What started off so well didn't yield results. What turned into sloppiness, yielded a tie game. What continued as sloppiness, yielded no change. What four-on-four play brought were good shifts, bad shifts, and at least one amazing stop by each goal. And no difference. A shootout was necessary. One goal. One save. One miss. One goal. One goal. And the decider: no shot at all, just a stop. That was the long and short of it of tonight's game between the New Jersey Devils and the Colorado Avalanche. The Devils were defeated in the shootout 1-2, which made it a 1-2 final score.
I cannot stress enough how good the Devils started this game. The Avs were losing pucks left and right. They didn't bother to really defend the neutral zone. The Devils looked like Minnesota from Tuesday as they just did whatever they wanted on offense. They put shots on Seymon Varlamov, early, often, and from all over. Varlamov was excellent as he stopped all thirteen. Colorado's time to attack was limited to a mere three shots on net. Even without any goals, it's hard to find too much fault with that period. It's a shame it had no real bearing on the rest of the game, which Colorado mostly controlled.
The record will show that the Avalanche caught up to the Devils in shots by the third period and in attempts by the end of overtime. To do that meant overcoming the big deficit in both from the first period in following periods. To do that meant the Avalanche were controlling the puck more often and making more plays on offense. To do that meant that the Devils were chasing the game, often in their own end. All of this happened. It looked like bad fortune when Jarome Iginla picked up a loose puck - one that Andy Greene should've done a better job with - and slammed it past Cory Schneider early in the second. It was really a sign of things to come as the Avs did more. The Devils? They got four shots. Fortunately, Greene dropped a hammer from distance to tie up the game. Hockey, like life, is not a fair game.
Essentially, the two teams appeared to switch spots. However, there would be no changes in roles. After a slowish start, the Avalanche continued the good work they showed in the second period. Plenty of bad shifts for New Jersey. Plenty of shots against - twelve - with few going against Varlamov - four. They had to survive a penalty kill where the Avs nearly went ahead. They had to survive numerous instances at crashing the net. They had to hope Schneider overplaying Nick Holden on a drive to the net wouldn't go bad (it didn't). They had to hope there wouldn't be an errant bounce off a skate that would yield a wide-open net for a Colorado player to finish it late. The Devils would hold on, but the strong play from the first period seemed like a distant memory.
Overtime yielded a more even contest. Both teams traded shots, excellent shots, and robberies by their respective goaltenders. The Avalanche had a late opening when Eric Gelinas got his stick under the skate of John Mitchell, causing a tripping penalty. But the Devils survived those 26 seconds of 3-on-4 hockey, and so they got a point out of the affair. Not a terrible result in a game where the home team outplayed them for a majority of the game.
Alas, the shootout would go against the Devils. Ryan O'Reilly scored with seeming ease. Scott Gomez didn't fool Varlamov. Matt Duchene skated real hard and missed the net. Jacob Josefson roofed a shot over Varlamov. Jarome Iginla, the lone goal scorer during regulation for Colorado, would charge the net and score in close. Patrik Elias, I guess, tried to do the same thing. Except he slowed to a stop and Varlamov easily poked the puck away as Elias didn't even shoot. Based on how the game went overall, I can't say the Devils deserved a better result. That said, it was a really lame way to end a shootout and a game. So it goes as this season winds down.
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: Over at jdeppey at Mile High Hockey, here is a recap of this game from a Colorado supporter's perspective.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here is a video of the highlights of tonight's game.
Who Had the Issues?: Surprising to me, the players who had the biggest struggles from the second period onward included Adam Larsson and Andy Greene. Goal-based mistakes/achievements aside, Greene just struggled to make plays. Larsson also struggled to get where he needed to be in his own end, too. They got a lot of Alex Tanguay, Gabriel Landeskog, and Ryan O'Reilly and they didn't win those match-ups. Neither did plenty of shifts against Iginla, Matt Duchene, and John Mitchell.
In their defense, some of the forwards in front of them were just not helping. Travis Zajac was the best on his line, but he alone couldn't make up whenever Mike Cammalleri had issues (not so on offense, he was firing away as he should) or Jordin Tootoo defended like Tootoo. The Scott Gomez unit was just miserable in their own end. Steve Bernier looked lost, Gomez was just a step too slow, and Adam Henrique - yes, he played tonight - just wasn't helping much. That's the Devils' top six, for better or worse. If they're getting pinned with 5-6 behind them, then it's hard to say they did all that good of a job. Yes, the Devils didn't give up a ton of shots tonight. They only conceded 29. But when they spent more time in the Devils' end, it meant less time for them to attack.
