Tonight, the New Jersey Devils lost to another team well below them in the standings. In this instance, it was the Colorado Avalanche. The final score was 1-2, meaning the Devils successfully made it a one-shot game but could not get that one shot. Some will note that this defeat adds to an already poor record against bottom-feeder teams. Others will note the coincidence that the Devils lost again on a Tuesday, a day of the week that has yielded a 1-5-0 record. This is a problem in that the Devils will be continue to play on Tuesdays - every Tuesday except for January 5 until the beginning of March - and will play more teams below them in the standings.
The Devils will soon join them at this rate due to performances like this one. The Avs entered this game coming off a loss in Brooklyn but didn't look any worse for wear from it. The Avs entered this game with the worst possession rate in the NHL and they were even with New Jersey in shots through two periods - with a two goal lead built up in that second period. The Avs entered this game with a reputation for getting loose in their own end, but you wouldn't know it from tonight from how their forwards backchecked and their defenders positioned themselves. Sure, they had some desperate situations and some scary turnovers, but they made up for it somehow. The Avs entered this game with Reto Berra posting one of the best even strength save percentages in the league and he leaves this one with one of the best even strength save percentages in the league. If this was a trap game for the Devils, then the Avalanche sprung it and enjoyed it.
Overall, it wasn't as if the Devils were poor, but they didn't do enough to succeed. They were playing an even, similar game to Colorado for two periods. What burned them on both goals were good zone entries leading to good reads that beat Cory Schneider from the left side of the zone. There's more to it than that, but that's the generalization. The Devils pushed hard in the third to try to get the equalizer after getting a fortunate bounce early in the third. It was a case of the Devils trying to have one strong period make up for two less-than-strong periods. Sometimes a team gets away with that, but it's not a good plan for success.
What was curious was how head coach John Hynes approached the third. He switched up his lines in the third, giving more ice time to Mike Cammalleri, providing different looks with Patrik Elias and Sergey Kalinin, and cutting minutes to Tyler Kennedy, Bobby Farnham, and Stephen Gionta. Yet, the lines didn't really approach Berra or the Avs defense any differently. There was a lot of hopeful attempts that were increasingly snuffed out by the Avs skaters. He ended up being rather passive about pulling the goalie, preferring to keep Cory Schneider in net despite offensive zone faceoffs past the two minute mark. Not that the Devils skaters kept up any offensive pressure. Schneider didn't get out until there was about 35-40 seconds left. I wouldn't say these decisions alone led to this result. Just that I think he could have been bolder, perhaps changed some tactics, and perhaps that second goal would come.
Alas, the Devils' performance wasn't what it needed to be. Colorado looked and played a lot better than ~44 CF% team would and they earned this win. Credit to them. Again, if the Devils don't figure these games out and put up better performances against teams below them in the standings, then they will join them.
The Opposition Opinion: A misterfish1 has this recap at Mile High Hockey.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's highlights:
Making Matters Worse: Colorado dressed six defensemen tonight. Zach Redmond only played seven shifts for 3:31 of ice time, so they essentially played with five. There was a five-minute-plus stretch in the second period where Erik Johnson, one half of their top pairing, was serving a fighting major - he fought Jordin Tootoo - and was inactive. That's a length of time in the game where Colorado essentially were using only four defensemen. Yet, the Devils mustered up only 28 shots and 49 attempts and didn't really bring the pressure to Colorado until the third period. Talk about lost opportunities.
Speed Killed: Tonight's goals against the Devils featured speed. The first came from Matt Duchene. Early in the second, Erik Johnson arced a puck into the neutral zone between the Devils skating back. Duchene whiffs, picks up the loose puck anyway, and charges towards the left dot. Very quickly - and before John Moore did anything like step up on him - Duchene turned, pulled his stick across his body, and launched a high wrist shot. Schneider only stopped part of it and the puck dropped into the net. It was a poor goal for Schneider to allow, but it demonstrated how fast Duchene is. From picking up the puck to taking the shot, only two seconds at most passed. And he's not even the fast one on his line, that's Nathan MacKinnon.
The second goal came on a counter-attack. Shortly after Berra made a save on Lee Stempniak, the Avs recovered a loose puck and charged back. Technically, it was a 3-on-3. But with Damon Severson approaching Jack Skille and John Moore covering Cody McLeod in the slot; Adam Henrique held back in case of a trailer. What he didn't know and no other Devil could get to was that the "trailer" was defenseman Tyson Barrie who joined the rush down the left side of the ice. Skille made a great lateral pass to Barrie, who finished the play. It was a quick response that caught the Devils. They weren't in a position to cover the left side. By the time Schneider came over and set himself, Barrie picked the short-side hole for the score.
Does That Mean?: Yes, this was a less than impressive game for Schneider. The two goals he allowed weren't good ones to allow, especially the one to Duchene. He did make sure nothing else got past him, though this wasn't like the recent games in Montreal where he had to exert himself to do something spectacular. Still, if this was an "off" night for #35, allowing only two goals isn't exactly a big hole to climb out of. Then again, the Devils' offense is what it is.
