Losing to the Washington Capitals is not a surprising thing in of itself. I mean, they've only won over forty games in 57 games. A lot of teams have fallen to the Caps. That's expected. What's not expected is that the New Jersey Devils put up leads three times and the Capitals not only answered each goal, but they put up a fourth goal with just under four minutes left in regulation to take the game. The New Jersey Devils had an opportunity to force some points in D.C. They had the chance and there were plenty of moments where they were competitive. Instead, they eventually spent more of the game bossed around by the Caps and it cost them. When it was time for the the Devils to play catch up, they fell flat on their face. The only shot on net since that fourth goal - it was by Washington. Not the team down a goal with time running out.
To be perfectly blunt, the third period just infuriated a lot of Devils fans. With less ten minutes to go, they got a break. Reid Boucher took a shot from distance that Braden Holtby just should have stopped - and he didn't. The Devils were up 3-2. They scored three goals in 5-on-5 play. This was looking good. And then game turned into The Capitals Doing What They Want to Make It 3-3. The lean on Cory Schneider was in full effect as Devils skaters just started losing their men and their position in their own end. The equalizer was a bad break. T.J. Oshie attempts a rebound in front and Schneider stopped it. Oshie takes another whack at the puck, it goes off Seth Helgeson's skate, and then it goes off Jon Merrill's skate and the puck rolls into the net. After that, the Caps still did what they wanted and the Devils paid for it. A unit of 5-6-11-14-20 isn't defensively questionable unit. It's not like the five that were out for the equalizer, 7-39-15-11-22. Yet, as the play went on, all five guys were looking back to the end boards. There two Capitals skaters heading down the right side. Evgeny Kuznetsov found Brooks Orpik jumping up to the right circle; pass, shot, score. Nobody was looking back, nobody was prepared for Orpik - who's hardly an goal machine. But give anyone an open look and a free pass with no defender paying attention and they'll make you pay. With the remaining 3:58, the Devils provided...not much. Jacob Josefson had an open look in front and missed wildly, which is a good summation of his career so far. That was it in terms of offensive chances late. Once again, after a poor night against the Isles where the Devils didn't play like they were down a goal, the Devils just didn't put up enough of an attack when they most needed it. All that tells me is that this team isn't good enough.
Adding to the frustration is that the Devils got some good things in this game. Again, they got 5-on-5 goals, something they've been sorely missing. The penalty kill was very good. The fearsome power play of Washington yielded a whopping four shots in six minutes. That's fantastic. Cory Schneider made a lot of big saves when the defense broken down. Then there were the other goals the Devils scored. Kyle Palmieri made Holtby bit hard on a wraparound and the loose puck put in front was popped in by Travis Zajac. That was the game's first goal. It was a good moment. Within the final minute of the first period, Palmieri takes the puck just beyond the goal line, he fired it towards the net, and it goes in off Holtby's back. Another great break. This wasn't such a super night for #70. And it was all squandered. The great PK performance ultimately meant nothing. Schneider's big saves are wiped out by the goals allowed. The final eight or so minutes just
As far as the equalizers before the third period go, here's a summary. Alex Ovechkin got wide open in front of Schneider after Joseph Blandisi's clearance didn't get past Dmitry Orlov. Yeah, he finished the play. And the second period was largely controlled by Washington; they got a second goal. Kuznetsov, ignored by the D, roofed a loose puck to make it 2-2. Those were disappointing but there was time to make something happen. And Boucher made that happen. Then the rest of the third period happened. With all that in mind, how can a fan not feel disappointed and/or frustrated about this loss? The Devils essentially snatched defeat from the jaw of points. Not even a post-regulation point. That just sucks, regardless how good the Capitals are.
The Game Summary: 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: Geoff Thompson had this recap at Japers' Rink ready to go shortly after the game ended.
The Numbers: Here's some overall numbers from this game. The Devils were out-shot 24-32 by the Caps. Not a total surprise given that the Caps were losing for most of this game. The Devils were also out-attempted 48-64 in all situations. If we just look at evens, it's 45-57. Again, the Caps were losing for most of this game. The breakdown by period showed that the Devils actually played a very good, relatively high-event first period against the Capitals. That period was up tempo, it featured a lot of rushes and chances for both sides, and it was very entertaining. Over time, partially due to the score, the Capitals just eventually took over as evidenced by a sharp difference in shots. The Caps kept making them and the Devils, well, didn't. Perhaps that would have been expected given that one team is loaded with offensive talent and has the overall skill to handle deficits and the other is New Jersey.
The Good: There was some good in this game. As previously mentioned, the Devils did score three 5-on-5 goals. That's a good thing. The penalty kill did a great job against a really potent Washington power play. I really liked how, on the second and third kills, that Ovechkin in the right circle didn't even get much of the puck for any killer shots or posterizing moves. That's a good thing. Cory Schneider made a lot of important saves that are now all for naught, but it's important to note that he did a lot of bailing out of the Devils' defense. For example, shortly after Oshie's goal of two Devils defensemen's skates, the first shift featured Oshie streaking into the slot for a one-timer that forced a big stop by #35. That could have easily been the goal that Orpik eventually scored. Schneider did well, I think he got a raw deal tonight, thanks in part to his teammates.
Aside from things I already mentioned, I do want to highlight some other positives. I think this was the best night for Reid Boucher, Travis Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri as a line. They did a very good job, even though I would have wanted to see more offense from them late in the game. Still, the unit scored all three goals tonight and each player had at least one assist. Boucher had two. While the three combined for only four shots, they took many more attempts. Defensively, the coverage in general wasn't good enough as the game went on. But I felt David Schlemko had a nice night after leaving the game early after shot block. It was good to see him return to the ice and generally be a positive presence with John Moore.
