October 5, 2014: the New Jersey Devils lost their first shootout of the season against the New York Islanders. They scored no goals. March 29, 2014: the New Jersey Devils lost their tenth shootout of the season against the New York Islanders. They also scored no goals. I don't even have an answer as to what the Devils could do differently. The goaltending could be far better. Cory Schneider was not good in the shootout. The shooters have to score. They did not score, not even trying to get a big goaltender like Anders Nilsson to go low. One goal over ten shootouts. I am so looking forward to the next Devils head coach get praised for doing nothing if/when the Devils win a shootout as well as clamoring to overpay for a "shootout specialist" this summer.
The root cause of any shootout was a tie game after 65 minutes. The Devils and Islanders played to a 1-1 tie. The first was heavily in favor of the Isles. They played an aggressive, physical, up-tempo game and kept winning pucks from it. They out-shot the Devils 9-2. But the Devils' quality bore out in subsequent periods as well as overtime. They out-shot the Isles 18-10 in the remaining two periods in regulation. While a fluke goal got by Cory Schneider in the second, Adam Henrique responded with a rebound goal past Nilsson to make it 1-1. The Devils pushed for more and better chances. They had three power plays in the second. They really put the Isles to the sword in overtime with four rather good shots to the Isles' lone on-target shot.
Re-read the previous paragraph. The Devils definitely put in the effort to break the deadlock within sixty and then sixty-five minutes. Plenty of decisions undercut them tonight. Their three power plays generated three shots despite actually getting set up at times. The Devils skaters passed up plenty of good shooting lanes in the hopes for something better that often didn't develop. Whether it was a bad pass or a chip in the ice or an Islander making a defensive play, there was a lot to be left desired. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, the accuracy was just poor. The Devils did end up out-attempting the Isles 59-50. The Devils only out-shot them 24-20. Maybe the Isles' scorer is generous, but it's never good to see the line of 24 shots, 21 attempts blocked, and 13 misses. That's a big reason why watching the Devils attack was such an exercise in frustration at times.
I can't help but think if the Devils just dumbed things down and just attempted to crash the net more often, then they would have found their second goal. Henrique got a fortunate bounce off a defenseman's skate to get the puck, but he charged in, put a shot on Nilsson's right as the goalie was sliding, and tapped in the rebound that went left. Nilsson struggled with the puck up close at times. The Isles with their young team was certainly aggressive but any time there's chaos in front, there could have found that one glorious chance. Overtime was far better with the extra space, but Nilsson made the important stops.
Again, I wonder "what if" as the Devils dropped another shootout. Just as we all wonder "what if" the Devils scored a shootout goal. Or won a shootout. Or won a few shootouts.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik has this short recap over at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights from tonight's game:
3-0-1: Before continuing, I do have to praise the opposition. As you'll notice in tomorrow's Metropolitan Division snapshot, the Isles had a really good week. They shutout Columbus, they beat Carolina in a goal fest, and they only lost to Tampa Bay in a long shootout. For all of the talk about how many young players and minor league players they had, they certainly have been playing well. If their game plan was to be as in-your-face as possible, then they obviously succeeded. They threw a lot of bodies in the first period and came up with the puck, which is usually the other way around as teams without the puck has to throw the hits. A lot of Isles in their own stepped up for blocks and often got them. It's a dangerous game to focus on both, but it paid off in their own way. They held on at the end and were able to pour more misery on the one thing the Devils have been absolute failures at this season. They did their job. Please consider that before you discount them as an "AHL team" or "just the Islanders."
Fluke GA: Despite all of the pressure the Isles brought onto the Devils in the first period, they got a lucky break for their lone goal in regulation. Frans Nielsen came in from the left wing with the puck and Patrik Elias was backchecking to get him. Peter Harrold was dropping in the middle with Anders Lee. Nielsen attempts a shot (or maybe a pass). Harrold does the right thing and immediately tries to fling it away. Elias followed Nielsen as to make sure he doesn't get a free chance at a rebound, which is the right thing. In hockey, sometimes doing the right thing goes wrong. Harrold's clearing attempt goes off Elias' shin pad and past Schneider. A total accident. Those sort of events will happen to any team - just ask Anaheim about how that OT ended against the Devils in November. The problem for New Jersey is that goal scoring has been such a premium that it was a concern whether there would be a response. There was that, at least.
