Not all blowout losses are necessarily blowouts from start to finish. In fact, there was some time in this game where the game was competitive. After the Minnesota Wild controlled the game for ten minutes, the New Jersey Devils actually managed to get their acts together. They strung some passes together. They controlled the puck on offense. They made Devan Dubnyk work and work often. Before one knows it, the Devils turned a 3-9 shot difference to 14-11. It would be the high point of the game. Even when Sean Bergenheim scored late in the first period, there was enough work done by the visitors to think that there could be a response. Then the rest of the game happened and the blowout was on.
The final score itself is hideous: a 2-6 loss. What was uglier were the difference in shooting attempts. The Wild out-attempted the Devils 70-45. So much for low-event hockey. Minnesota could've made it a lot worse with some better accuracy as only 38 of those 70 attempts got on target. With six goals, I don't think they mind lacking in accuracy. And those 38 shots included breakaways, odd-man rushes, shots from distance, shots up close, and all kinds of chaos around the net. Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid were forced to be active, flopping around much more than usual, just to stay in front of the game. As one may expect, the Devils' defensive effort was less than ideal to put it nicely.
It all fell apart in the second period. Chris Stewart was free to get a rebound seconds into the period to double the deficit. Seconds after a Mark Fraser penalty was killed where the Wild just stormed the Devils on the power play, Jared Spurgeon hammered in a hard shot to make it 0-3. Dainius Zubrus would kill the shutout with his first goal in seemingly forever (50 games). But that turned out to only be a consolation score minutes later when Thomas Vanek wasn't covered to put home a loose puck in front to make it 1-4. At that point, it was clear that this game was going to get uglier instead of getting prettier. The Wild just kept coming at the Devils in waves and the Devils had no real answer for them. Or at least, no real constructive answer considering their idea of defense was to be chasing the play and hoping Minnesota loses the puck.
The Wild just went from strength to strength in the third period. Jason Pominville received a killer pass from Spurgeon to be wide open in the high slot; he hammered the shot into the net. The Devils made a goalie change but the pressure continued. The Wild would finally get a power play goal - off another penalty by Fraser - when Zach Parise attempted to slam in a loose puck and Vanek got a piece of it before it got in. Scott Gomez would re-direct a Steve Bernier pass at the side of the net for another consolation goal, but the Wild were free to cruise for the rest of the game. Even so, the Devils were still out-attempted and out-shot in the third period.
The record will show that Dubnyk did make thirty stops, which is true. The Devils did make him work. But the Wild had the lion's share of more dangerous opportunities. They nearly scored on wraparounds multiple times. They were frequent green and red jerseys at the crease and in the slot with the Devils struggling to keep up. Schneider and Kinkaid made some big stops and they were still beaten - Schneider obviously more so than Kinkaid. Yet, the performance by the Devils skaters were abysmal that even Schneider's best performance of the season would make it unlikely that the Devils would have got something out of tonight. (Aside: You think the Devils finally realize that they can't expect their goalie to always bail out their mistake? I'm going with 'no' based on this season.) If it wasn't Mikael Granlund's line kicking the Devils around, then it was the Mikko Koivu line, then the Coyle line did work, and then the Erik Haula line got some work done. That's all four lines from Minnesota and for stretches at a time, the Devils had no answer for any of them.
Simply, the Devils lost big to a quality team like Minnesota and deserved to lose big. We've seen this many times earlier in this season. Tonight was just another example of the harsh reality of the 2014-15 campaign.
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: Joe Bouley at Hockey Wilderness is very pleased with the Wild based on his recap. As he should be, his favorite team laid a smack down on the Devils.
The Game Highlights: There's a lot of Wild players doing good things in this video from NHL.com. Also: Zubrus scoring a goal.
