Hockey is played in three periods but sometimes they breakdown better into halves. There's no actual break or any real difference at the ten minute mark of the second period. Yet, the run of play can split apart at around that moment and that's what happened tonight. The New Jersey Devils played pretty well in the first thirty minutes against the St. Louis Blues. The score was tied early in the second, they were ahead on attempts, and about even in shots. Not bad. Then came the second thirty minutes. It featured four straight minor penalites (the last was mostly erased after the Blues took a call), a go-ahead power play goal, an insurance goal early in the third period, a whole lot of shotless hockey by New Jersey until the 8:32 mark of the third, an out-and-out melee, a major penalty against New Jersey, and an empty net goal. St. Louis essentially exerted their strength, forced the Devils to make errors, picked on them in their own end, and finished the game with a decisive 2-5 final score.
I assure you, the first period was a good period for the Devils. And the first ten minutes of the second wasn't so bad either. The scoring didn't get off to a favorable start. The game's first goal came from Patrik Berglund putting in his own rebound - OK, he put it off David Schlemko's skate - to convert the game's first power play in the first period. The Devils did respond. Adam Larsson had a great breakout pass to Stephen Gionta, who played a good pass to Bobby Farnham, who tied up the game. Minutes later, Lee Stempniak jammed in a rebound off a Larsson shot to make it 2-1. The Devils came close to making it 3-1 and kept up the attack. It was a good period. The start to the second was pretty good, though Joseph Blandisi was agonizingly close to scoring his first NHL goal, the attack was there. Then the Blues tied it up when Scottie Upshall put home a rebound through Keith Kinkaid. The Devils still went forward. Then it all started to fall apart.
The Devils' attack just started fading away and the Blues started to attack more. Not a huge deal; it happens in games. Then the penalties began and it became a huge deal. Damon Severson got called for a questionable boarding call on David Backes. While the hit was to the numbers, Backes turned into that one. Nevertheless, the Devils were close to killing it - until the final ten seconds. Alex Pietrangelo fired a slap-pass to the middle and Berglund re-directed it to make it 2-3. Shortly after that, Paul Thompson makes a terrible pass that Dmitrij Jaskin picked off. Jon Merrill fouled him on the breakaway, which meant another two minutes. With a stickless forward, the Devils were just bombarded with pucks for that power play. They escaped it into the third period. It would not necessarily get better.
The Blues didn't give up on the attack and were rewarded in the third. Kevin Shattenkirk unloaded a bomb from distance and Ty Rattie apparently touched it past Kinkaid. The goal was challenged for goaltender interference; the call of a goal held up and it was officially 2-4. Meanwhile, the Devils were shotless since the first half of the game. Larsson tripped up Upshall to deny him a breakaway. Before St. Louis' power play could drop another hammer on the Devils, Colton Parayko was whistled for a questionable cross-check on Travis Zajac. The ensuing 4-on-4 didn't do much for New Jersey. Jordin Tootoo finally got the team's first shot on net in the third, about nine minutes into the period. St. Louis had ten by that point. Unfortunately, the fourths would just lose it minutes later. Bobby Farnham, upset about being hit, laid out an unaware Jaskin. Blues swarmed him, Ryan Reeves and Jordin Tootoo fought it out, and the penalties were not in New Jersey's favor. While Kyle Brodziak got two for roughing and ten for misconduct; the two fighters each got fighting majors; and Farnham got five for interference and ten for a misconduct. So there were two minutes of 4-on-4, three minutes of a St. Louis power play, and the Blues were just in control. The Devils eventually got a few shots on Brian Elliott in the period (six), but there was little hope of a comeback. That hope was extinguished by Backes firing in an empty netter.
I detailed the main events in both halves of tonight's game. The first half was a result of a respectable performance by the Devils. Yes, Upshall tied it up, but being tied 2-2 within the first thirty minutes on the road in St. Louis is not a bad place to be in. Especially since the Devils were getting attempts and shots on net. It was even a good period at even strength; the penalties in the second half of the period was what wrecked them. It was an effort I could respect, despite it's flaws.
