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New Jersey Devils Shut Down & Out by St. Louis Blues, 0-2

The New Jersey Devils had a good first period against the St. Louis Blues. Then the Blues dominated the neutral zone & possession. They scored two goals before a late and fruitless flurry at the end by the Devils. This is a recap of a deserved shutout loss.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Those of you who read my game preview this morning or were already familiar with tonight's opponents knew that this was a very good St. Louis Blues team. The New Jersey Devils would have a difficult night against a squad of such quality.  That turned out to be true as the Devils got shut out by goaltender Jake Allen and the Blues controlled a majority of the game in a 0-2 defeat.  The loss is New Jersey's first shutout against in 2015-16, fifteen games into the season.  For what it's worth, the first time the 2014-15 Devils got shut out was twelve games into that season, which was against - yes - the St. Louis Blues. At least this season's Devils lasted a little longer before posting a goose egg on the scoreboard.

Trivia aside, it certainly was a bad game.  It was certainly a night where one can say "Well, you can't win them all."  However, how the Devils lost tonight may be seen again and again this season for further losses.  It was very familiar. I saw several issues as witnessed in games from recent seasons. Specifically, the second half of last season.  Getting pinned back on defense with players just chasing plays instead of holding positions? Check.  Struggling to get zone exits? Check - and one instance led to the second goal against, inf act.  Most of the successful exits really just getting the puck away, which were mostly picked up by the opposition? Check.  Offense disappearing for long lengths at a time? Check.  Passes just hitting skate blades, skate boots, heels of sticks, and legs to prevent a potential move up-ice? Check.   For the second period and most of the third, this was all present and the Blues took full advantage.  Like a lot of last season's game, Cory Schneider made the difference between this game being just a loss and a blowout in favor of the visitors.

The one main difference was the first period. The Devils were very good in the first period. They took it to St. Louis more often than not.  They made their passes going forward. They were able to get successful exits whenever the Blues went towards New Jersey's end of the rink. St. Louis tried to press high to deter the Devils' breakout and it didn't really work. The Devils were able to get stops in the neutral zone and get good entries into the zone. While some of the decision making with the puck in the offensive zone left something to be desired (in addition to the seemingly usual "power play didn't do a lot" criticism that I have), they did put eleven shots on Allen while conceding only six.  It may have been 0-0 but that's a first period effort most would be fine with, especially given how good the Blues are right now.

Ultimately, that neutral zone turned out to be the crux of how this game went from OK to dire over an intermission. The Blues didn't press high on a forecheck, choosing to fill the middle of the ice.  The Blues have been a strong possession team, so once they got the puck, it became very difficult to disrupt them.  Preying on the Devils' struggles at passing the puck effectively, the Blues just turned it up ice and went back at it.  As the Devils struggled to get the puck out of their end, the Blues were able to stay in the zone and find pockets of space for opportunities.  As a result, the Blues made up their shot deficit of five in less than five minutes to start the period and ultimately finished the second out-shooting New Jersey, 14-4.  Both of their goals tonight came as a result of good possession shifts as well.  Possession mattered tonight, and the middle zone is where the Blues made the biggest improvement between the first and second periods. They were able to win more pucks and get through it more easily and more often. Their quality on the attack yielded more shots than New Jersey generated.  And this didn't really change in the third period, so the Blues owned most of that period as well.

That's what I'm concerned about with this team going forward.  I know they've got a better record than expected and they got some nice wins already. I could agree this team is more watchable than they were last season.  But the issues they had that helped the Blues succeed tonight were straight out of that timeframe.  The puck movement, the exits, the decisions, and the neutral zone play was not nearly good enough after that first period.  The Blues made adjustments, the Devils didn't make many successful ones, and so this 0-2 loss felt like so much more as the third period wore on.  Bad games happen, but I've seen this play out once or over twenty times last season.  Not a shutout loss, but a decisive defeat based on puck control issues and getting pinned back because of struggles through the middle of the rink.  If you want to believe things have legitimately improved, then hope that what happened in the second and third periods are uncommon occurrences.  I'm skeptical.

Sure, the Devils made a last gasp at trying to get a goal. Realizing they were down two goals in the final five minutes surely helped that cause. Mike Cammalleri had two glorious chances in the third, both denied by Allen.  Kyle Palmieri attempted a wraparound, but he wrapped too early and Allen denied him there. Schneider wasn't pulled until about ninety seconds left, but that's because the Devils couldn't get control of the puck on offense long enough for him to get off the ice for about a minute and a half from the three minute mark.  Damon Severson put one in the net, but literally just after the buzzer sounded.  It would have been nice if that did count, but the Devils fully deserved tonight's result. These games will and do happen to everyone now and again. There isn't much shame to lose to a superior opponent like St. Louis. But I fear we may see more games like this sooner than we really want.

The Game Stats: The Game Summary | The Event Summary | The Play by Play Log | The Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Justin42 has this recap at St. Louis Game Time. I suppose the Devils did go to Allentown.

