Over the last six games, the New Jersey Devils were decisively beaten more often than not. They had one legitimately good period out of eighteen. They were stupid against Washington, they got steamrolled by Carolina and again on the next night by Chicago with goaltending dragging the team to points, they got heavily out-shot by Philadelphia, they got out-rushed by Dallas, and they fell apart to the Islanders. The team went 1-3-2 in those six games and they were largely hideous performances by the red, white, and black. Tonight was different against the Ottawa Senators. It would be the Devils that would attack more than defend. It would be the Devils who would press the issue more often. It would be the Devils drawing more calls, gaining more zones, winning more pucks, and significantly out-shoot their opponents (34! to 16!). It would be the Devils controlling most of the game. It would be without a shadow of a doubt the best we have seen from the Devils in quite some time. Live at the Rock, no less. And the Devils lost 0-2 to the Ottawa Senators largely because Craig Anderson bailed out his team.
Anderson has been very good for the Senators this season, but tonight he had to be perfect. It wasn't so much that the Devils were exceptional at everything that they did. Don't get me wrong, they did a lot right. A NHL team doesn't out-shoot their opponent by more than a 2:1 ratio by not doing a lot right. But there was also plenty that they could have improved on. No, it was that Ottawa's skaters were just far worse. For most of the game, they felt the neutral zone was optional. They were throwing pucks away on defense just to get a clear. That led to the Devils getting the puck back and going forward. Their breakouts were mostly broken up. They took five penalties because they got in trouble and decided a foul was better than whatever was happening. More simply, this was a team that only generated eight shots on net after two periods and they weren't inaccurate. The Sens were just poor and the Devils took full advantage.
Fortunately for the visitors, their goaltender was impeccable. To make a point of comparison, Anderson played like Cory Schneider did in the team's last win at Carolina or Keith Kinkaid in his two recent starts. He was well-positioned. He took good angles. He fought his way to find pucks through traffic. He didn't concede many rebounds. He even was good at stickhandling the puck, even making an attempt at the Devils' empty net late in regulation. (He missed.) He did get some favorable bounces in that no odd deflection or inadvertent re-direction beat him. The only non-empty goal scored tonight was Kyle Turris tipping a wrister by Erik Karlsson past Schneider, in fact. So both goalies were quite good, but Anderson was the clear star of the night. But Anderson face rubber from all angles, he faced a significant number of it, he didn't get much relief from Ottawa attacking, and so he fully earned his shutout.
While Ottawa fans and fantasy hockey players who own Anderson would appreciate that, the home team got no appreciation by the end of the game. After doing whatever they wanted to Ottawa for about 40-45 minutes - the first ten minutes of the game or so wasn't dominant - the Devils just started to falter. Their own passes started hitting off sticks or missed their mark. Players were communicating. As time was running out and the net was empty, the lasting images of Marek Zidlicky and Scott Gomez just playing catch with the puck drew plenty of ire. As did the failed breakouts and movements up ice preceding that. So did Turris killing the game with an empty netter. The remaining fans booed loudly throughout the final minutes after plenty of support during the game, moreso than the last failed power play, and it made sense to my ears at The Rock.
The Devils played their best performance in weeks. But it didn't lead to any goals which is frustrating, a callback to last season, and absolutely not what the team or the fans wanted to happen. In the context of the larger season, the failures by game's end confirmed that it would be five winless games in a row in a season where the team has won a paltry eleven games. If you're not mad at that, then you are likely just numb to all the losing, telling yourself "this is for the greater good" while hoping for a tank-job, or not paying attention. The Devils played well, but without beating Craig Anderson, the result is no different from many nights this season. Boo.
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: Ary M has this recap at Silver Seven wherein the claim is that Anderson stole two points for the Senators. Can't disagree with that.
