On Friday, the New Jersey Devils laid it all out on the ice in a 2-1 win over Washington where they had only fifteen active skaters by the end. They followed that up with a similarly gutsy performance, a 3-1 win over Carolina. While without Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, and Ryane Clowe among others, there was reason to believe the Devils can compete. That they would not end the season without a fight. They would put in the effort and at least make the games with a fainting hope of meaning something. Tonight, the Devils did that against the Calgary Flames. They put in the effort. They out-worked the Flames. Overall, they controlled the play even with the less-than-ideal-due-to-injury lineup they had in Carolina. There was just one problem: they didn't score any goals. Calgary got one and that was enough.
This wasn't like other shutout losses where the Devils got licked and essentially played second-rate hockey. This was a Devils team that broke 30 shots, something they don't do all that often. Granted, they got to 21 by the halfway mark of regulation so they could have - and in retrospect should have - had more on net. Karri Ramo, Calgary's starter and probably the only guy who hasn't been worse than Martin Brodeur among the Flames' goalies, played an incredible game. He made all of the stops, including the ones the Devils' scorer didn't count. He got lucky too. Ryan Carter had a goal waved off due to a kicking motion and a lack of indisputable evidence. There were nearly two goals by pucks deflecting off Calgary defenders' skates. Michael Ryder had a carom go off the post late. One puck looked like it was going to drop in the second period only to die on the goal line and cleared out. Ramo had to stretch, had to react quickly, and had to hope for the best. He had it all and so his second career NHL shutout was his.
As for the Devils, this was their tenth shutout loss of the season. Insert standard complaint about not scoring enough goals here. On my way home on the train, I kept wondering what it was I just saw. The Devils really didn't play that much differently from what they did in their prior two games. They had the better of possession and shots. They showed more energy. They forced Calgary to invoke the Tortorella defense, which may have accounted for the myriad of Devils attempting wide, long, and around-the-net plays. Cory Schneider played quite well. They got into penalty trouble and it hurt their cause. The difference between tonight and those games was the result. Then, the Devils got enough goals against Halak and Khudobin and held on to win. Tonight, Devils got no goals against Ramo. So does that mean they didn't work, play hard, and so forth? I don't think so. I'd be lying if I said they didn't. But to turn a phrase, if you don't get the results, you don't get the results. And it's a results-oriented business.
Technically, the Devils aren't out yet but I don't think there are too many believers now. For the past few weeks I figured they were out anyhow. It would have been fun to at least have a little left for these last few games. But if Columbus does their job and some other teams do so, then it would've been for naught anyway. I also thought about what I wrote way back in September as a prediction for this season. I thought the Devils would have grabbed a wild card spot and finished fourth in the division; but I also said they'd ride of a knife's edge to be here. As much as some will focus on losses to lesser teams, the Devils are paying the price for all of their failings from October until now. From the long winless streak to start the season to the inability to string even three wins in a row more than once (tonight was another failure in that regard) to treading water with mediocre records month after month after month. It's not just losing to Calgary 0-1 or getting shutout ten times or dropping eleven points by shootouts; it's all of it.
I'm not going to lie to you and say this loss doesn't feel bad. I'm not exactly thrilled about writing these as much as you are about reading them. I'm also not going to lie to you and say the Devils played badly or anything like that. Possession isn't an excuse, it's the result of all of the things a team does in a game. The Devils did do many things right and expected from a team to win a hockey game. However, doing the right things doesn't necessarily mean you get the right result in hockey, sport, and perhaps even life. Tonight was just another harsh example.
The Opposition Opinion: Kevin Kraczkowski at Matchsticks & Gasoline has this recap should you want a Flames perspective.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights for this game:
Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh: Per Extra Skater's Game Stats. Devils out-shot the Flames 31-22 and 26-17 in 5-on-5 play. Attempts were 52-35 overall, 44-22 in 5-on-5 play. Again, the Devils bossed Calgary around. Yet, that doesn't guarantee a goal. For some, this means the Devils should, I don't know, get bossed around and somehow miracle a score like Toronto? I don't know.
