Tonight ends 2014, but the number to know from tonight's game is 13. As in, thirteen shots on net. The New Jersey Devils went into Detroit and put up a whopping thirteen shots on net. Unless a team scores a bunch of goals on those 13 shots, that's simply an unacceptable amount of offense. It means the team didn't have the puck on their sticks all that much. It also usually means that the opponent was able to do whatever they wanted. The Detroit Red Wings are one of the best possession teams in this season and they did just that, especially in the third period. The Devils lost 1-3 and deservedly so, like so many games in the 2014 part of this season.
A similarly important number to know is one. As in, the Devils got one shot on net in the third period. It wasn't as if the Devils were buried from the beginning. The second period was arguably even. The Devils and Red Wings each had 16 attempts on net. The Devils were only out-shot 8-9. Even the score was tied at 1-1. Granted, the goals were surprises in their own right. Joe Whitney, of all players, turned around on a puck and rifled a rising shot that beat Jimmy Howard. It stunned pretty much everyone as Steve Cangelosi exclaimed, "Goal out of nowhere!" The Red Wings tied it up when Darren Helm went for a wraparound and just as Helm was about to curl the puck, the blade of Steve Bernier's stick intervened and caused the puck to get past Cory Schneider's right side. Still, it was a 1-1 game. Yet, the third period featured a Detroit team that just was in full control.
I can't say it was one particular match-up that faltered or one bad moment. When a team is out-shot 1-11 in a period, it's a crummy effort by the whole team with the one shot with the exception for the goaltender. Poor Cory Schneider couldn't bail out the Devils for another twenty minutes. He was beaten twice, first by a Henrik Zetterberg deflection that may have also went off Andy Greene and second by a Helm breakaway created in part by a bad decision by Marek Zidlicky and helped in part by a bad backcheck by Eric Gelinas. That third goal essentially iced the game. At 1-2, maybe one good shift or one fortunate shot steals an equalizer. Not so at 1-3. Adam Henrique really sealed it when he took a holding penalty with a little over two minutes left because Gustav Nyquist was fantastic at controlling the puck. That play sums up the first, third, and perhaps the game as a whole: Detroit was just strong on the puck and there was little the Devils could really do for long stretches of the game. More often than not, that's going to lead to losses and tonight was just another one to add to the long list of them in 2014.
Oh, and there was another injury at forward too. As if the performance and result wasn't bad enough. At least the calendar year will change and two home games coming up soon will put this one in the past.
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: Graham Hathway has this short recap at Winging it in Motown.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights which features one heck of a shot by Joe Whitney.
First, The Injury: Shortly after Helm's goal, Steve Bernier went for a hit on Brendan Smith. He missed, went straight into the boards, and he just went down. Bernier stayed down for quite some time. He was helped up and off the ice by Adam Henrique and Eric Gelinas. I can't imagine he'll just be fine for the next few games. We'll know what the official word is from the team soon enough.
While Bernier can't be described as an integral player, it's a big hit to the roster. It's not just one less NHL player, but one less right winger. The team is so thin there that the coaches resorted to Mike Sislo playing with Travis Zajac and Mike Cammalleri all game long.
Second, The Lone Goal: The fourth line was just forechecking and then suddenly Brendan Smith's clearance gets tipped away by Tim Sestito. Whitney gets on it and immediately shoots it. It was the perfect shot at the perfect time and it stunned everyone. It's a fantastic first NHL goal. Congratulations to Whitney for scoring it. I can't say Whitney had a monster night, but he was definitely better than he was in his other two games as I counted that he had two shots on net. Strangely, Detroit's scorer didn't count his shot in the slot early in the first period; but it was a strong attempt. Unfortunately, New Jersey would not add another or challenge Howard for one save for one shot in the third period.
Third, The Possession Difference: The difference in attempts by period are telling for why tonight went the way it did. In the first period, the Devils were out-attempted 7-17. In the second period, it was even at 16 each. In the third period, the Devils were out-attempted 8-17. That's in all situations. At even strength it was 7-12, 10-12, and 4-16 in each successive period. That was the result of how much control Detroit had in the game. Often, those attempts would come off good zone entries by Detroit and enough control to not only get an attempt off, but win the puck back for a couple more.
From what I saw, the Devils were so concerned about protecting the middle that often times, the skaters collapsed in there and just waited to the play get there. This was most concerning against the Pavel Datsyuk unit as Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Justin Abdelkader were so excellent moving on and off the puck that they picked through them anyway. That didn't burn them on a direct shot, but it just added to the pressure. And that pressure yielded some penalties, forced more clears and dump-and-changes, and held the Devils' offense back. While a 1-3 score isn't necessarily a big score, it is when it comes in a game where the winning team more than doubled the losing team in shots.
