By the end of the first period, I was pleased with the New Jersey Devils for the first time since they beat Vancouver last week. After three terrible, horrible, very bad, no good games, the Devils had a positive first period. They went on offense. They were making passes. Adam Henrique scored a lovely shorthanded goal. Henrique missed a shot later in the period, the puck rebounded off the endboards hard, and Miles Wood put the puck home for a 2-0 lead. The St. Louis Blues attacked just as much in the run of play and did pull one back with a late power play goal by Vladimir Tarasenko. Even with that downer, it was the best period the Devils played after nine straight crummy periods. I was hopeful that the Devils could get something out of tonight’s game in St. Louis. I was hoping that the Devils could be one of the four teams who went to St. Louis and left with points this season.
Then the second period happened, the Devils played like hot garbage, and the Blues played like sanitation workers. A line change going awry left a 2-on-2 which resulted in Robby Fabbri and Jon Merrill screening Cory Schneider for Jori Lehtera to tie up the game. After a 4-on-4 situation that looked more like a St. Louis power play, Tarasenko set up a cutting Alex Pietrangelo on Schneider’s right flank for a tap in. It was a great pass, it was a finish of another shift where the Devils were pinned back, and the Devils were down 2-3. All the while, the Devils were shotless until 11:22 when the scorer did the visitors a solid and credited Wood with a shot on net. Jake Allen did make a move, which was nice if only so he wasn’t entirely inactive and risked cramping up or something. But seriously, the Devils lost the lead and, once again, played down a goal as if they were down three or something. That struggle continues. Tonight, the Blues just owned the Devils.
There would be a sign of hope near the end of the second period with a power play. It carried over into the third period. It yielded one shot on net. It is worth noting that the Devils were more active with the puck and managed to out-shoot the Blues 10-5 in the third period. But a long stretch of not doing much cost them around mid-way through the period with a fluke. Nail Yakupov attempted a shot, Andy Greene blocked it, the puck popped up into the air, it eluded Schneider’s glove, and dropped into the net. The Devils were then down two goals and there would be little to answer it. With just under three minutes left, the Devils pulled Schneider for an extra skater. There was some pressure, but it was from the perimeter. The Blues eventually survived it and then got a break for Patrik Berglund. A missed one-timer by Damon Severson allowed the forward to take the puck up ice and calmly put into the empty net to seal a 2-5 loss for New Jersey. In a word: Boo.
The Devils provided fans like myself hope early in the game. While the Blues were getting chances and shots, so were the Devils for the first fifteen minutes or so. The Devils had a lead. The Devils had an offense. This was more of a spark than anything Luke Gazdic could do outside of a video game or becoming an electrician. Maybe all they needed was some practices, some intense drills, and a little time between games to get their minds right. And then the Blues gave them some adversity before out-right dominating them for most of the rest of the game. The Devils had little in response during this onslaught. The hope from the first period. was thrown into the dumpster that represents the Devils’ performances of the last four weeks or so. Five unanswered goals, a slumping Schneider, another night of being out-shot, out-attempted, and out-chanced, and another ‘L’ to hold. Four losses in a row. By the way, that metaphorical dumpster is on fire.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Shift Chart | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Check out St. Louis Game Time for a recap of this game.
Let’s Start with the Changes: Before this game, the Devils sent down Yohann Auvitu to Albany and called up Luke Gazdic. On this day, the Devils scratched Beau Bennett and P.A. Parenteau to play Pavel Zacha and Gazdic. The scratches came with a reference about two-way play. Not sure how that applies to Bennett, it definitely would to Parenteau, who despite his recent goals, has looked Ryder-ish.
Anyway, Zacha played at center with Michael Cammalleri and Nick Lappin for most of this game. Unfortunately, they got dominated. Zacha and Lappin were deep in their own end and, as a result, deep in the red in terms of Corsi. Cammalleri provided little with them (and overall tonight) to help stop that kind of bleeding. Lappin looked bad and it wouldn’t surprise me if he comes out of the lineup in Ottawa on Saturday. Zacha looked overwhelmed at times and I could forgive one thinking why he’s even with New Jersey with this kind of performance. I could forgive him on the third goal against as he was without a stick (Cammalleri and Greene, less so - thanks to MedicSBK in the comments in the gamethread for pointing it out to me). I believe in Zacha’s talent; but this unit just didn’t work tonight. Whether it was Tarasenko, Schwartz, Yakupov, or Lehtera, the Blues won the matchup against Zacha’s line more often than not. Hopefully, Zacha gets a chance with different linemates this weekend.
As for Gazdic. Well, if you listened to tonight’s broadcast, then you got to hear quite a lot of priase for Gazdic. He’s here for GRIT. He’s here for SANDPAPER. He’s here to bring some PHYSICAL PLAY. He’s here to bring a SPARK to the team. The broadcast even hyped up a potential fight with Ryan Reeves. This is All About the Jersey, so let me unspin that spin with some inconvenient facts. There was no fight with Reeves. Gazdic tried to start something and Reeves didn’t respond. Gazdic played only seven shifts with a total ice time of 3:49. Gazdic threw no hits. Gazdic provided no grit. In terms of an offensive contribution, only one came in the third: Gazdic flung a loose puck in the direction of Jon Merrill, who proceeded to send a shot over the glass. Seeing as the Blues did whatever they wanted to the Devils from the second period onward, Gazdic did not make the Devils a tougher team to play against. I know, you’re just as shocked as me that Gazdic was a waste of a roster spot. I feel bad for Jacob Josefson, who remained scratched, and whichever of Bennett and Parenteau that sat so this guy could give the Devils seven shifts of absolutely nothing of substance and definitely none of the things he was expected to bring that does not help teams win hockey games. He should be back in Albany. (And he dragged down Sergey Kalinin and Vernon Fiddler to a degree, who were both just poor tonight.)
