As the New Jersey Devils have won some games - five of their last six, to be precise - before tonight's game, I've noticed an uptick in hope. That the Devils have turned a corner. That there might be a faint hope of a playoff push. This has also led to an uptick of grumblings that the Devils are winning too many games. That they're winning their way out of a high draft pick. I've stated in the recaps of most of the recent games that the Devils getting out-shot is not at all a good thing. The recent results do not belie good or even acceptable performances. Yet, the team has made no changes to their lineup and no real adjustments to how they've played the games. Tonight, the Devils, those hopeful fans thinking "just maybe," and those grumpier fans lamenting the draft pick all got a massive dose of reality courtesy of the Montreal Canadiens. The performance was as bad as we've seen in most of the last five games from the Devils. The score caught up to that bad performance as Montreal demolished them; the Devils lost 2-6.
In a way, I'm not surprised. Seriously, who would think the Devils were suddenly going to play better? Or that the wins would keep on coming? Sure, they got quality against Toronto whereas the visitors on Friday had the quantity. But the poor passes, the constant decisions to dump pucks into their zone and chip pucks out of their own zone, and bad decisions all gave Montreal opportunities after opportunities. They had quantity and quality. They flew by the Devils. They're a faster team but any team with the puck on their sticks is going to be faster than the team without it. The Devils helped them out with turnovers and two costly penalties. The latter got the scoring party started for the Canadiens, the former just kept the game largely in the Devils' third of the rink. It was a lot like the Pittsburgh game last Friday, including the goalie - Keith Kinkaid tonight - playing out of his mind to keep the game a game for the Devils. Except the Canadiens would break through and score a lot.
To an extent, I want to thank the Canadiens. They showed those who saw this game how a good team should play against a bad team. Their breakouts were excellent. Their power play was awesome, going 3-for-3 as they punished Dainius Zubrus for a double-minor and Peter Harrold for a hooking minor all in the second period. There are so many players to praise for how well they played. Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, and Max Pacioretty seemed ever-present on offense. Tomas Plekanec looked like a younger Patrik Elias; he got a brace. P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov were dominant. Dale Weise got two late goals, both by getting to the net and away from a defender. Montreal played extremely well and showed the Devils no mercy - not that they deserved any. If the Devils want to get good, their current model may be one to try and emulate. But they're not going to be anything like that as they are and definitely not with how they played tonight.
Simply, the Devils have shown the hockey world that they are a bad team with tonight's loss. They have turned no corners after a successful homestand. They have proven yet again that unsustainable play is indeed unsustainable. They have proven that they are truly a bad team. Not on the epic levels of, say, Edmonton (their next opponent); but definitely nowhere near mediocre. Montreal brought the Devils and at least a section of the fanbase back into reality, if only in a painful way.
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: Here's a quick recap from Aruny Siv at Habs Eyes on the Prize. A more detailed one will be up later.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a highlight video of tonight's loss.
Funnily Enough, This Was a One-Shot Game At Some Point: After the Montreal power play smoked the Devils for three second period goals, the Devils pulled within one. Tuomo Ruutu played Jacob Josefson past the defense very well, Josefson put up a backhander, and it went off Carey Price's glove and in. It was a goal that Price may have wished he had back. It provided a glimmer of hope (and comedy) that the Devils would equalize given their horrid performance. That lasted for nine minutes and then Plekanec and Weise each scored goals within a minute.
Technically, it was also a one-shot game for about half of the game. Peter Harrold fired a shot from distance that Mike Cammalleri got a piece of on it's way for the game's first goal. Montreal put up mighty efforts to equalize, what with the Canadiens heavily out-shooting and out-attempting the Devils. Those would finally yield goals once the Canadiens started to bomb away on their power play.
