The good news is that preseason games ultimately don't count for much. The bad news is that the performances within the games absolutely do. They help the coaches determine who belongs and who doesn't. It's a chance to see their tactics work or not. It's an opportunity for the fans to get a taste of what they may expect. With all of the changes made by the Devils in this offseason from the highest non-owner position in management down to the roster turnover, tonight's game was similar to some efforts from last season. The Devils lost to the Boston Bruins 0-2 in Providence, Rhode Island; and the shutout loss doesn't fully cover how poor the performance looked.
The main sticking point in this game was special teams. There were a lot of penalties on both sides in this game. By the final ten minutes, the not-quite-Bruins and the not-quite-Devils were getting into plenty of spats, shoves, grabs, beefs, and "why I oughtas" after whistles. The myriad of penalties spoke to plenty of discipline issues for both sides. However, as there were many penalties tonight, that also led to many power play situations for each side. That made the difference in the score and in the general performance. The Bruins were able to get set-up on power plays, spend more time in New Jersey's end, and scored both of their goals with the man advantage. The Devils, on the other hand, had a lot of issues just getting into Boston's end of the rink - similar to last season's power play woes. The Bruins had opportunities and Matt Irwin cashed in on two of them to make the difference in this game - and help his status on Boston's roster. The Devils squandered theirs.
Ultimately, it would play a big role of how the game would go. The Devils looked decently early on. Their best chances to score came in the first period. They were denied by a post (Jacob Josefson on a deflection), a miss (Adam Henrique setting up Kyle Palmieri right in front), and a referee waving off a goal (Henrique gloved down a rebound that ultimately ended up in the net). The Devils would out-shoot the Bruins overall, but the Devils' best chances to attack were early in the game and their extended attacks became fewer and fewer over time. The sheer amount of penalties and special teams situations did cut into their even strength play, but Boston got their legs going, so to speak, from the second period onward and the Devils didn't match them much.
Again, it's not so much the result that's disappointing but how the Devils earned it. Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith played well, but it's not like they were totally shelled and they stood on their heads all night long. There were some neat moments among most players, but they also had their poorer moments whether it was a penalty, a turnover, or getting torched by Zac Rinaldo for a breakaway. There wasn't a whole lot of fast, attacking, supportive, relentless, or much different from some of the stinkers from last season. Clearly, there's a lot of work to do. Fortunately, this is the time to do it.
The Game Stats: Amazingly, NHL.com didn't have game summaries or event summaries for this game. Therefore, there's not much in the way of stats for this one. Which is a bit disappointing as I'd like to know the ice time breakdown for a certain few players.
The Game Highlights: You want highlights from this? OK. Here it is from NHL.com:
Who Did Well Among the Veterans?: I'm defining veterans as NHL players, guys who will undoubtedly make the Devils roster. Again, the Devils' start was a lot better than their middle or end. I'd say Kyle Palmieri stood out the most. He was active at going to the net, he was taking some shots, I liked his forechecking on the penalty kill, and he even drew a call or two. While Henrique's glove down did go off Gustavsson's stick, I think Palmieri's shot was one of the most dangerous ones the team had tonight despite it missing wide. I think he'll fit in well in time. I don't know if I like Henrique centering him, but there it is.
I also liked Kinkaid. He didn't really have a fair chance at Irwin's first goal, but all of the other saves were solid. He squared up his body well on shots and didn't leave much for the opposition. He also took some punishment when he got plowed into by Irwin, which was correctly called a penalty, followed by another Bruin afterward. But he was OK after the shots.
Who Did Well Among the Non-Veterans?: This is a bit harder to identify as I didn't think many of the non-Devils did solid enough job to say they did that well. Scott Wedgewood had no chance on the goal he gave up unless he could have seen through a very large man named Jimmy Hayes. Well, he can't. Wedgewood was less in control in his crease than Kinkaid as he was sprawling around quite a bit more. However, he did make all of the other stops and handled himself well enough when things broke down.
