Stupid. That is the primary adjective to describe the effort by the New Jersey Devils tonight. A crowd of over 15,000 mostly paid money to see the Devils put out at least a competent effort. I am not one of those fans that expects and demands a winning effort. I don't think most fans are. But I want at least a competitive game. Instead, I got to witness players make simple errors repeatedly to the detriment to the Devils' cause and for the benefit of the Washington Capitals.
The goals they conceded speak to that. The Devils get pinned a bit early on, Andy Greene tried to pass it along to Michael Ryder, he missed and Karl Alzner took that, stepped in, and fired one past Cory Schneider. Not as bad as the others but not good, either. The eventual game winner was a highlight for Jay Beagle and a "burn-this-play" moment for Greene, Zubrus, and Schneider. After minutes of the Caps just controlling the game, Beagle gets played into the zone, torches Zubrus, gets past Greene who took a bad angle, and deked an over-aggressive Schneider for a score. The third goal was the dreaded power play goal. The situation caused by a needless grab by Eric Gelinas was well handled until about 22 seconds left. Evgeny Kuznetsov got the puck at the sideboards and had a lot of space. Greene never challenged him. Schneider was screened by Brooks Laich, who moved just as the shot came. Kuznetsov sniped one high shortside. The last goal was an empty netter from Laich, the finish of a play developed from a technically lost offensive zone faceoff. The puck went behind Adam Henrique, Laich out-muscled Zubrus to the puck, knocked it to Joel Ward, and then got it back in the neutral zone for the long shot goal. These weren't good goals to give up. These weren't good plays that led to the goals.
You may have noticed some common names. Greene amazingly was excellent in possession (which should be taken with a solitary grain of salt, I'll explain why a bit later) but in the situations where he was in his own end, the play turned costly. Zubrus created the Devils' lone goal on an excellent individual effort. Patrik Elias touched it in over Braden Holtby for the score. Yet, other than that and a few other shots, Zubrus had his moments of looking like a statue. As much work Schneider got, this was definitely not one of his better nights. He was rather lucky Tory Brouwer didn't make him look idiotic for going out to try and poke a loose puck away. These three are featured in the goal videos in a bad way.
Yet, stupidity can come from a team effort. The Devils' woes tonight extend far beyond 6, 8, and 35. Gelinas, who took the penalty the Caps converted on, was absolutely terrible in his own end of the rink. He struggled making passes to wide open teammates less than ten feet from him. He got his ankles broken early on a deke and struggled with speed all night long. He was often caught unaware of where he needed to be and what he needed to do. Jon Merrill had plenty of dubious decisions, such as playing the puck in his own end across or up the middle multiple times. Seth Helgeson resembled Bryce Salvador tonight. Marek Zidlicky, well, he was status quo with all warts involved. Combined with Greene getting burned on plays that resulted in goals against, this was decidedly not a good night for the Devils' blueline. I'm a bit more sympathetic for Damon Severson because he blocked a shot by Alex Ovechkin and was shaken up by it; but you'll note I didn't say he was good either.
But let's not ignore the forwards. When the defense struggles to get stops and move the puck out that isn't just throwing pucks away, the forwards have to help. In fact, I would argue that a big reason why the Devils have been so good in shot prevention before this season is because the forwards provided a lot of help. This did not happen for large parts of the first two periods.
Tonight, Michael Ryder played like he was Damien Brunner in Toronto from Thursday. At least four times, often after his teammates were chasing the puck in their own end, he just iced the puck. Straight up flung the puck to the other end of the rink. He played with such little care. Ryder lost pucks, missed passes, and just gave up on plays at times. He got three shots on net and drew a call, but he was largely a net negative tonight. He drew my ire often and plenty from the crowd.
Patrik Elias tipped in a goal Zubrus created and that would be it from him. He was a waste on the ice tonight, highlighted by his terrible passes that stalled a power play breakout in the third period that drew a lot of booing from the crowd. Elias' tip was his lone shot on net, he didn't create nearly as much as he could have with Jaromir Jagr and Zubrus. Jagr himself was trying to do too much, but that was easily missed when the Caps controlled the play since #68 and defense often don't go together. Scott Gomez was a non-factor unless you think easy passes to the points are enough to be called a "contribution." Adam Henrique may rue not scoring on a shorthanded breakaway in the second period; he really should be rueing his difficulty with getting pucks out of his own end and trying to get them on Holtby over most of the game. The bottom six didn't accomplish much, and how could they with the constant dump-ins as if Brent Sutter was behind the bench. Jacob Josefson should have been in the lineup tonight at least over Mike Sislo or Jordin Tootoo; but Josefson not being in the lineup would not have necessarily prevented the often careless or just plain dumb play by the other eleven forwards.
