For the majority of this game, the New Jersey Devils were clearly better than the Columbus Blue Jackets. Yet, a flurry of three goals in the third period was enough for the Blue Jackets to just put the Devils in too deep of a hole to get out of. The home team mustered one consolation power play goal to at least be glad they did not get shutout by one of the most struggling goalies in the NHL. Columbus got their second win of the season by ending the Devils' four-game winning streak. The 1-3 loss was another reminder that hockey is not necessarily fair.
I will say that the Devils have no one to blame on this loss but themselves. Despite the game being low in terms of attempts and shots, the Devils were far and away ahead in both categories. They out-attempted Columbus 40-25. They out-shot them 24-14. The Blue Jackets were held to fewer than ten shots in the first two periods. The first period featured, what, five zone entries by Columbus? Maybe not even that? In contrast, all eleven forwards had plenty of zone time in Columbus' end of the rink. Even a more lively start from Columbus was stemmed and the Devils did just a bit more than them on the attack in the second period. Yet, one can't expect a defense to be absolutely perfect and one can't win without any goals whatsoever. Both led to this loss.
Between the two, I'm more annoyed with the latter. The Devils were absolutely fast, attacking, and supportive in the first twenty minutes. Yet, Sergei Bobrovsky only faced eight shots. There were some dangerous sharp angled shots. There was plenty of shifts with pressure where Columbus just didn't know what way was up sometimes. The Devils' passing through the neutral zone was as good as one could ask for. All of that resulted in eight shots and one-and-nearly-a-half wasted power play opportunities. Bobrovsky came into this game with a save percentage of roughly 85% - which wouldn't even be good in the early 1990s - and the Devils didn't exactly challenge him. I called challenging him the goal for this game in my preview. For once, my goal turned out to be true - and not in how I would have hoped.
There were several instances where perfectly good shots and perfectly good shooting lanes were unrealized either due to making an extra pass or hesitating to get the shot off. Again, a goalie this cold needs to be bombarded. The one goal the Devils did score was Kyle Palmieri cutting in to slam in a rebound off an angled shot by Jiri Tlusty. if there was a time to just fire away, this was the night. That didn't happen. For all of the advantages of possession through the most of the first two periods, it doesn't mean much when it doesn't lead to many shots. And it's even less when Columbus, who looked like a one-win team for most of this game, was not punished. I know the Devils are all about low-event hockey; this was a night where it helped their demise - something I cautioned about a day ago.
The defensive breakdowns are certainly worth being annoyed by as well. The first goal against wasn't so bothersome. David Clarkson - yes, that David Clarkson - took a long shot. Cory Schneider stopped it, the puck bounced to his right, Boone Jenner just beat Jon Merrill to the loose puck and stashed it home. That can happen to any team, just like it did for New Jersey's goal. OK, that's a goal against, surely New Jersey can respond.
The second was absolutely infuriating. Right on the next shift, Columbus gains the zone and sends it around the boards. It goes back into the corner where Adam Larsson and Jacob Josefson engage Scott Hartnell. The puck gets knocked away from Hartnell but put into space where Brandon Dubinsky can get to it. Andy Greene lunges for Dubinsky to prevent what would be a killer pass to the middle. He's too late and Brian O'Neill didn't bother looking behind him the whole time to see Cam Atkinson sitting at the top of the crease. Pass, shot, score, and the Devils are down two in less than a minute in a game where their attack was far less than what it could and should have been.
As for the third, the Columbus power play did nothing at all on their first two attempts. On their third, they actually did something. They were rewarded for it after John Moore came out of the box. Hartnell smashed Stephen Gionta to win the puck, curled around to the top of the circle, and just blasted one high past Cory Schneider. I know it's a PK, but Gionta was the only near Hartnell on the play. Once he won the puck, he had all the time and space to fire and he made it count. The goal was essentially a death knell for the Devils' chances. They weren't challenging Bobrovsky as much as they could and should have even when New Jersey dominated the puck and they didn't score. Were they really going to score three in just over five minutes left? No. And they didn't.
I can't stress enough how well the Devils did otherwise in terms of controlling the game. I can't stress enough how the Blue Jackets were just awful for long stretches. But the Devils didn't take enough advantage of it. They never made Columbus pay for their errors until the very end, which was too little and too late. Just like any sport or video game or most competitions, if your opponent messes up and you don't punish them, then they have a chance. Columbus did, they struck with a flurry of goals in a stretch of the game where they were the better team, and they left Newark with two badly needed points. The Devils could have done a lot better at both ends despite the advantage in the total number of shots and attempts. They now have no more streak to show for that.
The Opposition Opinion: Ryan Real has these quick thoughts over at The Cannon.