That second half of the game was just awful by New Jersey. As soft as Severson's penalty was, Merrill was forced to foul due to a turnover, and the Devils' offense died in between the calls anyway. The third period came and instead of trying to battle back down 2-3, the Blues just pinned back the Devils, made it 2-4, and kept doing so. The lack of offense by everyone to start the period undercut any chance of a comeback. The actions by the fourth line made it even more unlikely. I know it's in John Hynes' strategy to pull the goalie down one or two goals, but there was no real sign that there could be a comeback. And Backes iced the game anyway.
All told, the Devils earned this loss and the Blues played a better game. I don't think that's a controversial statement. What may be controversial is that there was a good performance and a good game plan tonight. In the first half of the game. Issues with discipline, issues with clearing loose pucks, issues with trying to break down St. Louis in the neutral zone, issues with discipline, and less than stellar play by Kinkaid makes me think this wasn't a good performance at all. And most of those issues came up in the second half of that game. That was the sad part and it yielded a decisive defeat.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out St. Louis Game Time for a recap of tonight's game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight's highlights of this game. Probably preferable to stop watching after a few minutes unless you're a Blues fan:
Poor Joe: Joseph Blandisi had the best performance among all of the Devils tonight. Adam Henrique, Lee Stempniak, and Blandisi did very well in the first two periods. When they were out there, they were often attacking. Henrique and especially Stempniak looked more like what they did when #13 was at left wing. From what I saw, I was the most impressed with Blandisi. He was making good decisions with the puck, he was bold enough to take players on when the opportunity was there, he was working hard to keep the play going forward and feeding other players (namely, Stempniak), and he wasn't making many mistakes. Despite the defeat, I'm sure he'll remember this game for his first NHL point - a secondary assist on Stempniak's goal.
So why is this called "Poor Joe?" Because he was so close to scoring his first NHL goal tonight. Early in the second, Blandisi ended up all alone at the crease. All he had to do was lift the puck six inches or so to beat Elliott. The goaltender stoned him. Later, Blandisi had another opportunity but he only struck iron. Blandisi had three shots out of seven attempts tonight; so he was looking for it. I wish he had got it. It maybe would have forced this game to go a little differently. It would have made this night even better for #64, personally. The good news is that with performances like this, the points - and I do mean that as a plural - will come for him.
Nice Goals...: I will say that I liked the goals New Jersey scored. They were pretty goals and very good plays. Again, that Henrique line was New Jersey's best tonight. I really liked how Stempniak delayed after the zone entry to get help and then finished the play by attacking the rebound. Stempniak was particularly aggressive at goal with four shots out of six attempts. The goal was his first since December 30 and his first against a goalie since December 15. Hopefully, this leads to more productive nights from him.
While the fourth line's night will be known more for that melee in the third period, Farnham's goal in the first period was again the result of a really good play. Larsson made a textbook breakout pass to Gionta. Gionta made a quick decision to play it back to Farnham and the pass was effective. Farnham skated in, waited until the defenseman in front of him was in a position where he could have obscured the shot and fired a good one. It was a good goal all the way around. Alas, that would be the high point of the night for the fourth line.
Bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeegh: The positives for me would be the first thirty minutes or so, the play of the Henrique line particularly Blandisi, and Travis Zajac, who put in another hard working effort that won't get recognized because he didn't make the scoresheet. The negatives beyond the second thirty minutes would be the bottom six, discipline in general, and Kinkaid. The fourth line did not really win their match up against St. Louis' fourths. And after Farnham dropped Jaskin, which was entirely unnecessary, the Devils went down shorthanded again. On a night where the Blues' PP dominated and while the team was down two, conceding shorthanded minutes to the opposition is a bad thing.
