Let's go back to last two games. The New Jersey Devils struggled to generate offense or even maintain possession in those games due to strong neutral zone play by the opposition, excellent performances at the Devils' blueline by the opposition, difficulties by New Jersey at getting zone exits, and struggles by New Jersey at moving the puck. The ice was very much tilted against New Jersey at times. The Devils did indeed get results in those games due to Cory Schneider making enough stops to keep it close and goals scored at opportune times. Make it three in a row with tonight's 2-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The first period was very familiar from what we saw in those previous two games. The Devils got a quick goal. Their first shot of the game was a deflection by Lee Stempniak of a John Moore shot right in front of Garrett Sparks. It converted a power play and it was a fine start as any. Then the game went on. The Maple Leafs just kept coming in waves. They got a power play and seemingly amped up the intensity of their attack. They would equalize on a literal bad bounce. Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau fired a puck from the neutral zone, it took a big bounce in front of Schneider, and it got by him. Schneider should have stopped it. He had many, many more pucks to stop. Sixteen others as the Leafs out-shot the Devils 17-7 in the first period alone. Two power plays helped as they put up seven shots on it. The Devils' own power plays helped with three shots allowed. And seven shots at evens, while limiting New Jersey to one. Why were they able to get so much on net? The same way Florida did on Sunday and the same way Philly controlled the game: difficulties at zone exits and those pucks that did get out of the Devils' end often went to Leafs' sticks. The only positives for the Devils was that it was 1-1 at intermission and the power play looked good.
Power plays were the story in the second period. Jon Merrill tripped Byron Froese to deny him a chance at a goal. It wouldn't be long before Dion Phaneuf blasted a puck from the center point and James van Reimsdyk tipped it past Schneider for a 1-2 score. The Devils responded with not a whole lot. The Leafs started to get handled better at even strength, but power plays were their time to swarm it up. They had six power play shots between their three advantages in the second period. And the last one was a hook by Mike Cammalleri to deny Matt Hunwick a near-empty net to shoot at. Whether it was turnovers, bad decisions with the puck, or just getting beaten straight up, the Leafs kept putting New Jersey on their heels at times. The good news is that the Devils had two power plays and the first of which was excellent. They moved the puck well, they took good shots, and it ended with a blast by Kyle Palmieri. Once again, they got the opportune goal. They got another power play shortly after that one, but they wasted it. Still, the Devils were scrambling as the period closed on the PK and Schneider somehow kept everything out but one puck that Merrill cleared from the crease. It was a rough period.
The third period was more even. There were times where the Leafs just caught the Devils on a counter attack or unaware for a dangerous opportunity. The difference was that the Devils had their own opportunities and actually had some shifts in Toronto's end. This was impressive considering the general run of play earlier in the game. Plus, Adam Henrique left the game with a lower body injury after the second period. The Devils had to make do with Jacob Josefson, Patrik Elias, Sergey Kalinin, and Stephen Gionta at center. It wasn't a repeat of the first period, which was good. The Devils got a late power play and they had very good possession, setting up two good one-timers for Mike Cammalleri. Alas, Sparks stopped both, stopped a late close shot by John Moore, and the Devils held on to get a point. Overall, like in the Philly game, this was not a fully deserved point. The difference was that the Devils did play a bit better as the game went on; although the Leafs were still in control.
Overtime started with a lot of possession and ended with a lot of messy play. The Devils probably should have lost it here. The ref never blew a whistle on an attempted cover by Schneider and there was a scramble to prevent a jam play for a goal. Later, the shift by Elias, Tyler Kennedy, and Andy Greene was absolutely dreadful. Their lowlight was Elias just missing Greene with a pass by the goal line, allowing a free shot for a Leaf. Thankfully, Schneider made himself big enough to deny it. There was late push for offense, but the Devils escaped overtime in a similar to fashion for how they escaped their penalty kill and most of this game in regulation. Schneider played very well.
The Devils had their opportunities to steal the second point in a shootout, which helps set this game apart from the last two games. Tyler Bozak and Mike Cammalleri both scored on the third shot, so the Devils forced sudden death. It took five rounds; Nazem Kadri beat Schneider with a deke to get around him, David Schlemko attempted something similar but did not. The second point was not stolen. Given how most of the 65 minutes looked from where I sat, I can't really complain anymore than I can complain about the results against Philly and Florida. What I will complain about is the fact that for three straight games, I saw the Devils suffer from bad zone exits, a lack of a presence in the neutral zone, and relying so much on desperate defending, Cory Schneider, and opportune scoring to get something out of this game. It's becoming less of a set of coincidences and more of a sign that this team may not be as good as their record indicates. I've seen that familiar sight before. It doesn't end well.
The Opposition Opinion: JP Nikota got this quick recap up at Pension Plan Puppets.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's highlights:
No, They Were Not Kept to the Outside: The Devils conceded 37 shots and 74 attempts tonight. Power plays definitely contributed to that; at even strength, they only allowed 21 shots and 45 attempts. Were these dangerous shots? Oh, there were absolutely some dangerous shots. And it doesn't even include Matt Hunwick slamming the pipe on a shot in the first period. Check out the shot location chart at Hockeystats.ca. The Devils definitely got more chances tonight, but they allowed more. Many of the chances against were on power plays, but the Leafs out-chanced the Devils at even strength too. Schneider gave up an awful one in the first period but clearly more than made up for it with a lot of tough stops tonight. Making 35 saves with several in his face and at least two really contentious ones in overtime means he did well despite the first goal allowed. Still, if this is supposed to be how the Devils are supposed to play, then they should make some changes and fast.
