Over and over this season, the New Jersey Devils have been on the losing end of a lot of games where the opponent moves the puck effectively, controls the puck often, defends the middle very well, anticipates counter-attacks, and forechecks aggressively. In these games, the opponent speeds along like an ocelot, the Devils look slow as snails, the opponent puts up loads of shots and shooting attempts, the Devils' offense seems non-existent for long stretches, and the result is the same: a loss. A well-deserved loss. Tonight, was yet another example. The opponent were the Anaheim Ducks. The Devils were out-shot 15-40. The final score was 1-5.
There was a twist tonight, and it's a bad one. Cory Schneider got hurt in the first period. He appeared to have been stung in the right shoulder by a hard shot by Matt Beleskey. Schneider would play the rest of the first and make fourteen saves out of fifteen shots. He was replaced by Keith Kinkaid in the second period and was not on the bench. Kinkaid definitely felt the pain of the Devils' awful play with four goals against. He made plenty of good saves, certainly. But there was just too much by the dominating Ducks. However, this injury is a significant loss - even more than the currently-ill Jaromir Jagr. Schneider was the key player preventing the Devils from falling in with the awful crowd of Phoenix, Philadelphia, Carolina, Edmonton, and Buffalo. Schneider (and Kinkaid) would keep the Devils in (some) games they should've been blown out from the start. So adding to the insult that was witnessing this game live was this injury.
There is a silver lining with that. According to what Tom Gulitti tweeted as I write this, Schneider did not need X-rays and is "feeling better now." That gives me hope that it's only a minor injury. Kinkaid can certainly get the last game on this trip. With the long break coming up after Monday, Schneider could be back after the All-Star break. However, presuming my hope is correct, it's small solace on a night where the only other positives I can name from the Devils' performance was that they weren't shutout (thank you for the humongous big five-hole, Ilya Bryzgalov) and the team actually attacked in the third period.
Please credit the Ducks. I know I wrote a preview where I pointed out that they were good but not elite, but they looked elite tonight. They played like I expected the Kings to play on Wednesday, in fact. Unlike the Kings, the Ducks hit most of their passes. Unlike the Kings, there were very few Devils open by the crease. Unlike the Kings, the Ducks put the Devils to the sword early, often, and with aggression. Unlike the Kings, the Devils were forced to chip, clear, and chuck pucks away instead of trying to generate anything going forward. Forty shots against and sixty-nine shooting attempts speak to that. A mere six shots out of eighteen shooting attempts in the first two periods also speak to that. In short, the Ducks played a fantastic game and they made the most of the poor effort by the Devils. Like many games this season, the Ducks looked like world beaters and the Devils looked like scrubs.
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 War on Ice Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Check out the storystream at Anaheim Calling for their coverage of tonight's game.
The Game Highlights: This is the mostly-Ducks highlight video since, well, they bossed the Devils around tonight. Here's the video from NHL.com:
The Other Potential Injury: With all due respect to the player, the Devils may have a second player going to the shelf after this one. Martin Havlat's left hand by a shot by Patrik Elias during a second period power play. Havlat immediately dropped his glove and his stick, skated to the bench, and headed down the locker room tunnel. Havlat would return to the game and did play in the third period. That said, I'm sure that wrist is going to be evaluated further.
It's definitely bad news in that the Devils need another forward injured like one needs a hole in their head. But Havlat has actually been effective recently. He was good against the Kings. He scored the lone goal for the Devils tonight, he put a puck off the inside of Bryzgalov's right pad (again, humongous big five-hole) to convert a power play. He had three shots out of five attempts and he was part of the Devils' most effective line tonight: Havlat, Travis Zajac, and Patrik Elias. While Havlat's commitment to defense remains a massive question mark, these are contributions I can live with. (Aside: Similarly, Michael Ryder had four shots. He did nothing much outside of them, but he's at least shooting. Insert a shrug here.) Certainly, they would keep him in the lineup. An injury may prevent that, though.
This Isn't a First Line, That Is: Scott Gomez, Adam Henrique, and Steve Bernier got wrecked by every line by the Ducks from a possession and by-eye standpoint. They combined for two shots all game and they were just a mess defensively. In general, I wasn't pleased with the forwards backchecking. Plenty of Ducks got open for shots because a forward was just behind in their positioning or they focused too much on the puck and not the man near him. But the Gomez line got mauled.
