expectations were so low that the general reaction I got to Drew Miller's third period equalizer was resignation. That it was no surprise the Devils blew a lead.
Granted, this did happen rather recently in Calgary. But that was the result of the Flames pulling their goalie early, throwing whatever they can on net, and hoping for a rebound to put home - and they got two. As much of a heartbreaker an equalizer with five seconds left felt, I think it would have been far preferable to what happened at The Rock tonight. Detroit simply saw the 4-1 score early in the second and went right to work with plenty of time left. It was more like the last Devils-Red Wings game where the Red Wings bossed the Devils around for the better part of two periods. The Devils had opportunities to deny them but they flopped and the Red Wings rallied.
The second period was simply domination by the Red Wings, namely their power play. After Mike Cammalleri scored his second power play goal of the night, the Red Wings took over the rink. The Devils took a whopping five shots on net after that goal whereas Detroit put up 17. Seven of those shots were across three power plays; the other ten were at even strength. In terms of attempts, the Devils were behind 8-12 at evens and 10-27 in all situations. Amazingly, their power play only converted one goal in that period. It could have been more had it not been for Cory Schneider and some puck luck. The second period goals themselves were very similar. Xavier Oueller scored a little under ninety seconds after Cammalleri's sharp-angled PPG. He was alone in front of the net, the Red Wings won the puck deep, pass, shot, score, and I'm yelling at Marek Zidlicky for not covering him there. The PPG Detroit scored was Justin Abdelkader hanging out in front of the crease with Andy Greene (I thought it was Adam Larsson live, my bad) not really covering him. Henrik Zetterberg had to make an easy short pass to him, shot, and score. The Devils' response to this? Throwing pucks away to get it out of their zone and/or dumping it into theirs. No wonder Detroit kept coming in waves; they kept the pucks on their sticks. Their reward was a one-shot game in the third.
The equalizer was more or less a bad bounce, though the defensive effort by the team was simply messy. Thomas Jurco connected with Niklas Kronwall on a sick turnaround pass and the defender charged towards the net. Zidlicky got his leg out to deny the shot. The puck came out and a streaking Drew Miller put it home on Schneider's flank. I don't know why Zidlicky didn't try to use his stick or why there was no other support on that side of the ice. Schneider wasn't at fault for any of these goals - the first GA was a Riley Sheahan deflection on the rare 3-on-4 situation - but the defense certainly was. And the lackluster play going forward certainly didn't help. The Devils were a bit better in the third, as they out-attempted and out-shot the Red Wings. But they still dumped the puck away too often and iced it quite a bit. The latter was a problem in the first, but they were getting more carries then. And puck control and awareness led to the sweet goals that created the 4-1 lead. But that was gone with less then 10 left and, summing up the final two periods, regulation ended with Patrik Elias with a clear shooting lane passing it across to nobody in particular.
Overtime solved nothing and the shootout was, well, the shootout. No Devil scored. Gustav Nyquist did. A lost point despite a three goal lead at one point and even a slim 4-3 lead heading into the third. And throughout that third period, every little play that didn't go right or didn't execute well just irritated me more and more. Martin Havlat was absolutely useless. Patrik Elias was bad. Marek Zidlicky still had too many Zidlicky moments. Eric Gelinas had signs of why he was benched for Peter Harrold. Mike Cammalleri wasn't much of a factor outside of power plays. The Devils got too deep, the Devils didn't pinch when they could, the Devils didn't shoot when they had the lane, the Devils shot it into Petr Mrazek when they finally decided to challenge him after shellshocking him in the first period, the Devils played the music too loud on the PA to drown out fans (accept it, owners, we like Rock and Roll Part 2; blasting songs over 85 dB isn't going to fix that), and so forth. A lot of this bugged me and on top of that, all those who predicted the most negative occurrence possible - a blown lead - got to be proven right and I paid money to see it all. So I, and many others, have the right to be peeved about this game and as far as I can tell, we are.
I will say that isn't nearly as bad as 2011-12 - which I also got to witness live - but this isn't good either. Point or no point against a quality team. And after witnessing another flop by the Devils I'm not seeing how it's going to get better - new coach, new players, new whatever - anytime soon. That's both maddening and depressing and not at all good for business.
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: There's this recap up at Winging it in Motown. Go check that out.
The Game Highlights: See two sick shots by Cammalleri, arguably the prettiest goal Peter Harrold ever scored, and a depressing three-goal comeback by Detroit goal-by-goal. All of this in this video at NHL.com:
Injury to Insult: If botching a 4-1 lead wasn't bad enough, the Devils also lost two rather important forwards during tonight's game. Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique both left the game with injuries. Henrique did not play in the third period or in overtime. Zajac only played 2:54 in the third; he was not seen after 8:40 into the period. So if you were wondering why you saw a lot more of Jacob Josefson and Stephen Gionta than you would have liked, then there's your reason. The Devils were down two centers who play in all situations. Per Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice after the game, their status for the Islanders game is unknown. Regardless of how you feel about Zajac's relative lack of production and Henrique being so bad in the possession game this season, those are two big losses to the roster.