The One Goal: The Devils took multiple penalties and the last one was the one that did the damage. Jon Merrill slashed Kenny Agostino in the side while Agostino had a breakaway. The Devils did a very good job on the penalty kill until the very end at the start of the third period. Mike Cammalleri dumped it in. The puck eluded (or got knocked away by) Sean Monahan and Mark Fayne. Jiri Hudler picked it up, passed it back to Mark Giordano, who hammered in a wobbling puck. That was the goal.
Perhaps Cory Schneider should have stopped it as it appeared to be a clear shot. Perhaps the forwards on the kill - Stephen Gionta and Travis Zajac - should have been more aware of where Calgary's other skaters were as they were out of sorts. Perhaps Merrill shouldn't whack a guy who's well ahead of him on a breakaway.
Sadly, the PK was having an otherwise very good night. They killed a four-minute high sticking minor by Ryan Carter with poise; helped out by Ramo throwing a puck over the glass with about a minute left. They killed a later interference call by Carter, an ultimately unnecessary hit to deny Cammalleri a tiny chance at a breakaway as Fayne scooped up a loose puck.
De-Railed: I'm not sure exactly what happened, but Anton Volchenkov didn't play at all in the third period. Eric Gelinas lined up on defense in the third for, well, little success. I suspect injury, which should mean those who wanted to see Adam Larsson in the lineup will get to see him rather soon.
The Slump: Jaromir Jagr dominated in possession, put up four shots, and pivoted around Calgary skaters countless times. No points in his last four games as a result. Like the team tonight, there is no doubt he was trying to break through. He took four shots, only Andy Greene had more with six. He stayed on for shifts to attack like a certain former #17 and it nearly paid off. He did what he could. Could he have done more in retrospect? Yeah, I don't know why he decided to pull that wraparound manuever Marek Zidlicky likes to do at least once a game a bunch of times. But even the top talent runs into cold streaks and, well, it appears Jagr's in one now.
Where Was The Truth?: Gelinas amazingly was not on the ice for a single shot for in 5-on-5 play. His usage at forward was limited (and for the best, the make-shift fourths were the only line not to beat on Calgary in attempt differential) but he got more ice time on D due to Volchenkov's injury plus the need for offense as the third went on. He registered no shots on net in any situation; only three attempts total. While the Devils did hit Ramo from all over the place, a blistering slapshot from distance would have been real nice. Alas, it was not there.
Impressive: As much as Calgary collapsed down a low over and over and over like a certain NY team, I have to give credit to Giordano, Kris Russell, and T.J. Brodin. I didn't know much about these three. They got to play a lot in their end tonight as each played over 25 minutes each. They made a lot of crucial interceptions, interventions, and defensive stops. While the Devils put up a lot (for them) on Ramo, they made it difficult - especially near the end of the game. I do think the Devils thought a bit too much when they should've been throwing anything and everything towards the net; a little too much of "look, look again, and then pass." But they helped make that happen. Normally, a defender getting wrecked in possession usually means they're in over their heads. But I have to say these three did very well.
Yes, This Was Ramo's Best Game: He did have one shutout earlier, but I'm going to bet on the 31-save performance is above the 23-save performance against Carolina back in January. I really hope so, at least.
A Thought: Prior to the Washington game, I got the fortune to meet and chat with Ryan. He noted that many of the Devils forwards in the top nine are already under contract for 2014-15. As much as many fans will likely be glad or at least not unhappy to see Peter DeBoer go, I don't see how a different coach makes this crew shoot and score more. Tonight, the game plan was very successful. But the coach - who will ultimately pay for too many games like this one - can't make them score. The season's not over yet, but this is going to be a sticking point for this summer. Might as well bring it up now while I was thinking about it after the team's tenth shutout loss.
One More Thing: The team record for shutout losses is 11. I really, really hope that doesn't get tied in these last three games.
Your Take: Well, I want to know your take about this game. This is where I normally ask questions to tease some of you into thinking about certain aspects of the game. I don't think I have to for this one. It's pretty clear what the main points are: Devils attacked, didn't score a single goal, lost another game due to goalscoring problems. So please leave your thoughts in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread as well as the one tweet with @InLouWeTrust followed by a corrected tweet (I thought the loss was the team's ninth shut out loss, no, it's ten). Thank you for reading and I hope you stick around for at least the next three games if not throughout the impending offseason.