Stunk: Collectively, the defense stunk tonight. It's been a constant feeling - or rationalization - from many fans about the how the Devils have a young, developing defense. Tonight, they got owned. Adam Larsson was brutal. Jon Merrill was lost more often than not. Ditto for Damon Severson. The pairing of Eric Gelinas and Mark Fraser went about as well as expected, including a combined three penalties taken on plays where the Wild almost scored anyway. Even the veteran Andy Greene got picked on. Throw in some seeming-disinterest from the forwards (e.g. Mike Cammalleri on Stewart's goal, Jacob Josefson on Vanek's first) in terms of defending, and it's a mess. The team conceded nearly thirty shots in two periods and many of the six goals allowed featured the scorer being wide open. Schneider got lit up and pulled, but it would be rather unfair to pin this loss solely on him when this is what he has to work with. Rebounds happen, the Devils skaters stunk at cleaning them up. Oppositions try to find openings in the slot and they sometime happen, the Devils skaters stunk at denying those plays. Zone exits are key to take the pressure off the defense, the Devils skaters stunk at getting those. I cannot stress enough how bad the Devils were defensively against a good possession team.
Speed: The Wild looked like cheetahs at times. It's not that they have super-fast players. Sure, they have some swift skaters. But it's all because they had the puck on their sticks way more often than not. The player with the puck is usually going to be faster than he is without it if only because he can make passes and decisions at moving the puck effectively. The Wild were great at that. In their stretches of dominance, they swarmed the Devils in their own end to win some more pucks back and keep the Devils on their heels. They caught the Devils in bad spots, leading to multiple odd man rushes and breakaways. Even a 2-on-0 due to puck watching in the neutral zone. The Devils are definitely a slow team. I don't think anyone can question that. That was magnified tonight because of how well the Wild controlled and moved the puck, not so much that the Wild have generally faster players. Although that might be true.
Shutout: The Devils didn't get shutout on the scoreboard, they did in the penalty department. The Devils were guilty of four minor penalties, three of which were fouls on plays where the Wild nearly scored anyway. The Wild converted the third and scored second after the second ended; both on Fraser penalties, incidentally. It speaks to how dominant the Wild were tonight that they did not commit an infraction worthy of some time in the penalty box. Typically, those who have the puck a lot are going to be fouled. Typically, those who have the puck and look to make a move to score will likely be fouled. The Wild had the puck a lot and threatened to score in multiple ways. The Devils really didn't, not even when they ramped up the shot count in the first period. The Devils didn't even play well enough to deserve one foul drawn; which speaks further to how bad the Devils were tonight.
Standouts: The Wild certainly were. Among them, Dubnyk played very well. Had he been too loose when the Devils would get some offense going, then perhaps this game goes differently. The Jonas Brodin-Ryan Suter pairing was excellent. Spurgeon should rightly be hailed as one of the stars of the game for his offensive contributions. Sean Bergenheim made life difficult for the Gelinas-Fraser pairing, as did Kyle Brodziak. Those two were flying all night long. The top line of Granlund, Parise, and Pominville were heavily featured and couldn't be slowed down with a combined nine shots on net, nineteen attempts on net, a goal, and an assist (I thought Parise put in the PPG, but whatever). Thomas Vanek had an Adam Henrique kind of night where he was in the right spot and finished the plays for scores. Lastly, the line of Stewart, Nino Niederreiter, and Koivu worked well. The Wild's other pick up by the trade deadline looked good and added a goal and an assist to his account.
OK, I named nearly half of the Wild's roster. The team that won 6-2 unsurprisingly had a lot of standout players.
Sigh: I repeat, this game was something we've seen before. A good, playoff-bound team that is at least solid in possession proverbially dumped the Devils' books and gave them swirlies for the better part of sixty minutes. We've known that the Devils have been bad for months. It doesn't make the dulling pain from that fact any better. If you watched this entire game or know someone who did, then please give them a hug or something because the Devils were simply playing sad hockey tonight. Again.
Your Take: Well, where do the Devils go from here? Denver on Thursday to play the Avalanche. Can the Devils play more competently in their own end of the rink? Will they be able to force a penalty or two by controlling the puck? Can the Devils even control the puck almost as much of their opponents? Are there any real lessons to take out of this 2-6 loss to Minnesota? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.