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Devils Take Step Back, Lose 2-3 to Leafs In SO

Despite a valiant effort from backup goaltender Keith Kinkaid, the New Jersey Devils could not provide him any sort of real support, allowing the Maple Leafs to dominate almost the entire hockey game. 2 goals against the run of play save a point.

Kinkaid was great, but had no support.
Kinkaid was great, but had no support.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

After Tuesday night's glorious win against that hated team from Manhattan, the New Jersey Devils were sitting in a position of opportunity.  With an Islanders loss tonight to Washington, the Devils could actually take a non-wild card playoff position within the Metropolitan Division, something they have not had all year.  While it would have been a precarious position as the Isles have 3 games in hand, nonetheless the points would have been huge to keep this team in the thick of that race.  And tonight should have been a very winnable game against a Toronto Maple Leafs team that came into the game 28th in the NHL.

Alas, the Devils would come out about as flat as anyone could have feared after an emotional win.  On the MSG broadcast it was mentioned that Keith Kinkaid wanted to be tested early to get back into the rhythm, as he has not started a game for quite some time now.  Well, he got his wish.  He was peppered from the get go, and it basically lasted for the entire night.  By the time the Maple Leafs tied the game up in the first, they were ahead on shots 10-3.  Thankfully, the Devils would score before that, on their lone successful power play of the night.  Jacob Josefson would take a faceoff win and snap one that looked to surprise James Reimer a little bit.  It bounced off of his glove and leg before squeaking into the net for a quick Devils lead.

But as I just mentioned, Toronto was just dominating from the start, and it did not let up.  After putting 10 shots on net in the first in the first 8 and a half minutes of play, they finally scored.  While it was not a power play goal for Toronto, it might have well been scored as one, as it happened just seconds after Travis Zajac left the box, and he was nowhere near the action. The play for the rest of the first period was really choppy and physical, with what seemed like 0 passes actually connecting clean.  But for the few that did, they were certainly between Toronto players.  The Devils would outshoot the Leafs in the second half of the period, but the period still ended 14-11 Toronto in shots, and both teams had 12 hits each in the period.

The second period would be no better.  Despite a really exciting minute and a half of 4 on 4 action where Joseph Blandisi really shone bright despite not scoring a goal, it was all Leafs.  The one lone bright spot: Kinkaid.  The guy had 25 saves basically halfway through the game, and some were off of really good Toronto chances.  He looked as good as Cory Schneider does most nights, and it really kept the Devils in this game.  He would keep the game tied after 2 despite some real domination.  The Devils looked slow and unable to compete equally against a team that looked frankly much better on the ice in Toronto, despite not being so in the standings.

The third period would see the Devils take the lead against Toronto's continued dominance.  Talk about a goal against the run of play, and that was David Schlemko's goal 6:27 into the third.  He slapped one from the right point which managed somehow to get through traffic and drill the far corner of the goal to make it 2-1 Devils.  Then, as you would expect once again, New Jersey would enter a prolonged state of simply playing defense and acting like it was a long penalty kill, looking to end the game 2-1.  Toronto would take full advantage and would press as much as possible, but they just could not score.  Then, Mike Babcock would pull Reimer quite early, with basically 2 and a half minutes left in the game.  And it would pay off.  A faceoff win by Tyler Bozak (faceoffs were a killer tonight and I will discuss later) led to the tying goal by him just a few seconds later at around 2 minutes to go in the game.  It was a dagger, as you could just tell the Devils did not have it the entire game.  They were looking to win a game despite being the worse team, and just couldn't manage it.

So alas, we went to overtime, where it looked like it was a 4 on 3 power play for Toronto much of the time.  The 2 excellent chances for New Jersey both came by Blandisi, who just couldn't manage to make either work.  He had a great chance right in front of Reimer, but the puck slipped under his stick and he could not get a shot off.  Then a couple minutes later he was sprung for a breakaway, but simply fell down when he received the pass and tried to turn up ice.  The puck was then easily corralled by Toronto who spent the large majority of the 5 minute overtime in the offensive zone.  You know its bad when a Devils fan is just hoping for the shootout, but I was.

Sadly, Kinkaid would finally falter despite his amazing effort tonight.  PA Parenteau would freeze Keith and go high blocker side for the only goal of the shootout.  Reid Boucher had Reimer beat but couldn't squeeze the puck inside the post, and Josefson's bread and butter move that he exclusively uses failed him.  The Devils would falter in Toronto 2-3 in the shootout, getting an extremely important point, but losing out on an equally important second point.

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 Stats

The Opposition Opinion: JP Nikota has a recap up over at Pension Plan Puppets.  Check it out.