Special Teams Woes: The Devils got a power play tonight and did nothing of note with it unless you call giving up a puck to Brandon Prust that could've been a breakaway if it wasn't for Jon Merrill and if it wasn't for Prust skating like he had bricks in his shorts. The nothing power play is notable because the Devils have done nothing with their power play in their last few games; one shot over their last five advantages. As much as I'd love to write "Take Jordin Tootoo off of the power play and it'll get better," the issues lie deeper than personnel choices.
In contrast, the Canadiens converted each one of their power plays. They have two defensemen in Subban and Markov who can just kill it from distance. They also have multiple forwards who can, will, and did fire away from anywhere. All three power play goals were slam dunks of one-timers. Kinkaid had no chance and his skaters did him a disservice by not making solid clearances when they had the chance. The second goal was especially miserable as Mark Fraser had all the time and space to make one. Instead, he backhanded it right to Subban, who slid it across to Lars Eller for a monster one-timer. Regardless, the Devils' PK got housed, the PP would've got lost in an empty field, and it only adds to the issues given how one-sided the game was at even strength.
How One-Sided the Game was at Even Strength: The Devils were out-shot 22-38 and out-attempted 41-65 at even strength. The silver lining is that the Devils cracked the twenty-shot mark. Of course, that was achieved in the third period, well after the Devils were losing. That silver lining really doesn't mean much.
There Must Be Changes, Right?: Ignoring the trade deadline coming up, surely Eric Gelinas and Michael Ryder have to get back into the lineup? No, they wouldn't have helped change tonight's performance all that much. But you can't tell me Fraser or Harrold have been good enough to warrant further ice time at this level of hockey and keep Gelinas on the outside. Ryder can be just as invisible as most of New Jersey's forwards (e.g. Martin Havlat) tonight. I'd even consider changing some of the forward lines themselves. Adam Henrique could do more away from Scott Gomez and Steve Bernier. Travis Zajac could do more away from Patrik Elias (he did indeed play tonight, by the way) and Havlat. Tootoo can even be moved off the power play. Whatever it is, I'm hoping a big loss like this is enough for a wakeup call to the co-coaches that the lineup as-is isn't all that good. There isn't much they can do internally to make it significantly better, but I think some change can provide some improvement.
Poor Kinkaid: Keith Kinkaid was standing on his head. Big win aside, I think Galchenyuk and Gallagher are still talking to themselves about not scoring on Kinkaid's left. Yet, he got next to no help from the skaters for two straight periods and not nearly enough in the third. The turnovers were an eyesore and too many Devils committed to them. And the coverage, oh, it was bad. Fraser's turnover to Subban might as well given him a secondary assist on Eller's goal - who had no one near him. (That turnover was absolutely awful. I cannot stress that enough.) Plekanec's first goal came on an open one-timer he first missed and no one bothered to get near him for the second he didn't. Nobody was also not near Plekanec for his second goal. Marek Zidlicky let Dale Weise get behind him for an easy goal. Andy Greene couldn't catch Weise for his second. And those big scoring chances that Galchenyuk, Gallagher, Pacioretty, etc. all had sometimes got an unintentional assist from a Devil. This is the opposite of help for a goalie, much less a team.
Simply, Kinkaid got hit with wave after wave. Unfortunately, he was eventually overwhelmed. Of all of the Devils tonight, he is the only one I can say he came to play a proper game.
Thought: Why doesn't Tuomo Ruutu play in the spot Dainius Zubrus currently does? Zubrus hasn't helped at all in either end of the rink. If anything, he was a net negative solely for clipping Subban in the face with a high stick right off a faceoff. That led to a double-minor that led to two power play goals for the Canadiens. Ruutu can play similarly to Zubrus. Why not make that switch? If Ruutu isn't all that good, then so what? Neither was Zubrus tonight and for most of this season.
Lastly: The next opponent is Edmonton, but I hope the lessons from this game take. Because a similar performance with a better result will only lead to more painful and non-competitive losses like this one.
Your Take: This was a big loss in Montreal. What's your take on it? What can the Devils do to avoid a similar result like this one? Other than apologizing profusely to Kinkaid? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this 2-6 loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.