You know, I am fully aware I write too many words about New Jersey Devils games. I could just be lazy, hit you with something short, and then post up additional posts of a click-bait nature in the Chere-ist of senses to stretch it out, and reap the no rewards from the extra hits. But I don't write for viewers. I don't write for hits. I sure as hell don't write for any real reward outside of the pride of a job well done. From the very beginning, I write my thoughts about the Devils and I happen to have a lot to say about them. I feel I owe it to you, dear reader, to provide a detailed recap that goes into how the game went beyond the basic boxscore and facts. That's why they run in the range of 2,000 words. That's why arguments come up over perhaps minute points. You are all Devils fans or people who want to know about the Devils, and so I want you to come away with this site having read some actual substance.
That being said, tonight's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins makes it real simple even for me. It's right in the headline. Cory Schneider was awesome. The rest of the New Jersey Devils sucked. Pittsburgh won in overtime in a game where they deserved to rout New Jersey.
I was chatting (loudly) to two guys next to me tonight: David and Greg. Greg is a reader. And he asked about the site and I made a point that a score doesn't always indicate how the game went. They both agreed. Tonight is a great example. A 1-2 OT loss suggests a close game. A competitive game decided by one shot in sudden death. Specifically a long shot by Simon Despres that got by Schneider thanks to a double-screen of Chris Kunitz and Marek Zidlicky. Throw in the fact that Chris Kunitz tied it all up in the final few minutes with a rebound power play goal, and you can even say the Devils blew another lead. That's what a straight reading of the score would suggest. And that would be wrong as David, Greg, I, and perhaps you know.
The reality was that the Devils played worse than they did on Wednesday night. That was a hideous game where neither team were all that successful at stringing passes and maintaining puck control. This was like that but with new horrible tweaks. For example, the Devils had problems with defensive zone passes with no pressure tonight. For another example, the defensive effort largely consisted of guys in red being late to cover guys in white or standing about waiting for Schneider to make a save so they can softly clear the puck. (Aside for co-coach Scott Stevens, if this is your idea of defense, then get some new ideas.) For a third example, if the Devils got past the red line with the puck, way more often than not the decision by the puck carrier was to dump the puck. Unsurprisingly, the Devils often did not win the puck back. (Aside for co-coach Adam Oates, please tell the players to stop doing this. Especially when it's not working.) Pittsburgh, as a team, were (are?) worlds better than Toronto at moving and controlling the puck. They took every chipped, cleared, and coughed-up puck and turned it into another challenge for Schneider. Hence, they looked faster, crisper, and smarter; they were all the better for it, despite Schneider's absolutely impressive efforts.
The result of that was the ugly-as-sin shot count, which speaks more to how the game really went than the scoreboard. The final tally: 14 for the Devils and 43 for the Penguins. That is not a typo. The Devils got out-shot by about a 3:1 ratio - and this happened throughout the game. I cringed when I visited Natural Stat Trick and learned the Devils were out-attempted 23-63 all game, 20-55 at even strength, and the "best" Devil player at evens was still rocking a 35% Corsi. The Penguins were awesome but they didn't have to do anything really flashy. They kept it simple and kept taking advantage to all the pucks the Devils gave them. To say the overall play by the Devils skaters was excremental would be an understatement. In fact, watching this game as a Devils fan and even as a hockey fan, the Devils' performance was equal parts depressing and infuriating.
For the latter, I was not mad when Kunitz put home a rebound on a power play (thanks to Peter Harrold high-sticking Steve Downie off a faceoff). I was not mad when Despres won it in OT. I was mad that the Penguins didn't blow the Devils away as their play deserved. This should've been a 1-7 loss where there was no silver lining for the Devils, no exceptional performances or close score to make one think "Hey, it wasn't that bad." To say or write something like that would imply the performance deserves some praise. That they did something right. With the sole exception of Cory Schneider, who was magnificent in keeping this game close when it didn't deserve to be close, nobody on the Devils deserves praise. Not even Steve Bernier, the lone goal scorer. More on his goal later on in this recap. But I'm not providing that silver lining. You can do that, but I'm not. Not tonight. Not after paying money, time, and energy to watch what I saw at The Rock tonight.