That being said, I recall John Hynes noting how that line could be called a third line at times. They certainly looked it compared to the trio of Paul Thompson, Jim O'Brien, and Tyler Kennedy. Say what you want about Gionta, but he doesn't try to screen his own defensemen (O'Brien) or make telegraphed passes (Thompson). Yes, he gets wrecked in possession more often than not. but at least when he's pinned back, he has an idea of what to do. I cannot say the same for those three. The only people who appreciated them tonight were the Blues. Ken Hitchcock wisely got his top two lines a few shifts against them. The Vladimir Tarasenko, Berglund, and Jori Lehtera / Robby Fabbri line made life really difficult for them. Even with Andy Greene and Larsson behind them, the Blues did whatever they wanted to 48-36-45. Thompson's awful pass was picked off by Jaskin and forced Merrill to make a tough decision: either hope Kinkaid stops him or try to impede Jaskin (what he actually did). The Devils' injury situation is bad enough that this is a line - and that doesn't look to change anytime soon. In other words: I miss you, Mike Sislo. And in other words: Thompson and O'Brien make Gionta look way better than he is.
I was not a fan of Keith Kinkaid tonight. While he could have received more help around his crease. Jon Merrill got caught with Berglund on his doorstep for his first PPG and Marc-Andre Gragnani did not look good with Scottie Upshall posting him up. I don't think he even saw the re-direction on the second PPG by Berglund. Yet, Kinkaid was conceding rebounds that the Blues just teed off on. I'm amazed Troy Brouwer did not score in the second when Kinkaid kicked a long rebound seemingly right to him. I'm more amazed Berglund beat him three times; but iron denied him in between his two PPGs. While Gragnani got bodied by Upshall, that five-hole was pretty bad. Further, while Kinkaid maintained he was interfered, Ty Rattie really didn't on his touch of a Kevin Shattenkirk shot that made it 2-4. The issues with tonight's game go beyond the goalie, but Kinkaid was not his usual, sound fundamental self tonight and that played a role. He was fighting pucks all night long and that didn't help at all.
In general, the issues with tonight's game really lie with the discipline from a penalty and a playing standpoint. But these players certainly unimpressed me as much as
Special Teams Starred for St. Louis: Not only did the Blues kill all of their penalties without too much drama, they put up ten shots among their power plays. It could have been a lot worse given the three-minute power play in the third. But they did their damage in the second period; seven out of their fifteen shots were on the power play and one was a goal. While they didn't score on their second advantage of the period, I hope the Devils coaching staff got it on video to show the team how to do it when an opposing player loses their stick. They played a big role in how this game went and the Devils' penalty killers had little answer for it at times.
General Blues Thoughts: Alex Pietrangelo is so, so, so, so good. He skated so smooth, he's so strong on the puck such that Sergey Kalinin whacked at him a few times and didn't disrupt him initially, and his shot is good. Remind me to remember him whenever someone asks me about the most impressive defensemen in the NHL. All that and he did it while playing 25 minutes tonight.
Also, good for Berglund scoring his second and third of the season tonight. I'm sure the Blues faithful are pleased with the production given that it has been lacking in 2015-16. Maybe this will drive up his trade value.
Two Last Thoughts: Look at the stats at Natural Stat Trick. St. Louis started taking over the game in the latter parts of the second period and then really just owned the third. Before, it was more favorable. Story of the game, really.
Lastly, Marc-Andre Gragnani may have run a point on a power play in Switzerland. But this is not Switzerland. And I really don't see how he's continuing to play over Eric Gelinas. Especially after tonight.
Your Take: The Devils lost by a good margin, even though much of the pain came in only half of regulation. What did you think of tonight's loss? Would you agree it was a game of two halves? Who on the Devils impressed you tonight? What impressed you the least among the Devils? What lessons should the Devils takeaway from this defeat before the next game on their road trip? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's loss in the comments.
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