As for a skater, I would say that the one who stood out in a decent light would be John Quenneville. He was originally lined up with Palmieri and Henrique and he didn't seem out of place. Some of his passes were pretty good, he was responsible for two of Eric Gelinas' blasts. He skated quite well along the wing and supported attacks well enough to keep them going. Among the younger players that skated tonight, I'd say Quenneville was closer to belonging than the others. More so than Pavel Zacha. We'll see if he can build on it for a more complete and solid performance.
Who Really Struggled Among the Veterans?: The first game in preseason is bound to have a lot of rusty players. However, there's a fine line between rusty and just plain not on form. This was an auspicious first night for Tuomo Ruutu and Gelinas. Ruutu didn't really contribute too much positive and as one of the few NHL forwards in the lineup, I had higher expectations. Not large ones but create a little offense, get some shots on net, and make some plays along the board. Instead, he was all over the place and not in a good way.
Gelinas was particularly dire. When he wasn't shooting, he wasn't helping much. His passes weren't good. He didn't add much to a power play that just did a lot of things wrong tonight. He reminded everyone why he's not a regular penalty killer, particularly when he didn't fully deny the pass to Irwin that led to the first goal. Now, he won't be a regular penalty killer; he was out there due to the lineup thrown out there tonight. I'd like to think it's rust, but it was like this game displayed all of the issues Gelinas may yield and few of the positives he can bring to the table. In both Ruutu's and Gelinas' cases, I hope they get better and fast.
Who Really Struggled Among the Non-Veterans?: The Devils decided to go with seven defensemen tonight. By the end, I was wondering why I didn't see so much Seth Helgeson. Colton White and Reece Scarlett got plenty of screen time and not in a good way. White had quite a few turnovers that Boston gladly turned into offense every time. Scarlett took two penalties, both driven by getting torched. Zac Rinaldo, of all players, torched him for a breakaway in the game. Both had some shifts where they just struggled to get off the ice because they couldn't help get a stop. I didn't have a lot of hope of them cracking the roster ahead of camp, and this game proved that they likely won't.
Sergey Kalinin also had a fairly poor game. He had a few shots here and there, but he also did a lot of puck chasing and some of his turnovers were as bad as White's. In a way, this is more concerning because I don't think he signed with the intention of not making the team. I think he'll get more chances to prove his worth due in part of that. But this wasn't a good first impression for him in North America.
Work on the PP Breakout: The Devils may not have done a lot of work on special teams in camp for understandable reasons. They've had exactly two days of practice. Moreover, it's usually held for later in camp after first or second set of cuts are made as to focus on those working on special teams regularly to actually run the drills. That said, the Devils' approach on the breakout was awful. Four or five guys trying to gain the zone at the exact same time was easy for Boston's PK to read and easier to deny the entry. Despite having an extra man, all that did was allow the Bruins to clog the blueline and just make the entry more difficult. I've watched over 200 power plays against the Devils last season and the vast majority teams don't try to stack the blueline with bodies for an all-at-once entry. There's a designated guy for the entry or players behind the rush to allow for different looks. The Devils' power play issues last season and tonight had the same root: the breakout. Without good entries, there can be little hope for a threatening power play. Among the areas John Hynes and his staff should focus on, this should be a point of emphasis.
Discipline!: From trips, to slashes of sticks because you got beat, to little holds, to a too many man call when trying to pull the goalie, the discipline was very bad. I can agree that the refs called it tight, but as the game got more aggressive, their tight calling was justified. More to the point, the Devils' penalties were fairly obvious ones and some of them were avoidable. I can be fine with slashing a stick to break it on a breakaway - even though getting burnt by Rinaldo tells me you're not ready for this yet, Scarlett - but I'm not fine when it's just stupid fouls. Especially during special situations like a 4-on-4 or trying to get the goalie out. That also has to be worked on, though time may heal this particular wound more than breakout plays.
What's Next?: The Rangers! Whoever played tonight won't play tomorrow at the World's Most Overrated Arena. Maybe we'll see some better play with the other players. It'll be their first preseason game along with the Rangers, so I wouldn't hold out for a particularly massive performance overall.
Your Take: What did you make of the Devils performance tonight? Who impressed you in your eyes, and why? Who had a rough outing in your view, and why? How would you fix the power play breakout? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread, followed along on Twitter with @AATJerseyBlog, and thank you for reading.