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Moral Victories are Worth Nothing: New Jersey Devils Edged by Pittsburgh Penguins

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Shorthanded at forward due to three injuries during the game, the New Jersey Devils did not get blown out by the Pittsburgh Penguins. They still lost by a 0-1 score. This recap goes over the game and why Roberto Bortuzzo deserves a suspension.

Even Jordin Tootoo had an offensive contribution tonight.  Almost by necessity as the Devils went down to 9 forwards tonight.
Even Jordin Tootoo had an offensive contribution tonight. Almost by necessity as the Devils went down to 9 forwards tonight.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On paper, this should have been a blowout win by the Pittsburgh Penguins.  As I explained in my preview, the Penguins are a legitimately good team.  The New Jersey Devils are not.  The Penguins have two of the best forwards in the world in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby to lead a group of twelve forwards.  The Devils signed Scott Gomez due to injuries depleting their forwards - and that situation got much worse during tonight's game.   The Penguins have Marc-Andre Fleury playing really well and giving him all kinds of reliable support. The Devils have Cory Schneider playing really well but the support he gets varies at best.   The Penguins have been playing really well.  The Devils entered this game with no wins in their last four games with two significant leads blown.  In my preview, I predicted a rout by the Penguins.

Instead, the Devils managed to only lose 0-1 to Pittsburgh.  Given the situation ahead of the game and what I feared, I cannot be mad about that.  Especially not after what happened.

The bigger impact of this game isn't another mark in the 'L' column, but three more injuries.   Stephen Gionta sold out for a shot block on Paul Martin. The play was a mess with traffic in the crease and Schneider just recovering.  It was a brave move, but Gionta would not return to the first period or the game.  Patrik Elias also picked up a first period injury - possibly off a shot by Scott Gomez, I'm not sure - so that's another loss.  The most notable player to leave the game early was Jaromir Jagr.  Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo was and has been physical all game long.  He took it beyond the line with a head shot on Jagr in the second period.  I thought there was an elbow, but regardless, it was a head shot. There should be a suspension. There wasn't a penalty. Jagr did get up under his own power but he went to the locker room and would not return.    I don't care what you think of those three forwards, losing all three within a game is absolutely awful if only because it forced the Devils to use nine forwards.

To their credit, the Devils not only kept it close; but they actually played a better effort than what we've seen over the past few weeks.   The Devils did make errors and nearly paid the price if it weren't for Cory Schneider. The Devils conceded odd man rushes and left Penguins open with space.   They even gave up a shorthanded breakaway.  Schneider got all of that.   But in spite of that, the Devils actually out-shot the Penguins 29-23 and out-attempted the Pens 61-45.  They out-shot and out-attempted them in the final two periods while keeping it close in the first. The second was scoreless so it wasn't all score effects.   Marc-Andre Fleury had to work real hard for his shutout and thank the post twice - first for denying Damien Brunner on a sick move in the first period and second for preventing Dainius Zubrus putting in his own rebound.    Scott Gomez, who wasn't signed by anyone until Monday, actually had a good game.  Even Jordin Tootoo contributed something beyond a penalty.  If you're looking for a bad Devils game, then look back to the Vancouver or Winnipeg games.  This wasn't it.

Alas, it was also without result like those games.   The Devils came close but did not score.  Their own puck movement was good but there were calamitous moments that nearly burned them.  The power play provided opportunities that were squandered.  The Penguins would connect on one free Penguin in dangerous spot.  Blake Comeau made a sweet no-look pass to an uncovered Evgeni Malkin heading to the slot.  He goes backhand, the second best skater in the world beats Schneider, and that was enough to win.  The Devils battled real well but the effort clearly wasn't enough.   Count this as a moral victory but they are worth nothing in the NHL.  I'm not mad or upset because - again, I expected another rout by the Penguins and it's amazing they didn't do more against nine Devils forwards - but I can't say this is all good.

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: Hooks Orpik has this brief recap of the game at PensBurgh.

