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March Ends, Meager Play Continues for New Jersey Devils in 2-3 OT Loss to Columbus

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In a game featuring two power play goals, a penalty shot goal, a wacky shorthanded equalizer, the New Jersey Devils continued their meager streak of winless games to six with a 2-3 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the game recap.

I'm using this picture as evidence that Dainius Zubrus actually got a breakaway tonight.
I'm using this picture as evidence that Dainius Zubrus actually got a breakaway tonight.
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

March ends with six winless games in a row for the New Jersey Devils. In these six games, the Devils have scored a whopping seven goals.  In the two games where they scored more than one, they were able to get into overtime.  Tonight's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets was the second one.  Like the first one against the Capitals, overtime did not last long. Ryan Johansen curled around the zone, made an easy pass to David Savard, who got it forward to an open Jack Johnson.  Johnson cut to the middle, flung a backhander through some traffic, and became the hero of the night.  The Blue Jackets continued their hot streak with their seventh win in a row.  The Devils remain playing for pride, competitive hockey, and nothing much more than that.

In some way, the Devils weren't supposed to get to overtime.  They didn't play poorly.  The performance was similar to the losses to the Islanders and Ducks on this winless streak.  Not bad, they just didn't get enough goals.  Sergei Bobrovsky was on form, if only to rob Travis Zajac of three glorious opportunities off rebounds.   The Devils had some good moments in attacking, but the Blue Jackets definitely kept the Devils honest with the one-goal lead.   That lead came about outside of regular 5-on-5 play.  Nick Foligno touched in Alexander Wennberg's shot for a power play goal to convert on Elias' first penalty (more or less a makeup call at the time) early in the second.  Brandon Dubinsky got a breakaway, got his stick slashed by Stefan Matteau, got a shot off anyway, and then got awarded a penalty shot. Dubinsky got stopped on the breakaway, but he beat Schneider on the penalty shot.  With Bobrovsky being so good and the Blue Jackets driving the play at evens, hopes for an equalizer for New Jersey seemed dim as time ticked off the clock in the third period.

Those hopes took a hit when the Devils gave the Blue Jackets a great chance to really kill off the game.  Patrik Elias tripped up Kevin Connauton on offense in an attempt to get a puck he wasn't going to win with 3:18 left to play.  Down a goal, that was a bad penalty to take.  It would've been a bad penalty to take even if the Devils were up by five, but it was especially bad in a one-shot game.  Then something really weird happened.  Dainius Zubrus got a shorthanded breakaway.

Normalcy quickly returned when Bobrovsky stopped Zubrus' shot and his rebound attempts. Then something else really weird happened.  Zubrus kept the puck alive and poked it towards Mike Cammalleri crashing towards the right side of the net.  The puck got up in the air, Cammalleri hits it twice in mid-air, and it drops just inside the goal. Bobrovsky just lost it.  Upon review, the stick was below the crossbar, and so the goal stood.   It was Cammalleri's second of the night, certainly a lot less conventional than his first goal - a blistering one-timer to convert a late first period power play. A shorthanded goal was unlikely enough.  Involving Zubrus breaking away and Cammalleri batting it in from a really tough angle would've had an incredibly low probability.  But it happened.  It certainly felt better than seeing the Devils fall 1-2 in regulation.

That said, the right team won the game. The Blue Jackets controlled more of the game, they created more chances than the Devils, and they gave the Devils issues in most facets of the game.  While they didn't look like the league's hottest team, they were able to take care of business like you'd expect a solid team to do when something weird happens to them like that shorthanded goal.  As I've said over and over, all I want is some decent hockey to end this lost season and I got some of that.  Still, the results remain meager with six winless games in a row.  With Montreal, Our Hated Rivals (twice), Tampa Bay, and Florida to close out the season, it may get worse before it gets better.  At least Zubrus' breakaway-to-Cammalleri's shorthanded goal was memorable.

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 Chart | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts | The War on Ice Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Eric St. John is understandably pleased with the Blue Jackets winning their seventh straight game in his recap at The Cannon.

The Game Highlights: Two power play goals, one penalty shot goal, one weird shorthanded goal, and an overtime goal. Yes, there were no 5-on-5 goals tonight.  See them all in this video at NHL.com:

Team Effort: The Blue Jackets got at least one shot on goal from everyone on their active roster tonight.  That doesn't surprise me as each of Columbus' units had their time to shine.  While the Ryan Johansen-led unit didn't crush the Devils every time they stepped on the ice, they did create the game winning goal in overtime and certainly came close to scoring earlier.   From what I saw, the standout line was Marko Dano, Alexander Wennberg, and Scott Hartnell.  While Wennberg only got on the scoresheet from creating a power play goal, they were constantly pushing forward.  It didn't matter who they drew, they just kept making life difficult for the Devils.  Dano was especially notable as he was fouled twice, giving the Blue Jackets two of their four power plays.  Brandon Dubinsky continued his reputation of wrecking the Devils with a goal on a penalty shot; but he was threatening on more plays with the help of Nick Foligno and Artem Anisimov.  Even their fourth line had some storming shifts, including Mark Letestu coming inches close of denying the Devils overtime in the final seconds of the game.  The Blue Jackets' defense was a mixed bag tonight, but their pairing of Cody Goloubef and Kevin Connauton was excellent.  It's partially a function of which forwards they played with, but they made it work on a regular basis.    Again, Bobrovsky was big when he needed to be - much to Zajac's chagrin.