The Game Highlights: Yeah, there were some in this one. Here's a video from NHL.com:
Another Reason to Lament This Loss: This was arguably the best game in this short season out of Jacob Josefson, Jordin Tootoo, and Brian O'Neill. Aside from their "performance" on Atkinson's goal, they were actually being bossy for a change. They had arguably the team's best even strength shift of the night around the six minute mark in the third period. There was possession, won pucks in battles, passes to set up shots, and actual shots for about a minute. It very nearly ended up with a goal as Jacob Josefson deflected a long shot that snuck through Bobrovsky. The goalie impressively dove back and swung his stick to clear it away before it crossed the line. Even earlier in the game, they were doing more than just getting the puck in deep. They were pinning the Blue Jackets back, even if they didn't generate too many shots. For that line, that's a win if only to keep the pressure going as the top lines get a rest. Alas, there was no goal from them and their efforts did not yield a positive outcome. Will they be able to do it again? Who knows.
Seven Defensemen: John Hynes finally decided to give seven defensemen a shot. With Eric Gelinas struggling and Jon Merrill now healthy, I was perfectly fine with Stefan Matteau sitting so both can show the coaches who wants a roster spot more. After tonight, I'm going to have to think Merrill sits again. Eric Gelinas wasn't particularly great, but he took some shooting attempts, he got a shot on net, and he didn't do anything too poorly. He even got some power play time after receiving none in Buffalo. Perhaps that's a sign of earning more trust from the coaches. Merrill, on the other hand, did not take any shooting attempts. He was often on the receiving end of more of them than any taken. His biggest play, as it were, was giving up the puck on a bad decision to pass it to the point from the sideboard after an entry and then hooking Clarkson on the counter-attack even though he didn't have the puck.
Again, the forwards weren't really hindered by the lack of Matteau. Gionta and Sergei Kalinin were decent enough with rotating linemates for a fourth line spot. Overall, I can't really complain too much about the defense on a night where only twenty five attempts were taken for fourteen shots. It's just those breakdowns that killed them that stand out. With Bobby Farnham acquired and a game against the Comcastic Second Rate Rivals coming up, I doubt we'll see seven defensemen on Thursday. I'll be surprised if Merrill is in, short of someone getting sick or hurt.
Speaking of Streaks Being Over...: Mike Cammalleri and Adam Henrique are definitely off their torrid runs of production. Cammalleri had three shots on net when he could have easily had double that amount. Henrique just faded away as time went on tonight and ended up with no shots on net. Lee Stempniak had two, but he wasn't the hot one as of late. With the team not scoring early on, I was still hopeful those two could make something happen given their recent form. By the third period, that hope was gone as they just didn't attack all that much. Especially not as much as the Travis Zajac line or even Josefson's unit at times. Again, I go back to what I wrote on Monday: this team isn't all that and when the guys who are hot stop being hot, the pop-gun offense becomes more apparant. That was on full display tonight. Here's hoping the end of Cammalleri's and Henrique's runs don't lead to the starts of sad slumps.
Better Jackets: As much as Bobrovsky got attention for his not-terribly-difficult near-shutout, I came away tonight more impressed with other members of the Blue Jackets. David Savard and Jack Johnson was a pairing I didn't think much of in my preview, given their history of being possession black holes. The duo actually handled the Devils' attacks as well as they could early on. They also provided some of the little attack they had tonight. Cam Atkinson not only got the second goal to really put the Devils in trouble, but he led the team with four shots. Anytime you have four shots in a game is pretty good. It's even more impressive when the rest of your team combines for only ten. He was the only one to get a shot on net in all three periods - which is really something as Columbus had merely two in the first period - and he was one of three Blue Jackets who didn't finish the night below 50% in Corsi at evens. His linemates were not the other two.
One Last Game Thought: That second period reminded me of the first period from the Devils-Arizona game last week. Oh, the perils and struggles of watching low-event hockey.
I Am Never Above Self Promotion: Earlier today, I can confirm that I will appear on SiriusXM's Hockey Unfiltered on Saturday before the Devils-Islanders game. The show will be hosted at Hotel Indigo's Skylab, which is right by The Rock. The show will run from 11 AM to 1 PM, so hang out there for specials, guests (like me), and so forth. My timeslot will be at 12:30 PM. If you don't have SiriusXM, then you can listen to a livestream at the Hockey Unfiltered site and/or download a recording at the site or iTunes a little later that afternoon.
Your Take: The winning streak is over and it happened with a thud of a third period. What did you make of this loss? Surprised the Devils lost given how strong they looked early on? Would you agree the Devils should have attacked more, especially in the first period when Columbus struggled the most? Who was the best Devil on the ice? Who was the worst? Who do you think should stick around from the seven defensemen usage tonight: Merrill or Gelinas? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread, those who followed @AATJerseyBlog on Twitter, and you for reading.