It happens to nearly every team every season: the shut out loss. Losing a game is one thing. There are surprising losses, losses despite playing well, losses that are fully deserved, close losses, shootout losses, overtime losses, blowout losses, and some others in between all of that. The shut out loss stands alone for the obvious: the losing team did not score. Scoring does come at a premium in hockey but to go a whole 60 minutes in a game where a deflection, a bounce, a carom, an error, or just a well-placed shot can make the difference between a goal or not a goal is not at all common. Yet, for the New Jersey Devils, a team that has had trouble scoring goals in recent (and beyond recent) history, it doesn't feel that way. That all said, the 0-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues was the first such instance in the 2014-15 season. And I'm not considerably unhappy about it.
Sure, the St. Louis Blues were finishing off a road trip and played 65 minutes the night prior. They were still missing Paul Stastny among others. But they're still a quality team featuring one of the hottest scorers in the NHL in Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko nearly made his mark early on, with a couple of glorious shooting opportunities. Cory Schneider made sure that did not happen. Yet, the winger did make his mark in the third period. He beat Schneider shortside from the left circle past Bryce Salvador, who inadvertently screened his goalie. Salvador was essentially in no man's land. Nonetheless, it was still a power play goal and it was enough to decide the game. Goaltender Jake Allen was unflappable in net and the Blues clamped down on the Devils almost like the Devils did in their heyday. Prior to the goal, the game was fairly even - which speaks well to New Jersey given that the Blues' level of talent.
The first two periods featured two teams nearly paying dearly for their turnovers. Whether it was in their end of the rink or in the neutral zone, both teams managed to create offense coming off lost pucks. Bad passes, errant bounces, and straight-up steals were not uncommon. The Devils' line of Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, and Michael Ryder were especially effective in that regard. Ryder got 7 shots on net, primarily because that line - namely Elias - surprised the Blues with early interceptions and stops that gave the line space to work with. It was working well enough for two periods.
Unfortunately, that died in the third. The third was more reminiscent of what was seen in recent games by the Devils. Ryan's post on zone exits and entries is required reading for those who want a better understanding of how poor performance there undercuts the team's play overall. After the Blues scored, they drifted back into playing rather conservative hockey. Clogging their blueline, dropping back into the middle to pick up attempted passes to or across that area, and fewer attacking shifts. The Devils helped this cause out. I don't think they weren't playing with enough urgency. I think they knew they needed to be more urgent with time running out. They were being too urgent. With so many Devils whiffing on shots, firing shots right into Blues instead of at Allen, and stretching out to make and/or receive passes to no avail, the team looked out of sync. In retrospect, I think they would have been better served to just keep up the pace they did have instead of forcing as many plays as they did. I'm not saying it would have necessarily yielded a goal, but it would have been superior to what they attempted on the ice.
Still, the Devils played a very good St. Louis team featuring one of the league's hottest scorers and lost by only a single goal. I felt they played well enough to warrant extra time, but they didn't get there - nor did St. Louis play them off the ice. That's my overall takeaway and while I don't like it, I'm not at all irate or hateful of it. The first two periods saw improvement over what we've been seeing recently and it's something to build on. I don't think the Blues will be so fortunate as to shut out the Devils again on Thursday. The problem may be keeping the Blues from scoring so many, but that's a concern for another night later this week. At least it took a month before it happened to the Devils.
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 Report | The HockeyStats.ca Corsi Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Check out St. Louis Game Time for St. Louis coverage.
The Game Highlights: A lot of saves and one goal. Here's the video from NHL.com:
Goalie Showcase: Despite the offense dropping off in the third for both teams, both goalies really had good nights. Allen was very good in his two earlier appearances this season and he was very good tonight. He didn't cough up many rebounds, he squared up well for shots, and his footwork was solid. He also had a nice highlight robbing Michael Ryder early in the game with his glove. Schneider played as well as anyone could have expected. He denied Tarasenko early on two glorious chances and made all kinds of stops. The only one that beat him was the one he didn't see. If you're looking for positives regardless of which team you supported tonight, then look to the net first. They were the top players tonight.
Return of the Truth: Jon Merrill was out tonight with an apparent injury. This meant Eric Gelinas stepped right into the lineup to play alongside Adam Larsson. This pairing did quite well. They were strong in possession and contributed on offense. Larsson had two shots and Gelinas had three out of eight attempts. Defensively, they didn't make too many errors. While Larsson took a penalty due to firing a shot into Joakim Lindstrom and impeding him to prevent him from going out to the races, there weren't many bad moments for the pairing. Maybe we'll see them more often? I wouldn't mind.
