Rats. The story of tonight's game will be about rats. It was Rat Night at the BB&T Center. Someone at the Florida Panthers marketing department thought it would be a good idea to give fans a plastic rat. That's a good idea. With Scott Mellanby's rat trick still cherished by the fans, it's a good giveaway. Someone in the same department thought it would be a good idea to give fans the rats before the hockey game. That was a bad idea. Rats rained down onto the ice after every Florida goal - and after the game. After warnings via the scoreboard and the public address system, delay of game calls were issued for the first time ever for the rats. Given the visual and rarity, that will be the thing about this game that you'll see on TV, online for articles and maybe even memes, and so forth.
As for the game? The New Jersey Devils put in another poor performance in a 2-3 loss to the Florida Panthers. Don't let the score fool you into thinking it was a close game. The second goal by New Jersey came with about five seconds left in regulation. It was very much a consolation goal.
I will say that it was not as bad as Tuesday's game, one of the ugliest wins of the season by the Devils. There were some noted differences. For starters, the Devils did not match a season low for shots on net. In fact, they out-shot the Panthers in the third period. There were signs of offense in that final frame. For another, that consolation goal was an even strength goal so not all of the Devils' production came on the power play. Thirdly, special teams for both teams got to play more minutes and achieve less success in total - only the Devils scored on a PP, their second of the night. Not that Florida wasn't trying and wasn't really close at times; but they were ultimately killed. The extent of the domination Florida showed was not to the extent that Boston showed. They heavily out-shot and out-attempted the Devils at even strength, but the margin wasn't as bad. 30-15 in shots and 45-24 in attempts. Again, the special teams play brought up the totals in both categories to less abysmal gaps: 40-25 in shots, 66-38 in attempts. Not at all good, but a bit better than Tuesday. Oh, and the opposition scored more goals to win the game. That was a big difference, albeit one not in New Jersey's favor.
That all said, there were multiple similarities to that awful game from Tuesday night. The second period in Sunrise, Florida was essentially the same as the second period in Newark, New Jersey from two days ago. The Panthers did what they wanted, how they wanted, and when they wanted with the puck. They did everything but score multiple goals. Lady Luck shined on the Devils when the Panthers players missed on empty or near-empty nets. Yet, they still scored a goal. While he didn't bust through the defense, Jonathan Huberdeau got behind John Moore down the middle. Huberdeau went to Keith Kinkaid's left; while Kinkaid's outstretched right pad denied the first shot, Huberdeau poked in the rebound for a then game-tying goal. Amazingly, the Panthers could not beat Kinkaid and puck luck for more goals amid their 18-shot rampage in the second period. As with Tuesday, Kinkaid was utterly fantastic as the Devils skaters just got rolled whenever the Panthers surged. Such as for the final five minutes or so in the first period, spots in the third, and nearly the entire second period. While Kinkaid will regret the second one allowed to Huberdeau - a shortside shot at the right post that went in off his back - the goaltender was far from being one of New Jersey's top five problems tonight. Likewise with that Boston game, their top line did a lot of the damage up front. Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Jaromir Jagr bossed around the Travis Zajac line as well as whoever else they saw on the ice at even strength. They combined for fourteen of Florida's forty shots on net in all situations and scored all three goals. The lines behind them were not as successful but they definitely had their moments of strength, piling on a Devils squad that failed to attempt a shot on goal after entering Florida's end of the rink for long stretches at a time. So while this game wasn't as bad as Tuesday's debacle, the Devils' play was far from being anywhere near "below average."
Why do I keep bringing up Tuesday? In addition to being a recent point of reference, I think this game falls in part with how that game went down. The Devils won that game. Traditionally, when the team wins, the message sent is that something went right - so do not make many changes to it. That goes for the players as well as the coach. Head coach John Hynes swapped out Tuomo Ruutu for a returning Tyler Kennedy, I believe he split up John Moore and Damon Severson too, and that was pretty much it in terms of changes to the roster. So all of the lessons that should have been learned from that game didn't really get through. There was no adjustment to how the players played except it all went awry and never really recovered. Why would there be? They won totally in spite of what occurred on the ice. I think that explains part of why what happened tonight.
