Early on, the game between the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes had an up-tempo nature. Both teams seemed to handle it well. But as time went on, it became clearer that the Hurricanes were doing just a bit more. They were making that extra pass. They were getting that extra rush on offense. They were getting that extra keep-in. Due to the fast nature, before one knew it, the home team was heavily out-shooting the Devils in control of the game. Eventually, they got their equalizer, they got a quick goal to start the third, and they came close to making it 1-4. Instead, it would be a 1-3 final score for the Devils' fourth-straight loss in a row.
If you're all about the Devils tying up seventh in the Metropolitan Division, then I suppose you're pleased with how this game turned out. And you probably are cheering hard at The Cannon. If you want the Devils to at least beat teams that have done worse than them this season, then this game was a disappointment. If you're like me and just want the Devils to be competitive, well, you're shaking your head. From about the last half of the first period to about the final six minutes of regulation, the Devils were just out-played as the Canes just kept coming seemingly in waves. Every line got pinned back in a bad way in one way or another. The coaches swapped defensive pairings to try to see if that would have an effect, which it didn't. Even when the Devils were able to get through the neutral zone, they just struggled to break down the Canes defense for clean shots. They had some big missteps but the Devils could not make them suffer. Simply, this was a bad loss. Regardless of your mindset for the Devils' situation as this season ends.
At the risk of getting heavily criticized, I think what I saw from Carolina tonight was how their team would play this season if PDO didn't hate them so much. Not that the Devils gave Cam Ward a ton of work to do, but he held it together. The re-direction by Elias wasn't his fault. He stayed in front of what came late. The Hurricanes got their goals in quick succession but they earned their results. Chris Terry was wide open on the rush and he put home a fantastically well-placed shot. Something the Canes didn't get much of this season. Eric Staal beat Damon Severson to a short rebound that maybe they haven't got on other nights. Ditto Justin Faulk's shot getting through Kinkaid low. The Canes were even closer to a fourth goal than the Devils were to cutting the lead to one. Fortune favored their hard work tonight and so they got a well-earned win. If you didn't know the Canes record, you wouldn't have guessed they were the last place team in the division by how they performed tonight.
As for the Devils, well, the season is one game closer to being mercifully over. Will they win another game before the end? I'd like to think so. But if these performances continue, it's hard to see how. Once again, getting out-shot by a good margin (22-32) and out-attempted by a good margin (53-64)
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: Brian LeBlanc has this recap at Canes Country.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's the highlight video of tonight's loss.
Well, Who Did the Damage?: Believe it or not, the top line for Carolina in terms of possession was the line of Riley Nash, Andrej Nesteril, and Nathan Gerbe. That unit had Chris Terry for few minutes, and they were still quite effective. They got Scott Gomez's line and just pinned them back. Combined, those four had twelve of Carolina's 32 shots. Terry scored on his only shot, but their pressure continued Carolina's control of the game as the top lines were done with their shifts.
Those top lines made their marks and were certainly effective as well. Elias Lindholm was switched between a line with Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask; and a line with Eric Staal and Jordan Staal. It was easy to see why Lindholm was highly regarded as a prospect; he was putting in a lot of good work all over the ice. He's going to be great one day. Those two lines, as a whole, each had their moments of making the Devils look like scrubs in their own end of the rink. Skinner and Rask each got three shots each, and Skinner was especially good when the Canes got going in New Jersey's end. The Staals appeared to be more contained by the Patrik Elias line, but they had their shifts of destruction. Staal's goal was quick - nine seconds into the third period! - but Faulk's goal was a result of one of their strong shifts.
As you'd expect from a performance like this, multiple Canes were involved in making this game and it was mostly their top nine forwards. And so, the Devils had multiple players who struggled with them.
Defensive Switch: At some point in the second period, Adam Larsson got Jon Merrill as a partner and Damon Severson got Andy Greene. I think Larsson and Greene were OK, but both Merrill and Severson really struggled tonight. Severson was poor on and off the puck, making some, well, rookie errors. Eric Staal beat him to a short rebound for the eventual game winner; but Severson's issues I think forced the switch. It's not an accident he was on the ice for more shots against than anyone else on New Jersey. Merrill was just as contentious. His most memorable error was when nearly provided the fourth goal when pinned against the wall and put it back into the slot to two Canes. Neither provided anything on offense to balance what happened, but they were just chasing the game a lot.
Penalties: The Devils did not get beaten by the penalty kill tonight. However, Mark Fraser made it difficult early on with two minor penalties that he could've avoided. He got beaten by Chris Terry and then he cross-checked him in the corner for an easy call for the referee. Late in the first period, he checked Chris Terry in the head, who was knocked into Eric Gelinas, who was struck up high by his stick. Much head shaking ensued among the Devils fanbase. Fraser did not miss his regular shifts from these calls. And since the Devils didn't concede a goal on those penalties, watch him stay in the lineup for some reason. Sigh.
Kinkaid's Start: Keith Kinkaid was tested early by Nathan Gerbe and would go on to face some real flurries of activity. His performance was OK, but with the way the eighteen Devils skaters played, he needed to be great. Alas, that can't happen every night. I'd like to think he could've been more aggressive in his angle on Terry's goal, but that was really a superbly well-placed shot. I wouldn't fault him on that one. I also wouldn't fault him on the short rebound. A blocker stop on Ryan Murphy's shot didn't lead to any heinous. The Faulk goal, I think he had a shot at it. Alas, it's hard to fault Kinkaid like it's hard to fault Schneider when he's not perfect because the guys in front of him weren't good enough. I suppose it's the story of the season. It's at least one of them.
How Did the Call Up Do?: Technically, Reid Boucher did play tonight. He didn't do much, though.
On Attack: Jordin Tootoo led the team with four shots, but not too many of them were terribly threatening. Travis Zajac followed his great night in D.C. with a less than stellar one. Mike Cammalleri did create a goal, but didn't do much more other than that. Adam Henrique pushed forward but didn't create much. A lot of effort but little gain. Scott Gomez banged in a puck with his stick high in the air - easily a no-goal call - and that was most of it. Dainius Zubrus, well, he got a gift a turnover and he Rolston'd it. There's a lot of underwhelming feeling with the offense tonight, as it should be as the Devils were heavily out-shot even with most of a period down a goal and, later, two goals.
Your Take: The Devils had another lame performance and paid for it with another loss. They will face an even better Anaheim team tomorrow. And, yet, all I could do is shrug, look down, and prepare to write about the next one. What did you make of tonight's game? Who stood out to you - good, bad, and/or ugly - among the Devils? Who stood out among the Canes? What can the Devils learn from this one before they play the Ducks on Sunday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.