I honestly expected the Chicago Blackhawks to wreck the New Jersey Devils tonight. The Devils have put up some absolutely horrid performances on the ice. The Blackhawks are a legitimately good team with many talented players that excels at possession, specifically getting shots on net. I put two and two together and figured this was going to be a slaughter. I'm pretty sure I made that clear in my preview. As I expected, the Devils did lose, 1-3. Much to my surprise, this game was actually competitive for most of it.
The proof is in the attempts and shots. After two periods, attempts at even strength only favored Chicago 30-29 and they were ahead in shots 18-17 in all situations. The Blackhawks definitely put the Devils on their collective heels multiple times, especially in the second period. However, the Devils were able to deny a shot or a pass to get out of trouble. They were able to move the puck forward and make Corey Crawford work tonight. If that wasn't enough, the Devils got the first goal of the game. Scott Gomez had the puck behind the net, Peter Harrold moved up to the edge of the right circle, Gomez' pass was true, and the shot got in. It was a good play against a good team.
However, there were warning signs that Chicago was going to break through in the second period. The Blackhawks did have some dangerous shifts where they pinned back the Devils. They had some dangerous odd-man rushes and open Hawks to the net where Cory Schneider had to be great. Marek Zidlicky was particularly poor in his own end, the returning Eric Gelinas had some real bad times, and the unit of Dainius Zubrus, Jacob Josefson, and Michael Ryder were not only dominated but they played a crucial role in tonight's result.
In the dying seconds of the second period, Ryder got the puck heading into the zone. He fired a shot and missed the net by a mile. No big deal, it happens. Zubrus retrieves the puck in the corner and sends it around. Ryder figured, "Hey, I'm nowhere near this puck and Niklas Hjalmarsson is in my way. Let me shove him down." That got an easy interference call with three seconds left in the period. This put the Devils down a man to start the third and Chicago finally broke through. The hottest scorer in the league just ripped one past Schneider and Jonathan Toews to tie it up. That was costly and the Blackhawks never really let up.
Minutes later, they got the lead. Toews plays Hossa forward, who easily got around Zidlicky and went to the net. Toews followed the play, got around Zidlicky easily to the rebound. He scored. But what Chicago did afterward was smart. They kept attacking. They ultimately out-shot the Devils 17-9 in the third period. While the Devils got some glorious chances - like a 2-on-0 where Crawford denied Adam Henrique - the Blackhawks got more. When the puck got past the point and a defender wasn't in a good position, they flew up ice and forced Schneider to be great. Schneider was great, right up to denying Patrick Kane on a breakaway and a second effort from him in the final minutes. Alas, he was pulled as Steve Bernier couldn't put a shot past Duncan Keith, Gelinas couldn't keep the puck in, and Kris Versteeg iced the game.
While it's their third straight loss, the larger point is that the Devils really got steamrolled for one period. And even then, they weren't totally devoid of offense as we've seen for two to three weeks now. It is yet another game where Schneider played way above the level of his team. Yet, the Devils were beaten by a better team without it being entirely embarrassing. There's no way the Devils are going to make the playoffs, so all I want is some competitive hockey. Therefore, I can't be mad about it - and I'm not. Especially since I didn't get the beatdown I was concerned I was going to witness.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Logs | 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: Randy Holt has this recap of the game at Second City Hockey.
The Game Highlights: From tonight's game, here's a video from NHL.com with evidence of Peter Harrold scoring a goal and Schneider being excellent.
<3 #35: Cory Schneider continues to be the most impressive player on the roster. He would eventually have a very busy night as the only big gun on Chicago who didn't put up at least two shots on him was Duncan Keith. Schneider made multiple stops off one-timers, odd-man rushes, and crashes to the net. Nearly half of his workload came in the third period alone. While he was beaten twice, I don't think he should be faulted for either and if anything, he kept a hope of an equalizer alive. I feel bad that he's playing so, so well with a team that's not really going to be benefit from it beyond April 11. But he is a key reason why the Devils may be worth your time this season.
Tootoo Played How Much?!: 17:16. Tootoo played 22 shifts like an actual hockey player. Amazingly, he wasn't that bad at it. I'd say the line of Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, and Tootoo was New Jersey's best tonight. That was largely because Elias and Zajac had some very good attacking shifts as they had three and four shots, respectively. While Tootoo got into defensive trouble, he wasn't hustling for the sake of hustling in either direction. I don't think he created all that much, but he wasn't a liability on offense either. I still don't like seeing him on the power play and I'm not a fan of the fact that he played over seventeen minutes. But it wasn't as horrible as I feared.
