Once again, the New Jersey Devils put up relatively little offense. Once again, the New Jersey Devils were out-played and out-done by most metrics. Once again, the positives were few for the Devils. All I got are these two: the Devils weren't shutout and their power play looked like one tonight. The latter is nice, I suppose. Unlike their last two games, though, the opponent score more than one or two goals. The Boston Bruins put up four goals to make it a decisive loss for the Devils. The Bruins were slumping but they have kicked off this road trip in an ideal fashion. A very good game that led to a very good 4-1 score against a bad New Jersey Devils team.
The theme for my recaps has been and will continue to be that performances matter. Results are important. That's what counts at the end of the day. But more often than not, the team that plays better tends to to win more games. While hockey is a game where wacky bounces or sudden changes can decide games in the blink of an eye, how a team moves the puck, performs in situations, supports their goalie, enters and exits the zone and takes care of business with the puck remains paramount. It's what leads to those strange occurrences happening, it provides the base for puck luck to go one's way, and it helps us determine who's good and who's not at a player and team level. I find that to be interesting and it matters in the larger scope of following a team through games, months, and seasons. I cannot just ignore performances because the results are good. I cannot just ignore performances because the Devils roster is depleted. I definitely cannot ignore them when they were bad. Believe me, this one was bad.
Let's start with those fancy stat numbers, which really aren't so fancy as they just count different parts of the official scoresheet. The Devils were out-attempted 39-48 tonight and out-shot 20-31 in all situations. At even strength, the gap was closer: 34-40 in favor of the visitors for attempts. Although, they were still significantly out-shot 18-28. There were surges by the Devils, notably in the second period where they attacked more than Boston. Alas, Boston got two goals anyway to make it feel all for nothing. Once Colin Miller slammed one through Cory Schneider's legs to make it 1-4, the B's just took the game over to really book end the flow of the game. The first and third period were clearly in Boston's control, the second, less so. If you're really into scoring chances, then HockeyStats.ca's chart had Boston ahead twenty-three to New Jersey's twelve. So not only did Boston attempt more shots, get more shots on target, but they also got much more of them in more valuable locations on the ice.
Yet, anyone in the sell out crowd at the Rock tonight didn't need to hit up Natural Stat Trick or HockeyStats.ca to know how this game went. From the eye-test alone, it was clear who was the superior team tonight. Boston moved the puck more effectively. In contrast, the Devils seemed to think putting pucks away from their teammates or into their skates were good ideas. They were not. Boston set themselves in the neutral zone to slow down any potential New Jersey attacks. The Devils did not. Boston aggressively battled for pucks on offense without conceding any odd man rushes or huge tracts of land for opposing skaters to get into. The Devils did at times. The Bruins played with a good balance of awareness of what's going on and a lack of hesitation to act. The Devils had the opposite; sometimes they moved the puck and shot it as if they were following a tactic or an instruction regardless of what was in front of them (often a Bruin player) and other times, they made the right read or play but took an extra second or an extra touch to worsen a potential opportunity. One team looked like they knew what they were doing and the other was New Jersey. Whoever was left that supported New Jersey - there was a fair number of Boston fans in the house tonight - most of them booed. Could you blame them after watching all of this play out?
It would be easy to discount this as just a bad game. It would be easy to just say, "Well, the Devils are increasingly banged up, so they're going to put up some stinkers until guys get better." Both aren't wrong. However, this kind of performance is not new to this team. This is the third straight loss where the Devils put up a meager amount of shots with disturbingly small number in the third period. This game concludes a week where Cory Schneider played mostly well yet he gets three 'L's because the guys in front of him scored a total of two goals. The Devils played another game where the shots, the attempts, the possession, the scoring effects, and so forth were solidly against them. We've seen these performances earlier this week, last month, and in games months before that - regardless of results, the team has been out-performed more often than not. I'd have to stick my head in some sand if I don't consider all this and conclude that this isn't a good hockey team at all.