Ultimately, the Blue Jackets demonstrated how effective they can be when they're able to roll four legitimate NHL-caliber lines.  Each unit had speed, skill, and something to just get through to the Devils.  It wasn't total dominance, but there were times where they were in control.  In total, while the Devils got out-shot 26-31 overall, they got out-attempted 32-57.  The latter really speaks to that; as does the even strength differential of 25-42.   I'd say the Wennberg and Anisimov did the most damage regularly, but for the Blue Jackets got the job done as a whole squad.  If they can get their defense improved for 2015-16, then they could do some real damage provided they don't get wrecked by injuries again.

Special Teams Standouts: While the Devils didn't create a whole lot at even strength, they made their mark on the game on special teams.  Cammalleri scored a power play goal and an incredibly unlikely shorthanded goal.  Beyond the goals, the Devils did rather well in both aspects of special teams.  Shorthanded breakaway conceded aside, the Devils' power play got set-up from both units on both of their power plays and got some real good looks on net.  Two of the three rebound opportunities for Zajac came from these power plays and both required surprising stops from Bobrovsky.  One goal out of four shots is a win for this PP unit.

Even though they conceded a power play goal, the Devils only allowed four shots on net across Columbus' four power plays.  In response, they got some real offensive chances with five shorthanded shots on net.  Three were from the wacky equalizer, but the Devils were able to keep the Blue Jackets from controlling the game despite having nearly eight minutes up one man.  That's generally good work and the shorthanded goal mitigates whatever pain came from the first PPGA.

Just Let It Happen: The Dubinsky penalty shot was weird in of itself.  It started with Stefan Matteau playing Cammalleri forward on an offensive rush.  Mark Fraser decided to join this rush.  He got the puck and actually got a good shot on net.  However, the rebound went long, Fraser fell down, and Dubinsky was off.  Matteau got within a few feet of him and decided he needed to give his stick a massive whack.  Not Dubinsky's hands or legs or hips, but only his stick.  Dubinsky still got a shot on net off, however the referee awarded a penalty shot.  I would understand it if Dubinsky's stick was broken or he didn't get a shot off.  Alas, he got the call and he finished it.   I suppose the larger lesson for Matteau is to let the breakaway man have his breakaway and focus on cleaning up the mess rather than foul him to disrupt him.   (And the larger lesson for me is to not assume, I thought it was Eric Gelinas getting back and chasing down Dubinsky.  Alas, I was wrong.)

Swapped: When the news came out that Mark Fraser would be in the lineup, I was already lamenting the Gelinas-Fraser pairing against Columbus' speed.  Well, my assumption made me wrong again.  Gelinas' most common defensive partner was Jon Merrill tonight.  And it didn't go that badly.  There was still some of Bad Merrill (e.g. giving the puck away to Dano right in front of his face), but there was some of Good Merrill (e.g. getting in Dano's way immediately to help get the puck back.)  Damon Severson got to play more minutes with Fraser than anyone else.  He had his ups and downs.  Fraser, well, I wouldn't mind a return to Peter Harrold for Friday night.  He did not help much, good shot off the rush aside.  The co-coaches rotated the defensemen a little bit, so there were some shifts of Merrill-Severson and Severson-Gelinas.

Bad Lasting Taste: Elias gave away the puck, his linemates won it back, and then Elias took that bad penalty near the end of the third period.  It was a poor way to end an otherwise fairly good night for the line.  Gionta and Zubrus were good on the PK and tried to push forward with Elias.  Elias himself nearly tied the game in the third period with an impressive wraparound attempt that was denied only by the far post.  Each got three shots on net and did a good job with their match-ups.  Still, one of his last shifts left a sour taste for the viewer since it was costly.  Fortunately, the Devils not only killed his penalty but got an equalizer in the oddest ways.

Matteau Report: Travis Zajac was denied in a big way thrice, Cammalleri scored twice but he only had one other non-scoring shot, and Stefan Matteau had no shooting attempts.  The line wasn't bad, but they weren't attacking on a regular basis.  Matteau wasn't bad himself.  I can see why he did what he did to Dubinsky and I can appreciate the hustle on the backcheck and I can understand his some of his movements.  But he didn't do too much within the game with a line that only did so much themselves.  I think I would keep him in, but I wouldn't be totally surprised if he's swapped out with Reid Boucher in the next two games.

Beef: This game got really chippy at times.  The Devils' power play goal came on a post-whistle minor for Jeremy Morin amid a massive scrum shortly after Matt Calvert failed to score with Schneider on his butt.  The home crowd hated that call.  While they got their make-up call, it would be a sign of things to come within the game as players were often jaw-jacking and shoving after whistles. There was even a stoppage during a third period offensive shift due to two players getting into it without resorting to fisticuffs.  I'm surprised in a way that there weren't more penalties called among them just to send a message to both teams to cool it.   I'm also surprised that two non-rivals with nothing to play for would get into it so much.  Such is the nature of hockey, I suppose.

Lastly: Columbus is now mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.  While they won tonight, so did Boston.  Oh well.

Your Take: The Devils lost in overtime.  I want to know your take on the result.  What did you think about the Devils performance; did they do enough to deserve post-regulation play?  More importantly, how did you react when Cammalleri scored his equalizer?  Who do you think was the best non-Schneider player for the Devils was tonight and why?  What can the Devils take out of this game to prepare for their back-to-back at the end of this week?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the game in the comments.

Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread about the game and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter.  Thank you for reading.