Offensive Players I'm Not Blaming: Adam Henrique and Jaromir Jagr each had five shots on net. When two players combine for nearly 40% of the team's shots, then there are at least two conclusions. First, they're not the problem. Second, it raises a lot of questions about the other players. Jagr may have pivoted to attempt a few too many turnaround passes and he got blocked a few times, but I'm more forgiving how many he did get on net. The Devils were often in the Isles' end when he was out there at evens; yet another solid performance from Jagr, Zajac (who sadly hit the post in the second), and Tuomo Ruutu from a possession standpoint but no point from it. Henrique got a goal with his five shots; Damien Brunner created a few good ones for him.
The larger issue tonight was the lack of others involved. Zajac only got one of his six attempts on net. The D combined for seven shots but attempted many more. Marek Zidlicky was trying one too many moves at times. I wished Jon Merrill had taken more initiative with the puck. Nothing from Ryane Clowe, Dainius Zubrus, Damien Brunner (a little more forgivable given his feeding to Henrique), Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter, and Stephen Gionta hurt. Not that all of those guys need to be leaned on for offense, but a few shots from that bunch could have really helped tonight.
What of Elias?: Elias was actually the worst Devil tonight in possession at 6-13. He didn't have a solid match up, but things went south at evens. The weird thing about it is that the most common forwards he faced were also below 50% in terms of possession. Maybe he was just out there for some wrong place, wrong time shifts. It would be cool if he learned a new shootout move too but that's asking for the moon at this point.
Fourth Liners Doing Things for the Home Team: the Isles fourth line was remarkably effective tonight. Right from their first shift when Mike Halmo rocked Jon Merrill with an open ice hit to free up a puck and open up a close one-timer for Casey Cizikas and onward, they were a positive force. Halmo and Cizikas got two shots tonight and Johan Sundstrom "drew" a penalty from Ryan Carter. They didn't give up many shots, much less big ones. That's always a good night for two playing limited minutes. Cizikas played far more than both of them, presumably a reward Jack Capuano for his play.
What of Gelinas?: Eric Gelinas played a regular shift in the first two periods. He was benched for the entire third period. I don't know why. I don't think he did anything horrible in the second period. I would have liked to have seen him shoot more on those power plays but he wasn't awful by any means. Then overtime begins, he's out there, and he nearly coughs it up right to a forechecking Islander right from the get-go. He struggled with forecheckers, but he did manage to get the puck out, up on offense, and took a very good shot I hoped would have gone in. Maybe he was benched for not being all that good in those two periods? He was negative in possession but not a lot of events happened when he was out there. Still, to stay benched even when a defenseman got hurt speaks volumes. Did you see anything he did or didn't do that would warrant such a move? And what does it say that the Devils' defense was still stout with effectively four defensemen being used to play out the third?
Ouch: Jon Merrill left the game int he third period when he tried to block a shot from Travis Hamonic off the rush. The puck deflected off his stick and right in his jaw. There was blood, there was pain, and he did not return. I hope he feels better soon.
Before you start getting excited about a certain defender being called up, Bryce Salvador is apparently "fine" per this post by Tom Gulitti before this game.
Speaking of players lost for the game, Stephen Gionta also left the game during the third period. I thought was an equipment issue, but he left and did not return after his second shift in the third. I don't recall seeing him getting hit or seeing something turn or look off. Hopefully he's not too hurt either.
Cory Good for 65 And Then...: Schneider was excellent tonight. The Devils needed him to be excellent as the Isles heavily out-shot the Devils in the first period. The only goal that got past him was off an unfortunate fluke. He was just great elsewhere, even when the Devils put him a tough spot like a shorthanded breakaway (OK, Brunner wasn't much forgivable on that play) or a make-shift two-on-one because Clowe wanted to hit someone. The only part of the night he was bad was in the shootout. That goal conceded to Brock Nelson was just bad. Then again, he could've stood on his head and it wouldn't have mattered since the Devils yet again didn't score in the shootout.
Was This The Season?: I felt so when the Devils lost to Our Hated Rivals. Their fate was probably decided prior to that. This could very well end up being a critical nail in the proverbial coffin. Ten points left on the table. I don't even want to talk about it anymore. I will tomorrow on Talking Red anyway. (Insert "DeBoer was stupid to not pick (any other Devils player who hasn't scored in the shootout this season)" comment.)
Your Take: The Devils lost another shootout, this time to the Islanders. What do you have to say? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks to those who commented during the game and followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.