The Game Highlights: Again, until I get this whole new NHL website figured out in terms of embedding videos, the link to the highlight video is here.  My apologies.

Holy Possession Dominance, Batman: Talk about getting beat in a game.  Here is the possession chart courtesy of Natural Stat Trick:

Toronto - NJ Corsi Chart 2-4-16

The Devils were never in the lead in terms of possession the entire game, and except for a few times (end of the first, and late second/early third) the Devils were constantly being beaten.  The Josefson goal really came against the run of play, and the Schlemko goal (both of which are the red dots) came during perhaps the Devils' best run of play, but it was quickly answered by Toronto, who then went on an onslaught of shot attempts as the Devils just decided to sit back like they did on Tuesday.  The difference tonight, of course, was that sitting back did not work, and one reason why is...

Holy Faceoff Dominance, Batman: Talk about getting beat in a game...oh wait, did I just say that?  Well, while we like to discuss possession on this website often and its importance, faceoffs get little love.  However, faceoffs directly lead to possession which can certainly help to provide more shot attempts and time on attack.  For the Devils, they seemingly had absolutely no chance to win some draws and get some possession.  Toronto won 64% of the faceoffs in the game, and I am shocked that they only won that many.  The Devils had one huge faceoff win, and it directly led to Josefson's goal in the first.  After that, it was all Leafs.  Tyler Bozak seemingly didn't lose, and his prowess on the dot finally paid off with the tying goal that was the ultimate dagger in the Devils' chances tonight.

Playing defense the final 10+ minutes of a game to preserve a one goal lead is nice, and it clearly works sometimes like it did on Tuesday against New York.  But one way to ensure that it works even better is to win faceoffs so that your opposition does not have more time of possession.  The Devils could not do that tonight, and their lack of faceoff wins ended up being their downfall.

Let's Give the Kid Some Praise, however: Keith Kinkaid was excellent tonight.  During the all-star break, I read an article on Bleacher Report that gave the Devils an A- in goaltending up to that point, and the writer's reason for not giving a higher grade was because he believed Kinkaid was playing poorly .  Well, talk about not playing poorly.  The reason the Devils got a point tonight was solely because of him.  He made some really difficult saves tonight, some on open looks from Toronto players, and others through some nasty traffic.  He did all that he could to get his team a win.  The 2 goals against were not his fault, nor should they be looked at as his fault.  He proved tonight that he can handle long layoffs and still play well, and that is a huge asset for this Devils team to have, especially because it relies heavily on the play of its goalies to win.

Peppering Him: The Devils entered tonight best in the league in shots against per game at just over 24 shots per game.  Well, they decided to abandon that tactic tonight, allowing 39 shots against.  While their 34 shots on Reimer were a nice surprise, allowing 39 shots on goal will not lead to success on many nights, especially for a defensive team like New Jersey.  As we saw on Tuesday, the Devils are not good at playing fast, end-to-end hockey, and tonight was another showcase of that.  Toronto was much better prepared for it, and it was especially evident when Michael Grabner was on the ice.  The only Devil with any speed to really play that style of hockey is Blandisi, and he has been excellent in 2016, but this team as a whole needs to settle it down more if it wants to win more.

Special Teams Woes: After special teams won the night for NJ the other night, tonight it was not good at all.  The Devils went 1 for 6 on the power play tonight, and they did not look great in most of them. The power play to start the third period was particularly awful.  The team had a clean sheet of ice and room to maneuver, but decided to try to dump the puck in on three consecutive occasions when it was clear that they were simply not fast enough to beat Toronto to the puck in the zone.  It was a waste of time and really set the tone for a bad third period.

And while the Devils technically went 4-4 on the penalty kill tonight, they really were only 3-4.  The first Toronto goal came so soon after the penalty ended that Zajac had no chance of doing anything when leaving the box.  Going 1 for 6 on the man advantage and essentially giving up a goal on the kill is not a good night.  Special teams might have saved the Devils on Tuesday, but it was a part of the problem tonight.

On the Bright Side? The Devils were not going to have a perfect February, and if there was any game to lose, this was a good one.  It was not against a divisional foe, and it was not against anyone close in the standings in the East.  It was not a four point game.  Wins against Washington and New York on Saturday and Monday are considerably more important than tonight.  It just is never fun to watch your team get manhandled by the 28th ranked team in the NHL.

Your Thoughts: Were you as negative about this game tonight as I was?  What are your thoughts about our favorite team's performance tonight? What could the Devils have done better to eek out that win?  What do they need to do to improve so that they can compete Saturday against the best team in the NHL? Does this shootout loss really hurt them that much in the long run?  Leave your comments below, and thank you for reading.