Tonight, the New Jersey Devils essentially lost a one-goal game to the New York Islanders. Yes, the final score was not a one-goal difference. The Islanders won 1-3 but that is due to an empty net goal fro Casey Cizikas in the final seconds of the third period. The Devils had roughly 36 and a half minutes to find a second goal and they could not get one past Jaroslav Halak. The difference between this loss and the many other losses in November was that the Devils actually played to the score in an extreme way.
The third period was pretty much the antithesis of what we've seen from the Devils for most of the past month. They played like they were down a goal and then some. They actually hit on their passes. They actually getting stops from rushing Islanders that they weren't really getting in the other two periods. They weren't afraid to shoot as the Devils out-shot the Islanders 16-2 in the third period. And that second shot from the Isles was the game-icing empty netter. They came from everywhere and all the Islanders skaters could do was to just try and get in the way. They succeeded many times to the Devils' frustration and so with the excellent performance by Halak they held on.
There will be much focus on the power play. The Islanders' penalty kill has not been good this season. The Devils managed to not convert. I will say that it has been far, far better than what we normally see from the Devils, where they'll have some man advantages where setting up in the other team's end appears to be a challenge. That said, the Devils did not convert on any of them, most notably a 55 second 5-on-3 late in the third period. The Devils did not score on a significantly long 5-on-3 the night before, so it's going to get more attention. Namely, why in the world were two wingers hanging out by the goal line? Yes, the defense will drop into a small triangle but there's no need to just concede that area. So the Devils did not convert there or even put a really clean shot on net. It's a lost opportunity further highlighted by not scoring on the power plays that bookended it. Yet, I can't say the Devils didn't have opportunities since they did get 16 shots on net and 40 shooting attempts.
To be fair, I expected far worse from the Devils tonight. They were without Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique. They were with Patrik Elias. They put in Cory Schneider in a back-to-back situation. They continued to take penalties they didn't need to take. They struggled to pass the puck, mostly in the second period. The team got shocked by the Islanders' speed through the neutral zone. The Islanders have been hot with only one loss in their last two weeks. This would lead to a decisive loss. Instead, it ended up being a close loss where the Devils actually put their opposition on notice for twenty minutes, ENG aside. The game winning goal was a long shot by Calvin de Haan that re-directed past Cory Schneider by Cal Clutterbuck's skate. Not exactly a massive failure on the ice; just a bad bounce. However, the Devils are not helped out by silver linings and warm, fuzzy feelings from putting in good efforts. They need points in the standings, they need results, and they need them fast. For Peter DeBoer's sake, for the player's sake, and for the team's sake. Their fury in the third was real but falling short is worth just as much as getting outplayed all game, blowing a big lead, or getting undone for stretches at a time.
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: Dominik has this recap up at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Game Highlights: A whole lot of saves in this video from NHL.com:
Offense from Distance: The Devils showed no aversion to firing shots from distance. Damon Severson and Adam Larsson both had five shots on net. A wrister from Larsson led to New Jersey's lone goal of the night, when Damien Brunner re-directed it past Halak. The forwards had no issue from firing it from the circles or in the high-slot. The Isles were giving that space up and so the Devils rightfully took it. As the game went on and the Devils got more desperate, this was the right move. However, it led to a lot of attempts not even getting to Halak. The Devils got 35 on the goalie, 26 blocked by someone on the Isles, 14 that missed the net entirely, and probably a bunch that were unrecorded but didn't get to the net. So while the Devils put up an astonishing 40 attempts on net in the third period - we've seen games where the Devils struggle to get 40 all game - their accuracy left something to be desired. Especially on the power plays late in the third period. They got four shots on net across all of them and were blocked out by at least that many. As ugly as that looked, I'll take that over the lack of attempts given how atypical it is to what usually happens from the Devils.
Exceptional Severson: Damon Severson not only put up five shots on net, but he got five attempts blocked and three that missed the net. While eight attempts not on target helps no one on New Jersey, it speaks to how much he got the puck and was willing to throw it forward. Severson was very good on the point and it wasn't an accident he got over four minutes of power play time.
However, it's more than just the attacking from Severson that I liked. He was very good defending one-on-one against the Islanders. He handled John Tavares off the rush as well as he handled Matt Martin. He was very good in his own end of the rink. Curiously, he did not play much in shorthanded situations. Maybe he should have been. While he ended up with no points, his performance tonight was further evidence to me that he's going to be really, really good defenseman in the future.
