For the first time in a while, the New Jersey Devils won their weekly schedule. For those of you who do not follow the weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot every Sunday, this means that the team earned more than half of the available points for that week of games. The Devils ensured this feat with a 3-1 regulation win over the Florida Panthers tonight. That's a record of 2-0-1 to close out of the month; five out of a potential of six points. Normally, this would be great. However, the Devils managed to achieve this record by playing some of the worst hockey possible.
The Devils actually played a relatively competent period of hockey in this week. Fortunately it was tonight and it was enough to get two points. That would be the first period. In spite of an awful start, the Devils were able to move the puck somewhat effectively against Florida. They won some pucks. They hit some passes. They got the puck with control to dangerous parts of the ice and made Roberto Luongo work. It led to ten shots on net to Florida's five; two power plays, where the Devils went one-for-one; and two absolutely beautiful goals.
I must highlight the goals. They were goals so good looking, the legendary goal calls of soccer color commentator Ray Hudson should be spliced in fan-made videos. Jaromir Jagr took the puck off a cycle from the corner, took it to the middle, and sniped the top of the net for the game's first goal. A struggling power play situation turned stupendous when Steve Bernier made a brilliant between-the-legs, backhand pass to Mike Cammalleri for a one-timer no one was going to stop. Wonderful goals. And they came as a result of actually decent play by the Devils. The first few minutes weren't good, the team was still not at all sharp on their breakouts, but they were actually looking like a team that knew what it was doing and could occasionally do it.
That would not last. The Devils followed up that period with nineteen minutes and fifty-seven seconds of shotless hockey. I know about score effects. I know about playing to the score. It's one thing to be out-shot when up two goals. It's simply unacceptable to narrowly avoid being the first Devils team to go without registering a single shot on net in a period since the early 1980s. The weird thing about it was that there were some offensive shifts and some attempts. They just all missed or got blocked. But those were few and far between because of the on-the-puck play by the Devils. Defensemen just botched clearances and breakout passes. The neutral zone was largely Florida's and they took it to Keith Kinkaid with twelve shots on net. Chip-ins, shallow dump-ins, deep dump-ins, and even carries yielded next to no offense. Even odd man rushes were left shotless as every decision going forward was fouled up in some way or form. For a shift, OK, it happens, whatever. For nearly a period? Well, something's clearly rotten. Like Friday night, the only player I can praise in that second period was the play of the goaltender, Kinkaid. He was sound as usual and stopped an array of shots with and without traffic. Still, the period was tilted heavily in one-direction. The only other positive was that it was still 2-0 New Jersey.
The Devils regrouped in intermission and, well, did more of the same. Florida wasn't as crisp at getting forward as they were in the second, so the game became just difficult to watch from purely a hockey standpoint. The Devils would get a shot on net just before the five-minute mark in the third period. But the second would only come on Steve Bernier putting in an empty net goal at the 17:28 mark. Again, the Devils simply could not generate anything resembling legitimate offense. It's simply not fair to Kinkaid, who put the team on his back for another period. It's simply unacceptable from a fan and even an entertainment perspective. The Devils didn't decide this, they just couldn't execute breakouts or make enough clean passes or even have initiative to shoot the puck when you have a clear look at the net. The Devils' issue tonight was not passing it too much or just holding on, it was their woeful execution. They had no choice but to hold on because they could not control the puck effectively. My lament is not that they didn't score more goals, it's that they couldn't even try to make the play more even, force the Panthers to sit back on defense, or anything like that.
What of Florida? Well, Florida put up ten shots in the period because they figured that attacking would be a good thing to do when down two goals. They would get a consolation goal. A close shot off a 3-on-2 was stopped by Kinkaid. As Jagr blindly backhanded the puck away, Peter Harrold barreled into Kinkaid. Brian Campbell retrived Jagr's clearing attempt, tossed it over to Brandon Pirri, and Pirri got the puck inside the right post. Kinkaid would've made the stop if he wasn't recovering from his own man crashing into him. At least they can say they didn't get shutout. They can also say they were the better team for the majority of the game. But they did lose largely because of that first period and that hurts their cause for a wild card spot.
Going back to the team that matters on this site, the Devils did have a successful week but they did not play well at all, goaltending excepted. This is a problem from a viewer standpoint. I don't see how anyone can watch this and think this is acceptable unless they don't know much about what good hockey looks like. Seriously, four shots on net in two periods after ten says a lot on it's own. This is a bigger problem for the team. Kinkaid and Schneider aren't going to be awesome every single night. They conceded only four goals in the run of play in these last three games. But the Devils also only scored four goals against a goalie in those same games, while they were heavily out-shot by the end of each game. The root of the issue was what Peter DeBoer couldn't solve and I fear the co-coaches won't be able to solve: moving the puck effectively. The Devils demonstrated that they can do it on some degree for a period tonight and then showed they really couldn't for two. This is not going to lead to more competent hockey. When the goaltending isn't near-perfect, then this kind of play is going to lead to a lot more losses, and potentially ugly ones on the scoreboard as well as on the ice. So while getting a regulation win to close out a week at 2-0-1 is normally a good thing; I cannot honestly say this was a good win.
