Tonight's game was far better than the loss on Saturday at Carolina. Whereas the New Jersey Devils got out-played in that one, the Devils held their own against the Anaheim Ducks. Did they have their faults and poor shifts? Sure. Could the Devils have done better? Yes. But they didn't get squashed like in their last game against Anaheim. They kept it close. They came really close to providing an equalizer at the end too. Alas, the game was decided by a bunch of re-directions. The Devils got one, the Ducks got two, and so the losing streak extended to five games.
Given that this season was lost - the Bruins going to OT tonight mathematically eliminated the Devils - all I really want was competitive hockey. I got that and so I'm not made about the loss. I do feel bad for the Devils in how the game was ultimately decided. It wasn't like there was a big breakdown or a big mistake where they had to pay a dear price. Both goals that got past Cory Schneider were off deflections. James Wisniewski barely kept the puck in play (it's arguable that he was really offside, but I can't fully conclude it from the video replay), took a shot, and Ryan Kesler re-directed it for the first goal. Early in the third period, Francois Beauchemin fired a shot that went off the side of Jon Merrill's head and got over Schneider. Stuff like that can happen in a game like hockey. It's not fair but what can one do? Well, get a deflection themselves. Late in the third period, Andy Greene got a clean shot through towards the net and a cutting Dainius Zubrus re-directed it past John Gibson. That gave the Devils hope, but Gibson would not be beaten again.
It speaks to how well both goalies played that it took these incidents to beat them. Schneider was very good and Gibson was also very good. It also speaks to the defenses as well. While each team had some pretty heinous shifts and some desperate moments to deny goals - Peter Harrold stopped two, Cam Fowler stick-checked Travis Zajac from putting in a lay-up - they weren't that bad. The Ducks protected the middle very well and situated themselves well into shooting lanes. They definitely blocked more than ten attempts from the Devils tonight, no matter what the official scorer noted. As for the Devils, they were fairly solid. Damon Severson and Jon Merrill were fine. Adam Larsson and Andy Greene were fine. The pairing of Harrold and Eric Gelinas had some issues early on, but they weren't terrible. It made for some offensive difficulties, but it didn't drag or slow the game down to any kind of crawl. As one would expect from a Devils game, it was low-event (44 attempts by New Jersey, 41 by Anaheim) but it wasn't low-energy by any means.
If there's a legitimate point of criticism for the Devils from this game, then it's in their shot selection. Early on, the Devils decided to attempt long shots from distance to mix in with their usual dumping nonsense. Gibson had no issue with these shots when they got through. Just as often, a Duck would re-direct it or it would hit a Devil or something would occur to prevent the attempt from becoming a shot. This undercut the Devils' offense throughout the night. They got away from this in the second and they caught Gibson and the Ducks' defense several times for some legitimate scoring chances. That was good despite not scoring. But in the third period, it was nearly back to business from the first. They got more than five on net, but two of them were right at the side of the net that Gibson swallowed up with ease. Hardly the shots one needs when down two goals in the third period. Had the Devils been more judicious with when they decided to shoot, they could've put more than 27 on Gibson and perhaps one or two more into the net. Even if it required a deflection.
Alas, at this point of the season, there's a meaningless feeling to it all. With the Devils mathematically eliminated, the feeling is now completely real. Still, when Hampus Lindholm flung the puck over the glass with authority and the Devils earned a late power play, those at the Rock - which keeps doing good attendance figures for a bad team - were absolutely jacked. They weren't demanding the team to lay down for a better shot at an 18-year old you don't even know yet. They weren't saying it was all for naught, so just play it out. They saw a glorious opportunity for a dramatic ending and reacted accordingly. Alas, the shots were just a bit too wide, just going into traffic, and just not getting through cleanly enough to make it happen. Still better to try rather than to give up. Again, all I want is a competitive performance and I got that through to the end. It's hard to be mad, even if it was the fifth straight loss for the Devils.
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: Liz Brownstein has this recap at Anaheim Calling, praising Gibson's performance as the Ducks ended a road trip.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a highlight video featuring plenty of saves and three deflections for goals.