Schneider Would Want One Back: I was pleased with Schneider's performance in general. He weathered a lot of storms in the first two periods. He had to handle some really ferocious shots from Kyle Okposo. However, he had one real miscue. Okposo comes down on the wing on an odd man rush and busts out a hard slapshot. Schneider didn't get all of it and it trickled past him. It hit off the post and just lied in the crease behind him. Nikolay Kulemin gets it first and taps it in. Other than that, Schneider did as well as he reasonably could. That's rather impressive since he played over 65 minutes last night. Unfortunately, Schneider playing well hasn't translated into results due to the guys in front of him.
Back to Perfection on Kills: The Devils did manage to kill all the power plays against the Isles. The first kill featured the Isles just stringing the Devils along for over a minute, similar to what Detroit did to them last night. The others weren't as bad, holding the Isles only five shots total on their four power plays. At least the PK got back on track.
That said, the issue that I have were the calls themselves. The hooking call on Jaromir Jagr was ticky-tack; the one hook by Mike Cammalleri was in front of a ref; and the two that Damien Brunner took weren't much but he could have avoided them at his own blueline. The ones by Brunner hurt the cause as it meant two minutes of no offense for a Devils team that were down by a goal.
The Returns Of...: With injuries to Zajac and Henrique, Damien Brunner and Jordin Tootoo were back in the lineup. Tootoo spit out verbals with Cal Clutterbuck and got one backhander on target that wasn't an easy stop for Halak. Other than that, he didn't do much in the eight minutes he played. Brunner was more notable. The penalties he took were annoying. But he was featured in the Devils' attack in the third period. He led the Devils forwards with four shots on net. The play generally went forward when he was out there; especially with Michael Ryder and Cammalleri in the third. All that and a deflection goal. Is it enough for Brunner to stay in the lineup? I'd say so over Martin Havlat even with the penalties. Despite Havlat's three shots on net, his usage has been cut on the basis of not really contributing much. I'd give Brunner a shot.
I Did Not Miss You: Eric Gelinas was out of the lineup in place of Seth Helgeson tonight. I did not really miss Gelinas on defense. Nothing Helgeson or even Peter Harrold did really made me think, "#22 should be here instead." While the power plays could have benefited from a hard slapshot, the ones Severson and Marek Zidlicky were attempting weren't exactly bad ones to take. Nor were they lacking in power or pace. There were plenty of long shots tonight, I don't think the issue was that the long shots weren't hard.
This Didn't Work: Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, and Havlat were a line for much of the game. Even with the Devils controlling the majority of the third period, they still finished negative in shooting attempt differential at even strength. That's hard to do and it speaks to how real the struggles are for Elias. It's why Cammalleri and Brunner got more ice time than them at evens. We know Jagr can do better and I anticipate that he'll be right back with Zajac when he returns. Elias, who knows what to do with him. I have some thoughts on that tomorrow. In a way, it makes the Devils keeping it close and bombing away in the third more impressive given that their make-shift top line didn't do as well as one may have hoped given the state of the roster. Regardless, the Elias line had another lackluster game.
Isles Best: The Isles had many good performances tonight. Okposo was a monster on the puck with five shots and eight attempts from him; he did create their first goal. The Isles' fourth line was a net positive with Clutterbuck's skate getting a goal along with being above water in shooting attempt differential. Calvin de Haan took the shot that became that goal, came up with some big blocks in the third, and helped the play go forward. I liked what he did. John Tavares was, well, John Tavares. While he didn't single handedly control the game, he still ended up with three shots and an assist for his efforts. At the end of the night, though, Halak made the difference. At least the Devils challenged him as much as possible as opposed to giving him an easy ending.
What Next for Behind the Bench?: I don't think this game or the back-to-back will be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back for DeBoer. Yes, the results are dire. They can turn around quickly with some winning weeks, though. Ask me again about halfway through December. That said, I don't think a new coach changes much.
Your Take: So what do you take out of this one? Disappointment? Anger? Resignation? Something else? Who on the Devils impressed you the most? Who on the Devils impressed you the least? Please leave your answers and other reactions to this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the comments and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.