If that or this recap seems quite negative to you, then that's because this game mostly was negative for the Devils. The positives for this game are: Kinkaid playing extremely well under this duress, Kyle Palmieri somehow busting out nine shots in this game, the Devils showing some actual offense in the third period, scoring two goals instead of one, Blake Pietila scoring that consolation goal for his first in the NHL, and (hopefully) no injuries. That's all I got.
I don't see how anyone who watched this game would think from the Devils perspective that most of this was fine or that this was somehow perfectly acceptable hockey. I don't see it. I probably wouldn't get it even if explained. I know the Devils have plenty of called up players and lack talented players on their roster in general. I know that has been the case all season and yet not every game has featured a performance as bad as this one or the last one. I know it's a lost season so the results are pretty much moot. The performances are more important as it'll provide a last set of data that will help management and the coaches decide who should stay, who should go, and what else should be changed with how the team played. Tonight provided a lot of data that can be summed up as "this team is bad and needs lots of fixing." Perhaps most fans already knew that, but it doesn't make for a good, average, or even just not a good hockey game. Essentially, Florida chewed them up like a pack of rats like so many other teams have done here and there this season. Try as I might, I can't find much positive in that. Good thing that the main story that will come out of this game are rats being thrown on the ice than another crummy performance by the Devils.
The Opposition Opinion: Kevin Kraczkowski has this short recap at Litter Box Cats. As he notes, Todd Little will have a more comprehensive one in the morning.
What's a Man Advantage Anyway?: There's more points of criticism to be made. The power play blew more opportunities than not tonight. Failing to get properly set up for a brief 5-on-3 and a 6-on-4 situation in this game was a wasted chance. Failing to do much of anything on the very first power play of the game, within the first minute of the game was a waste. The Devils got two free power plays from fans who threw rats on the ice after the second and third goals. They did next to nothing with them. Given how the Panthers have not been the best on the penalty kill this season and recently got blown up for three PPGAs in their previous game, the Devils' power play was a disappointment tonight.
They had one success, though. It came off a broken play of sorts. Devante Smith-Pelly takes a long shot from the center that is blocked in the slot by Eric Gudbranson. Sergey Kalinin smartly blocks out Gudbranson from playing the puck with his body. He took a risk tying up his stick, but it paid off as it allowed Mike Sislo to charge in and blast the puck past Al Montoya. That gave the Devils a 1-0 lead in the first period. Other than that, their power play that continued right after the 5-on-3 was effective at applying pressure and getting some actual shots on target. They didn't succeed but it was at least far better than wincing at most of the other man advantages tonight.
What's Coverage Anyway?: I really hope the instruction from the coaches are to let the opposing team move in to more advantageous areas with the puck, forget about players coming in back door, pinching when it's not necessary to create odd man rushes, and chasing opposing players down instead of being in a better position for where they are going. I've used this term a lot in the past, but there was a lot of reactive defense. That has to be done in any game, but when the prevention is essentially non-existent, it's a problem. Often times, even cleaning up rebounds and moving the puck out for offense or just a breather was a mighty struggle as the Devils would fail to get the clearance past the blueline - or even past the Panther right in front of them. Again, the Panthers created many dangerous shots. On another night, maybe Kinkaid would not have been as fantastic or the Panthers would not have left as many empty nets go by with missed shots. The defense contributed a 40-shot against night and that's just bad on everyone from Adam Larsson all the way down to David Warsofsky.