Fourth, The Penalty Kills: The Devils and Red Wings were each tagged for obstruction fouls. Two holds and two hooks for the Devils, three hooks for the Red Wings. Neither power play scored, so both teams can at least feel good about their PK results. Yet, I easily saw the difference between a team that's been very good on special teams and the Devils.
The Red Wings applied plenty of pressure on the first two power plays and maintained good control on their fourth one when the game was out of doubt. They were only not quite so sharp on their third advantage, which led to the Devils being more active at going after the puck and getting clears. The Devils, on the other hand, had good stretches of control mixed in with some struggles at getting set up (third power play) or responding after a clearance (the last 30 seconds of the second power play). The Devils showed that the 1-3-1 form could threaten and Marek Zidlicky did hit a post so it wasn't as if they didn't try. They also showed that Peter Harrold should be kept far, far away from it. But more importantly, the Detroit penalty killers were very smart. They didn't concede that dangerous pass to the middle, the forwards were wise to denying passes and pressuring the high part of the zone, and they didn't get in Howard's way. The Devils certainly did their job on the PK since they didn't get beaten, but based on what I saw, the Red Wings belong at that upper echelon of the league in that situation.
Fifth, The Change: I wanted to see Andy Greene and Peter Harrold broken up. Well, that didn't happen fully but Greene's most common partner at even strength was Adam Larsson. Not that Greene did particularly well. His shifts were akin to taking on water and just trying to not perish from drowning. He got plenty of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Abdelkader with strong shifts from Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, and Tomas Jurco. That said, I think Larsson did better with Greene in trying to make the best of many defense-only shifts. I hope that continues, with some better results.
Sixth, The Absence: Against Pittsburgh, the Devils benefited from their top offensive players actually playing like them. That did not happen tonight. Travis Zajac had some nice flashes, but it wasn't enough. Mike Cammalleri was quiet. Jaromir Jagr took more penalties (2) and drew more penalties (1) than shots on net (0). Scott Gomez was a non-factor. I know this isn't a Murderer's Row of attacking players, but a big reason why the team only got 13 shots on net tonight was because these guys suffered in their match-ups and didn't respond. I noted the domination in the third that it wasn't so much that the Devils were sitting back, but they couldn't push back. That lies on the guys atop the lineup since no one in their right mind would ask any line led by Tim Sestito to do so.
I will give this mention to Adam Henrique. He had three shots, he tried to make the best of a not-so-ideal line with Tuomo Ruutu and Steve Bernier. I can't say they were great, but I can't say they were abysmal either. So there's that. That said, Henrique's hold on Nyquist near the end of the game was just silly.
Seventh, The Headgear: I don't know what Darren Helm's nickname is, but he was a monster tonight. He had six shots on net. He was excellent - like most of the other Red Wings tonight - with Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist. He also had two goals to leave no doubt that he was great tonight. Let's go over them.
His first goal was a fortunate accident by Bernier. His second was just a great play by him, sandwiched by two bad plays by the Devils' defense. Zidlicky tried to get around Helm at the point, as he was successful earlier in the game against Drew Miller. He was not and Helm just took it away and darted up ice. Gelinas, who added another example of his array of awful defensive play, was just plain slow in trying to deny Helm. He fouled Helm because he couldn't make a play on the puck, as Helm had enough speed to get in front of #22. I would be fine with a penalty there if it actually denied Helm from getting a shot off. Instead, Helm stayed in front of Gelinas, stayed on his skaters, curled the puck back to protect it and then have enough strength to lift it past Schneider. Bad by #2 and #22, excellent by Helm. There's energy players, and then there's guys like Helm who ooze it when they do a lot of good things like he did tonight.
Eighth, The Main Lesson: Here's the main lesson I took away from tonight: Detroit is a way better team than a Pittsburgh team wrecked by illness and injury. As nice as Monday's win was, tonight proved that the team has a long way to go to be competitive against teams like Detroit. Fortunately, the Devils won't face Detroit for the rest of the season.
Ninth, The Site Note: Expect the Devils Month in Review on Monday, January 5. If only because I have to figure out who even was good throughout all of December.
Your Take: What was your main takeaway tonight? What should the Devils do to prepare for their next two games based on what was seen tonight? Who on Detroit impressed you the most: Helm? Zetterberg? Datsyuk? Nyquist? Howard for not sleeping in the third? Mike Babcock and Ken Holland? Does this loss even matter at this juncture?Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.