Power Play Success: Detroit came into this game with the second highest success rate on penalty kills. So Cammalleri scoring two goals against them means it was a win for the power play tonight. However, there was a massive opportunity to go up 5-2 in the second period when Detroit took two penalties in a row. The Devils only got one shot on net in the 1:56 long 5-on-3; though Zajac was seemingly close to converting. That's not really good, but given that the Devils didn't just scramble and fire dumb shots, I wasn't too bothered by it. Not scoring there turned out to be a big deal, but I don't think it was a lost opportunity that cost them the game. No, conceding three goals and not answering any of them in less than forty minutes cost them the regulation win.
Penalty Kill Issues Redux: Detroit took the Devils to school when New Jersey was shorthanded. The Red Wings exploited the weakside numerous times and, again, were remarkably close to scoring. The Devils had issues with guys in the slot in addition to those drifting in backdoor. They faced a lot of attempts, seven shots over three opportunities, and conceded a goal from the one spot that should be well-covered: in front of the crease. It was almost a throwback to the penalty kill from earlier in this season that threw them down into the basement of the league in terms of success rate. While I'm harping on the second period, the Red Wings did get a PPG earlier in the game when Riley Sheahan deflected a Kronwall shot in front of Schneider in a rare 3-on-4 situation. So two strikes against the PK tonight.
A quick word about the penalties before I move on. They were really easy calls to take. Martin Havlat hooked Danny DeKeyser on the forecheck in a 4-on-4 situation where the Devils were looking good and scored a goal on. Damon Severson and Adam Larsson very clearly held Nyquist and Johan Franzen, respectively, in front of refs. Stephen Gionta slashed the stick out of Nyquist's hands. The latter three were in that second period and you'll note that the foulers all are regulars on the PK. So not only did they put the team down a man against a team who needed such opportunities to get back into the game, but that limited the options Peter DeBoer had. If you're wondering why Peter Harrold got 2:20 of shorthanded ice time, then there's your reason: four minutes of shorthanded ice time to defensemen who would ordinarily be out there on the PK.
Running on E: In an attempt to mix things up, DeBoer put Elias, Havlat, and Cammalleri together. They got bulldozed at even strength. Cammalleri's two goals and three of his four shots on net were on the power play, away from #26 and #9. The unit didn't play a lot together - Havlat played less than even the injured Henrique - but they were bad when they did. Elias was just not good and, again, his night was summed up by literally passing away a shot at the end of regulation. Yeah, Mrazek was waiting for a shot but there was no one to pass it too. All that and he got a secondary assist taken away from him - and correctly, he wasn't on the ice for Jagr's goal - so he's at 599 career assists and not the announced 600.
The other lines, pre-Zajac & Henrique injuries, weren't nearly as bad. Jacob Josefson looked fine with Gionta and Steve Bernier. Tuomo Ruutu had himself a nice little game with four shots and generally not getting beat in possession. Jagr proved he can do things that count away from Zajac and Cammalleri. His pass to play in Harrold was divine and his rebound goal was a nice looking chip. The line switches weren't without merit, but that Elias line continues to be a hole regardless of wingers. Tonight was just another example. And it's going to be a bigger issue depending on how long Zajac and Henrique are out.
Invective for Zidlicky: Marek Zidlicky did play better than he did in Vancouver. He still played like one of the dumbest players I've ever seen. Why he started a beef with Thomas Jurco within the first few minutes of the game, I cannot tell you. Why he doesn't think he needs to play close to his man in dangerous spots on the ice, I cannot tell you. Why he doesn't accept the shooting lane he has and attempts to move or skate the puck around for something better that does not exist, I cannot tell you. Why he managed a -6 in Corsi while his partner Harrold was at -1, I cannot tell you. I have written similar things before,
Like Night and Day: If there was one big lesson from tonight is not "COVER THE SLOT," then it was another example of the importance of passing the puck while going forward. The Red Wings did this a lot, resorting to dumping the puck when they had didn't have a better option. As a result, they were able to get 54 shooting attempts and 32 shots on net, score effects aside. The Devils did not, especially in the second period where they had shifts where just getting the puck over their own blueline was an adventure. The Devils' best scoring opportunities came when they carried or passed the puck in and didn't fling the puck away in the process. It's not a coincidence. I am questioning whether the Devils have the talent to play like Detroit did, but I think if they are able to be more like them, then their issues with possession, puck control, and maybe even playing with the lead may subside.
Or they can continue to doing what they're doing and struggle to get 25 shots on net, especially after shocking the goalie in the first period, and talk about "compete" or "consistency" or some other buzzword. It's not rocket science; control the puck. Just watch Detroit do what they do.
Speaking Of: Pavel Datsyuk is stupidly good. Tonight, so were Tomas Tatar, Sheahan, Stephen Weiss, Zetterberg, and Abdelkader. That's mostly two lines from Detroit and they drove the play in bunches, especially after the first period. Detroit's real good and, again, they do it through effective puck movement. Imagine that. Special shout out to Nyquist, who didn't do as well in possession, but drew two calls in the second period and scored the only shootout goal tonight.
Not A Matter of If, But When: That's the status of Peter DeBoer in my mind. And, no, I don't think a coaching change is going to fix all of this. But the results don't care about that.
Your Take: Well, what's your take? The Devils have another game tomorrow, so we'll see whether it gets worse before it starts to get better or the Devils drag something out of Nassau.
Thanks to everyone who commented during the game in the Gamethread and those who followed @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.