What's All This Then About Getting Posterized?: Warsofsky became part of a highlight in the third period. From the point with the puck, he made a decision to try to deke around Jaromir Jagr on offense to put himself in a better offensive position. Not a bad idea. Except Jagr stretched his stick out and stole the puck from Warsofsky. The living legend of hockey proceeded to lead a 2-on-1 with Barkov, fake a shot, and then make a killer pass to Barkov for a one-timer goal in Kinkaid's grill. No chance for #1. That made it 1-3. It was a great play by #68 - he made a defensive play! - and a fine finish from Barkov. Presumably it also made a lot of Devils fans face palm for #47's decision. I know I did. In general, Warsofsky wasn't necessarily killed on D tonight but his offensive contributions have not been nearly enough to justify further ice time than the limited minutes he's already received.
Why Can't You Let it Go?: Bobby Farnham may have hustle, a bunch of goals, and a desire to talk junk and want to throw down with lots of players. He doesn't have the on-ice intelligence or temperament to let things go though. Mike Sislo got hit hard by Eric Gudbranson in what was deemed a legal play. Bobby Farnham decided, "Hey, I got a puck and I'm going through the neutral zone, but I see Gudbranson out there. Let me give this puck away to the Panthers while the game's going so I can yell and see if I can do something to him." And so he did so. While it did not end up costing the Devils a goal or anything like that, it was a remarkably stupid thing to do. For someone in his position on the fourth line, he just can't do that. Kennedy came in for Tuomo Ruutu tonight; I wouldn't be surprised if someone came in for Farnham on Saturday due in part of a play like that. As usual, Farnham should've just let it go and went back to work. Not that he was a difference maker tonight, but it was entirely dumb.
What Do You Do Again?: Seth Helgeson is making me really hope David Schlemko or even Jon Merrill is close to returning. He was a pylon tonight.
Who Starred for The Other Team?: Again, Huberdeau, Barkov, and Jagr was not just Florida's top line tonight, but they were the best players on their squad. While the gameplan did not rely as much on the defense closing off the points to keep the Devils penned in, those three just kept slicing and dicing through the Devils' skaters. While Kalinin bodied him up for their PPG, I thought Gudbranson played a really good game on defense. While the other forwards weren't consistently dominant, they all had their spots like Teddy Purcell being at the right place and with his stick at the wrong angle in front of the net, Rocco Grimaldi coming hard with speed like he's Blandisi, and Derek MacKenzie nearly tying up the game shortly after Florida's third power play of the first period. In general, the forwards supported the defense well as they picked apart the Devils' seemingly inevitable losing of the puck when they would be in Florida's end.
All told, tonight was a fantastic example of Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr just being a great top line. Jagr won't be around forever - I know, it's hard to believe - but Barkov and Huberdeau are going to be fantastic for Florida. They are kind of there now, really.
Does the Summary List the Penalty as Delay of Game - Rats?: Sadly, no. It's just "Objects on ice - bench." Needless to say, Gerard Gallant was not at all happy with either delay of game call. Not at the refs, just at the fans who threw the rats and the staff members who decided handing out light, plastic, easily-throwable rats before the game was a good idea.
How About A Shoutout for a First?: Blake Pietila one-touched the puck past Montoya after the goalie stopped Smith-Pelly from the left circle. That's Pietila's first NHL goal. I'm sure he wished it was under happier circumstances. I do too, but it's a first all the same. Congratulations to the young winger for getting on the board.
Any Requests?: With Tampa Bay coming up on Saturday, can I ask for more than just one decent period in that game? The first period tonight wasn't so bad. It didn't end well for the Devils except for the score and Kinkaid showing that he picked up from where he last left off. But I want more than just one decent period. Despite out-shooting the Panthers, the third period wasn't so decent what with conceding another goal and wasting more opportunities than taking them.
Any Last Thoughts?: From me? Not an original one. Here's a TL;DR of this recap from mlc14 in the Gamethread:
This was a 3-2 blowout.
Indeed it was.
What Is Your Take?: Will the Devils learn something from this game given that they lost it? What other adjectives would you describe Kinkaid's performance? What about the rest of the Devils? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with the site account, @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.