How Not to Return: Let me preface this section by stating that a good penalty that results in a PPGA is as costly as a bad penalty that results in a PPGA. That said, Ryder's interference penalty was simply dumb and it's memorable because it's the only notable thing he did tonight. He got no shots on net, he didn't create shots for anyone else, and he got demolished in the 9:24 he did play. It may not be fair that he was scratched for so long, but this is a business where when an opportunity comes, it has to be taken. Ryder did not take it. I wouldn't be surprised if he's scratched again tomorrow. I certainly wouldn't complain.
Eric Gelinas, at least, showed that he could be better than Mark Fraser. He even got two shots on net. The positives really end there, though. For every good defensive play he would have, he would exceed it with something bad. He'd have a shift where he defended Kane well one-on-one, and then make a careless giveaway on the net. He'd have a shift where he successfully denied a Blackhawk in front of the net to deny a score, and then he'd be totally out of position on the net. His nadir was when he gave a puck away from the corner, cross-checked one Blackhawk, and then hooked Kane for a penalty all within ten seconds. Overall, Chicago loved playing against Gelinas; especially for the shifts where he was paired with Marek Zidlicky. They got a lot of shots against when #22 was out there. He could be better than Fraser, but he wasn't that much better in my opinion. Again, he got a shot tonight and proceeded to not make a good case to stay in the lineup. I think his return was more fruitful than Ryder's, but don't take that as high praise.
A Tale of Two Power Plays: The Chicago power play got four opportunities, hit one post, and registered six shots on net. They were able to get into New Jersey's end with control and get set up in their own version of the 1-3-1. The Devils decided dumping the puck in to try and get set up would be their way. That wasn't nearly as successful and so they didn't get up all that often, ultimately, they only got two shots on net. The issue for the Devils' power play wasn't so much the formation but just getting there. Chicago didn't have the same problem. Will someone like Adam Oates (or even Scott Stevens, presuming he has a say about it) identify those differences and implement them? I'm not so sure he will.
Better: I was a fan of Andy Greene's game tonight. He was very good on the penalty kill and he handled his match-ups well. Kane, Brad Richards, Toews, Hossa, Brandon Saad, Versteeg, and Patrick Sharp each had plenty of offensive opportunities. But Greene limited them better than the rest.
Jaromir Jagr did take an offensive zone penalty when his stick hooked Kyle Cumiskey's hands along the boards. That wasn't so good. Neither is the fact that he went shotless tonight/ However, he was more active on the puck and made some very good passes from the perimeter inward. He created a 2-on-0, Mike Cammalleri's best shot at the net, and didn't get deterred by hits. It was a better performance than his game against Edmonton in my opinion.
Jon Merrill had a rough first period due to falling down twice. They both created great chances for Chicago that were denied by Schneider. From the second period onward, Merrill settled down and turned out to be the superior defender between him and Zidlicky. He got pinned back several times, but he wasn't a liability and, again, Zidlicky was terri-bad-ful tonight. I note him here as that first period suggested he was going to have a nightmare of a game. He didn't.
Still Bad: Dainius Zubrus had two moments that pretty much sum up his 2014-15 season. Early in the game, he got trucked by Ryan Hartman (who had an energetic NHL debut, good for him). Hartman is 5'11" and weighs less than 200 pounds. That he rocked Zubrus, who's not the player he once was but is still quite large, was impressive for Hartman and sigh-inducing for Zubrus. The second moment came in the third as he tried to get around Johnny Oduya. Oduya has been having a rough season, but he was able to hold his position and hold up the Lithuanian Freight Train from getting to a puck he played past the defender. Oduya is not fast or all that strong, so it just reflects poorly on #8.
Zidlicky only needed a penalty to make it a full night of facepalming action. While I can appreciate his initiative to shoot the puck on offense - he had four tonight - he conceded thirteen. Some of those thirteen were significant scoring chances where Schneider bailed him out. Zidlicky was just lost in his own end to the point where I now wonder why any team in the NHL would trade for him. He was bad with Merrill and even worse with Gelinas. My hope is that when Damon Severson returns, the Devils can afford to play Zidlicky less - assuming he's still a Devil. Nights like this one would warrant a decrease in usage.
Chicago was Better: They showed that off for sure in the third. Marian Hossa is playing like a monster and the goals have flowed for him. Toews was excellent. Kane was threatening as was Sharp and Saad. Seabrook was great from distance and Keith was very good as well. Basically, their top players played like top players. They showed they were on a different level from the Devils. When it came time to push for the equalizer, they primarily put on the pressure, they got the goals, and they correctly didn't let up. It's hard to be mad about that; Chicago just has way better players and they were good to excellent tonight.
Lastly: Competitive hockey. That's all I really want to see. Maybe we'll see more of it Saturday night.
Your Take: The Devils lost but didn't get entirely creamed by Chicago. I'm fine with that. Are you? Who on the Devils impressed you the most, other than Schneider? Who do you think was the worst Devil on the ice? What, if anything, should the Devils take from this game as they head into Nashville on Saturday night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.