After Peter Harrold scored one of the greatest goals of his career in the third period, the Rock was rocking and the New Jersey Devils appeared to play with a rejuvenated sense of intensity. They skated harder at the Columbus Blue Jackets. They kept pushing to make plays on offense. Their zone entries were dominated by dump-ins that they often lost like in the first period. The crowd roared with every rush, every time a Devil had the puck and had some space to shoot, and with every shot. The lower bowl behind Sergei Bobrovsky jumped when Jacob Josefson re-directed an Adam Larsson shot into the post, thinking it might have been in. The Devils kept battling, kept attempting, but they could not find the equalizer. The Devils lost 2-3, and it could make one think what could've happened if the Devils played at that level earlier.
I thought that for a second before the post-game scoreboard showed that the Blue Jackets - the team that was defending the lead - out-shot the Devils 8-6 in the third. For all of their intensity, energy, and effort, the Devils put up a paltry four shots on target (five if you include the deflection that hit the post) after Harrold's amazing goal. Oh, they out-attempted the Blue Jackets in the period (and overall!), but it's hard to get that third goal when the other goalie only has to deal with four or five shots coming his way. It really was a case of too little happening too late in the game for New Jersey.
The Devils could have used a jolt early on. The first period was analogous to last Saturday's game against Columbus. While the Devils won, it was largely on the back of Cory Schneider as the Blue Jackets dictated the pace and controlled the puck for most of game. Columbus wasn't as dominant, but they got something they didn't from the last game: a goal. Justin Falk sent a long shot through traffic that beat Schneider to the top corner of the net. No way was that a bad goal to allow, but it represents a cruel reality: some shots just don't have a reasonable chance of being stopped. It's really hard for a goalie to be perfect and with the way the Devils started and have played for most of this season, they require Schneider to stop nearly everything to succeed. The other three goals also proved that.
Columbus struck again in the second period. Patrik Elias decided to hold up play to allow a teammate - I think it was Josefson - to get back on-side. That was fine. What was not fine was Elias attempting a no-look backhand pass across the blueline in anticipation of Josefson getting back on-side. Nick Foligno picked it off, he played it up to Brandon Dubinsky, and Dubinsky finished the play. As it was a one-on-one, Schneider perhaps could've done better. During Schneider's torrid streak, he has made plenty of stops in breakaway and quasi-breakaway situations. Eventually, though, they're going to get finished and that was the case tonight. Elias hung out his team to dry with that horrid turnover and Schneider didn't make the bail out save.
Later in the second period, Falk kept a puck in the zone and it went along the boards. Alexander Wennberg went to retrieve it from the sideboards. Jon Merrill and Jacob Josefson gave chase while Damon Severson was by the net. Nobody noticed Marko Dano dropping into the space above the left circle. Wennberg won the puck, backhanded a pass to Dano, and Dano had all the time in the world to pick his spot to shoot at. He beat Schneider high. Of all three, perhaps that was the one that he could have done better on. At the same time, I'm loathe to criticize Schneider because he got hung out again. Nobody accounted for the other forward, Dano. With two Devils going after one Blue Jacket, they had to win that battle. They didn't and the team ended up suffering for it.
This isn't to say Schneider didn't make any good saves. He robbed Dano of a second goal late in the second period with his toe. He denied Dubinsky a shorthanded goal, the breakaway resulting from an ugly neutral zone turnover. He made sure Ryan Johansen wouldn't get in the boxscore. Schneider played well. The problem is that the Devils' performance required him to be near or absolutely perfect. That didn't happen. And I don't think the issue is really with Schneider. The team should be helping him out more.
This isn't to say the Devils did nothing right. They did convert one of their many power plays with an actually good performance. They maintained puck control, they moved it around smartly, and they got a conversion. It was especially pretty as it involved Adam Henrique dropping a no-look pass to Jordin Tootoo for the finish. Peter Harrold's goal was a highlight in of itself. The Devils would out-attempt the Blue Jackets in the second and third periods, which would explain why it felt like they were doing more. The issue was that they weren't doing enough in terms of getting those attempts on frame. The Blue Jackets checked them tightly all game long and the Devils never fully adjusted for it. They got away from the constant dumping from the first period, which was a good adjustment, but that strategy should've been thrown away by now. It's just that the Devils needed more productive efforts beyond just effort, and from the get-go as well. Again, it was a case of too little, too late for the Devils in this 2-3 loss to Columbus.
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: Mike MacLean has this recap at The Cannon, noting that the Blue Jackets just broke their losing streak. Good for them. May they win a lot of games soon.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's highlights, featuring a wonderful goal by Harrold:
Seriously, Harrold: Harrold's role is so low in the lineup that a few shots and not getting wrecked would be a sufficient's night work. That goal, well, wow. He just took a chance, schooled Falk, and then schooled Bobrovsky. It was brilliant. I'd like to believe that even the most non-descript players will have moments of greatness from time to time. That was definitely one of them for Harrold.
Why, Why, Why: Eric Gelinas and Mark Fraser were paired up on defense. This did not always go so well. What's worse was that they started the game and kept getting shifts against Artem Anisimov, Dubinsky, and Brian Gibbons. While I would say the Blue Jackets are generally a quicker team than New Jersey, that's a line of three swift players. Why would any coach decide to match up the two slowest and most contentious on-the-puck defenders against them? While that line didn't generate a lot of shots, they did generate a lot of attempts and pinned those two back quite a bit. They also gave the Travis Zajac line a lot of headaches as well. Still, the silver lining of Gelinas-Fraser is that they did not concede a goal. Oh, the Blue Jackets came close, but it was not to be. Why do I fear that I'm going to keep seeing this pairing until they get destroyed on the scoreboard?
