Honestly, the New Jersey Devils played their best game of hockey tonight since their last win, which was back on December 6. They actually attacked the Ottawa Senators. They made their goaltender, Mike Condon, make tough saves. The Devils even played to the score for stretches of tonight’s game, something they really have not done this season. But improved efforts don’t guarantee improved results. The Devils lost to the Senators, 1-3, for their fifth straight loss in a row.
The killer goals were off deflections; hence, the headline. The game’s first goal came early (3:59 into the game) and with the worst kind of a deflection: from their own teammate. Chris Kelly was appropriately covered but managed to get a shot off. It hit Bobby Ryan before getting definitively deflected past Keith Kinkaid by Kyle Quincey. The Devils did have an answer for that goal when John Moore slid in a low shot through traffic off a loose puck in the high slot. Early in the second period, another deflection against. Three opportunities to clear the zone didn’t happen and so Zach Smith collected the puck on the right side. He took a shot and Derrick Brassard stretched his stick to tip it past Kinkaid to make it 1-2. This was 1:14 into the second period. Unfortunately, the Devils did not find an answer for that one. Smith sealed the game with an empty net goal.
The Devils tried to find an answer. After four games where they’ve been dominated for the better parts of games and often in the second period, the Devils were at least competitive. They out-shot the Sens in the second period 14-9. They out-attempted the Sens 20-16. They drew a foul for a power play, which yielded a deflection by Nick Lappin that hit the post and kept the puck just away from the line. They played like a team down a goal in a period where they looked like minor leaguers in recent games. There was that. The third period did not have as many shots - only seven - but they had some great chances. Mike Cammalleri hit the side of the net on a weakside shot I thought Condon somehow robbed him on. Travis Zajac was robbed at the end of the game. The Devils kept making attempts, but they just would not go. Sad as it may seem, it really was an improvement over the last four games.
Ultimately, the Senators just had enough blocks, Condon made the stops, and the Devils just did not have enough go well enough. On its own, in the perspective of an 82-game season, you just chalk this up as a game that didn’t go your way, shrug, and move on. As part of a losing streak, it is a much larger loss than what it is. Every error, no matter how small it may be, just seems that much larger. It felt at times that the streak could be over tonight, or at least the Devils would get some kind of result. That it didn’t happen adds to the frustration that has already been built up with the last four losses. It wasn’t a bad performance at all by the Devils, but I can understand any unhappiness that this was another loss.
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 Charts | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Ary M has this recap up at Silver Seven.
Play Stupid Games, Win Stupid Prizes: If you really want to point a finger at someone for this loss, then I suggest it should be head coach John Hynes. While the Devils have played a better game than they did in nearly two weeks, they were hampered by the roster before the game started. Sure, I did like the move to have Cammalleri, Zajac, and Taylor Hall together. It was a very good and effective move. But I hated, hated, hated, the decision to scratch Beau Bennett and P.A. Parenteau again along with Pavel Zacha. Yes, Zacha, Sergey Kalinin, and Nick Lappin all stunk on Thursday but Zacha was the only one sitting for it. Yes, Luke Gazdic played again. Yes, Jacob Josefson returned to the lineup after seven straight games as a scratch. OK, maybe the last one was understandable.
The result? Josefson and Kalinin got owned in the run of play. Lappin was a little better. After a run of games where Vernon Fiddler, Lappin, and Kalinin were an effective depth line, it isn’t helpful to see them constantly on defense. Gazdic had his totally not-at-all-pre-planned fight with Chris Neil that sparked nothing, he had a shot on net, and he played just 5:18 so the Devils were effectively down to eleven forwards. Without Bennett, Parenteau, and Zacha, the “skill” at forward was effectively held on the top two lines. So whenever they weren’t playing, the Devils were having issues and Ottawa took advantage. While the Devils put up thirty shots on net and the Zajac line ran through Ottawa for the most part, maybe the addition of one (or all) of those three could have made a difference tonight. The bottom six was a weakpoint, Gazdic didn’t add any actual spark or whatever nonsense people spout about players like him, and the Devils essentially lost a close game while not playing their best possible lineup. (Aside: This game also could’ve helped with Yohann Auvitu in the back than Jon Merrill, who at least had a quiet, steady game.)
