Discipline in the context of writing or talking about hockey commonly refers to penalties. As in, taking a large number of them shows a lack of discipline. This is often because most penalties are the result of a player trying to get a physical edge when they know its against the rules. While no sport has perfect referees, “crossing the line” usually results in calls. In hockey, those calls lead to playing down a man, utilizing only a few players for a penalty kill, and mostly playing defense until the man comes out of the box. Doing this too much is a bad thing for pretty much any team and it makes fans and coaches (and even the players) all unhappy.
Discipline can also be used to describe how focused a team and/or a player has in their performance. The run of most sports would make following the gameplan to the letter foolish. The other team often ruins these plans with their own, forcing both tactical and on-the-fly adjustments. At the same time, not being focused at all to the plan or committing acts that undercut what that could is also a negative. In the context of hockey, it could be just dumping pucks instead of attempting a zone exit. It could be forcing passes across a lane that isn’t there instead of making a different decision with the puck (e.g. passing back, maintaining control, firing a shot). It could be a defenseman pinching in for a shot without someone dropping back to help. It could even being aware for a line change in terms of when it is safe to get off and when it is crucial to hustle onto the ice. While discipline is not commonly used to describe that, I think how I see it has some merit.
Both version of the word definitely applied to the New Jersey Devils tonight in a 2-3 loss to the New York Islanders tonight. I was disappointed in what I saw. Unless you were at the Rock like I was and saw it differently than me - the game was not broadcast or streamed - I don’t think you would disagree.
Without even seeing the game, it was obvious that the Devils clearly failed to the more common definition of discipline. The Devils took nine penalties, giving the Islanders seven power plays. This included two abbreviated two man disadvantages, too. The Islanders scored shortly after one 4-on-5 situation ended, converted a 4-on-5 in the second, and all of the 11:30 of power play time the visitors received yielded thirteen shots on goal. The Islanders finished the game with 33; they can say they generated quite a bit when they were up a man or two. Some of the penalties could be described as “good” penalties to take, such as when Kyle Quincey hooked Nikolay Kulemin when he went off on a breakaway or when Damon Severson took down Josh Ho-Sang during that kill to deny him a chance at a loose puck in front of Cory Schneider. I have to write good in quotes because it begs asking why a penalty had to be taken to deny an Islander a chance at scoring. It points to issues on defense, which were apparent given that the Devils conceded 33 shots on net on top of providing the opposition seven power plays. This is especially concerning given that penalties have been an issue throughout preseason. I think we’re past just chalking it up to refs calling it tight and players getting in form. I think the Devils need to just get their collectivize acts together.
As for the lesser definition of discipline, the second and third periods were a throwback to the many periods and games of the last few seasons of this team. The Devils opened the second period by going over seven minutes without a shot on goal. In that timeframe, the Devils would either A) be forced to play defense and even if they don’t concede a shot, they are spending so much time in their own end that they just clear the puck and hope for a change; B) succeed at disrupting an offensive move by the Islanders only to misfire on a pass or a breakout play, resulting in a turnover; C) just dumping the puck while heading up ice and not even coming close to having support for the chase part of the “dump and chase;” and D) hope Schneider makes some stops in light of their issues. The funny thing was that the Devils scored first in the second period, not coincidentally because Taylor Hall won a puck in the neutral zone and fed Adam Henrique to drive in and score a beauty of a goal on Thomas Greiss. There weren’t enough plays in the neutral zone and there weren’t enough successful zone exits with control to at least force the Islanders to go play defense. While the power plays definitely skewed the shot numbers in favor of the Islanders, even strength totals were still really low at 18-18. The Devils could have and should have done more attacking, but they weren’t able to for most of the second and third periods. As a result, I got to see a very familiar performance and it was not pretty.