By Contrast: The Devils' depth players had better nights. Damon Severson looked more like his old self tonight. Jon Merrill had some struggles early on, but it didn't turn out to be too damaging. Eric Gelinas, penalty aside, had one of his less contentious games in his own end of the rink. In that first period, Stephen Gionta, Patrik Elias, and Dainius Zubrus looked remarkably effective. The fourth line had some strong shifts. I attribute these differences to the match-ups. The top six, Larsson, and Greene got plenty of ice time against Colorado's best. That was probably the right call, though after that second period, one would've hoped for some kind of adjustment because whatever was done for the third didn't work.
Outcoached?: That brings to my tired mind a good question. Patrick Roy may be behind the bench for a team that went from being a bad possession team to an even worse one this season. However, he got his players coached up and/or modified his tactics to account for that great first period the Devils played. As a result, the Avalanche attacked more, they put the Devils' defense to the sword numerous times, and - like many Devils games this season - Schneider was the main reason why the game didn't get ugly. Again, the Avalanche were the better team on the ice in the second and third periods. That Colorado was able to do that while the Devils didn't really do much in response in the second intermission or even before overtime suggests to me that Roy did better than the co-coaches tonight.
Special Teams Sigh: The Devils' got three power plays and managed to register one shot on net. I thought hey forced at least two saves by Varlamov, but the scorer felt otherwise. It wasn't so much a case of the Devils being unable to get set-up. Tonight, it was just trying to get the puck through to the net. At least it's a slight step forward, but one shot out of six minutes of power play time points to that being an issue tonight.
Colorado was solidly killed on their first advantage, before making the Devils simply survive the other two. They got five shots, include one of the more heinous examples of overloading to one side of the ice that I've seen since the loss at Nashville. All four penalty killers were focused on the man at the sideboards who gained the zone. All four left a wide enough lane to the middle of the ice where Landeskog was just hanging out. Schneider denied him with a pad save to ensure that he would not be punished for his skaters' collective fault. I know it's a 4-on-5 situation, but there should be nobody all alone in the slot. Not even after a zone entry. My lamenting for one play aside, Schneider had to be great on the other two kills - and he was. While the PK can be considered a success for not conceding a goal, they didn't exactly quell the Avalanche either.
Random Thoughts: When the Zajac line did get forward and tried to make a play for a good shot on Varlamov, I kept wondering, "What if they had a better winger than Tootoo?" The energy winger had issues with making passes, cleanly getting the puck for shots, and sent some of them off target tonight. It's kind of a buzz kill when there's Such as when Zajac sprung him for a breakaway in the second period, Tootoo decided to attempt a rising backhand. You're Jordin Tootoo, you're not scoring that way. Anyway, the try-not-exactly-hard-to-win Devils will likely keep Tootoo where he is. It's not like they have quality right wingers just sitting around doing nothing. No, Ryder and Havlat aren't quality right wingers.
Also, it was mentioned on the broadcast that Peter Harrold was getting time as a defensemen on the penalty kill. He was also used as a defenseman in overtime because Mark Fraser in a 4-on-4 situation against a speedy Colorado team would likely not go well. I wonder if this is a sign that Harrold may return to defense sometime soon? No, he's not a particularly good defender, but I'd prefer him over Fraser.
If the Devils mustered up one good period because the opposition was so bad on the puck for a period, then that sort of speaks to how this season has been going. The good times for the Devils often come at the expense of bad times for the opposition. And when those bad times end, so do the good times. If there's a goal for 2015-16, then it should be to keep the good times rolling even when the opposition is playing at their level.
Lastly: Goalies were obviously the stars tonight. Schneider and Varlamov were excellent.
Your Take: The Devils at least got a point from Colorado. That's better than a late tie-breaking goal against in the third period. What did you think of the Devils' performance tonight? Who do you think was the best Devil tonight who was not named Schneider? Who on Colorado impressed you the most? Lastly, seriously, what was Elias thinking on the shootout? Please leave your thoughts and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.