As it's a later-than-usual recap, I'm going to keep this somewhat short. It also helps that that New Jersey Devils decided to put in a performance that made it easy to sum up. In three simple words: Not good enough. The Colorado Avalanche looked strong early on. They didn't really fade away. They kept the Devils more than honest on offense with a lead. They filled in shooting lanes well, adding to New Jersey's frustration on offense. They punished the Devils for their errors with not one, not two, but three goals all created from turnovers by New Jersey. Even the empty net goal by Carl Soderberg that sealed it. The Avalanche played a good game overall and, as mentioned in the game preview, not at all what I would expect from the worst possession team in hockey. The Devils played into their hands similar to what happened on December 1, 2015 when these two teams last played each other. Tonight, the score was worse. A 0-3 final for the Devils.
That result does mean Calvin Pickard, the #3 goalie in Colorado, shut out the Devils. Before you jump into the comments and lament how the Devils cannot beat the backup to the backup, please read this. They've beaten up on some backups and third stringers this season already. This did happen tonight, but it's been an exception, not the rule.
Also understand that it's driven by the current the state of the Devils. They were never a potent offensive team. They were driven by a few players who were hot and/or good with a lot of offensive dead weight filling the roster. Those few players are either hurt (OK, only Mike Cammalleri) or cold (Zajac). It's to a point where scoring a goal every other game for about two to three weeks means that player is seen an important scorer (Bobby Farnham). In general, the gameplan and the talent continue to combine for relatively few shots and few attempts. So much so that they make me wonder if they're just defying how score effects really work in some way. It's a bad combination. It's worse when the first goal is conceded less than a minute into regulation and the second comes about eight minutes into the second. Most teams would use that time to try to catch up. The Devils struggled, to say the least.
What few stretches of offense were welcomed when it happened. But even then, it didn't yield what they want. They obviously didn't get the Devils on the board. The Devils had a short stretch of the third period where they did attack and pin Colorado back. It was in between a whole lot of nothing much threatening going on. While the Devils would out-shoot the Avs 27-26, most of those 27 shots weren't difficult for Pickard, they certainly didn't come at them with any consistency, and the rare moments where it looked like he was about to beaten, the puck eluded a Devil. Then we'd see Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, and Alex Tanguay come out and they would make the game good again for Colorado. Late in the game, with six skaters, the Devils made another push - which died with a lost puck in the neutral zone that led to Soderberg icing the game. It essentially ended a crummy game by the Devils that I sum up again: Not good enough. The talent isn't good enough. The depleted roster certainly isn't. And this performance, obvious to anyone who stayed up to watch it, isn't.
The Opposition Opinion: Ryan Murphy wrote up this recap of Colorado's win at Mile High Hockey. Based on my quick read of it, he could have offered more praise for Colorado. The Avalanche played a good game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here is a video of tonight's highlights. No Devils goals:
The First Period: Fast. Attacking. Supportive. Those were three words that came to mind for Colorado's performance in the first period. Their speed was apparent due to their better control of the puck. They picked on the Devils' positioning if/when the Devils turned the puck over. They got a two-on-one early when Tuomo Ruutu lost it (for the first of several times in this game) in the middle zone and the Avs caught the Devils changing defenders. Nick Holden saw Matt Duchene all alone coming down the middle, he made the easy pass to him, and Duchene torched Cory Schneider for a goal. This happened fifty seconds into the game. And it wouldn't be the last odd-man rush created within New Jersey's zone. Holden had a near-sure-thing at the side of the net with Alex Tanguay, but he skied the shot at the post. It wasn't even the only breakaway generated. Tanguay sprung Nathan MacKinnon to get behind Adam Larsson and go in alone - Schneider stopped him. But those plays stood out as the Devils were just fumbling pucks going forward and losing their position in their own end. Colorado didn't exactly storm the Devils with shots, but they did have the better run of play (11-5 in Corsi in favor of the Avs, the team with the lowest CF% in hockey right now) and certainly the better chances. The goal was deserved and the Devils are fortunate they didn't go down two or maybe even three goals.
I will admit it wasn't all terrible. Sergey Kalinin would draw two penalties on offense, using his large frame. The power play actually got three of the team's five first period shots on Calvin Pickard. Despite the Duchene goal, Schneider has come up with some impressive saves so he at least showed up to perform at a high level. All that and it was just a one goal differential with a minute of a man advantage heading into the second period. Is that good? No. I saw twenty minutes of this and a lot of Devils playing some ineffective hockey. Is it unrecoverable? No, presuming the Devils can sharpen up in general. We'll see.