All the while, the Devils’ errors were just magnified. Here are a few from off the top of my head. Andy Greene threw up a heinous turnover to Matthew Barzal that Schneider robbed him on in the third period. A line change miscommunication helped Alan Quine lead a make-shift 2-on-1 where he scored the game’s first goal. The second period featured plenty of Devils going out of sorts in their own end and in the neutral zone. Most notably when Andrew Ladd was just camping out on the crease during a power play such that he was able to jam in the smallest of rebounds past Schneider. In the third period, Ben Lovejoy pinched for a tight-angled shot on Greiss - a somewhat defensible move as Lovejoy scored a goal from the sideboards in the first period - and the other Devils weren’t able to keep the puck in after the shot and they didn’t cover for Lovejoy stepping up. Before one knew it, Anthony Beauvillier rushed up on an odd man rush and fired in a shot on a 2-on-1 that eventually won the game. That made it a 2-3 game, but the Devils’ own issues with their breakout and their passing in general made the hope of a comeback seem bleaker with every shift.
The sad thing is that the first period really wasn’t that bad in that the Devils actually went forward many times against the Islanders and were threatening. They were drawing calls and they were getting good looks at Greiss. Their main issue was just forcing passes across the middle of the ice, which gave the Isles an easy chance to stop the puck and the Devils’ attack. It was a spirited, up tempo period from both sides. The Islanders may have wished they did more at evens; but given how they were able to keep attacking on their power play, I can’t imagine they were that unhappy with how the game went. As for Devils, I didn’t expect them would revert to a level seen in the dimmer times of the last few seasons. It didn’t seem like that would happen for the forty minutes after the first twenty. Therefore, the performances were not as close as the score would have suggested.
Like Monday night, one of my main takeaways was that I was more impressed with some of the Islanders than most of the Devils. That’s concerning in that the Devils put out a largely NHL roster. Knowing that Barzal, Ho-Sang, Beauvillier, and Ryan Pulock are either going to make their team now or in the near future makes me believe that the Islanders are just reloading their roster at this point. As for the Devils, with one preseason game to go, the hope is that they can sharpen up both kinds of discipline real soon. Before you know it, the games will start to count.
The Opposition Opinion: At Lighthouse Hockey, solace67 focused on the Isles prospects, who did stand out in this game.
What I Did Like in This Game: Again, I was mostly fine with the first period. The Devils and Islanders more or less traded attacking shifts. I enjoyed how Taylor Hall was skating. I liked seeing how all four lines had some good moments. I appreciated that the Devils drew a few calls early, evidence of their attacking ways drawing a foul. Lovejoy’s goal was fortunate and a bad one for Greiss to allow; but it never would have happened without Lovejoy jumping up from the point to obtain a loose puck and fire it hard to the left post. It was a good read and he was rewarded. Take away a poor line change that led to Quine’s 2-on-1 goal and it was a nice period.
Also in the first: The Devils had two power plays and while they didn’t score, they maintained control in the Islanders’ end and moved it real well. The first featured a great shift by Mike Cammalleri. The second featured some sweet passing between Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, and Pavel Zacha before feeding Kyle Palmieri for a dangerous shot that I think Pulock blocked. The third power play was a waste, but I’ll take two competent looking power plays. It gives me hope that now the expected units can be put on the ice, the man advantage won’t be two minutes of my life that I won’t get back.
From a player standpoint, I do have to note that Blake Speers certainly impressed the coaches. He started the third period in Beau Bennett’s place next to Adam Henrique and Taylor Hall. He started the game with Joseph Blandisi and Miles Wood. That’s a pretty big move up. I liked some of the subtle things he did on the penalty kill, such as one-touching a loose puck so Hall could take it in stride in the second period. That led to a rush where Hall drew a penalty to end the kill. In the third period, I really liked how Speers had plenty of space in front of him but he wasn’t in a position to skate forward with the puck like the crowd wanted him to. Instead, he passed it back to Kyle Quincey and then moved up in the neutral zone. Quincey hit an open Speers with a long pass off the boards and Speers was then able to carry it in for a shorthanded shot. It was a smart play and something I didn’t see enough of from the last two years of tracking New Jersey’s penalty kills. I don’t think Speers will stay in New Jersey, but this was a night where I realize why the team has kept him around and continues to give him games deep into preseason.