The Game Highlights: Here are the highlights of tonight's game from NHL.com:

Suspend Bortuzzo: Let's get this out of the way.  It was a headshot.  Twitter-er @myregularface had made this .GIF of the hit. You can see it here and since it's through gfycat you speed it up, slow it down, go frame-by-frame.  Frames 29-41 show the head contact; specifically frame #32. This needs to be a suspension.  We'll see whether the NHL agrees.

I honestly expected Jordin Tootoo to get a shift against Bortuzzo given his dirty deed.  To his and Peter DeBoer's credit, there was no attempt to get back at him out of revenge. Tootoo apparently did ask him to go, but there was no response so Tootoo correctly didn't force it.  They worked to try and tie the game up. I respect that. I can sort of understand any disappointment for a lack of a response for Bortuzzo.  But even if Tootoo busted up Bortuzzo or whatever, that also does not mean anything in the standings or on the scoreboard.

Was Jagr's injury a big loss? You bet your posterior it was.  In addition to being the Devils' top forward in their top six, Jagr was having a fine night against Pittsburgh.  He already had three shots on net and when he was out there, the play often ended up in Pittsburgh's end.   I'd like to think Jagr would have made a difference in the effort for an equalizer.  But I can't prove that and it's pointless now as the Devils did lose 0-1.  Now we (me, the team, the coaches, possibly you) have to hope he is not out for long.

The Surprisingly Effective Scott Gomez: I had very little hope that Gomez would contribute all that much.  I was concerned that he was placed on a line with Patrik Elias and Jagr, which eventually became Tuomo Ruutu and Jagr, and then Ruutu and Brunner.   And all of those combinations won their matchups at evens.  There was some rust on display and some of his passes weren't on target.  But he helped a lot of plays go forward, he set up his teammates for shots, and he even got a good shot on net himself.   Gomez played 22:10 out of necessity and it largely went well.  At even strength, he was present for 23 attempts and 11 shots compared to 12 attempts and 4 shots by Pittsburgh.   Gomez was effective.  Will it last? I don't know.  That partially depends on the status of the injured.  At a minimum, I'm not so against him playing a significant role in the next few games.

Dropping the Truth: Somebody must have told Eric Gelinas to bomb away from the point.  He was credited for three shots on net, one miss, and eight attempts blocked.  While the blocked attempts (and the miss) did not help, it was evidence that Gelinas played a more active role tonight.   He was OK with Marek Zidlicky but even better with Adam Larsson.   There weren't too many issues in his own end.  There were some errors on offense - like passing a puck back to a stickless Jagr, but it didn't go bad -  but nothing so heinous like he was on the previous road trip.  The blocks meant perhaps he should've deferred a couple of times rather than trying to blast pucks through traffic.  I'll take that over, say, attempting only one or two shots.

Malkin Annoying: The Penguins threatened off the rush, catching the Devils in transition more than just a handful of times tonight.  However, the most consistent threat for the Penguins was Malkin.  Sidney Crosby was one of the few Pens on the right side of possession; but Malkin just provided issues.  His line with Blake Comeau and Jayson Megna gave the Devils issues in transition.  Malkin himself had four shots on net and the game's only goal.  What made him especially annoying was his physical play.  He was aggressive on the forecheck, putting himself into the box early in the game for it.  He was beefing with players, leading to two Devils and two Pens sitting for roughing calls for a post-whistle scrum.  Malkin didn't finish the game as he was issued a misconduct penalty with just over five minutes left in the game.    The Devils did not convert that or any other power play; adding further to how irritating he was.  He scored the only goal, he gave the Devils time to attack, he was a handful when he was on offense, he was just a pain all night long, and he gets to enjoy a win for it.  I don't know about you, but I find that to be, at a minimum, annoying.