The Game Highlights: Highlights? I suppose they are if you're a Blues fan. Here's the video from anyway.

Ex-Devils Did Good: The first goal - and eventual game winner - was created and finished by two former Devils. An open Scott Gomez set up an open Martin Havlat to above the high slot. Havlat released a high shot that beat Schneider to the corner for a goal.  Gomez and Havlat didn't shoot the lights out, but their positive attributes were on display. Gomez didn't register any shooting attempts, but he did help others getting them - which is what Gomez is best at.  Making reads, finding open players, and completing passes to said players.  Havlat didn't have to play much defense or get run down by physical play.  He was free to attack as he could. He had only two shots; he not only scored a goal but came close to a second goal. Both Gomez and Havlat played together for much of the night and they were usually in New Jersey's end when that happened.  They did good.

That Second Goal: The goal itself was scored by Magnus Paajarvi (Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson?).  He got a feed from Dimtrij Jaskin from the front of the net.  But the play was really made by Alex Pietrangelo. While he put the puck to the middle for Jaskin, he denied a zone exit for New Jersey.  The big defender went in deeper, winning a puck outright prior to the pass.  I know secondary assists have a deservedly bad reputation, but that one was legitimate.  Like the first goal, one has to wonder why the goal scorer was open.  Unlike it, Schneider had next to no chance of stopping it.

Bottom Six - Compare and Contrast: So St. Louis got plenty of good shifts from the likes of Gomez, Havlat, Paajarvi, and Scottie Upshall as well as two goals.  The Devils got - well, not much from their depth players. Jacob Josefson tried with four shots on net.  Jiri Tlusty and Jordin Tootoo on his wings seems to have recently opened up the pivot's mind to fire more pucks, but it hasn't yielded much.  Brian O'Neill demonstrated that an AHL MVP doesn't mean he's NHL ready. Stephen Gionta added little again. Bobby Farnham showed that he can skate hard and, well, skate hard into the boards and erase a potential power play by getting mad and beefy with someone.  The Blues got good things from their lower forwards, the Devils didn't get much.  That also played a role in how tonight went down.

#91 Everywhere: As much as the Blues got contributions from their lesser players, they got good nights out of their top players too.  Not just Allen, of course. Pietrangelo had a commanding night on defense.  He rarely panicked or made a poor decision. He had four shots to go with his assist.   Alexander Steen put up three shots, including a dangerous one from below the left dot in the second period.  Steen showed he can be a threat when available.  But the real standout to me was Vladimir Tarasenko.  I gasped when he stripped Palmieri at the Devils' blueline in the first period (Schneider bailed out Palmieri with a save).  I swore I was seeing him double shifted at times in the second period, continuing attacks and applying pressure when he wasn't shooting.   While he was held pointless, he put up five shots out of seven attempts in addition to pushing the play forward.  He impressed me despite not getting on the scoresheet.  He's an ace, for sure.

Cooled Off: The Devils' top six didn't add much either. Much of the Devils' offense tried to come from the outside-in.  You know, setting up a defenseman for a long shot and hoping the Devils can pounce on a loose puck, a rebound, or hope the puck got in somehow.  Another familiar sight from recent seasons. It didn't work much and the Devils' top two lines got cooled off as a result.

Travis Zajac won a lot of faceoffs but only put up one shot in over twenty-two minutes of ice time. While Cammalleri had the best chances, they came near the end of the game - he was mostly anonymous until late in the third period.  Palmieri had his wraparound, got stripped for a bailout save, and tripped Kevin Shattenkirk.  Sergey Kalinin showed some nice strength on the puck, but he was in over his head at times - I would've preferred Tlusty replacing him at some point tonight but whatever.  Adam Henrique really didn't do much. This is another issue; when most of the production is coming from the top two lines, it gets to be a problem if they can't produce for a night.  That's not just on the bottom six not adding much, but also on the top two lines deferring when they shouldn't, hesitating on shots when they should just fire, and looking to go to the point more often than not instead of mixing it up against a hot goalie.

Ovation: Martin Brodeur was shown on RockVision during a stoppage in play during the first period.  He was given a large ovation by tonight's attending fans and even garnered a Marty chant.  He remains loved in Newark, where he works now has not dampened that love.

One Last Thought: Blues rookie Robby Fabbri tied Tarasenko with five shots this evening.  I don't think he was very close to scoring, but that's the sort of spark a team could use.  If only to keep up the offensive pressure. That it came from someone who played less than twelve minutes tonight is also a plus.  Do the Devils have a Fabbri? Simply, no. They don't.

Your Take: The Devils got shut out for the first time this season and arguably deserved it.  What did you think of tonight's game? What do you think the Devils' issues were in the run of play? Who could have had a much better game than he actually had tonight? Did anyone on the Blues impress you? What lessons should the Devils learn from this that they should apply to Thursday's game in Chicago? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's loss in the comments.

Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed my sparse Tweets @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.