For the former, I wondered how witnessing the Devils' performance was doing to my soul. It was that painful to watch at times, enough to briefly think about whether watching this team is worth it. Like, there could be more productive things to do such as wondering what the ends of your shoelaces should be called instead of watching a performance like this one from the Devils. Brief thoughts, I'm not giving up. I've watched enough hockey games to know that bad ones can, do, and will happen. To say the Devils were just bad would almost be a compliment. Yet, this is not the first game this season where the Devils skaters looked like scrubs and struggled with the fundamentals of the game. There have been many and I'm not seeing any improvement. Not with more practices, not with the good feeling of coming off a win, not with new coaches, or any of that. Spare me any statements about how the young guys need to play to get better or how the old guys need better chemistry or whatever. Passing the puck from stick to another is not something that comes with experience. It's a basic component to any game plan. And the Devils were horrible tonight at it and have been relatively awful all season at that basic component in spite of all of the practice, ice time, and so forth. So when or even how can this get better - if only so I can see some competent hockey from the Devils? When the opponent is also bad at controlling the puck, unlike Pittsburgh tonight? How much more of this can anyone - players, coaches, owners, broadcasters, fans - take?
Now that I have that out of my system, I assure you that I'm not going anywhere and I'll still be recapping games as I have been. Because I think you deserve it even when the Devils - except Schneider - play like they don't deserve your money, your time, or your attention.
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 (And the Lone Devils Goal): Hooks Orpik has this recap at PensBurgh. He's too nice to the Devils. He wrote:
And even though the Penguins had suppressed the Devils shots, Jersey got on the board 6 minutes into the third period after Steve Bernier skated around Robert Bortuzzo, then Scott Harrington and Marc-Andre Fleury were playing some sort of centering pass (even though no Devil was there) enabling Bernier to score a wrap-around goal. All three Pens on that sequence were sloppy. As we've seen time and again, slip your guard for one second on New Jersey, and they make you pay.
The goal was the Devils' tenth shot of game and scored a little over six minutes into the third period. The Devils didn't make the Penguins pay for an error in so much that Bernier stumbled into a goal. He was going to just dump the puck in because that's his instruction but the dump-in got denied by a linesman. The puck fluttered forward so Bernier took a chance and went for the wrap. It was a bizarre goal in that a Devil took a puck, went towards the net, and tried to do something after two periods of anything like that being a rare occurrence. With the Devils still being out shot by a 3:1 ratio, I assure you Hooks Orpik, the guard was slipping over and over by the home team. That was just a bad moment by the clearly superior team.
The Game Highlights: Cory Schneider ruled these highlights in this video from NHL.com:
Cory Deserved and Deserves Better: I am going to struggle to try and name a better candidate for Devil of the Month just on this night alone. Schneider faced 43 shots out of 63 attempts and these weren't weak ones. He was excellent going post-to-post. He robbed Penguins left and right. He was only beaten on a rebound with no thanks to his penalty killers just letting Kunitz hang out in the slot and a shot he didn't see, no thanks in part to the most maddening defenseman on the team. Schneider absolutely stole a point tonight and clearly deserved anything better. Anyone who feels he should be moved or that he's not all that great should watch his performance tonight and then try to honestly feel that way again. In fact, if he wanted to beat up one of his defenders just for having another exceptional night turn into anything but a 'W,' I may not support it but I would totally understand where he would be coming from. That's how good he was in light of how bad the rest of the team was this evening. Once again, #35 proved that he is the guy in the crease this organization needs to build around. Now they just have to, you know, build something.