Top Pairing: Damon Severson had trouble with Malkin at times - but who doesn't? - and some of his passes were off. That said, Severson and Andy Greene (who was somewhat at fault on the GA), took on Crosby, Malkin, and in some shifts, Crosby and Malkin on the same line and still came out ahead in possession.   Severson stood out a bit more with over 26 minutes played.  I've said it before, but when he grows up, he's going to be a very, very good defender.  So even though Malkin made him look silly at times, I was generally pleased with #28 tonight.

How I Know You're in the Doghouse: The Devils signed Gomez out of near-necessity to have 12 forwards on Monday.   Adam Henrique would end up playing tonight - and while things did go well, I wasn't all that thrilled with his performance tonight - so Peter DeBoer was able to scratch Michael Ryder.  He was not hurt.  It was a healthy scratch.  When the coach thinks he's going to get more out of Jordin Tootoo - he got a shot out of two attempts, usually more than what he normally gets - than you, then you're in a poor spot.   Ryder hasn't been totally terrible, but with no goals in eleven games, he is not as essential in the lineup.  With the Devils now down as many as five forwards, Ryder will get his chance for redemption very soon.  Could he have been useful tonight?  Possibly.  I think it would have given the power play another shooter that isn't at the point. Then again, would he handle his matchups well?  I don't know.   But the scratch is telling.  Will he be in New Jersey for long?  Who knows.

Powerless: The Devils got a whopping four shots on net out of nearly eight minutes of power play time. That's not good enough.  While the Devils did get set up a few times, most of the time was wasted.  I still am surprised Henrique pulled a shot wide after an awesome set-up pass by Steve Bernier.  But I was more disappointed with the passing and the decisions made.  The Penguins forechecked hard when they cleared it and that gave the Devils issues.  They got three shorthanded shots on net, including a clear breakaway by Brandon Sutter.   So not only did the Devils fail to get a goal on the power play, it nearly cost them one.  Tonight was a return to issues with getting the puck in and getting set-up over the shots just not getting through.

On the flip side, the Devils held the Penguins to very little for their power plays. Given that the Penguins have been really successful on man advantages all season long plus having Crosby and Malkin, that's a neat feat.  They only conceded three shots on net and each were relatively easy for Schneider.

The Effects of Going Short at Forward: More minutes for everyone!  Gomez got over 22 minutes, as noted. Mike Cammalleri got over 23, which makes his two-shot night more disappointing even if he was going forward a lot. Brunner got over 20 minutes.  Jacob Josefson, Steve Bernier, and Zubrus each got over 16 minutes of ice time.  They didn't do nearly as well in the possession department, but in their defense, Pittsburgh gave them plenty of #87 and/or #71.  They did better as time went on.  Tootoo, well, he got over eight minutes and it wasn't a disaster.  Under normal circumstances, this could have went real badly.  Again, it didn't tonight.  I wouldn't want to chance it again in Toronto, but I doubt that three more forwards will get hurt and can't finish the game on Thursday.

OK, So Who's Coming Up: What happens next depends on the status of Gionta, Elias, Jagr, and the others on the proverbial shelf.   Albany has been suffering from injury as well (speaking of, check out Brian's prospect update which includes Albany news), so it's not quite as simple as just pulling up Reid Boucher, Mike Sislo, and so forth. Wednesday's going to be an interesting day to focus on Devils news.

Goalies Were Great: I can't fault Schneider on the lone goal; he bailed out his team plenty of times.  Fleury was saved by the post twice (once for Schneider) and made all of the stops.  Amid all of the grinding and battles for pucks and odd man rushes in transition (aside for NJ: should've shot more on them, forcing the pass did not go well), there was a goalie duel tonight.

Your Take: Again, count this a moral victory but that doesn't count for anything in the NHL.  What's your take on this game?  Are you mad about another loss, the team's fifth winless game?  Are you sad that they did not score? Are you like me and not really mad or sad given the circumstances?  What do you want to see for Thursday's game? Who on the Devils impressed you the most and the least tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.

Thanks to everyone who commented in the gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter.  Thank you for reading.