The Game Highlights: Plenty of stops by Anderson are featured in this highlight video at NHL.com:
You Wanted The Truth...: Eric Gelinas arguably had his best game this season. He looked like the offensive force some believe him to be, dropping bombs whenever possible. He led the Devils with six shots on net out of an also team-leading ten attempts. Gelinas was also passing the puck well, which is definitely good to see from him so he's not just forcing slapshots every time he gets a touch of the puck. What's more was that he wasn't a horror show in his own end of the rink. I only noted two bad moments but they both led to nothing so it's not really worth point out. That's impressive even considering that his most common partner was Marek Zidlicky. The duo were excellent up until the final few minutes where they and the rest of the team struggled to attack. Otherwise, the Sens had little answer for them for most of the night. Alas, the nine shots between the two defenders didn't yield a goal.
Speaking of the D: The defense was marvelous. Holding the Senators to a mere 16 shots and 25 shooting attempts alone is worth praise. Every defender did their job well (even Seth Helgeson) with few extended attacking shifts for the opposition. This was more impressive considering that Damon Severson was a late scratch due to what Tom Gulitti reported as a "lower body injury." Losing a top-pairing defender is bad news but the Devils (and the Senators' lame offense performance) more than carried on without him.
Incidentally, I want to point out that the Devils' offense didn't solely rely on shots from the points. Zidlicky and Gelinas were firing away, sure. They combined for nine shots. But they are players who should be firing away as they have strong shots. Andy Greene had four shots and the rest of the blueline combined for one (it was by Peter Harrold). That's 14 shots out of the 34 the Devils have. I don't think that's too many shots from distance and I don't think that's partially why the Devils did not score. Regardless, I liked the defensive performance who only had the one major error of Jon Merrill throwing a puck over the glass, which yielded the game's lone non-empty net goal.
What Could Have Been: So the Devils out-shot the Senators 34-16, out-attempted them overall 52-25, and controlled attempts even more at evens by 41-19. Could it have been better? Sure.
In my opinion, the biggest thing I saw was that Devils didn't make the most of what they really had on offense. Let me explain. In the third period, a breakdown in the neutral zone allowed Jaromir Jagr to lead a two-on-one with Scott Gomez. Jagr hits Gomez cleanly with the pass. Instead of firing it away or taking a touch and firing it away, Gomez takes a couple touches with it and eventually runs out of room so Anderson easily covers it. Here's another example: on one of the Devils's second period power plays, the breakout found Travis Zajac open through a seam. He pushes forward but for whatever reason doesn't get a clean shot off as he tried to get as close as possible to do so. Let's go with a third example. In the first period when the Devils were really taking the game over, Adam Henrique was able to carry it in through the middle of the ice. While there were Senators back, instead of trying to skate closer, he cut back and fired a wrister that fooled nobody. These are just a couple examples, but I hope they clarify what I mean. I'm not talking about a tenuous concept like "finishing" or "killer instinct" or whatever. Too many times, the Devils would get into good offensive situations but don't have the right timing or make the right decision given what they have. It's not like Anderson wasn't good or the Devils just got 34 non-threatening shots. It's that the Devils could have done more on some of them and maybe - maybe - that would have killed the shutout.
Moreover, the power play was lackluster as a whole. Normally, I would be happy with eleven shots and a post out of five power plays. But the breakouts were just weird to me and I think it hurt the cause. The Senators often forechecked with one skater and every time, the Devils puck carrier would circle around as if the opposition's presence was smoking them out of an invisible cave. This took time off the clock and slowed down the approach. As it did when that puck carrier would drop pass it to a player behind him, with the exception of Zidlicky doing it to nobody on the first power play. More weirdly, the Devils often did get forward successfully from this, though not with much success when the second puck carrier decided to just dump it in. Had the Devils just pushed forward in some cases, they could have had a little more time in their end. Likewise, I think it's in those situations where they were too reliant on the point. It's understandable with someone like Gelinas back there, but I think the Devils could have done more to change the point of attack instead of pass-pass-point shot, pass-pass, point-shot, and so forth.