Plucked: One of my main concerns heading into this game was how the Devils would handle a line featuring both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. I guessed right in that the Elias line plus Greene and Larsson would be matched against them. I did not guess that Dainius Zubrus would be moved back to play with Patrik Elias and Stephen Gionta. I also did not guess at how well it worked. Sure, Getzlaf and Perry each got two shots on net, but they didn't dominate the game by any real stretch. While the Elias line did not create much offense as a whole, they did create New Jersey's lone goal of the night. Almost as importantly, they helped make sure that the Ducks' top two forwards would not run all over the place, doing whatever they'd like. As much as I didn't like Gionta's decision making when it came to shots, I will say that Elias was OK and Zubrus looked faster than he has been all season. The match-up worked, for all intents and purposes.
They Were the Ones Who Quacked: While the power-duo of Getzlaf and Perry didn't dominate, the Ducks' offense was driven mostly by Ryan Kesler's line tonight. The unit was Kesler, Kyle Palmieri, and Tomas Fleischmann. It wasn't so much that they out-did their match-up as it was that they struck mostly when they got away from Severson-Merrill. They piled on the shots against Gelinas-Harrold behind the Travis Zajac line. Different pairing, different story. Of course, each pairing got one of those deflection goals against that the Kesler line created. Kesler was the deflector on the first one, the line set up Beauchemin to fire one that hit Merrill's head to go in. Overall, they combined for seven of Anaheim's 25 shots on net and fifteen of their 41 shooting attempts. They led the way for the most part and ultimately did the damage, fortune favoring them aside.
The Call Up Who Did Well: Stefan Matteau was put into the lineup as Reid Boucher sat, and he was surprisingly lined up with Mike Cammalleri and Travis Zajac. Yes, they moved Jordin Tootoo to a bottom six line where he probably would be on almost any other team. This may have contributed to some of the defensive issues the Zajac line had against Kesler's line. However, after some early struggles, the line started to click more often. Matteau ended up having the best performance so far among the called up players. He would have two good shots on net, he created some shots, he was strong along the boards, and he eventually figured out where he needed to be when others had the puck. He still has plenty to improve upon and it helped he was next to Cammalleri and Zajac, but he looked like he belonged out there. He didn't drag the line offensively, which was tied for the team lead in shots (eight).
If Only They Finished their 3-on-1: In the second period, Scott Gomez took the puck towards the net. Because he's Scott Gomez, he dished it off to Adam Henrique right in front. The puck remained loose and Steve Bernier tried to jam it in. But Henrique couldn't push it towards the net. Alas, the golden opportunity to tie it up was lost. While that was their best scoring chance and they botched it, this isn't to say they had a bad game. Henrique, who was moved back to this line, and Bernier gave Gibson plenty to handle with four shots each. Gomez was sharper with his passes than he was against Carolina. They did well against Jakub Silfverberg's line. Performances like that will lead to goals from them eventually. Or at least more glorious chances like the one they had in the second period.
On Attendance: It was a large crowd at the Rock, which is fairly impressive given it was a Sunday night game against a non-local opponent for a team that's totally not making the postseason. Those who picked above 14,500 from the preview gets a no-prize. As the remaining two home games are against Montreal on a Friday night and Our Hated Rivals, it's entirely possible the numbers should look really good. While there were more than a handful of Ducks fans tonight and there will definitely be groups of Les Habs and sad fools who support Our Hated Rivals for those two games, this undercuts the notion that the fanbase is weak. Of course, it will likely be a different story for 2015-16 unless something dramatic happens.
Lastly: Wisniewski was definitely behind the blue line prior to the shot he took that Kesler re-directed into the net. However, I don't think it was conclusive that the puck crossed the blue line. I've watched it on the video replay and since Wisniewski gloved it forward in such a quick fashion, I'm not sure the linesman could've made a clear call. If it was truly out, then it's a bad break. If not, well, the deflection itself was a bad break. I'm not bothered by it, but I'm not bothered by how this game went in general. Your mileage will vary.
Your Take: The Devils lost their fifth in a row, but it was close and a competitive game. I'm fine with that, but are you? What did you make of the performance from both teams? Who impressed you and who disappointed you? What can the Devils learn from this game before their game in Columbus on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.