Once again this season, the New Jersey Devils hosted an opponent, conceded a fairly early goal, and could not find a response whatsoever. So they lost 0-1 and everyone who counts left the Rock disappointed. I'm reminded of the last time this happened on January 4 to the Detroit Red Wings. In that game, the goal scorer scored on a breakaway and the Devils displayed an effort. Tonight, the Devils lost 0-1 to the New York Islanders. The goal scorer came from a rebound caroming off his leg by accident about two minutes into the game. The effort was less than impressive to put it nicely.
I think I'm going to dig into it a little bit more for a post on Monday, but I've been convinced that the Devils just don't respond to score effects. The goal allowed was a bad bounce. Literally. Nick Leddy took a shot, Cory Schneider stopped it, Casey Cizikas' leg (while charging the net) hits the puck and arcs it past Schneider for a goal. played a perfectly good game. But it was still no cause for alarm. The goal against came just under two minutes into the game. Surely, the Devils could have found one in the remaining fifty eight minutes of regulation or so. Yet, the Devils just couldn't find a consistent attack. There would be a good shift here and there. There would be a scoring chance here and there where Jaroslav Halak would come up big. The issue was that there wasn't enough. Especially in the third period where the Devils had a whopping three shots and seven attempts on net eleven minutes into the period. They ended up with a bit more due to pulling the goalie during a penalty kill to close out the game. They would eventually out-shoot the Isles 7-5 in the third and out-attempt them 13-8. Overall, it's still not good. The Devils only out-shot the Isles overall by three (27-24) and the Devils still attempted fewer shots (45-46). Down a goal, most teams try, do, and will push the pace to their liking, take a few more risks on offense, and fire away more. The Devils clearly are not most teams and it hurt them tonight.
In a bigger picture, this game was another example why I really can't buy this team as a playoff team, standings aside. Tonight clearly showed that this team does have issues with passing the puck, making decisions on offense with and without the puck, and taking initiative. These are issues that aren't solved by simple tactics, they're solved through personnel. Or, to put it another way, the 2015-16 Devils don't have enough the talent. It also shows that the coaching needs work as well. As much praise as John Hynes has received for perceived improvements, I saw the Devils once again (I did watch Tuesday's game, though I did not write anything) just not adjust to what their opponent was doing. The Islanders played that third period like Devils ideally want to defend a one goal lead. They continually got easy zone exits by planting a skater just away from the corners and sideboards to pick up loose pucks and outlets from lost battles. Combined with the fact that the urgency and offensive push was lacking while down a goal throughout the game, and I have to say I'm not pleased with how the team is coached. I'm not saying Hynes and his staff all need to go. I'm willing to wait until they get the talent to see what they'll do. But I come away from this game disappointed in most of the roster and the coaching staff with how they performed.
I will say this, the Devils did an awesome job on the penalty kill tonight. It was easily the highlight of the game. They conceded four power plays to the Islanders, including a major penalty in the second period. They allowed two shots on net, none that went into the net, and they were bold enough to pull Schneider late as a shorthanded situation ended the game in the hope for a goal. There was no goal, but the team didn't even allow the ENG. That and Schneider's performance were really the big positives in my eyes for the Devils. And I can appreciate how the concept of "momentum" that gets thrown around by analysts and broadcasters got killed as the Devils' successful kills - including their amazing performance on the major penalty kill in the second period - led to pretty much nothing. That's just me, though.
Overall, this was a game that just is another piece of evidence that this team is just not good enough for postseason play. I get that teams get shut out and they have bad nights. But the Devils attacking like one squeezes blood from a stone has happened enough times that I just don't have the confidence that this is a team that should do anything beyond early April. A one goal deficit can be and was tonight combined with a well played, structured game by the Isles enough to just put the Devils away. I've seen this movie before and I know how it ends and it's simply because the squad isn't good enough. The good shifts here and there aren't good enough. The team as constructed and coached isn't good enough. I wish I had something more intelligent to say than that as a conclusion but I've seen this sort of thing from the Devils before and that's the truth. Tonight was just another example. I guess it was a better game than Tuesday's, whatever that means.
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 Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats | The Hockeystats.ca Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik has this recap at Lighthouse Hockey. It's certainly more positive than this one.
The Stupid Penalties: As great as the PK was tonight, some of the penalties tonight were just stupid, for lack of a better word. Two do have some arguments to them, so I'll go through them first. I'll concede that Matt Martin went down a bit easy when Joseph Blandisi hooked him in the second period. Although, Blandisi shouldn't have hooked him at all. I'll also concede that Adam Henrique's high sticking penalty was really more of a follow-through of his stick than a malicious act. However, he's got to control his stick like anyone else. Given that the call was taken within the final two minutes of a 0-1 game, the penalty really put the Devils in a bind.
