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Pathetic: New Jersey Devils Actually Outplayed by the Edmonton Oilers in 1-2 Loss

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The New Jersey Devils lost to the Edmonton Oilers 1-2. They got outplayed by the second worst team in hockey for most of the game, which was simply awful. This recap is really more of an extended rant about the many failings of tonight and of the Devils' season in general.

The Oilers weren't super-sharp tonight, but at least a decent team performance is enough to out-possess New Jersey these days.
The Oilers weren't super-sharp tonight, but at least a decent team performance is enough to out-possess New Jersey these days.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic.

That's your recap in three words.  Read on for (too much) more.

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 War on Ice Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: OilFaninYYC is pleasantly surprised with the win based on this recap at The Copper & Blue.

The Game Highlights: Yes, there were some highlights.  Here's the video from NHL.com:

The Exceptions: Before I get into writing way too many words for a team that deserves only a raspberry tonight, I want to set aside some exceptions for my ire.

First and foremost, the Edmonton Oilers.  They are not a good team. They looked sloppy at times.  They were actually outplayed in the first period.  But they got their heads on right and played like an actual team of actual men playing an actual competitive game of hockey by the end of the first period.  Their first line were really heroes of the night. An excellent shift by their top line of Teddy Purcell, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle yielded an equalizer by Oscar Klefbom because the Devils were too out of sorts to consider defending the weakside in the final minute of the first period.  In the second period, Eberle was boarded and the threesome nearly capitalized on the resulting power play.  They did that later in the second on Larsson's second power play.  It took Nail Yakupov three one-timers from the left circle. He missed twice, but Eberle set him up a bit closer to the middle and he hammered in a beauty for the lead.   Those three continued to attack, attack, and attack some more; driving the play like they were Chicago Blackhawks in disguise.  Purcell nearly made it 1-3 in the third, but Schneider robbed him on a breakaway.  That the unit was still able to generate quality chances late says a lot.  In total, two goals created, eleven shots on net, and they ate Larsson's, Adam Henrique's, Steve Bernier's, and so many other Devils' proverbial lunches. But the rest of the Oilers didn't botch the game too badly, which is impressive considering Andrew Ference got 19:09 of ice time and he's basically the same player as Bryce Salvador.   So while I focus my praise on a whole line, credit the Oilers for not blowing it up in their own way.

Second, the first period was actually a decent if drab period.  The Devils got plenty of opportunities to go forward.  In what would be a theme for the night, the rushes didn't always yield shots.  They just couldn't find the target, nevermind Ben Scrivens or the net.   However, seconds after the team's first counted shot on net, Patrik Elias was set up by a good Martin Havlat pass for an early goal.  The Devils would push for more, but didn't get much on Scrivens as the team just looked out of sorts in Edmonton's end.  A bad shift near the end pinned them back and it led to Edmonton's equalizer.  But one bad shift in a competitive period isn't so terrible.  Only if the opposition keeps pinning them back in subsequent periods.  Which is what happened tonight.

Third, Cory Schneider.  Can't fault him on either goal.  I almost want to give him a reassuring hug and say, "This isn't your fault.  Not one bit."

That said, let's get into some invective.

The State of Your Defense: Hockey is inherently a two-way game.  Making a stop on defense can often allow a team to go forward on offense.   If you don't have the puck, hold position to prevent dangerous chances and try to force an error or win the puck back.  Then they can go forward. The Devils of the last two weeks think it's something different.  It's hanging back hoping for an error and then standing about or lamely chasing skaters in your own end, planning on clearing out the rebound and hope that leads to offense.  That worked (sort-of) for a period.  Then the second and third periods happened.  Scott Stevens, you were a great player, but I am not at all convinced you can coach defense. It is true that only allowing 24 shots on net is usually pretty good.  But if the stops and other defensive plays only yield 14 in response, then something's wrong.  Given it's been like this since the All Star Game, something's really wrong.