Then there was the tactical portion. Dump, dump, dump, dump, dump. Sure, some of those dump and chases did work for New Jersey. Yes, Miles Wood can chase down and negate icings (he did at least two of those). But this was a game where both teams were working hard to win the puck and many passes and shots were tipped, blocked, and went awry. It is inherently foolish to just throw pucks away and spend that effort trying to retrieve it instead of making plays with it. Hall was New Jersey’s best skater tonight and he was making a point of carrying the puck in or playing someone else into Ottawa’s end. That led to plenty of offensive opportunities for New Jersey. That was not a coincidence. I can understand the dump and change, but there were too many breakouts that ended with a Devil getting to the red line or just before the blueline and throwing the puck into the end boards. That I saw this when the Devils had an extra skater tells me that this was part of the game plan. They need to get away from it because it limits what they can do. In a one-shot game, that limit can be costly and it was to a degree tonight.
I can appreciate the improved effort and the generally better performance tonight. I cannot appreciate the coach’s roster decisions and tactical decisions for this one. I’m not saying it would have led to a win, but it could have changed the team’s fortunes.
Kinkaid Did His Best: Keith Kinkaid had a very good game. He was beaten by two deflections. There’s not a whole lot any goaltender could do about those goals other than just hope they get in its way. He was very alert, especially in a more free-flowing first period where the Senators put up fifteen shots on net. There were a couple of scrambles, including one in the third period after the defense didn’t clean up a rebound from a Curtis Lazar shot. But Kinkaid was fine. He did enough to give his team an opportunity to succeed.
Should he play tomorrow? I’m not a fan of starting the same goalie in back-to-back sets to begin with. Kinkaid didn’t exactly have an easy sixty minutes either. He faced thirty shots out of fifty-two attempts. He had a good night’s work; I fear he may be tired for a game in Manhattan against the high-powered New York offense. That’s just how I see it. I also saw Thursday’s game and concluded that Gazdic should be nowhere near this team, but he played so what do I know?
The Fast Wood: Miles Wood continues to impress with his speed. And Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri each contributed with him. Henrique had four shots on net and Palmieri had two. I like that Wood can use his speed to get behind the defense. I like that he’s willing to go to the “dirty areas” (he was high-sticked while screening Condon, leading to a Devils power play). I do hope the Devils plan to use it a little more effectively than to just chase pucks. Even when he wins those races, he’s usually not in a position to shoot the puck. He needs to have support to turn that success into further success. I really, really liked his two-on-one with Henrique in the first period. I’d like more of that. His partner, well, Quincey stunk in the first period but was less stinky as the game went on.
A Defensive Change: Ben Lovejoy played more with Andy Greene while Damon Severson skated more with Jon Merrill. I’m not sure if this switch really worked. Severson hasn’t had a great run of games. He was OK overall, I guess? Lovejoy had a rough time of it at times; but Ottawa did not forecheck as much so he at least was not pressured at times. It just seemed like shuffling chairs on a sinking ship as the blueline allowed thirty shots again. I will say I liked John Moore on offense. In addition to his goal, he had three additional shots on net and he did not get caught too deep on offense or unaware going back on defense. I could be a little more forgiving of his defensive issues with more offensive performances like tonight.
A Poor Decision: In the third period with under six minutes left in regulation, Cody Ceci hit Hall in the neutral zone. Nick Lappin took it upon himself to grab Ceci from behind, drop his gloves, and turn around Ceci for Ceci to throw down his gloves. The officials intervened before a punch was thrown so both were penalized for roughing. But because Lappin started it, they gave him an extra minor for roughing. That meant Ottawa had a power play late in the third period while the Devils were down 1-2. The Devils did a very good job killing it, but it was two minutes where the Devils could’ve went on offense and did not. Lappin didn’t need to start something over what was a legal check. It was a poor decision by the rookie.
The Sens that Counted: While their goals on Kinkaid were off tips, the line of Brassard, Smith, and Mark Stone caused the most issues for the Devils. They attacked much more than they defended. Additionally, Erik Karlsson had his requisite multiple shots on net and positive driving of play while playing a lot of ice time. While he only played a little bit, Lazar was a real sparkplug with four shots on net in less than twelve minutes of ice time. Of course, Condon was the difference maker. He made plenty of stops and while he had to look behind himself a few times, he did a very good job holding onto pucks. Alas, he was only beaten once.
Milestone: Cammalleri picked up an assist on Moore’s goal. That assist was his 600th NHL point.
One Last Thought: The Devils will play Our Hated Rivals tomorrow. I’m hoping this is the start of something better rather than a repeat of last week’s nightmare.
Your Take: The Devils played better but still lost, 1-3, to Ottawa. It’s their fifth loss in a row. What’s your take on this game? What do you think the Devils should have done differently? Who was the best Devil in your opinion? Who was the worst? What should the Devils take away from this game ahead of their game in the World’s Most Overrated Arena tomorrow? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
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