Special Teams, Ahoy: The Devils and Leafs each had five power plays tonight. They each made the most of it. Toronto was at their most dangerous for stretches at a time with their power plays. They got a goal and thirteen shots on their advantages. The Devils' penalty killers got bossed around more often than not. I'm sure it was exciting hockey for the Leafs fans, but a good PK should not be thrilling times for the team down a man. At least two of the kills were preferable to conceding a goal on the play that yielded the foul. Then again, one of those did lead to a PPGA.
The Devils were also quite successful with both of their regulation goals coming with the man advantage out of twelve shots. If there's one part of the Devils' performance that deserves praise, then it's the power play. Three out of those five power plays were legitimately good power plays. On those, they were able to get set up, move the puck well, not concede it easily, take dangerous shots, and recover the puck to keep the attack alive. Plus, they got two goals and twelve of their 27 shots on net tonight from the man advantage. Tonight's power play efforts were way better than what I've seen in recent games. I hope they can build on that for future games. It helped them get something out of this game, it can only help them in the future.
I Miss Zajac and Henrique: Travis Zajac didn't travel to Toronto. Adam Henrique left the game with a lower body injury. That's the top two centers. I'm sorry to say that Patrik Elias is still not his younger self, so he really had a rough time tonight. He's normally defensively sound but he was just picked on by the Leafs. He had some bad turnovers, with the nadir being that decision to pass it to an unaware Greene on his own. Elias had a poor game in general. Jacob Josefson was a better option to move up, but he looked like he was in over his head as well at times. While he was better on defense than Elias, he really stunted the offense at times to a point where Elias took his spot on some shifts. The status of Zajac's and Henrique's conditions will drive the Devils to make a roster decision. I hope it's something more than rolling with Elias, Josefson, Kalinin, Gionta because that's a weak crew of centers. I really hope one or even both are good to go very soon.
At least the others in the bottom six group of forwards weren't as calamtious. Sergey Kalinin and Jordin Tootoo weren't disasters. Bobby Farnham decided to be a pain and did draw a penalty for it. Yet in a 2-2 game and down a forward late, only Kalinin got some late shifts which meant more opportunities for Kennedy and O'Neill to fall apart.
Defensively Beaten: As much as I stand by the pairing of Andy Greene and Adam Larsson, they got pinned back so much it almost garnered sympathy from the viewer. On most shifts, they were playing a whole lot of defense, trying to make an exit, and it often just didn't go, yielding even more zone time for Toronto. On the penalty kill, they each played upwards of 5:45 and scrambled for most of it. It wasn't a good night for them but they weren't getting a lot of help. That'll result in 37 shots against. The other pairings did have the benefit of being present for some of the Devils' offense. I would think John Moore and Damon Severson could be considered to have a decent night, but even they had some nightmare shifts. There's something wrong with how the team is positioning themselves and working for exits. This was similar to the last two games and at this point, it's becoming less of a coincidence and less than a simple slump for someone(s).
Consider the opposition for a contrast. Dion Phaneuf played a fantastic game as did Jake Gardiner. Phaneuf contributed the team's lone power play goal and exerted his strength in all three zones. Gardiner complemented Phaneuf well in those same zones. It was akin to how Aaron Ekblad and Dmitry Kulikov played against the Devils on Sunday. We haven't seen a Devil defenseman play that good for some time. Until the issues stop or someone just goes off for great shift after great shift, we may not.
Leafs Succeeding in Attack: James van Reimsdyk, Tyler Bozak, and Parenteau were just great against the Devils. They combined for thirteen of Toronto's 37 shots tonight. The Devils just had issues with them all night long. The Leafs were helped out by Bryan Froese, Brad Boyes, and Shawn Matthias as well as Daniel Winnik. The unit of Peter Holland, Kadri, and Leo Komarov weren't as successful but still did very well overall. Come to think of it, I wouldn't say anyone on Toronto played poorly. Even Sparks was quite good when he had to be good. A deflection and a blast through a screen are not bad goals to allow.
Schlemko in the Shootout: Interesting choice by John Hynes. It wasn't a terrible one in that Schlemko busted out a good move, Sparks was able to keep with it to stop him. What was curious was that in the post-game press conference, Hynes gave a specific answer about that decision stating that everyone's selection was pre-determined and based on statistical tendencies, players know when they could expect to shoot. I didn't come away from that thinking he just guessed or some such. It was the fifth round of the shootout and while Palmieri may be a goal scorer now, as far as I can tell, he's one for seven for all his time with the Ducks. Not exactly a lights-out shooter. It doesn't bother me much, but it was such an out-of-the-blue decision that it's worth touching on.
One Last Thought: I think opposing teams have figured out the Devils to a degree. The Devils tended to make their zone exits up the boards and out to a forward in the neutral zone. Teams have picked up on that to either deny the exit along or near the boards. Those forwards are often too far ahead for that pass to be made easily. There has to be an adjustment or two made because opposing teams are hurting the Devils at it. I don't think better execution alone will fix that.
Your Take: The Devils lost in a shootout in Toronto. Given how it started and the play of the many power plays Toronto had, I think the Devils were fortunate to get a point. What about you, what do you think of this game? Who or what impressed you about the Devils tonight? Who or what disappointed you tonight? Were the Devils really fortunate to come away from Toronto with a point? What should they change before their next game against Detroit on Friday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed the site's Twitter account, @AATJerseyBlog, during the game. Thank you for reading.