The previous two games featured the New Jersey Devils getting rolled in terms of possession, shots, and control of the game but sticking around on the scoreboard because the goaltending was near-perfect. They had a day off to collect themselves and ready themselves for a better performance. Their opponents, the Philadelphia Flyers, have been worse in possession and in the standings to the Devils. You wouldn't know it from tonight as the Flyers decisively smacked down the Devils 1-4. The game was such that I cannot call them the Second Rate Rivals because the Devils were truly second rate tonight.
In every single period, the Devils got doubled up in shots. 5-10 in the first, 6-12 in the second, and 7-14 in the third. The attempts were kinder, but the Devils got out-attempted in all situations in every period as well. This in spite of the Devils being down throughout the game. Simply, the Flyers had opportunities to shoot and they made the most of it. They iced the puck far too many times, they were leaning on a dump-and-chase, but they kept up the pressure - thanks to some real lackadaisical defending at times. The Devils didn't when they got the chance. So it looked like a more even game than the last two, but the results in terms of attempts, shots, and goals clearly say otherwise.
A closer look shows plenty of errors that undercut the Devils in one way or another. Take the penalties for example. The Devils got called for five of them. The first was a too many men on the ice call. The other four were outside of the Devils' end of the rink. Martin Havlat dragged his foot to take out Mark Streit by the Flyers' blueline off a faceoff. Mike Sislo got tagged for holding Nicklas Grossmann on a forecheck. Tuomo Ruutu went leg-on-leg on RJ Umberger; that one as a trip was a stretch, but it was in the Flyers' end of the rink. With just under five minutes left to play, Mike Cammalleri takes down Michael Raffl at the Flyers' blueline. The penalty kill and Cory Schneider did what they could, but the last power play yielded a payment for the crime: Wayne Simmonds slamming his own rebound. These weren't good penalties to take. They weren't the result of efforts of trying to do something positive or deny a Flyer something negative. It's partially a reason why the Devils' performance overall was so lackluster.
What really gets me and probably most Devils fans was that they were behind the eight ball early on. Marek Zidlicky decides to force a slapshot on a power play despite a Flyer in his face. Incidentally, the Flyers flourished on defense by blocking all kinds of shots from distance. The Devils did not adjust for this. Back to Zidlicky. So the shot is unsurprisingly blocked, the puck goes behind him, and Zidlicky cynically trips Matt Read. He assumed the play was up, but Read got up, got to the puck, slid a pass laterally to Sean Couturier that Zidlicky saw go by him, and Couturier finished it. The shorthanded goal was the first of the game. The Devils responded with nothing. About seven minutes later, Couturier found Read wide open curling around the net. Jon Merrill forgot all about him and Schneider didn't know either, but he had to stay at the post to respect Couturier. The pass was excellent, the goal was easy, and Merrill looked like a pylon. Down 0-2 and the response again was nothing. Again, the team was out-shot the rest of the game.
There's a sense that this game could have been for the taking. Martin Havlat managed to do something of value as he re-directed a shot by Scott Gomez on a power play that cut the lead in half in the second period. It was very much against the run of play, but it was a one-shot game. The Devils actually have been respectable from a possession standpoint when down a goal (or two). Not tonight, as the Devils just fell back to what they had issues with two games ago and throughout most of last month. Bad zone exits, getting pinned back in their own end, too many bodies jumping up but without the puck (this led to Jakub Voracek's empty netter) and then not coming back with offense nevermind shots on net. The penalties - two while down only one goal - just added to it.
In a word, this was a very lame performance. The Flyers looked fantastic by just executing better than the Devils. They turned bad decisions by their opposition into good plays. As much as the PK held them back, the Flyers never strayed from their game plan and got a play they desired to work (get Simmonds on a rebound). The best looking Devils were the ones that went up against the poorer ends of the Flyers' depth. The top guys were limited while the Flyers', well, soared. Read and Couturier looked like stars at points; Claude Giroux and Voracek just pounded the Devils as expected. When fans lament or declare that the Devils are no good this season, a game like this is a convincing argument to prove them right.
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: Charlie O'Connor praised Matt Read in his recap at Broad Street Hockey. He had no shortage of orange-clad players to praise tonight.
The Game Highlights: There isn't much in the way of highlights for the Devils per this video from NHL.com:
2 + 7 = UGH: Marek Zidlicky and Jon Merrill seemed to have two modes tonight. The first was a tolerable, not much is happening mode. The second was a far more frustrating, "DO YOU EVEN DEFEND" mode. Each was responsible for a goal against in the first period - Zidlicky on the shorty, Merrill on the even strength GA. They weren't so dire that the Flyers kept running them over. But when the Flyers pinned them back, they suddenly became very docile. Plenty of puck watching.