Call Them Evils Since There Wasn't Really a 'D' Tonight: The Devils' defense tonight was porous at best. No, no defenseman had a good game. Not when 43 shots out of 63 attempts were taken. Not when the turnovers were frequent, the breakouts were broken, and their main contributions are being a second too late and a clearance too short. Andy Greene couldn't keep up. Adam Larsson looked like he did last season. Zidlicky contributed very little offense, his passing stunk, his positioning stunk, and seeing him cruise in his own end makes me wonder why anyone would want #2 by the trade deadline. Mark Fraser proved he is an AHL-caliber defenseman. Peter Harrold provided New Jersey's first shot, first power play, their last penalty kill that yielded their first goal against tonight in between getting hammered into the boards. Jon Merrill was slow, terrible, and unaware. As a whole, it didn't appear these guys were talking to each other much less with the forwards, who were spotty at best with their help. It was abysmal as you'd expect from a game that ended with a shot count of 14-43.
Eric Gelinas was a healthy scratch. I don't believe for a second that he would've changed much from this performance. I don't believe that he would have somehow grown as a player had he played tonight. That said, I doubt he would have made the defense that much worse tonight if he played.
Backwards: That is the opposite of forwards and they were equally miserable. The unit of Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, and Martin Havlat may have looked the least bad on Wednesday. They were just bad tonight, though Elias came really close to scoring #400 tonight. That would've been a laugh tonight but it was almost there. Jaromir Jagr had moments of legitimate "I'm going to make something work" efforts but he was largely a passenger again. As was Adam Henrique, minus those efforts. Scott Gomez frustrated the fanbase worldwide with his career-long tendency to literally pass up open shots. He would have two, but he could have easily had more if he wasn't, you know, Scott Gomez. Dainius Zubrus similarly frustrated them with an offensive zone holding penalty and an offensive zone cross-checking penalty in a beef with Kris Letang to go with his do-nothing-much game. Bernier was like that except replace the penalties with the goal. Mike Cammalleri was wasted again on his line. The fourths were made to look like fourths on defense as they provided no energy. 14 shots, one goal created in part by a linesman denying the umpteenth dump-in of the night, and a lot of bad positioning and passes. They also didn't make the most of a two minute long 5-on-3, but with only twelve shots outside of those two minutes, that's rather low on my list of complaints from tonight.
As with Eric Gelinas, Michael Ryder was a healthy scratch. As with Gelinas, I don't believe for a second that he would've changed much from this performance. Unlike Gelinas, there were plenty of Ryder impressions at both ends of the rink from the forwards.
Penguins Power: Kris Letang and Simon Despres were bosses. All of the Penguins' defensemen were solid to great tonight, particularly at keeping pucks in the zone to continue the offense. Even Robert Bortuzzo made an impact. But these two fired a lot of rubber on net to go with pushing the play forward over and over. Despres got the overtime winner and Letang had a hand in both goals.
Among forwards, Sidney Crosby got David Perron with Chris Kunitz on a regular shift and those three were the most dominant in a dominating performance by the team. #87 (Crosby) and appeared to be everywhere, constantly in motion but always finding their way to be in a dangerous position to attack. Crosby would make his mark by taking the shot that Kunitz put back for the equalizer. I want to give notice to Brandon Sutter and Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist seemed ever present like Crosby was and he put a lot on net. Sutter was very effective going forward, nearly won the game in overtime before Schneider robbed him, and got the primary on Despres' goal. They both stood out to me in a game where just about every Penguin was good to amazing.
I even have to give some credit to Steve Downie. He may have taken a coinciding penalty with Maxim Lapierre that could have been real costly. It wasn't, though it provided one of the few moments of the game where the Devils connected three passes in a row. Yet, he went on to have a productive game with four shots out of six attempts. For someone in a limited role, that provides more energy than trying to foul someone hard. He even got hit with the high-stick by Harrold that led to the equalizer. That's how good the Penguins were tonight, even Downie ended up contributing more than costing his team.
Your Take: The Sun will be up tomorrow, there will be another game, and I can only hope and pray the Devils play anything resembling decent hockey against Florida. Now that you got my extended thoughts from this one, what's your take from this one? What's there for the team to really learn from in time for the Florida game? 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.