Jon Merrill Gets His Own Section: Watching Jon Merrill mess up potential shots, struggle at moving and controlling the puck, and making poor plays on defense made me miss Auvitu a lot. Merrill’s biggest plays involved screening Schneider on the equalizer and tripping Tarasenko in the third period to make an already challenging task for the Devils - playing while down one goal - even more difficult. The play I remember most from Merrill that did not involve a goal came shortly before Lehtera’s goal. Jaden Schwartz attempted to send the puck in front from around the net. He lost the puck and Merrill took the loose puck easily. Great. Merrill started to skate it up ice. Good. Merrill was pressured from behind and lost the puck just as he got to his blueline due to his lack of speed and puck control. Not good. The Blues recovered the puck and went back on offense. Bad. Merrill was stuck out there until Lehtera scored. Please bring Auvitu back.
Another Move That Didn’t Work So Well: Taylor Hall was re-united with Travis Zajac. Prior to Hall’s injury, this was a combination that worked. They were joined by Devante Smith-Pelly. In the first period, the unit had some bright spots. As the game went on, the line did the best from a possession standpoint but they just were not generating much of anything. Zajac had a rough night in action. Hall couldn’t get much going. DSP added little to what they were doing. It’s disappointing as Zajac has emerged as an offensive leader on this season’s squad and Hall is Taylor Hall, dynamic offensive winger extraordinaire. Tonight, Hall was very much ordinary and Zajac was just off for some reason. That hampered the offense despite out-attempting their opposition in 5-on-5 play; the trio combined for only three shots on net. I suspect that line will change soon.
What Did Work Well?: While possession was not in their favor, I do have to credit the line of Miles Wood, Adam Henrique, and Kyle Palmieri for putting something together. Moving Wood up after some not-so-strong performances was a risk but it did pay off to a point. Wood led the Devils in shooting attempts (6), shots (4), and even scored a goal. Wood’s speed was used more intelligently in the first period instead of just chipping pucks away and hoping he’ll get them. Henrique and Palmieri each had two shots and five shooting attempts; they were more active on offense. They were stand outs in the first period. Henrique scored a lovely shorthanded goal and created the loose puck that Wood put home. Palmieri was more aggressive on the puck and picked up an assist. Out of this game, I wouldn’t mind seeing that line again on Saturday.
The State of Your Defense: John Moore and Kyle Quincey were picked on but no goals against, so I’m sure the coaches will keep them together. Damon Severson had a real tough time out there and until late in the third, he was decidedly the lowest defender on the team in terms of possession differential. That Greene wasn’t as low points to #28 having more issues. Merrill and Ben Lovejoy were a unit that made me pine for Auvitu-Lovejoy. Schneider may be slumping but he wasn’t getting the help needed from his skaters. And a big reason why the Devils were held without a shot for 11+ minutes in the second period and struggled to get much going as opposed to the first period because the defense couldn’t get the stops and the possession to respond. There were a lot of chipping pucks away, there were shifts where the Devils were just hemmed in their own end, and the Devils were effectively broken down again. The state of it is bad.
An Unhappy Coincidence: Schneider’s slumping. But his four goals allowed on 31 shots nearly matched Keith Kinkaid’s four goals allowed on 32 shots from the Devils-St. Louis game last Friday. Sigh.
The Best on Blues: Tarasenko showed why he’s a superstar in this league. He may have had only three shots and six shooting attempts. But he sniped a power play goal to get the scoring started for St. Louis, he set up Fabbri that led to Lehtera’s goal, and he made a lovely pass to Pietrangelo for a shot that no goalie was going to stop. He was dominant last Friday and he made a big impact in tonight’s game.
Speaking of, there’s plenty of praise for the victors tonight. Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko did a great job bombing away with four shots each. Lehtera scored an equalizer and drew a holding penalty on Severson after Severson missed a keep-in during a power play and Tarasenko was breaking away on a shorthanded rush. Jaden Schwartz had a very solid night. Most of all, I have to credit Ken Hitchcock. Their head coach saw New Jersey’s structure in the first period and made the adjustments to rip it apart in the second period as they did last Friday. He out-coached John Hynes and it led to a decisive result after a less-than-ideal start.
Special Teams Went One Way: The penalty kill did concede a power play goal, but it was a snipe from Tarasenko so I’m somewhat forgiving about it. Henrique’s shorthanded goal meant the PK finished even in terms of goals. I should say that the PK was rather consistent at keeping the Blues from going off. Despite four opportunities lasting 7:27, the Blues took four shots on net. That’s great work even with the one PPGA.
The power play. Oh. Brother. While they took four shots on net in 3:54, which was more efficient than the Blues, the Devils failed to take actual advantage of having an extra skater on the ice. Both power plays came when the Devils were down a goal, so it was rather frustrating to watch the Devils waste both chances. Especially with three shorthanded opportunities with a near gift for Kyle Brodziak after a miscommunication between Schneider and his teammate (namely, Schneider wanted to play the puck and his teammate was unaware).
One Last Thought: The Devils’ road trip continues into Ottawa and Manhattan this weekend. They have one more four-game road trip this season and it’s in January when they go into Western Canada and Minnesota.
Your Take: The Devils lost their fourth in a row by conceding five unanswered goals to the Blues. It was a hard one to watch it unfold. What did you think of the Devils performance? What would you change and why? What can the Devils learn from this game before their next one in Ottawa? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with the site account, @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.