As a result, I've been a little hesitant to praise too many defenders.  Let's start with the last one I did praise: Adam Larsson.   He was terrible tonight.  The Oilers picked on him, he took two avoidable penalties, one of those penalties was costly, and he resembled the Larsson of previous seasons. The Larsson that's slow off the mark. The Larsson that gets lost in his own end. The Larsson who takes too long on the puck.  Larsson played the majority of this game with Andy Greene.  Somehow, Greene's even in Corsi and Larsson is a -7.   I have hopes that Larsson will bounce back as this was a bad game rather than a sign of things going south for #5.  It's still instructive that all that "confidence" isn't enough to supplant talent.

Speaking of Greene, it would be cool if he could make some more plays to stand out.  I know that not standing out isn't a bad thing for a defender, but given that he's the top man, I want to see more from him.

Marek Zidlicky and Jon Merrill were actually not too bad in their own end.  It's the offensive part that was bothersome. For most of this season, the Devils prefer to build out of the corner and throw it back to the point for a shot. Tonight, both Merrill and Zidlicky were just on a different page with everyone else.  Only one of them took a shot even though they each had opportunities to throw it on net.  When you're getting heavily out-shot without getting terribly overwhelmed, there's no problem with just throwing up some long ones to see what goes.  Nope.  This criticism makes more sense given that these two were actually attacking more than defending and the duo didn't really, you know, attack.

Mark Fraser does not belong in this league.  He was absolutely abysmal tonight.  He managed to botch passes to his own wide-open teammates.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing so unreasonable to expect someone playing in the National Hockey League to do.  Just make a pass to your teammate in your own end.  Creating icings and turnovers for the opposition to pounce on both tell me that he can't do it at this level.   So does the fact his idea of defense is to chase the guy around and hope the play comes to him.  His one asset is being physical and he can't even do that well.  Peter Harrold was just an adventurer on the puck when he wasn't getting destroyed.  Oh, and he knocked into Schneider again that nearly resulted in a goal.  The pairing is dreadfully miserable to watch and hear because they're fringe NHLers on a good day - and this was not a good day.  The Oilers loved this pairing and they loved Fraser on penalty kills.  I've been one of Eric Gelinas' biggest critics, but you can't convince me he's so much worse than either defenseman.  It's ridiculous that the co-coaches don't see that.  But I guess since Stevens convinced someone to put Larsson next to Greene, he suddenly "gets" developing players while one who could use some development has sat in a press box for, what, six games now? To quote Ed Lover, C'mon, son.

Simply put, the state of the defense is in total shambles.  More crudely, it's garbage with additional dirty diapers thrown on top, which is like how some of the forwards "help" on defense.  The Devils rose to prominence with a team commitment to defense.  You didn't see that whatsoever tonight and the defensemen themselves aren't good enough to carry the load against the Edmonton Oilers.  I don't want to pin it all on the coaching, but I really would not mind Stevens being elsewhere from the 'D' in 2015-16.

This Isn't the Jagr I Expected: I enjoy watching Jaromir Jagr play.  But I cannot enjoy the man wearing #68 tonight.  He was doing too much when he should've deferred.  He deferred plays when he should've taken it himself.  He was Ryder-esque in his defending, to the point where the Oilers would re-gain the zone and Jagr would just slowly circle around in the neutral zone.  I get it.  He was frustrated.  It would've been nice if he tried to play his way out of it.  Given that he wasn't even seen on the ice in the final minutes of a one-score game, I fear he is playing his way out of here.

#8/#9 Swap: I know Havlat set up a goal and Zubrus' main contribution was barreling over Iiro Pakarinen after he carried the puck into the zone, skated around the boards, and lost the puck.  But the two looked awfully similar what with their lack of assistance on defense, their lack of direction on offense, and their lack of any shots on net.  They're two different sizes, two different ages, and yet they were almost equally useless tonight.  Wow.