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: Kevin Kraczkowski has this recap of the game at Litter Box Cats.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's game highlights. Watch the first two Devils goals:
I Need This Awful Lack of Offense Noted in Numbers: New Jersey was out-shot 14-27, out-attempted in all situations 33-51, and out-attempted at even strength 29-48. Don't let anyone tell you the Devils played a good game tonight. A good period, sure. But not a full game; that's not even close to reality.
Changes in Lines: For this game, Jaromir Jagr was moved down to play with Mike Cammalleri and Dainius Zubrus, while Steve Bernier moved up to play with Adam Henrique and Scott Gomez. It's hard to say whether this change worked. Sure, Jagr scored off a cycle in the first period. Beyond that, that line didn't do too much good. It did not help that Jagr and Cammalleri each took penalties; Jagr's was especially annoying as he got caught setting a pick in front of a referee on a Devils power play. As for Gomez's new linemate, Bernier didn't look too out of place. Of all of the forwards, I would single Bernier out for praise as he picked up his first assist of the month, he iced the game, and he was one of the few Devils with multiple shots on net (2) and attempts (5). The new Gomez line didn't get pinned back nearly as much as some of the other lines, which was a plus. The problem with them - and with the team as a whole tonight - was that there should've been some more selfishness and initiative. If things aren't going well, just throw something easy at Luongo and force a freeze. That's way better than boring him for forty minutes.
I suspect we'll see this for another game since the Devils won this one in regulation. Would I continue this switch? Sort of. I'd swap Zubrus and Henrique. This way Gomez can be limited to the 14-16 minutes he should be getting as it's becoming clearer by the game that he's not as useful as originally thought. Cammalleri gets a more prime spot with two offensive wingers instead of one and Dainius Zubrus. But given that the Travis Zajac line didn't contribute much and the fourths did nothing as a unit, I would consider changes throughout the twelve utilized.
Jordin Tootoo Does Not Belong in the Middle of a 1-3-1: This was witnessed for about 3:22 of power play time tonight. If it were up to me, he'd receive about 3:22 less than what he got. I can sort of see him as the set screener; the guy who's willing to get down and dirty. Not the man in the slot hoping to get a good pass for a one-timer. I'd much rather have Adam Henrique there. Or Michael Ryder, who was scratched again. Or even Peter Harrold.
Repeat from Friday: Good defense is not standing about to clean up rebounds, completely miss open teammates with passes, and turning the puck over. The Devils did not play good defense as a unit yet again. They didn't concede more than forty shots, but they gave up quite a bit while not giving much back to Florida. The offensive issues are directly tied into the defensive issues, as defensive stops (like the ones Florida got a lot of) tend to lead to offensive movement (which Florida done for forty minutes tonight). Peter Harrold and Mark Fraser were especially bad. You can even blame Harrold for ruining the shutout effort by Kinkaid. Seriously, who piles into their own goalie after not making a play on the guy who just took a close shot right in front of you? Eric Gelinas isn't that much better, but surely he has to get into the lineup now. Right?
Florida Standouts: Yet again, I need to praise a number of Panthers who stood out as the Devils stood largely in the background for another game. Their lone goalscorer was a threat all night long; Pirri put up five shots on net and was constantly seen going forward. Aaron Ekblad is a very good defenseman now and he's going to get better, which frightens me as a fan of a team in his conference. Campbell and Erik Gudbranson were steady while playing a lot of minutes; they looked good to my eye. While they didn't get much on net, I saw a lot of Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Fleischmann get into spaces with ease and nearly coming close to getting something past Kinkaid. Their fourth line was rather effective; a stark contrast to New Jersey's, which did very little. I guess Luongo did well not to lose himself from the boredom.
I'll Repeat Myself Again: Kinkaid was great. I sure wish he had a functional offense for more than a period to support his efforts tonight. Or that one of his own teammates doesn't take him out of a play.
Lastly: In my opinion, this is the post-game quote of the season. Here's what Lou said, as reported in this Fire & Ice post by Tom Gulitti:
"It's funny. We had opportunities to shoot. I think we passed them up for whatever," Lamoriello said. "But, I think that's what you look at: are we getting the opportunities? We're not telling them not to shoot. That's certainly an understatement. But, we have to generate more shots, there's no question. The bottom line is what it is. We're here to win and we did that."
If there was any doubt that the team's issues lied beyond the coaching, then this quote being said now in light of this past week should erase plenty of it. But if Lou wants to keep going for wins, then the coaching council and the players have to really sit down and figure it out.
Your Take: The Devils did win in regulation and did so in a bad, bad way. My take is that the process was odious enough to overtake the result. What about you? Did you think the second and third periods would be so bad after that good first? What do you think the Devils need to do to have fewer periods and long stretches (e.g. ten or more minutes) without a measly shot on net? Did anyone not named Kinkaid impressed you all game long? At least the two Devils goals were wonderful; how did you react to those? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and those who followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. A special thanks to Alex for taking care of this game's preview. Thank you for reading.