Sloppy is the perfect word for what happened in tonight's game between the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes. Those at The Rock and those watching from all over the world got to witness the Devils fall down in random intervals, passing ranging from effective to "get glasses because you totally missed this guy" to directly into pressure, two power plays that yielded nothing, unforced zone exits on offense, and a shot selection that included some dangerous shots and more innocuous ones from distances that any goalie could - and in Eddie Lack's case - did stop. All that and one of the most pathetic 6-on-5 situations I've seen in some time. There were many times where it didn't look like the Devils skaters on the ice were on the same page. And that was the team that out-attempted the visitors 39-24 at evens and out-shot them 30-18 overall. The Hurricanes were messier with all kinds of turnovers and just abysmal neutral zone play as the game went on. Yet, the Hurricanes prevailed tonight. The Devils lost their third straight by a 1-3 final score.
The last two goals by Carolina came right within the last two minutes of the game. Eddie Lack played what I recall was a dump-in to the corner where Jaccob Slavin was. He flipped the puck out to to Elias Lindholm in the slot. He took it in and put a low shot on Cory Schneider. The rebound came out to the slot. John Moore and David Schlemko denied Lindholm the rebound. Nobody was on Joakim Nordstrom, who came down the right side of the ice from Schneider's perspective. He swooped in to the slot to take the puck, put it on his forehand, and slammed it in to make it 1-2. Shortly thereafter, John Hynes pulled Schneider and the Devils performed one of the more awful 6-on-5 situations in quite some time. Even with the extra man, the Canes' defense was not challenged much less overwhelmed. An attempted carry-in went wrong and Tyler Kennedy somehow got the loose puck and went backwards, drawing the ire of the crowd. Pass, pass, another dump. The puck came around to Kennedy and he made a back pass to David Schlemko. Nathan Gerbe just took it away and was off for a breakaway and one of the easier empty net goals he ever scored. After two straight blow outs, I suppose a late disappointment is a nice change of pace. In the same sense that after being punched in the face, a punch to the stomach is a nice change of pace.
Yet, what made this game sad was how these teams played. The first ten minutes of this game was just hideous for both sides. The second and third period featured stretches where it really seemed like nobody wanted this game more. The Devils got on the board with Adam Henrique picking up on a double deflection on a shot created by Andy Greene first. They played a bit better as the game went on, but their offensive moves were akin to a slot machine. Pull the lever, occasionally it'll come up cherries and most of the time it'll come up with nothing. Well, maybe not necessarily nothing from the Devils. Mostly, a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. (Thanks to Steve for that suggested line. Oh, and William Shakespeare, too.) Just look at the shot location chart at Hockeystats.ca. It's not entirely accurate - Kyle Palmieri took the 30th shot of the game from the sideboards, I don't see a marker for that - but it provides a good picture of the Devils' shooting. Were there some dangerous shots that forced Lack to make a good save? Sure. There were plenty of longer range shots or shots at favorable angles for the goalie that allowed Lack to make an easy one. I guess it figures that on a night where the Devils take a possession advantage over a good possession team like Carolina, not much else goes right.
Quite a bit didn't go right. I got to witness the Devils wipe out a delayed penalty call in their favor when they touched the puck while a seventh skater was about to get to the bench. Yes, a too many men call evened up a holding call that would have given them a power play. I got to witness multiple defensemen have the puck at the blueline and proceed to make a D-to-D pass over the blueline, forcing the other three Devils to exit the zone. I got to witness Jon Merrill play on some shifts like he was daring the coaches to play David Warsofsky over him - especially with that terrible turnover to Phillip Di Guiseppe in the second period. (Thanks to FrankG929 in the gamethread for that one. I just modified it; it was a good line. Other shifts weren't so bad, to be fair to #7.) I got to witness Joseph Blandisi as a right winger and flop at it. I got to witness all kinds of odd line combinations, with forwards switched up in the hopes of finding something in a post-Lee Stempniak world. I got to witness Sergey Kalinin in the third period because I didn't notice him at all in the first two - and not all that often in the third, too. I got to see a game where Jordin Tootoo led the team in shots (5) and the other fourth liners not play that badly. I think I also witnessed a legitimately good game out of Tuomo Ruutu. And, of course, I got to witness just one goal. At least the Devils played like they wanted the second goal; it just wasn't effective.