I also really liked what I saw out of Cory Schneider. I can’t really praise the defensemen tonight given how much was allowed and what was allowed. I don’t have a ton of praise for forwards to. But just like the last few seasons, Schneider was able to keep the game within reach. Without the benefit of a better replay than a quick clip on the scoreboard, I can’t say whether Schneider really should have stopped Quine’s or Beauvillier’s goal. Both were on odd man rushes, but both shots came from the puck carrier. I’m sure he would have wanted at least one of them back. Likewise on Ladd’s goal. While it wasn’t a terrible rebound, Ladd was in a perfect place to jam home any rebound and so when it came from Pulock’s shot, Schneider just was beat there. All the same, Schneider denied multiple breakaways and plenty of shots from other angles amid seven power plays and a lack of offensive support for stretches at a time. Schneider put up multiple bailout saves; most of all, robbing Barzal with his legs while sprawled out on his stomach. All after a terrible turnover in the third period by New Jersey. Schneider played all sixty minutes, faced over thirty shots, and resembled himself. I think he’ll be in regular season form soon enough; I just hope the team isn’t planning on hoping he can stop around four one-on-ones per game among everything else.
Lastly, Henrique’s goal was fantastic. It’s a shame this game wasn’t broadcasted as it would have made for a great highlight. Maybe the Devils will use it in a video package soon or something.
Injuries Create Decisions: This game was likely the last chance for Miles Wood, Blake Speers, Pavel Zacha, Nick Lappin, Joseph Blandisi, Yohann Auvitu, and Seth Helgeson as to whether they’ll make the roster. The big news before this game was that - as reported here by Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice - Luke Gazdic and Jon Merrill will each be out for four weeks with a broken foot and a broken finger, respectively. This means the team will have to make two fewer cuts. All the same, let’s go over how these players look after this game.
As much as I liked how Speers performed tonight and how the coaches rewarded him with more ice time, I do think that juniors is the best place for him to go. He’ll get prime minutes there to perform. While Wood was named the third star of tonight’s game for some reason - I didn’t think he was that great, although I was surprised to see him play so much on the PK - and he’s been a standout in preseason, I do think Albany is a better place for him to go and get prime minutes. We’ll see him in New Jersey soon enough. Nick Lappin has been similarly featured, but he wasn’t much of a factor tonight. His biggest moment was beefing with Steve Bernier after Bernier tripped Reid Boucher in the neutral zone in the first period. Whatever Lappin said was enough for the referees to give him a minor, wiping out a potential power play for New Jersey. That wasn’t wise among a preseason where he’s been mostly positive. Blandisi really didn’t do a whole lot tonight and not so much in all of preseason in my opinion. How he did last season will get him on the team more than anything else, but his waiver exempt status may mean he gets moved down temporarily. As for Zacha, I thought he was OK tonight. The coaches used him in all situations. Considering his other games had him play a good amount of minutes make me think he’s going to start the season in New Jersey. Whether it’s for nine games or more is up in the air, but I think he stays.
Defensively, this wasn’t a good night for any of the defensemen. None of them really stood out for their defensive performance. That said, Yohann Auvitu has a been positive factor in the other preseason games and he did manage to lead the Devils’ skaters with four shots on net tonight. He at least can bring an offensive dimension to the blueline and that’s something the Devils don’t really have enough of among their defenders. Ahead of this game, I would have said he’s on the inside track to making it. I think with Merrill out, Auvitu may be on the opening night roster. Helgeson, well, he is who he is and that isn’t all that much in either end of the rink. Nothing I saw from him tonight really changed that.
Lastly: When Hall was able to carry and move with the puck with pace, it was glorious. There really wasn’t enough of that tonight and it really hurt. The Devils should do what they can to make sure that his line has him carry the puck in or be able to skate in stride with someone else who can. From the flashes I saw of #9 to the lack of flash in the corners when the Devils were trying to get going from in deep on offense, my conclusion is this. Dumping and chasing with Hall is like using a sports car only to drive to the supermarket. Yes, you can do it, but that defeats the purpose of having a sports car. Let this man go fast, teammates and coaches!
Your Take: Well, if you were at the game, again, your mileage may vary on this game. I wasn’t happy with it or the memories it brought up. If you agree or disagree, then please let me know. And if you weren’t at the game, but would like to know more about it, then please feel free to ask in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.