Keep in mind most of these players were positive in terms of possession tonight. Many of these players put up multiple shots on net. A glance at the numbers, especially in retrospect, would beg the question: "Aren't you being a bit harsh? Looks like they tried real hard and just didn't score. And Greene and Elias were possession studs at evens." Not so fast. The Devils did put up plenty of rubber on Holtby for the last six minutes of the first period and the entire third period. The former is indicative of good play. The latter can be summed up in two words: score effects. Out-shooting the Caps 15-4 when down two goals should be expected. The Caps had no reason to push forward and they were fine to do so. But even with such a margin in shots, it all felt lackluster. Plenty were from distance, others were directed right at Holtby, and the team faltered to do even more - like that wasted power play in the third that would have been a fantastic chance to get back in the game. But with the way the Devils were just flinging away pucks, it wasn't going to happen no matter how much the SOG counter rose. The crowd saw through it anyway.
Many of the Rock left early, they fled in droves after the ENGA, and those like me who were left were not happy. And why should we be? The team played stupid hockey and they deservedly lost to a team that played well. The Devils really only controlled the third period, which was when they were down and stayed down by at least two goals. Alex Ovechkin only got one shot on net; the Caps didn't need #8 to be the shot machine tonight. Beagle was very good. John Carlson was very good. Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, and Eric Fehr were good. No disrespect intended to the Caps but they weren't carried by their best players tonight. That speaks to how good of a team performance it was. And it wasn't like they did anything exotic or interesting. They took advantage of New Jersey's careless concessions and dubious decisions, got a big lead, and did what almost all teams do to the Devils on defense - keep a forward away from the cycle so when the puck eventually gets lost, they can retrieve it and get it out without much drama.
Oh, and there's injury to this insult of a performance. Mike Cammalleri left early in the third period. Not that Cammalleri was great but when a team needs offense, losing the team's leading goal scorer is a big blow. '
What an awful night for the Devils. It only makes me feel stupid for heading out to the Rock to see it in person.
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: The Peerless has the recap up at Japers' Rink. It was there I learned the Caps won two games in a row in regulation for the first time this season. Great. Just great.
The Game Highlights: The NHL.com video is here. Wince at the Beagle goal, just as I did live:
Look More Closely At the Corsi Charts: If you click on that link that goes to the Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts, scroll down to Devils - On-ice, click on the plus sign and then click on the box that says 'EV.' You'll see the Devils' Corsi at even strength, player-by-player. You'll notice that nearly everyone that wasn't named Helgeson, Sislo, or Tootoo was positive. Greene and Elias were especially positive. Now, please look to your right and compare it with shots for and against. You'll see a representation of the problem tonight: the Devils were present for a lot of attempts at even strength tonight, largely built on the strength of the third period. But many of those attempts didn't get on net, whereas the Caps did with theirs. So Greene, who was a +22 tonight, was only +7 in shots. Elias was +10 in attempts but only +3 in shots. This speaks to the lackluster offense that I saw in spite of the heavy shot count in the third period. While Natural Stat Trick doesn't split these up by period, I shudder to think what it looked like after the second period.
Wherein I Repeat a Stance on Coaching Because It Is Relevant: I wish I had a way of showing off some of those sweet missed passes to wide open Devils or some of Ryder's icings or the first minute of the Devils' second power play. It would be a good response to the "So is this all on DeBoer?" questions I get.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. DeBoer isn't going to last with these kinds of results. It's not a matter of if, but when at this point. It's not a matter if I think it's a good idea (I don't, I'll save that for a later post). But with performances like this, I really don't think a new coach isn't going to make it better. Execution remains the biggest problem with this team. That was on full display tonight. Sure, a night where everything goes wrong is bound to happen to any team. But the Devils have had too many poor efforts where this could be just shrugged off.
You Know Who I Miss?: Travis Zajac and Adam Larsson. Larsson in place of Helgeson or Merrill or Gelinas would have been wonderful. Zajac may not be well-liked among some fans, but I would welcome him with open arms at this point over Henrique or Elias. Both of them need to be lower down the lineup; let #19 do as he did against the toughs.
Self-Promotion: I've ranted about this game plenty enough and I think I made it clear what I think it was: stupid. But should you want to know more about what I think of the team as it stands, the site itself, me personally, or whatever else, I am hosting an Ask Me Anything at the Devils sub-reddit at 1 PM tomorrow. So there's that to look forward to before a Carolina-Chicago back-to-back set to start the coming week.
Your Take: Well, what did you think of tonight's latest mess of a season seemingly full of them? Was any Devil good tonight? Please leave your answers and thoughts about the loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and with the brief tweets on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.