In summary, the New Jersey Devils deserved exactly what they got from tonight's game against the Carolina Hurricanes. They lost 2-3 to the Canes; surprisingly in regulation given Carolina's results so far in this month. They were down as much as 0-3 to the home team. It would be easy to say that they made a comeback effort and it just fell short. It's also not untrue. But it doesn't cover the larger tale of how this game went down.
They played stupid in the first period. Despite some whistle-happy officials, the players thought it was best to take four penalties. One was a holding call on Travis Zajac, which wiped out a power play. Joseph Blandisi tripped Brent Pesce right after losing a puck to him. Devante Smith-Pelly tripped (more like shoved down from behind) Jaccob Slavin that became two minors because DSP felt it was necessary to yell at the ref about the call. Those calls set up the 4-on-4 situation that led to Jordan Staal setting up Ron Hainsey on Scott Wedgewood's right flank for the game's first goal. Those calls set up the power play that Victor Rask scored from the high slot to make it 0-2. Those calls set up another power play that forced Wedgewood to deny Rask at both posts within seconds. Those calls set up a period where the Canes put up fifteen shots and the Devils got merely three. This was a bad start with a capital 'B.'
It did not get much better at the start of the second period. Elias Lindholm took a shot from the top of the circle and behind the left dot; it hit the post hard. A block by Jeff Skinner allowed him to get between the defense for a partial breakaway. Damon Severson denied him a clean shot, but it was another chance made by Carolina. Shortly thereafter, Skinner found Rask behind an unaware Vojtech Mozik and David Warsofsky. This breakaway was for real and it Rask made it 0-3. At this point, few Devils would be faulted for turning off their television and like, say, going to eat some ham on Easter.
Those who stayed would be rewarded with an offensive surge, two goals, and the by-product of any comeback effort: hope. It started from Bobby Farnham of all people. He was in the right spot at the right time to shoot a loose puck in the slot past Cam Ward. Yes, Farnham scored his first goal since January 12. Yes, Farnham proceeded to shove Noah Hanifin and cause a scrum after a goal. Less than a minute later, Ward did an impersonation of Johan Hedberg. Kyle Palmieri caught him out of his net and flung a puck to Blake Pietila in front. Pietila couldn't put home the puck; but Zajac did when it squirted out to the left of the empty net. The Devils pulled within one in such a short time and with over half of the game left. They surged for the next five minutes or so. Carolina did not even register a shooting attempt in that timeframe as the Devils just bossed the game. They brought the pressure and nearly got that equalizer.
However, and this is a key point of how this game went, the surge just died for the last seven minutes or so of the period. The Hurricanes went back to what has worked for most of their season. They played responsible, defensively aware, possession hockey. Carolina went away from long passes and trying to catch a defense unaware. They didn't need them; they started pinning the Devils back. Wedgewood played well. The defense cleaned up the plays as necessary. But the offense just faded away. It wouldn't return until nearly seven or so minutes into the third period. Essentially, the Devils followed a crazy, exciting push for a third goal with, well, a lot of what we've seen this season.
The Devils would end up attacking more as the period went on. They would out-attempt and out-shoot the Canes. Joseph Blandisi got a block at the blueline and created a breakaway for himself for what would be the best offensive chance of the period for both sides. Ward stopped him. I'm not saying Blandisi needed to finish it. My beef is that the Devils couldn't create anything more threatening. As the time went on, the Canes collapsed more to make it more difficult for the Devils to manuever. Given the Devils' issues with puck possession and passing, this was a smart adjustment. So despite the advantage in attempts and shots, the Devils never came close to matching that second period surge that yielded two goals and put a lot of the Hurricanes on edge.
It was fitting that the game ended with the Devils trying to get something going in a 6-on-5 situation and not getting a shot on net at all. The game literally ended with a pass to the point and, I think, John Moore just taking an extra touch instead of firing away. He didn't have much of anything to shoot at it and I'm not blaming #2 alone for the disappointing finish. I'm pointing out that even when the Devils put themselves in a position to turn the game around - like they did when they scored two quick goals in the middle frame - they managed to not make the most of it. Ultimately, the Devils helped dig their own grave and could not get themselves out of their own hole. The Canes took care of business outside of that second period stretch where the Devils just rushed them down. They deserve this regulation win. The Devils deserved their 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 Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Canes Country for an opinion on tonight's game.
Some Positives: While the Devils shot themselves in the foot more times than they could have cured tonight, there were some positives in tonight's performance.
First, Scott Wedgewood put in another solid night's work. I think he probably he wished he stopped Rask's first goal. The second one was on a breakaway. Still, he was under siege more like he was against Washington. He didn't concede as many rebounds that the Devils had to clean up. His denial on Rask at the right post in the first period ensured the Canes wouldn't be up by three in the first period. He even bailed out Damon Severson with a sweet glove save after Nathan Gerbe made him look like a scrub with his stickhandling in the second period. I don't think he was the issue tonight. I can see him getting one more game before going back to Albany; it's been a good run with him so far.
Second, I really liked Kyle Palmieri's performance in general. Travis Zajac and Reid Boucher weren't bad. I mean, Zajac did score that second goal that increased the hope of a comeback by New Jersey. He also had three shots in addition to being matched with Staal's line. But when Palmieri was on the ice, the play often just went forward. Even against Joakim Nordstrom, Jordan Staal, and Elias Lindholm. He led the team with four shots; he made Ward pay for leaving his net that led to Zajac's goal; and he was just going hard out there to keep attacks going when they did happen. With the team short on offense by injury, trade, and talent level, Palmieri pretty much has to make an impact on offense on a regular basis. He did that tonight. I respect that.