Top Heavy, Again: The bulk of the Devils' offense came from it's top two lines. Mike Cammalleri was particularly up for taking shots as he put seven on Berra. Adam Henrique had some nifty moves, including a rare 3-on-5 shorthanded scoring chance. He finished the night with three shots. Kyle Palmieri kept going for carry-ins through or to the middle, often to little avail. He would score New Jersey's only goal, taking a shot off a Travis Zajac faceoff win - aside: Zajac had four shots tonight - that hit Nate Guenin's legs and beat Berra shortside. It was a surprising goal and with eighteen minutes left, one would think that there would be a second. That did not happen.
Sergey Kalinin had some inspired shifts later on in the third and Stempniak had a few moments. Yet, the Devils didn't make the most of their offensive possessions. Even when Colorado would get a turnover, there was often an attempt for a pass, or a decision to curl around and delay with the puck off an odd man rush hoping for a better passing option. Sure, these are justifiable decisions now and again. Throughout the whole game, especially when time's running out and one shot can make a difference? It was painful to watch at times.
I think the Devils should have danged the torpedos and fired anything they had whenever they had an open lane at Berra. Especially in the third when Colorado essentially went into a shell during the first half of the period. The Devils made things chaotic during rebounds and jam plays in front on a few occasions. With Berra and the Avs skaters scrambling, the Devils had chances to fire. They not only didn't get what they wanted, they got away from doing that as time went down in the third period. That's something I'd like to see addressed for their next few games. It could also help balance out the shot and attempt production throughout the lineup.
Familiar Story on Special Teams: The Devils' power play went scoreless. Their first one in the first period was quite effective with five shots on net. Seeing that the Devils only got ten on net all period, that made it stand out more. Their second one in the second period was back to the sad, familiar sight of accomplishing very little. The second unit looked especially rough. Poor Zajac, his supporting forwards were Jordin Tootoo and Jacob Josefson on it. S
The penalty kill was terrific. They allowed only two shots out of three power plays, with the latter two overlapping for a significantly long 3-on-5 situation. While Tootoo was serving a high-sticking penalty, Zajac batted a puck out of mid-air over the glass. From where I sat, I thought Zajac was at or just past the blueline. MacKinnon was animatedly demanding the call. The refs conferenced and so Zajac sat for it. The Devils handled the 3-on-5 as well as one would have hoped. Like the Devils, the Avalanche power play was a lot less threatening when Duchene, MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog weren't on it.
Who Will Sit for Schlemko?: With David Schlemko getting closer to returning to action, a defenseman must sit. It was not a good night for the pairing of Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill. As bad as he looked on the first goal against, Moore was more of a positive player than not and at least was very close to tying this game up. Gelinas-Merrill just had issues. I thought by my sight that Gelinas wasn't too bad. Sure, he made dubious decisions, he took a penalty shortly after the first goal against, and again added nothing on offense. But he didn't get caught completely out of position and his bad decisions weren't too killer. Merrill, well, he just played a dumb game and that probably hurt Gelinas. I think the height of his poor decisions was how he just iced a puck well after Zajac and Tootoo came out of the box. Fortunately, Colorado did not take full advantage. I don't know what he's really bringing to the table either. At this point, either could sit for Schlemko and I would be fine with it.
Still the Beginning for Them: This was not a superlative night for Patrik Elias or Tyler Kennedy. Kennedy ended up being a partial victim of Hynes essentially shortening his bench in the third period. He didn't really do much otherwise. Elias wasn't a positive factor on the ice, in attack, or on the power play after that first one. It was a tough game for the legend. I know it's still the beginning of the season for both of them; I just hope this can be attributed somewhat to rust as opposed to just not playing well.
Pro-Tip to Colorado: During the game, I check out Twitter and this site and sometimes the opposition's. I learned that Duchene may be or was on the trading block. Seriously, why? When you have a young forward with as much talent as him, you ride with him. Especially when you got a slightly faster, similar player in MacKinnon to torch opponents with. What do you do if you trade him, get a player and hope for a high draft pick to select another Duchene? That's silly as you already have him. Keep Duchene!
One Last Thought: People sure like their bobbleheads. The first 10,000 attendees tonight got one of Adam Henrique. The game didn't sell out, but a bit over 14,000 for a Tuesday night game against Colorado in December isn't a bad amount. The promotion probably helped. When leaving for the train station, I saw a man hold up a handwritten sign asking for one. Never seen that before.
Your Take: The Devils didn't do enough to win and so they got trapped with an 'L' by Colorado. What's your take on this game? Who impressed you on each team and why? Who do you think should have done better tonight that did not? What would you have liked the Devils to have done differently with their performance? What lessons should the Devils take out of this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this defeat in the comments.
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