They may not finish dead last in the Metropolitan, but as these performances are yielding losses like this 1-4 defeat to Boston, there's no way they'll last where they are in the standings. Something is wrong when bad games become familiar. It's familiar and it's been this way for some time. It cannot and will not be ignored.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Stanley Cup of Chowder for their eventual take on this win. If you want positives, then go seek them from them because this was a very, very positive performance and result for the B's this evening.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, see how Boston beat up the Devils and the lone Devils goal:
OK, Another Positive: Bobby Farnham scored the lone goal for the Devils tonight. It was a real nice one, too. Stephen Gionta played it up to Farnham and didn't put the puck in a spot where he'd have to fumble it. It actually created a 2-on-1 with Jon Merrill open on the flank. Fortunately, Farnham didn't dish it off as Colin Miller was lurking to deny any pass. Farnham just ripped one to the far post from the left circle and beat Jonas Gustavsson. It was a good release and it put the Devils back into the game at the time. For someone who was basically a PIM machine in the AHL and was a dubious waiver wire pickup at the time, Farnham has more than made Ray Shero look smart for doing it. He now has six goals, tied with Travis Zajac, for the sixth most on the team. That's good for Farnham as much as it's an indictment of the Devils' overall offense.
I still don't think Farnham is going to be as useful with more minutes or against better competition. His play on defense isn't nearly as energetic and definitely not effective, as evidenced on the first and last goal tonight. And as nice as his goal was, it was his only shot of the night so it's not like the fourth line really had a good game. Still, Farnham added a goal and helped give the team a reason to believe the game was not out of hand and the fans something to cheer for. That's a positive.
I also liked how the Devils responded to that goal, too. I liked half of the power play that came shortly after it (thank you, Matt Beleskey for needlessly taking down Palmieri on offense). Jordin Tootoo nearly tied it up after that ended. He was denied by iron. The Devils were playing well even after that until one of the call ups made a big mistake. More on that later in this recap.
Another One: Jiri Tlusty hasn't had a very good season. Yet, the last thing the team needs is another injury. Tlusty left the game with something after playing just nine shifts and 6:30 of ice time. He did not return, so the Devils were left with eleven forwards for the night. This helped contribute to the completely less than stellar performance by Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri as left wingers were rotated with them all night long.
With the exception of Mike Cammalleri and, after this game, John Moore and David Schlemko, most of the players out for New Jersey haven't been exceptional this season. However, when a bunch of them are out, this means players who weren't playing regularly when they were healthy (e.g. Stefan Matteau) and players who were below them on the depth chart (e.g. tonight's call ups) have to step in. And that's usually a step down. That was on full display tonight. So while Albany continues to roll on - nice 6-4 win over the Syracuse Drouins, by the way - there's not a savior there to cure what ails the Devils. Just guys to take up space on the roster.
Therefore, while Tlusty himself wasn't doing all that well, his loss could mean the team's going to be worse off for it in the near future.
Called Up, Probably Soon to Be Sent Down: In response to the latest set of injuries, the Devils called up Jim O'Brien, Paul Thompson, and Marc-Andre Gragnani. I do not think either will last. In retrospect, I think Shero would have kept Mike Sislo and/or called up someone else (take your pick of Albany). Gragnani got some power play time and the power play wasn't a total waste of time tonight, so there's that. Unfortunately, he was often in over his head on defense - which is especially not good as Eric Gelinas was his partner tonight.
As for the two forwards, it wasn't a good night. O'Brien mostly played with Thompson and Matteau. This was a unit that really didn't do much good. Matteau was rotated off that line and was better for it. O'Brien's main contribution was getting whacked in the face by Zdeno Chara's high stick. Before, it was a delay of game call shortly after Frank Vatrano elbowed him. Ouch. Thompson took the dumbest and costliest penalty of the night for New Jersey. After the Devils' second power play, the flow of the game was in New Jersey's error. There was legitimate signs of confidence and composure as every other pass wasn't misplaced. Then Thompson tripped Zach Trotman behind the net with just over three minutes to play in the second period. Boston was able to get back on offense and convert the power play when Jimmy Hayes tipped a shot by Chara to make it 1-3 in favor of the visitors. It was a bad penalty and Thompson added not much else to go with it.