The other two penalties taken were just plain stupid. Henrique's first penalty was a hold on Nikolay Kulemin. This was after Henrique missed on a shot in the slot. He was chasing the puck and just grabbed the guy along the boards. It was unnecessary and it killed an attack in the second period that the Devils kind of needed as they were down one goal. But that happens in games. The Devils killed it, we move on. The other one, may have more consequences. Jordin Tootoo shoved Johnny Boychuk face first into the end boards. It wasn't really a cross-check - which was the call - but he definitely put his hands on him from behind. It was such a dumb decision by #22 because there was no need to do so. He wasn't trying to protect himself. He wasn't going to win a puck or put himself in a better position to get it as it wasn't nearby. That alone would have warranted interference or perhaps boarding given Boychuk went into the boards, front-first. That he went off injured I think meant to the refs that it was a dangerous enough play to give him five and a ten (misconduct). You may think that was a harsh decision, but again, Tootoo had no business putting his hands - no matter how light they were - on Boychuk in that position. That's why I say it was a stupid decision by him.
Again, the Devils' penalty kill did a great job killing all of these penalties. But they also raise a what-if about this game. What if the Devils didn't have to kill nine minutes of the second period? They did out-shoot the Isles 11-9 in the middle frame and they did have some quality chances. I'd like to think with the additional time, they'd get handful more shifts and opportunities. Maybe the goal could have happened there. Unfortunately, the calls taken hurt that part of the cause tonight - regardless of how great the PK performed.
(On the flip side, the Devils drew one call. That speaks plenty to how they moved the puck forward and controlled it.)
Other Silver Linings: I did single out Schneider because I liked how he played after a rough third period against Philly (mostly not his fault but still three goals allowed) and how he responded after a bad break. The Isles didn't beat him. There were some other good individual games by the Devils. I think Reid Boucher played his best game in some time. I really wish he didn't hit the post when he had a makeshift one-on-one with Halak in the first period. But he was lively, he attempted to make plays, and he had three shots to go with that post. Not bad. He was skating mostly with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri, and that line did fairly well tonight. I really liked how Andy Greene and Adam Larsson played. It may seem cliche, but they were good stand-outs on defense at evens and, especially, on the penalty kill. Lastly, as much grief Tyler Kennedy may have received, he at least has put in some good work with four shots on net and he led the charge on some of the few good shifts in the first period after the game became 0-1. Those four tie Zajac for the most by a Devil tonight.
The Return of Merrill: Jon Merrill returned to action tonight. Stefan Matteau was put on IR to make room for his return. How did he do? I think "OK" suffices. He didn't make too many errors on defense. His ice time was limited to just even strength, which was only 15:44. He didn't add much on offense, but that's par for the course for Merrill. I think he'll be fine. I'm still confused why Seth Helgeson remains in New Jersey, but it is what it is.
Praise for the Opposition: As lucky as the goal was, the Islanders in general just played a really solid, patient, and defensive game. They didn't give up on offense; they continued to attack throughout the game. That contributed to why the Devils looked like they weren't doing much because, well, the Islanders were doing work with the puck. The team clearly had a plan, they stuck to it, and they continued on it even as the Devils just couldn't or wouldn't change in response to it. The goaltender, Halak, made plenty of impressive saves. I'd like to think on another night, the Devils would have scored that goal. Halak made sure it wasn't tonight. The Isles fourth line didn't just contribute the goal, unintentional as it may have been, but they played a smart game. Cizikas may have got the goal off his leg, but he had three other shots. John Tavares remains a star. One may have thought he didn't do much, and then one learns he had five shots on net out of seven attempts (only Frans Neilsen had more).
Thanks: I'd like to again thank my other writers for chipping when they could while I was out sick. I'm still on the mend, but I'd like to think I can do this and will try to do so in the future. We'll be back to normal in time. Thank you for your patience and I'm sorry for the inconvenience that came with missing recaps and so forth.
One Last Thought: When you're in the slot and you've got a free shot at the net, take the dang shot. This can apply to a lot of situations tonight. Feel free to pick and choose who.
Your Take: What was your opinion on tonight's game? Did it match mine, or do you see it completely different from what I saw? If so, what did you see and why did you come to a different conclusion? What, if anything, can the Devils do differently ahead of their game tomorrow night in D.C.? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's 0-1 loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed the site account (@AATJerseyBlog) on Twitter. Thank you for reading.