Return of Bernier: Steve Bernier played the sort of game one would expect from Bernier. As with the CBGB line of the last two seasons, the goal wasn't necessarily to do really well but to make the opposition doesn't do really well. I'd say he, Stephen Gionta, and Tuomo Ruutu accomplished that. Bernier played a little over eight minutes, threw some hits, got the puck in deep and helped working it around, and even got a shot on net. Not bad and far better than Jordin Tootoo.
Excelling Early, Fading Late: The unit of Patrik Elias, Michael Ryder, and Adam Henrique were dangerous for two periods and just faded in the third period. For two periods, that trio won plenty of pucks, caught the Blues by surprise by forcing and taking advantage of turnovers, and generated nine of the 26 shots on net the team had. Again, Ryder had 7 as he was able to get into pockets of space with a clear lane to the net. The issue was that some of those seven shots weren't as well taken as he would have liked.
Yet, in the third, they just became out of sync. Again, I think they were trying to play too fast. Surprise passes out of the cycle, guys misfiring passes as they just came over the Blues' blueline, and so forth. The evidence was that Ryder had three shots in the first, three shots in the second, and only one in the third. That last bit stands out in a bad way. Still, I think they did well enough to warrant a few more games as a combination. Whether the rest of the lineup will allow that is another question.
Shotless: The unit of Ryane Clowe, Jacob Josefson, and Damien Brunner did not have a good night. The three forwards put up zero shots on net in any situation. For a guy like Josefson, that's not necessarily a huge deal. For Clowe and Brunner, who both feature on the power play even, that's a disappointment. It's not like either were credited for many shooting attempts. That's namely because they were forced to play quite a bit of defense, notably against Patrik Berglund's unit. It obviously didn't cost the team anything on the scoreboard, but they didn't help the cause.
Surprisingly, Jaromir Jagr ended up with no shots on net either. That's more forgiveable given his play on the puck was strong and he was setting up others - namely Travis Zajac - for shots. It'd be more effective if there was a big shooting winger who isn't necessarily big opposite of the strong Jagr and effective Zajac. I'll even take Martin Havlat at this point.
Pinned: The Devils really made Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester earn their defensive dollars tonight. They were constantly in their own end of the rink at even strength. That's a good way as any to limit their effectiveness. The duo didn't do much on offense. Unfortunately, both weren't so bad in their own end when it came to making stops and getting exits. They played half of the third period and were a key reason why the Devils' offense was shut down.
The Hottest in the League: I want to highlight a few of the Blues' skaters. Vladimir Tarasenko is more than just a guy with a hot stick. He pounced on loose pucks like a tiger on freely available meat from the get-go. I was surprised to see he only had three shots on net, it felt like much more given how #91 was buzzing around the Devils' end. He was limited in the second period, thanks in part to the Blues' own issues at moving the puck forward and the Devils sub-sequentially turning that into offense.
Another Night Where Special Teams Made the Difference: Well, the Blues' power play got a goal against one of the least successful penalty killing units in the league. And it decided the game. Adding insult to injury, the PK actually did quite well prior to the goal. They killed two penalties against the Blues without much drama except for a weird bounce off the end-boards that sent the puck into the crease by an unaware Schneider. Even then, the Devils coolly made a clearance. Alas, there was another PPGA so that good work went down the drain, so to speak.
As for the power play, the Devils could have done better. They were able to get set up more than a couple times, which was one of my concerns with the power play in general. They didn't entirely squander two minutes for any of the three of them. Despite some decent puck movement, they struggled to find and, more importantly, utilize any shooting lanes. They had three power play shots; they could have had more with a little less thinking and little more reaction. I got the sense that they tried to find the perfect shot, which is one way to go about using a man advantage; but they rarely got that all together for a shot.
Regarding Business: A Devils-Blues game on a Tuesday night in November outsold a Devils-Rangers game on a Tuesday night in October. Why? No, it wasn't because it was on national television; resulting in a later start (and finish). It's because the game wasn't ridiculously priced. Will the current management learn that lesson? We'll see.
Dearest Zidlicky: SHOOT.
No, seriously, he should be less afraid to shoot. Zidlicky had one of those weird nights where he'll turn the puck over on one shift, make some great passes on the next shift, make some bad ones following that, and then skate into space or jump up on offense and then decide to not shoot. Officially, he had none on net even though he was in positions to do so. So while he continued to be the straw that stirred the drink at points, he didn't do it enough to justify the lack of shooting, where he could have contributed further to the attack. I repeat: SHOOT. (And I wish he didn't grab Alexander Steen in the third.)
Lastly: Jori Lehtera didn't exactly set the game on fire tonight, but I did see why Blues fans aren't so mad about Vladimir Sobotka leaving. He's going to be a useful player for them.
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils lost 0-1 to St. Louis. What did you learn from tonight's game? What do you think the team should adjust before they play St. Louis again on Thursday night? Who impressed you the most on each team? Who impressed you the least from each team? Can Tarasenko cool off by Thursday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and the sparse tweets with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.