In short, all three looked like AHL players tonight. That may not be a surprise because, well, they are AHL players. This goes back to what I wrote about the Tlusty injury. These three had to step in for spots opened because players down the pecking order were out. These three are three that couldn't beat out those players for a roster spot in New Jersey way back at training camp in September and October. So the Rock and those watching from afar got to witness what a drop off it can be. It was in full effect tonight.
Oh, That Doesn't Excuse Others: That being said, the team very much lost as a team tonight. Jon Merrill was a turnover machine. Andy Greene with Adam Larsson got pinned back, namely because they saw Boston's top line the most along with Zajac's line. Even apart, the duo couldn't make that much of a positive difference although Greene with Damon Severson wasn't so bad. Zajac had a very tough matchup against Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, and David Pastrnak. While those three didn't hit the scoresheet, they were Boston's most threatening line on paper and on the ice. When they were out there, it wasn't long before they got into New Jersey's end of the rink. Zajac's line lost that matchup and lost it in a big way. The fourth line didn't add much other than Farnham's goal and Tootoo hitting a post. Those who don't like Stephen Gionta get to really not like how he lost Vatrano, who put home a rebound for Boston's first goal of the game. The call ups weren't good, Matteau wasn't good, and by now I hope you realize this is most of the roster. That's how this game went Adam Henrique and Lee Stempniak didn't look utterly lost, but they weren't changing the game either.
The Goalies: Gustavsson had a relatively easy night. It was more difficult for Cory Schneider, who saw 31 shots out of 48 attempts. He was beaten four times. The last one was a soft one. It was a one-timer, but Schneider was in position and he saw the shot fully. That one was the one he should have stopped.
The other three, less so. Vatrano put rebound in at his doorstep to open the game's scoring. Ryan Spooner scored on a rather harmless looking wrist shot in the second period that held up as the game winner. Live and on replay, you can identify that there were two bodies in the path of the shot in front of Schneider: Severson and Beleskey. Schneider didn't see it and so it became a harmful shot to New Jersey. And the third goal, again, Hayes tipped Chara's shot right in front of Schneider. I suppose you could direct some of your anger for those three at Merrill. He was busy with someone else for the first one, but he did himself no favors not positioned himself in a good way on the two men in front for the other two goals. Nevertheless, I wouldn't fault Schneider much for this loss. He wasn't the Cory Schneider tonight, but he wasn't a sieve either.
I'm Reaching for This Positive: It looked and functioned like a power play for about 60-70% of the four minutes they had! Yes, they didn't score and had only one shot on net. But after two straight nights of nothing, the Devils didn't treat their breakouts like some stressful situation where everything had to be perfect. It's a small step forward towards something more respectable. That's all I want at this point for man advantage situations by the Devils.
For the Opposition: Bruins fans should be very pleased with this game. They have lost quite a lot since beating the Devils in a shootout. They busted their slump tonight and did so in a way that could make one think better times are ahead. They didn't just cruise to a win, they worked and worked to make it happen. While they are not as banged up as the Devils, Boston was missing multiple players tonight due to injury and one to a suspension. Their top players still performed to their level of expectations and their call ups were more effective. Claude Julien gave them a good plan and the remaining players - namely Bergeron, Eriksson, Pastrnak, Beleskey, Spooner, and most of the defense - were good enough to execute and perform. Even Kevan Miller had a good game. Credit to them for playing as well as they did.
One Last Thought: The Devils not only took only four shots in the third period. The Devils not only were out-shot in the third period 4-14. The Devils' last shot of the game came with 7:04 left to play. Boston took eight since then and most were in 5-on-5 play. Even with the game out of reach at that point, that's just sad by New Jersey. Simply sad.
Your Take: While I wouldn't call it a F-minus, the Devils definitely did not deserve a decent grade for this game. The performance was bad and the result tonight really reflected that. Good on Boston for taking full advantage to really highlight it. That's enough from me. I want to know what you think. What did you make of this loss? Did anyone on New Jersey look good beyond Farnham scoring a goal? Who or what of the Bruins impressed you? What can the Devils take from this, if anything, to help them prepare for their road trip that starts this Sunday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
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