As for the opposition, there can be few complaints from the Ducks' faithful about their top line. Corey Perry got another goal when he sent what I saw as a pass to the top of the crease and Schneider tried to block it - only for it to go off the heel of his stick and get past him. An error by Schneider, sure, but Perry was a constant thorn in the side of the Devils with four other shots and five other attempts. Ryan Getzlaf got an assist and put up four more shots. Patrick Maroon got four total shots, an assist, and beat Kinkaid straight up in the third period for a goal. That was a unit that attacked, attacked, and attacked some more while putting up 40% of his team's goals. Another sign of how this game was: these three were brilliant. The Gomez line clearly is not a first line, they can't pretend to be one without Jagr, and it showed tonight.
Find Me Another Lining: As the Devils conceded forty shots, I can't say the defense was good. Of course they weren't good. They got picked apart. I will say that Andy Greene and Adam Larsson again looked head and shoulders above the rest of the blueline. It was easy to see given how the rest got mauled. It was another night where Mark Fraser proved he doesn't belong in the NHL. Another night where if an opponent forces Marek Zidlicky to defend a lot, then Zidlicky's usefulness drops like a stone. Another night where I don't know what to think about Jon Merrill. Another night where Peter Harrold is still getting rocked by hits instead of making plays. I can't wait for Eric Gelinas to return to replace at least Fraser, and that's with his own deficiencies in mind. So it's easy for 5-6 to look good with those behind them. But they also looked OK despite playing much of the game in their own end of the rink.
X Factored: In my preview, I noted Jakob Silfverberg as a potential X-factor. He has been a prolific shooter for the Ducks, but only had four goals. He made his mark tonight. He got the re-direction on an Andrew Cogliano wraparound attempt for a goal. But Silfverberg also scored a second, more intentional goal. He hammered a one-timer set-up very well by Hampus Lindholm past Kinkaid's left to convert a late power play. True to what he has done this season, these goals were part of a four-shot, eight-attempt night. If I'm a Ducks fan, I'm additionally pleased that Silfverberg lit the lamp in this massive win. Some better luck in the shooting percentage department for him would make the Ducks a more dangerous team on offense.
An Oasis of Competency: The first and second periods were absolutely hideous to watch from a Devils standpoint. It was forty minutes largely consisting of the Ducks getting the puck, the Ducks having the puck, and the Ducks almost immediately getting the puck back when they didn't have it. So seeing Zajac getting an early shot in the third and a couple of shifts where the Devils pinned the Ducks back was welcoming. It was like someone told the players they were down two goals and had little to lose, so why not go for it? There was that. But it was too little, too late. The Ducks handled the small surge well as they were only out-attempted by two and still out-shot the Devils 13-9. That speaks to how well they played tonight in addition to just being a good team.
By the by, the fight that Tim Sestito had in the third came in the middle of this. It did nothing to change the course of the game, though he did get the rare minor penalty for instigation and a not-as-rare misconduct penalty for the fight. So the Devils had to kill a penalty instead of trying to make it a one-shot game. The Devils at least killed that one.
The PK was largely successful, save for the last one. It's hard to be unhappy about that one as the game was already lost at that point.
One Last Bit of Praise for the Ducks: I was really, really impressed by Hampus Lindholm tonight. He scored an excellent goal to put the Ducks ahead, he set up Silfverberg's power play goal, and he was very good defending whatever little offense the Devils mounted over the whole game. Don't get me wrong, Cam Fowler looked good, Francois Beauchemin looked good, Ben Lovejoy looked good, and so forth. But Lindholm stood out and not just because he hit the scoresheet. He rarely made a really poor play tonight.
Was It Really Bad?: Yeah. This team isn't turning corners unless the corner is a really bad hockey team or an otherwise good hockey team having an off night. Funny how that's the case.
Your Take: If you stayed up to watch this game like I did, then I'm sorry. What did you make of this game if you did see it? Who impressed you the most on the Ducks? Did you get a constant feeling of deja vu from how this game transpired? If you didn't see it, then I don't blame you. But please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.