Third, this was also one of Bobby Farnham's better games as a Devil. The big highlight was his goal. It was his first since January 12. He's got eight now, which is usually pretty good for someone who usually does not play more than ten minutes per game. That surge in the second period featured the fourth line just giving Carolina's bottom six a whole lot to handle. Stephen Gionta and Tuomo Ruutu weren't bad, but Farnham was a dervish out there - in a good way. If you expect him to be the "tough one" and "take care of business," then you even got that when he fought Brad Malone after Malone cross-checked Ruutu in the first period. Without taking penalties or generally being negligent on defense, this is the sort of game that Farnham should be playing. I can appreciate that.
Fourth, I can appreciate the adjustments the Devils made in the second and third periods. They did not take a single penalty after giving five power plays to Carolina in the first period. They probably should have been called for a few things here and there; it did help that the referees were more lenient. But the Devils did not give them something obvious to call. Defensively, they really got into trouble in spots, but they really clamped down in the second half of the game. The Canes may have pushed them back but short of something amazing like Gerbe's move to make Severson look like a scrub, they didn't get many (any?) high-quality chances at Wedgewood. Granted, it would have been better if they were able to transition that defensive effort more often and earlier in the game into offense. Still, after a fourteen-shot-with-nine-on-the-power-play first period, it was good the Devils held them to only nine shots and no power plays in the other two. Rask breakaway aside, of course; that was on Mozik and Warsofsky.
Fifth, the Devils had a comeback effort at all. Given the team's offense and previous games where they treated a one-goal deficit like it was nothing to react to for long parts of a game, I appreciate the second period surge. I appreciated the other attempts in the third period. I just think they could have done better to keep it going. I wished the team didn't have a long stretch across the second and third periods where they had only one shot on net, which wasn't threatening Ward. I wanted to see more. At least they pulled within one and had some fire in their collective bellies after the goals. I wanted to see more of it. Alas, it's better than nothing.
The Other Bummers: On top of the obvious ones like taking their penalties, I wasn't a real fan of their special teams. The penalty kill did only concede one goal but it was very close to two at times. There was only one real power play as Zajac's holding call was against Staal on a shorthanded 2-on-1, which killed their first official power play. It did not do much. Carolina's penalty kill has been stupendous in March. Yet, it was an opportunity for offense that the Devils just struggled with.
Their 6-on-5 situation was analogous to those power plays. Even when they got set up in Carolina's end, they settled for looks from the perimeter. They lost pucks along the perimeter, which led to clearances. Those clearances were not responded with good zone entries. Seriously, it's 6 on 5 with 1:30 on the clock and not only was David Warsofsky out there for ninety seconds of it, there's a dump-in with less than a minute to go? Right to the Canes players? Come on.
Typifying the Devils' not-smart play for stretches tonight was Joseph Blandisi. I know he's got a mind for the flair like kicking pucks along to himself, attempting spin moves to get around players, and other ideas. I know he's got speed and when he has space ahead of him, he will go and take it. As much as I can appreciate these things, it helps no one if he loses the puck, takes a penalty shortly after something goes awry (like tonight's minor penalty), and his continued questionable defense. I know he's a rookie and has plenty to learn. I get that. But for him to improve, he needs to be more selective at when to burst out and bust out a move; to shoot when it's better to shoot instead of, say, moving from the slot to the goal line for a worse angle on a shot; and when to cover someone on defense. I think he'll get there. Until then, this is what we have to see.
Praise for the Canes: I was really impressed by Victor Rask. He had seven shots on net, two goals, and nearly a third. During that series of power plays, he had five of the team's nine shots on Wedgewood and their lone PPG. He was definitely their danger man tonight. Skinner was also effective if only for that amazing long pass that got past an unaware Mozik & Warsofsky and right on the tape of Rask's stick. Staal looked very good early on along with his line, even though the goal Staal created was at 4-on-4. The pairing of Hainsey and Slavin isn't exactly a household name, but they played a solid game in their own end from what I saw. In general, while they took a timeout after Zajac's goal, they really settled the game down without seven minutes left in the second and just focused on what they do best. It worked for them, Ward did not make another egregious error, and so they got the two points. They took care of business that the Devils did not.
Congratulations: Blake Pietila was right in front with Ward out of the net and Palmieri throwing the puck to him. He couldn't get the shot off for the goal, but what he did do ended up having the puck come out into space. Zajac put the puck into the net. This means Pietila got an assist for the goal, which is his first NHL point. Congratulations to him.
One Last Thought: Again, the Devils are done with the Metropolitan Division for this season. Their remaining six games are against teams in the Atlantic Division. With four of them being against three teams battling for position in their division's top three spots, there will be people paying attention.
Your Take: The Devils had a surge, attempted a comeback, but they fell short in part of their own self-inflicted wounds in tonight's 2-3 loss. That's how I saw it. How did you see it? What did you make of this game? Who was the best Devil on the ice? Who on the Hurricanes impressed you? What should the Devils take away from this game ahead of their next one against Boston on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
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