The Bad: Defensive coverage, which is a responsibility of all fiver skaters, just degraded as the night went on. As much praise I gave to some players in the previous section, the whole team really had issues at this. Some just missed their coverage in an instant. Others missed it multiple times on multiple shifts. The Devils paid the price as three of the four goals Washington scored were by players who weren't really covered or had anyone close enough to do anything to them. This was a team issue and it played a large role in tonight's result.
As usual, the offense in general just got worse as the game went on. Boucher's goal aside, the Devils put up a whopping ten shots on net (out of 24 attempts) in the second and third periods combined. That's hardly keeping your opposition honest. In light of that, I'm a little more surprised Boucher scored at all - aside from how it beat Holtby. Once again, when the Devils went down a goal, the Devils got nothing on net much less into the net. That's just not acceptable. We've known this is an issue all season and even ahead of this season. Yet, it was an issue tonight and I can't ignore it just because it's a known issue. It's going to bear repeating.
Seth Helgeson needs to go back to Albany. He adds nothing to any offense, which is the sore need of the Devils right now. He adds not much to defense. His lack of speed was an issue. He was far too light in moving the puck, which led to some bad turnovers. He took an avoidable high-sticking call when trying to poke at a puck on the ice. I'm not seeing a NHL defenseman in him. I'm seeing a guy who's just a fill-in when the defense is short players. The Devils aren't right now. For all of his struggles, I'm baffled that Damon Severson wasn't put into the lineup. I don't see how #39 needs to be in this lineup more than #28. I don't get it. It did not help that Helgeson's partner was Jon Merrill. He had the sort of performance makes one scratch their head and asks "What do they see in this guy?" He didn't handle the Caps' pressure well either, which made for a contentious defensive pairing.
Among the forwards, the line led by Adam Henrique was just poor. Henrique and Lee Stempniak are normally reliable in their own end of the rink. They did a lot of chasing and just had some real struggles in their own end. The line of Henrique, Stempniak, and Blandisi just had issues going forward. As a result, I couldn't tell you what chance they had to score. Even the fourth line had scoring chances; Stephen Gionta hit the post on a turnaround slapshot off a feed by Tyler Kennedy. Hardly offensive machines. But Henrique ended up shotless, Stempniak was mostly anonymous, and Blandisi just made a lot of bad decisions with the puck. Two stick out in my mind. First was the chip up the boards instead of trying to get around Orlov. That not only didn't work, it led to Ovechkin getting Washington a goal. Second was that in the third period, instead of moving the puck ten feet for a zone exit, he attempts a cross-ice pass to nobody. The Caps recover the puck and in a few seconds, Andre Burakovsky rings one off the pipe from the slot. Blandisi could have easily contributed two goals to the Capitals' cause tonight. It's a shame he didn't contribute much to the Devils' cause.
The Symbolic: And the other two lines, they weren't so much awful. They had some good moments. The fourth line was better than what it was last night. But they're symbolic of this season's team. Every once in a while, the bottom six will chip in a goal. But they're not going to do a whole lot of consistently good things and they're more likely to struggle against their competition. They'll have a few good shifts here and there and it's just accepted, even though the Devils need so much more - especially when one of the top six lines does not have a good night. It speaks to the general problem with the squad: they're just not very good.
The Reality Check: Losing the Capitals on it's own is not often seen as a hard dose of reality. Again, a lot of teams have lost to the Caps. Yet, the way the Devils lost combined with their last two losses just remind me that this is simply not a good team. This is not a team who is having a bad week. Their issues in this week were issues even when they were pulling out wins on the basis of scoring just enough goals - even if it's power play only - to have the goaltending stop everything. All season, the Devils have played on a knife's edge and these games are on the opposite side of the edge. The Devils don't have the skill or the players and maybe even the tactics to handle something like a one goal deficit or a period where they spend most of it on defense. They just stick to their guns and hope something will go their way.
I know it's happened a lot and it put them into playoff contention for bit. Perhaps enough times to think that they're good or at least above average. How they're doing it is not something that can or does continue as we've seen this week. Playing to just get enough and hope you can hold on is certainly not a characteristic of a team that's legitimately good. The real good teams have an attack or at least a mindset of doing so when they're losing or they sense they can take advantage of their opponent. The Devils don't have that. As we know, the Devils' goaltending is fantastic because Schneider is fantastic. And tonight, the offense did put up more goals than usual, they got three past a really good goalie on a really good team. Yet, the defense failed too many times and the possession was business as usual, which allowed a legitimately great team to make the Devils pay for their weaknesses. And I don't see it changing.
Maybe I'm being too dramatic, given tonight's opponent. However, I don't see anyone can watch games like this and conclude that the Devils are on the right path or that they are a quality squad. They're just not there; the rebuild is necessary. I'm not saying they should sell everything off, but thinking this is a team that should be in the playoffs and can totally keep up their previous pace for another month and a half just seems foolish to me. Especially since barely getting in means a playoff series against this very good Washington team. That doesn't seem like a goal worth striving for. That's why I feel this game is a reality check. I'm not just looking at this game, I'm recalling a lot of the other games the Devils have played this season. The performances just weren't good enough, like tonight's.
Your Take: I certainly am down about this loss given how it happened and what could have been for New Jersey. What's your take on this game? Were you frustrated with how the third period went? What went wrong after the first period for the Devils? Was this game a reality check for you too? Why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
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