Zidlicky is the veteran but the main reason why he's not sitting is two-fold. First, it's because there really isn't a replacement for his minutes. Second, when he doesn't make a crucial mental mistake like delaying a shot because of traffic only to decide to shoot it anyway into traffic, he can be effective. The Devils are not an offensive powerhouse and no one on the defense really passes as much, or at times as well, as him. He can get beat on pinches, but he'll also make some really good ones too. Unlike, say, Eric Gelinas, he's got more than just one offensive feature. So #2 isn't going anywhere short of injury, warts and all.
Merrill, on the other hand, I can't quite a put a finger on it. Maybe you know. Why is he being leaned on? What does he bring to the table? Related, I miss Adam Larsson and I hope he feels better soon.
Top Six Faults: What did not help Zidlicky and Merrill - or more appropriately, Schneider and the team as a whole - was that they had shifts with Adam Henrique, Michael Ryder, and Mike Cammalleri. That unit did quite a bit of puck watching on defense. They had even fewer offensive shifts. Ryder is just lost at this juncture. Henrique is continuing to show the world he is not a guy who can carry less-than-impressive wingers. I was happy to see Cammalleri return tonight. By the end of the game, I was very underwhelmed with his performance. He had one shot, one bad penalty that ultimately killed any chance of a surprising equalizer by New Jersey, and didn't get more effective when pulled away from those two.
This isn't to say that the other top line at the moment was much better. Yes, Gomez and Havlat contributed on the scoresheet tonight, power play aside. In some ways, this was one of Havlat's better nights with three shots on net. Jaromir Jagr was able to get some moves off. At the same time, Havlat's passing was confusing at times; just putting pucks past his teammates or putting them into places where the Devils couldn't get it. Gomez' one shot was re-directed in; but he had no other shots. I think teams are figuring out that he does not shoot and that's a big problem. Their defense was a mixed bag. The Gomez unit did attack more than the Henrique unit. I'm still left thinking this top six badly misses Travis Zajac. And given nights like the one Ryder put in, I would welcome Dainius Zubrus on one of those two lines.
Again, the bottom six looked relatively good for what they did. But they're going up against weaker competition and their level of expectations are lower. At the same time, if Peter DeBoer wanted to move Steve Bernier, Jacob Josefson, or even Tuomo Ruutu up, then I would understand it. You may not like it. I may not like it. But I would understand. The top two lines of any team is expected to lead the offensive attack. Instead, they put up 18 shots on net in spite of losing for over 50 minutes tonight.
So About the Goalie: I think it's pretty clear to anyone who has been watching recent Devils games that Cory Schneider isn't the problem. Not tonight and especially not in this season. Tonight was just another example.
Broadcasting Thoughts: This was such a lame performance that I feel compelled to say something about the broadcast tonight. What in the world are Ken Daneyko and John MacLean watching? I get that they want to be positive, they don't want to be too critical because they were in the players' skates before, and so forth. The Devils got out-shot by a two-to-one ratio by a team that has regularly gots out-shot and out-attempted. They drew Ray Emery, the #2 goalie, and didn't challenge him much. They take five penalties. And yet there's very little about their puck movement (lackluster), about how the Devils settled for shots from distance, about their zone exits (admittedly better tonight than the last two games), and about the calls. They say this was a game for the taking. Yeah, if the Devils got a very fortunate break against the run of play or the Flyers got stupid or something else unlikely to happen. Just because that happened against Carolina and Chicago doesn't mean it should be expected two-three days later. I know it's immaterial to the game and now I'm just ranting, but if bad games aren't going to be called out as such, then why even have an analyst or a color guy? It's just grating after witnessing such drudgery of a performance by the Devils.
What Fixes This?: Your guess is good as mine. I can't see Peter DeBoer surviving all of this. Just don't expect a brand new coach to do it all, though. Not saying that there won't be a brand new coach. I'm just saying this isn't necessarily going to get better with (your favorite replacement) behind the bench.
Your Take: Well, this game stunk. And it was against a team that looked far better than they have been this season. I'm not sure where one goes from here. What are your takeaways from this game? What can the Devils try to rectify before Saturday's game in Dallas? What can they do to have more than just effort out there? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter through @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.