Most of all, my main takeaway from this poor performance is that this didn't really teach me anything new about the team. Take away Lee Stempniak and two guys in the press box and the main issues with this team haven't changed. The offense still lack production in part due to issues with passing, general tactics in the offensive zone, zone entries (Carolina made it easier with some of those turnovers ahead of New Jersey's blueline), and even a willingness to shoot. Sure, the Devils got thirty tonight and that's big for them. Yet, many of those shots weren't all that threatening and that's a problem. The game went as such where one mistake could to burn them and it did. This is not a good team as they lost to a banged-up team who's also not going for it. Yet, I could have told you most of this earlier in February and after some of those losses earlier this season. I don't know what to think about that.
I suppose the only silver lining is that if you believe the Devils should just fall down as far as they can in the standings, then the first mission was accomplished tonight. The Devils are now further away from Pittsburgh and behind Philly and Carolina in the division. They will need several more 'L's to fall down to the next tier of teams below them in the league. Their next six opponents at at Nashville, at Dallas, vs. Pittsburgh, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, and at Anaheim Given those team's quality (they are all playoff teams) how they played on their now three-game losing streak, I think those losses could come pretty soon. After this game, I just want to see a more competent game out of New Jersey, win or lose. I fear I may not even get that soon.
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: Bob Wage has this recap of Carolina's 3-1 win at Canes Country.
What of the New Guys?: David Warsofsky skated in the warm-ups but he did not play. He is with New Jersey so he could be slotted in soon. I don't think he'll actually replace Merrill soon unless Merrill starts being real bad for much longer stretches of time. Devante Smith-Pelly did not make it in time to Newark to suit up. I expect his debut will be on Thursday in Nashville. I wonder how much of tonight's game did he see and whether he feels more confident about taking a spot on the bottom six in New Jersey? I'd say the fourth liners did well tonight; though I was less than impressed with Kennedy. I don't think Smith-Pelly should be playing nearly sixteen minutes like Kennedy did tonight, but I do think he could carve out a spot in time. We'll see.
Lack Wasn't: Eddie Lack played a real good game. He stopped the one-timers, he wasn't faded by chaos, he got all of the easy ones, and the only shot that beat him was a double-deflection. That's some fine work at a position that Carolina probably could have used months ago. At least he's showing his play in 2015 is not necessarily a true reflection of his talent. I think he was Carolina's best player. Especially since no one really stood out among the Carolina skaters, game winning goals aside.
The First Goal: Derek Ryan is 29 years old and was called up in part of the deals Carolina recently made and the injuries their team is suffering. He played in his first NHL game tonight. At the end of Carolina's first power play, a denied zone exit led to Ryan getting the puck in the left circle. Andy Greene didn't step up to him and Sergey Kalinin certainly didn't move over to him in time. Ryan fired a well placed shot past an inadvertantly screening Greene and Schneider. He scored his first NHL goal to tie up the game. And the Canes never looked back - at least on the scoreboard. The Devils made them do a lot of cleaning up on defense. In any case, congratulations to Ryan.
So Who Tries to Replace Stempniak's Spot Again?: Blandisi didn't work out. Does Reid Boucher, who's been playing decently amid these losses, move over? Should they switch someone else over to the right? Do the Devils dare try moving someone up a role (Please not Kennedy, please)? I do not know. Nothing I saw tonight really gave me a good answer.
One Last Thought: I'm glad my season ticket is only for me. If I took someone who's never seen a hockey game before and I hyped them up about how great the game, and then I showed them this game, I think I would have turned that someone off from hockey forever. This was just a terrible game to watch as both teams made errors. That giveaway to Di Guiseppe? It led to him breaking away, skating away from the slot, turning around, and making a pass to a trailing teammate. Who then proceeded to skate around Merrill and then miss on his shot. Talk about a whiffed punish. It was that kind of night for both sides.
The pace of the players was quick. But with so many pucks lost, given away, misfired (on shots and passes), and knocked around, it felt slow at times despite how much energy both teams were showing. Basically, both teams should be pushing for better execution, smarter games, and sharper performances and soon - regardless of how much they don't want to "go for it" in the standings. As far as introducing new people to hockey, I think I may want to wait until the quality of the Devils gets a bit better. Or at least until they get on a decent run, which would be an oasis amid the figurative desert of six of their last seven games - including tonight.
Your Take: I watched all of this and wrote about what I thought about it. What did you think about this game? What do you think was good and bad from the Devils? What can they do differently to play better, especially with a run of tough opponents ahead? What did you think of Carolina's performance in general as well? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread, especially FrankG929 for his comment on Merrill, and those who followed the site's account on Twitter, @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.