The Second Period: That presumption sort of happened. The Devils managed to get a few more shots on Pickard and put up some more shifts in Colorado's end. Kyle Palmieri drew a hold by Nick Holden too. However, it was not enough. At the very end of that power play, Tanguay sprung MacKinnon for another odd man rush with Tyson Barrie. Schneider stopped MacKinnon's shot but the puck trickled behind him. Barrie tapped it in to make it a shorthanded goal with a second left on the man advantage. It wasn't a good moment for Joseph Blandisi as his turnover began the play. It wasn't a good moment for Jon Merrill, who just hung out in the middle. Maybe it dissuaded MacKinnon from passing but that would still mean Barrie was his man - and he missed him entirely. It definitely wasn't good for Schneider as he should have held on the puck or tried to re-direct the rebound.
With the Avs down two goals, the Devils got a little more aggressive at times. However, it played to the Avs' advantage at times as they got a few more odd man rushes and stuck in their own end for bits at a time. The line of Tanguay, MacKinnon, and Duchene continued their excellent night in the run of play. They gave the Devils the most fits. In contrast, the Devils line of Blandisi, Adam Henrique, and Lee Stempniak appeared to me to have the best shifts at trying to score in the second. Ruutu remained a turnover machine but it wasn't as costly. In contrast, Kalinin's big body and strength was an asset again. An argument could be made that he's the best Devil on the ice so far tonight. It's not an argument I would argue against.
If there's a sign of hope, then it came towards the end of the period. The Devils eventually matched the Avs in shots at evens 8-8 (it was 11-8 for the Avs, with the extra three being shorthanded shots) and attempts were just ahead of Colorado in evens. It's a big jump compared to the first period. However, two goals for the Devils is a rather large deficit for them. The Avs' top line continues to go forward and the Devils just don't have much of an answer for them. Their defense is not at all afraid to get in New Jersey's way for shots and passes and the Devils haven't fully picked up on that at times in the second. It's obvious, but the Devils will need a great third period to get back into this one.
The Third Period: They did not get a great third period. It opened with Colorado out-shooting the Devils 6-1. Not at all ideal when down two goals. The Devils would even things out and even have a couple of strong shifts in a row. Jon Merrill provided two shots that both led to juicy rebounds that just missed the Devils. If only the puck didn't bounce up of Adam Henrique's stick for the first and just went past Stephen Gionta on the second, then the Devils could have had that goal they were seeking. Unfortunately, that oasis of offense ended with the Devils going back to the desert. A trip that got extended a bit when Marc-Andre Gragnani tripped Soderberg with under six minutes to go in the third. The Devils got a handful of shorthanded shots on net, but the two minutes just hampered the Devils' don't-call-it-a-comeback comeback effort.
The Devils did surge near the end with six skaters, helping bring up their attempts (47-46) and shots (27-26) to be just ahead of Colorado's overall tonight. Yet, the Devils still were out-attempted slightly at even strength and even in shots to the worst CF% team in hockey. Whereas most teams would want to push forward to attack, the Devils didn't do so. And the six-skater hope died when Soderberg took a turned over puck for the ENG. So, no, it was not at all a good third period.
So...Was Any Devil Good?: As much as I didn't like the shorthanded goal allowed, Merrill provided the best of a lackluster offense tonight and Schneider made more saves on odd man rushes and breakaways than he allowed goals on. Alas, Schneider can't score goals and Merrill is, well, Merrill. Sergey Kalinin drew two calls and used his size well. I enjoyed watching him tonight. Territory-wise, Zajac and Palmieri looked among the best in the third, but it was too little, too late.
Other than that, I got nothing else, really. Everyone else was either ultimately just average (e.g. Zajac, Stempniak), had a night known for costly errors (e.g. Blandisi - who had an OK game but those turnovers were bad, Ruutu), invisible (e.g. Stefan Matteau truly played in this game), or were just beaten up (e.g. Tyler Kennedy, the pairing of Andy Greene and Adam Larsson - though they got MacKinnon'ed). Not a lot of positives and even the few positives are kind of stretching it.
One Final Thought: The line of Alex Tanguay, Matt Duchene, and Nathan MacKinnon were awesome. I kept praising them during the game. I wish the Devils had a Duchene and a MacKinnon.
Your Take: The Devils continued sliding down the standings with their fifth loss in their last six games. And it was a shut out loss. Did you stay up to watch this? If so, what did you think of the performance? What, if anything, can the Devils do to be better in their final game of this road trip? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed the site's Twitter account, @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.