Passenger: Adam Henrique may be up there in the scoring department on the team - whatever that's worth, but it's been increasingly apparent to me that he's really an opportunist. That's good when someone's creating chances or setting him specifically.  That's not good when the team is struggling and they need someone to take initiative offensively.  A shotless night isn't it.  Neither is chasing the play and not actually making one on defense.

Likewise, Steve Bernier is really a fourth-line forward playing above his level at the moment.  Tonight, he showed that he really is suited for the energy-forward lifestyle.  Going up against stiff competition is a bad idea for him and it showed tonight.  Further, he really should be encouraged to take whatever shot he gets because when he tries to be cute and force a pass to a covered spot, it usually doesn't work.

The Invisibles: Would you believe me if I said Scott Gomez, Travis Zajac (I know he had a big miss), and Patrik Elias after the first period really played?  Would you?  Non-descript is the nicest thing I can say about their performances tonight.

There Was a Tootoo Chant: Jordin Tootoo got a chant in the second period.  Check this out: he got a puck in the neutral zone, saw he had space in front of him, tried to beat the defenseman with speed, did beat the defenseman with speed, and put a close shot on net on Scrivens.  That got a chant.  Yes, that may be setting the bar low.  But in a period that only had three shots on net, it was wonderful to see somebody try to make a play instead of making drop pass or cross-ice pass after pass that often went awry and allowed Edmonton to get out and go forward.  Tootoo still doesn't belong anywhere near a competent power play and that was his only notable play of the game. But he at least had one, unlike so many Devils tonight.

As far as the other fourth liners: meh.  Jacob Josefson caught Scrivens out of his net but couldn't fire anything on net amid chaos and being at a sharp angle. Tuomo Ruutu did nothing of real value.

Your Power Play Is Awful, Oates: If Adam Oates runs the offense, then he has been dreadfully unsatisfactory for weeks now.  But the power play was the cherry on top of a sundae made of used medical devices.  In a second period where the Devils had only one shot on net, a 5-on-4 situation would be a good time to get the offense going. To get some good feelings going.  Maybe tie up the game. In two minutes, we saw more dump-ins than set-up passes, more movements behind the net to start the league's crummiest breakout, and Zajac whiffing on the one time the Devils set-up a good shot.  No, they didn't get a shot on net.  They haven't got many shots on net on their power plays over the last two weeks.  Not goals, mind you, shots.  The 1-3-1 formation is a mess and as much as I've written about how Tootoo shouldn't be there, the issues run a lot deeper than who's on it.   Like Stevens, tonight just gave me further evidence for not wanting him anywhere near this or any NHL team as a coach.

Fourteen Shots is a Failure: If you need more evidence of my disapproval of Oates or just more evidence that the Devils were truly outplayed, then consider that the Devils had fourteen shots on net.  In what would become a one-shot game, the Devils got out-shot by the Oilers 14-24.  That's a team that thinks Justin Schultz won't turn out to be the poor man's Jack Johnson and the Salvadorian defender Andrew Ference should play significant minutes. That's a team that hasn't understood neutral zone play for more than flashes at a time.  That's a team that has been rivaling Buffalo - as in, intentionally terrible Buffalo - in the standings.  Fourteen shots on net.  That's all the Devils could muster up.

The Oilers looked very good in the second and third period due in part of all of the conceded pucks by the Devils.  A lot of the times, the Devils would gain the zone and then promptly lose the puck with a bad pass, a forced decision through bodies, or even a rare shooting attempt that would go awry.  The Devils tried to play from the perimeter inward, but they ended up playing primarily on the perimeter unless the Oilers really made an error in coverage. Those errors weren't all that common and so the Devils were not just limited to 14 shots but most weren't too difficult for Scrivens.  But the turnovers were killer.  Usually, it's the ones within the defensive zone that are killers; but ones on offense just limit what a team can do.  Getting the puck in deep, winning that puck, and throwing it to an Oiler over and over wasn't going to yield a great chance.  Combined with the many struggles of the defense, and it's easy to see why the Devils got out played by the Oilers for the second and third periods.