Speaking of whys, why have the Devils decided to throw Damon Severson into the water right away? I get that anyone returning from injury will need time just to get back into form. However, he played nearly nineteen minutes tonight with plenty of power play time. I get that Severson can add to a power play. I get that Severson may be able to take on tough competition as he did so before his injury. But Severson is not back to the level of where he was at before his injury. Tonight, he was out of sorts on the power play, he made errors on defense forcing Schneider or Jon Merrill to cover up the error (in one case, impressively knocking down Anisimov to deny him a one-on-one), and he didn't add much out there. In some cases, he was worse to watch than Gelinas-Fraser. The Wennberg line didn't smash Severson-Merrill, though they did get a goal against them. I'd like to think in a few games, Severson will be back to normal and this will all be in the past. Until then, it may not be the worst idea to limit his minutes until then. Or at least get him off the power play.
Lastly, and I'm sure Ryan is sitting somewhere nodding his head in stern agreement, why do the Devils still think dumping-and-chasing is a viable strategy? The team is not fast. The strategy relies on getting to the puck to winning it. When they do win it, they're often in a poor spot to generate offense quickly unless they fling it back to the point and have the pointmen work from there. The Devils did not generate a lot of shots due to Columbus playing attackers closely and New Jersey skaters being too busy seeing the forest of the net and ignoring the tree of the defender right in front of them. But their tactic at gaining the zone has continued to hamper them. They got away from it a little bit after the fist period, but there plenty of times where they just put pucks into space for reasons unknown - even on the power play. Even the seven year old kid a few seats down stated how frustrated they were (the play was Jacob Josefson, already in the zone, putting the puck into the corner) from it. When the kids in the stands pick up on it, you know it's bad.
Opportunities Lost: Columbus gave the Devils five power plays, three from defensemen David Savard alone. To say the least, they didn't take full advantage of the situations. One of them was almost immediately wiped out by a high-sticking penalty by Steve Bernier. The other four were, in order: useless, great, useless, useless. Out of four full power plays, the Devils only got four shots on net and they weren't exactly great shots save for Tootoo's goal. Columbus got two shorthanded shots, including a near-breakaway by Dubinsky. Gelinas, who was bombing shots from the back on Tuesday, was just a mess at moving the puck out. Severson was bad. Patrik Elias wasn't helping much. Travis Zajac kept misfiring in one way or another. There were dump-ins despite the Devils having a man advantage. The Devils had ample opportunities to blow the game wide open or at least use the time to get some offense going to force Columbus to defend. Instead, they only made the most out of one of them. In a word: blah.
Dubinsky: While other Jackets had more shots and Jack Johnson looked like a capable NHL defender, I thought Dubinsky was Columbus' best player tonight. He was flying like Nick Foligno. He was making good plays at both ends of the rink. He used his speed efficiently, getting a few breakaways out of it and scoring on one of them. When he was on the ice, good things tended to happen for Columbus and I don't think it was coincidence. The Anisimov line could've put more of their attempts on Schneider too, but he helped push the Devils back a lot to set a tone. Columbus fans should be quite pleased with how he played tonight.
The Ending That Said A Lot: With about four minutes left, I figured the Devils were going to keep pushing hard for offense and at least make the ending interesting. What transpired was not much of a push as the Blue Jackets covered everyone closely, getting their sticks or body parts in the way to deny potential shots. More importantly, the Johansen and Anisimov lines had two good shifts where they pinned the Devils back. They didn't come close to getting an insurance goal, but they helped take a good ninety to a hundred seconds off the clock. Schneider couldn't get off the ice until a minute remained and even then, it was a firewagon, "a Devil has the puck outside of the zone, let's GO" change. The Devils played the 6-on-5 like they did on their power play and couldn't get a good shot off. While that ending may lead one to think the Devils were close and could've done more, the Blue Jackets didn't just let the Devils do as they wished. They played a role and it worked out. In retrospect, this ending sequence sums up how the night was overall. The Devils' performance wasn't good enough despite some scrambling efforts late, while the Blue Jackets did what they needed to help themselves.
Seriously: I don't talk about what I saw at the game live all that much. Maybe I should since, well, I'm there. Tonight, in anticipation of the 1995 Stanley Cup Champion Weekend, the Conn Smythe and Prince of Wales Trophies were on the lower concourse. There was also some Devils memorabilia like Randy McKay's skates and Scott Niedermayer's gloves. Those were all neat. But the biggest sight for me was a grown man wearing an Ryane Clowe jersey t-shirt. Yes, someone bought one and decided to wear it in public.
Lastly: Patrik Elias. If it wasn't for the turnover, was his game remarkable in anyway? This is what a decline looks like. It's not a series of just stand-out-in-a-bad-way games. It comes with more games where not much, save for one really good or really bad thing happened. It's sad, but Father Time continues to be the champion.
Your Take: The Devils lost this one close, though the performance suggests it never really was. What did you think of the game overall? Would you fault Schneider for any of those goals? How crazy was Harrold's goal? Can the Devils shelter Severson? How should we handle Gelinas-Fraser? What would you want the Devils to do differently for Sunday based on this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.