The Devils came into tonight's game hoping to extend their winning streak and close their playoff deficit to 6 points ahead of Friday's game versus Boston. The Devils had some good moments, particularly from the power play, but a lackluster overall effort led to a loss versus a team that didn't look great either, but capitalized on their chances.
As things got rolling in the first, play started out a little bit on the choppy side with both teams being somewhat disjointed, but Calgary was a bit sharper and controlled more of the play. Things would pick up about five minutes in, though, as an unexpected duo in Travis Zajac and Curtis Glencross would drop the gloves and square off. As fights go, it was a pretty lousy one, which perhaps shouldn't be a huge surprise, given the participants. Shortly after the fight, the Flames would take an additional penalty when Raphael Diaz would catch Stephen Gionta with a high stick. The Devils power play that followed was actually one of the best you will see from this team as the Devils attacked often and attacked effectively. Alas, that power play would yield no goals, but it was still a strong effort from the Devils. Following the power play, the Devils would play well for a bit, but eventually started getting loose with the puck and yielding some chances to the Flames. Cory Schneider would be forced to come up big when Jiri Hudler was sprung on a breakaway late in the period. Schneider would turn aside Hudler's shot and the Devils would push back in the other direction with Cammalleri executing a great give-and-go play with Jordin Tootoo and beating Karri Ramo after taking the return pass to make it 1-0. Larsson took a penalty with about 1:30 left in the period, but the Devils would keep the Flames in check, ending the period with the one-goal lead.
To open the second, the Devils killed off the remainder of Larsson's tripping minor in the first thirty seconds and then would slow the pace of the game down for a while. The Devils did a pretty good job of controlling play for the first half of the period, but they were unable to create too much danger with the chances they were able to get through to Ramo. Around the midway point of the period, things would start to open up with play going end to end and both team having a few good cracks at the net that would go wanting. Calgary would start to control play a little more in the second half of the period but Cammalleri would almost strike again late in the second when he shot a rocket past Ramo and off the crossbar in transition. The Devils looked poised to head into the intermission with the lead when things fell apart in the waning moments of the second. First, Curtis Glencross would streak into the zone on the rush unimpeded by Jordin Tootoo or Marek Zidlicky and he'd take a perfect backhand feed from Joe Colborne and stash it in the net behind a hung-out-to-dry Schneider to make it 1-1. Then, to make things worse, Jon Merrill would take an ill-advised slashing minor as the period came to a close.
To open the third, the Devils would be tasked with killing off the Merrill minor and, unfortunately, were unable to do so. Just 35 seconds in, Mark Giordano would find some space in the right circle and fire a nice shot/pass to Sean Monahan who would deflect it by Schneider. The Devils got burned on both sides of the second intermission and a 1-0 lead would turn into a 2-1 deficit in just 48 seconds of gameplay. Now down a goal, the Devils needed to mount a comeback of their own, but their play remained sloppy and ineffective for much of the first half of the third period. Calgary would control the majority of attempts and chances until the Devils got a power play on a Johnny Gaudreau hold near the halfway point of the period. What would follow was another good effort by the Devils on the man advantage, but they were again unable to convert. After the power play, the Devils again would have trouble generating chances, save for one big opportunity by Ruutu on the rush that Ramo was able to blocker away. It wasn't until the Devils pulled Schneider late in the game that they were really able to mount a charge. The team was able to get a flurry of chances during the 6-on-5 and it looked like they might have a great opportunity to tie it after the Mikael Backlund took a delay of game penalty for clearing it over the glass. Unfortunately, TJ Brodie was able to collect the puck off of the ensuing faceoff and fire it the length of the ice for an empty-netter that would salt the game away.
Ultimately, it was an okay effort, but the Devils just did not do enough at even strength to build on the first goal they scored. When they were threatening, it was only in short bursts or single instances for the most part, and Calgary, being the opportunistic team they are, were able to capitalize on the opportunities afforded them by New Jersey. So the Devils' win streak comes to an end and they will remain 8 points back of Boston heading into Friday's game.
If you want to see the highlights from tonight's game, which was honestly a bit of a dry affair, they're below from NHL.com:
NHL.com Box Score | NHL Game Summary | NHL Event Summary | Hockeystats.ca Advanced Stats
Cammalleri Revenge Tour Rolls On: Mike Cammalleri just cannot stop scoring against his former employers this season. In five games against the Habs, Kings, and Flames this season, he has a goal in each one. He had a strong night overall, registering a goal, three SOG on nine attempts and a goalpost in generally being the Devils most dangerous offensive player. It's a shame the Devils aren't a better team this year because Cammalleri seems like he could have made a big difference on Devils teams from the past couple seasons. It's hard to think just how bad this offense would be without Cammalleri putting pucks in the net.
Tootoo Still Streaking: Jordin Tootoo continued his point streak tonight, extending it to four games on a nice feed in the middle of a give-and-go by Cammalleri. I've given Tootoo some grief at times this season, but credit where its due, he has been a good contributor at evens of late. The guy skates at 100% speed at all times, even to the point where it can be to his detriment, so there is no faulting his effort right now.
Fourths Were No Good: I didn't much like the game from the fourth line of Gionta-Josefson-Zubrus tonight. They were pinned back a lot and really couldn't get much of anything going on the attack. Yes, they are the fourth line and you can only expect so much, but I just felt they were too much of a negative tonight. Gionta did at least draw a high-sticking penalty, as he is wont to do.
Invisible: I thought the Henrique-Elias-Bernier line was hardly noticable tonight. Bernier had some opportunities on the power play and 6 on 5, but the line was largely MIA at even strength. The Devils don't have a ton of scoring options so they can't really afford for a line with Henrique and Elias on it to go missing like it did tonight.
The Defense: I didn't think any of the defensemen had a particularly standout night tonight on the back end. I thought Larsson and Greene started out well but started to struggle in the third. Zidlicky was his typical self in that he was active on offense but had several lapses on defense including having at least some responsibility in the tying goal by Glencross. Merrill was nondescript for the most part, but did take a needless penalty that led to the go-ahead goal. Harrold was Harrold. I actually though Gelinas had a decent night, but he had one big gaffe, allowing Hudler to get behind him for a breakaway in the first period. Not really a banner night from the blue line, overall.
Power Play Was Actually Good: I liked what I saw from the Devils power play tonight, even if they did go scoreless in their 2+ opportunities. They were crisp moving the puck and applied a lot of pressure to the Flames PK. They got 6 shots in their two meaningful opportunities with the man-advantage and had plenty of time where they were set up in the Flames end. Alas, they could not convert, but I thought it was worth mentioning that the unit had a good game tonight.
Final Thoughts: So the Devils had their 4-game winning streak snapped tonight, and while I didn't think they were vastly outplayed, they just did not do enough at even strength. I wasn't particularly impressed by the Flames either, but credit to them, they came in and got the job done against a team that was hot previously, partially thanks to Karri Ramo, who was very solid in getting the win. Ultimately, a game like this serves to illustrate why the Devils' odds of a comeback are slim at this point in the season. They have to be on every night to pick up the kind of points they need to get back into the playoff picture, and they just can't get away with the level of play they often produce against teams who are contenders or even fringe playoff teams like the Flames.