Lastly, the final seven minutes or so saw a team where things just fell apart. Again, passes started going off sticks. Pressure by the Senators affected them after not having done so for most of the night. Dump-ins were more prevalent even if they got that far. You can chalk it up to frustration setting in from still being down a score, the Senators holding true in the neutral zone as if it was a penalty kill (they're the ones up 0-1, so why not?), bad breaks, or whatever you'd like. But this was really disappointing part and had the play been more consistent like in the second period, then perhaps the Devils would have gotten an equalizer.
Overall, my takeaway from this recap-within-a-recap is that the Devils played well but it can be better. The good news is that they can look at this and build on it. The bad news is that nothing from the last six weeks or so have proven that the Devils can necessarily build on previous performances.
Let's Talk About Some of the Senators: Chris Phillips is awfully like Bryce Salvador. Mark Borowiecki and Eric Gryba weren't good either. Erik Karlsson got his power play point but he wasn't flying all over the Devils, which is usually a small victory on most nights. Bobby Ryan could have been Ottawa's biggest threat, though two minor penalties undercut that. Kyle Turris scored the goals but other than that, it's hard to pick out what he did well. The Devils made David Legwand and Milan Michalek look like pylons. I felt pain for Erik Condra taking his own teammate's shot to the side of his face; though he would return to play. Now that I'm writing my own quick thoughts about the non-Craig Anderson players, a lot of the Senators were bad tonight which only adds to the dulling painful fact that the Devils lost this game.
They Did What I Want: Adam Henrique was taken away from Michael Ryder. Henrique was up with Gomez and Jagr and he did pretty well. Ryder didn't do much, but it wasn't like watching a Yule log in the fireplace given his limited minutes. I'd like to see Zajac back with Jagr and Henrique to see if that will work out, but this combination did well enough as Gomez (3 shots) and Jagr (4 shots) kept firing.
Return of Elias - Again: Patrik Elias returned to the lineup tonight. He certainly made an impact on the ice. He had five shots on net (!), he was the closest Devil to scoring (he put a rebound wide right in front of the net, that's the moment in this post's picture), and he looked solid on the wing of Travis Zajac and opposite Martin Havlat. Zajac was threatening to score given his three shots out of eight attempts. Havlat was, well, not a waste of space. But this is the best Elias has looked in a while.
Oh, Patrik: That said, Patrik Elias made an impact off the ice with this post-game quote. Here's what Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice:
"Obviously, the fans, they were booing," left wing Patrik Elias said. "They were disappointed. So were we. Trust me. But, we didn’t deserve that today. The effort was there. We were the better team. We understand it, but it wasn’t deserved tonight. I didn’t appreciate it.
"Everybody gets booed some time," Elias said. "We know when we deserve it."
Oh, Patrik. As much as I appreciate your candor and honesty, I'm afraid I've got some bad news. The Devils haven't won a game since last Monday, which means the team is winless in five. The Devils haven't won a game in Newark since November 11, which is over a month ago. You don't get to tell the fans how to act. You don't get to claim you don't deserve it.
Whether or not 15,000+ or a few drunk fools are booing has zero effect on what happens in the game. How you play does. While you and the team played quite well tonight, the fact is that this isn't just one of those "it just wasn't our night" games. This is one of the many losses the team has suffered. Should it continue, you may not have to worry about so many people booing you. They'll just stay home, read sites like mine to know what's going on, and/or move on with their lives. (That last sentence was for you, Mr. or Ms. Devils Worker in the Sales Department as I know you monitor this site. Good luck selling people on this team in January and beyond.)
Your Take: The Devils got shut out on their best performance in two weeks, losing by a deflection in the game's first power play. If the Devils didn't go winless in their previous four games and weren't 11-15-6 heading into the game, then we all may feel better about it. But that's not the reality of the situation. Again, no one's really happy (myself included) and I don't think any Devils fan should be unless you stopped caring, you're pro-tank, or you didn't know what happened tonight. Regardless, I want to know your take on tonight's game so please leave that in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.