The lesson of all of this isn't to just fire away like David Clarkson used to, though I would've preferred that the build-up-to-nowhere offense on display by the Devils tonight.  It's that making good reads of the situation are important.  Throwing passes without a care to guys in coverage or around the boards isn't going to work all that well and it hasn't worked for weeks now.   If this was the first or second game under the new coaches, I could be hopeful for improvement.  It's about game #18 and I don't think it's going to get better.  It's going to get worse, especially when the Devils play way better teams, which is nearly everyone other than Buffalo.

Convinced: As I came home from tonight's game, what I witnessed convinced me of three things. First, this team has issues with not only the fundamentals of hockey but also the fundamentals of being a team.  They played like they're in pick-up pond hockey; kids as opposed to the men of Edmonton, who came into Newark with a gameplan of sorts. This would explain why the defense is almost solely devoted to reacting what the opposition does instead of trying to dictate it.  This would explain why the offense was a complete mess tonight and in past games where getting twenty shots on net seems like a dream.  The Devils have to talk to each other, recognize what their teammates can and can't do, and provide help.  The floating, chasing, and expectations of having others make plays isn't going to cut it.

Second, I've believed strongly that Lou would never tank but I'm becoming convinced that's what we're seeing.  How else to explain a line change of three defensively-poor players: Gomez, Bernier, and Jagr?  How else to explain seeing Fraser and Harrold as a pairing in this league in 2015?  How else to explain the consistently bad performances of the last few weeks with little change (winning played a role in that)?  For some fans who want to see the Devils get the best first round draft pick possible, then you should be loving this sort of result.  For those like me who want to see competitive hockey, this is near-obscene.  Unfortunately, the third thing I'm convinced that no 18-year old prospect is going to immediately fix all (or some) of the problems with the Devils that we've seen this season.  The first rounder should be good (don't botch it, Conte) but he's not going to be the franchise savior.  Not with this current make-up.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO: There was plenty of booing tonight. The owners, who were announced before Elias received some gifts and a pre-game ceremony for hitting 1,000 points, got boos.  The power play drew a ton of boos.  The bad play of the third period got increasing boos from those who didn't leave early.  It definitely wasn't a big crowd at the Rock, but they had every right to voice their displeasure.  Simply put, this game was offensive to anyone who paid money and time to it.  That deserves booing.  I'm glad it happened, though insipid silence also would've sufficed.

My Feelings: Not that I'm big on feelings over facts and reality on this site (it's a Devils blog, not one of those let's go on about things like the Devils and really focus on other things).  But I'm in this deep into the recap, so I might as well leave it all out there.  This game made me feel like a sucker.  For the fact I stayed for the whole thing. For the fact I'm dropping 3,000 words from my head for this one when the first three really suffice.  For the fact that I'm going to renew for next season (I kind of have an incentive most don't have, admittedly). For the fact I'm going to watch this team get massacred by Chicago and Nashville at the end of this week (not like I have anything better to do).  For the fact that I'm actually wondering if the Devils are going to stink up the joint again next Tuesday when they host the worst Corsi team in history, Buffalo.  If comebacks and blowout wins over rivals and big wins in general draw fans, then this was a game that would even make hardcore fans think about doing anything else rather than watch this team.  Seriously, try playing a game, reading a book, building a ship in a bottle, learning a new culture, or re-grouting your tiles instead of watching New Jersey get slaughtered by the Blackhawks this Friday. You can read my recap and then impress your date on Valentine's Day about how much you know the Devils (likely) got creamed.   If the 1-2 OT loss Pittsburgh hurt my soul, then this game just made it feel sickened and defeated.

Lastly: Remember, season ticket holders, you can still renew your likely more expensive tickets for 2015-16!

Your Take: Well, what do you have to say about this one?  Who was the worst Devil? Who was the best, if any? What do you think the Devils will do over the next three days? Are you more shocked that the Devils lost to the Oilers or in how they did it?  Will you do anything else other than watch Friday's game?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments.

Thanks to all of those who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading and I'm sorry this season has turned this way.