Thirteen power plays were given in tonight's game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New Jersey Devils. The Devils had six, the Lightning had seven. Tampa Bay took five holding calls: four traditional holding calls and one for holding the stick. The Devils' calls were more diverse, although they took two interference calls and two hooking calls. Of the 62 total shots taken tonight, 22 were during a man advantage (and one during a man disadvantage). As it turned out, special teams made the difference on the scoreboard even though each team would only convert one of these advantages. The Devils' power play goal tied up the game 1-1 in the second period. The Lightning's lone power play goal broke the deadlock in the third period. An empty netter made it a 1-3 final score; another defeat for the Devils.
Compared to the two games earlier this week, this was a better performance. There were two decent periods of hockey. There were poor shifts where the Devils ended up in their own end; but there were positive shifts where Tampa Bay were put on their heels. Possession and shots on net were close to even in the first forty minutes. Even with all of the calls, the Devils' penalty kill held Tampa Bay to very little while the Devils had their moments of greatness. Sure, Tyler Kennedy will wish he did better when he sees the tape of Victor Hedman's goal. But Adam Henrique finished his pass by firing a rolling puck past Ben Bishop. It was all even after the second period. Perhaps the Devils would end this week on a positive note.
Alas, the third period came and it all fell apart early and often for the Devils. The Lightning came at the Devils so hard that the Devils did not register a shot on net until 13:40 into the period. By the time Reid Boucher put a puck on frame, the Lightning had three power plays, fifteen shots on net, and scored a second goal. The Devils' penalty kill did an excellent job but with seven power play situations, it seemed like it was in due time before the Lightning really take advantage. They did so then and they were rewarded with a long shot by Nikita Nesterov that was put back into the net on the rebound by Brian Boyle. The Devils would get a power play and tried to push forward. The result: five shots on net, two against, and an ENG for Nikita Kucherov. It wasn't enough.
The obvious fault in this game are the penalties. Tyler Kennedy took a hi-sticking call fairly early into the game. Joseph Blandisi took a stupid hooking penalty shortly after he had a shot off an offensive rush. That was on top of knocking Bishop's stick away during a power play. Sergey Kalinin and David Schlemko got caught tripping. Adam Larsson took an interference call he didn't have to make. The killer was the too many men on the ice call that handed Tampa Bay their third power play of the third period. Most of these were avoidable plays. While Devils did an awesome job holding the Tampa Bay power play to only nine shots on net, the Lightning would wear out the penalty killers. In the third period, the Lightning used their power plays to at least keep the Devils from going forward and, with each advantage, they got the shot (well, two shots) that they needed to make something out of it.
The not as obvious fault in the Devils' game is the response to how the game went. With each kill in the third period, Tampa Bay started to attack even more and get more shots on Schneider. Despite a great first kill of those three in the third, they managed to concede more and more shots on the other two power plays and the time in between. Even after Boyle's goal, it took a few more minutes before the Devils gave Bishop any work to do. It's disappointing because the Devils did put in the work and were playing a respectable game of hockey for two periods.
Perhaps that can be chalked up to knowing their season is effectively over; whatever low probability they had for making the postseason ended earlier today. Perhaps that can be chalked up to the same reasons why opposing teams have been able to dominate the Devils for stretches in games; something we've seen in fuller effect earlier this week. Perhaps that can be chalked up to being frustrated at how the game was going and fatigued as each PK means more minutes for a subset of players. I'll leave the reasoning up to you just to get your two cents on it, dear reader. All the same, while it was a better performance than last two games, it was still a loss that showed flaws in the team - even if it was mostly seen in just one period.
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 Raw Charge for a recap of tonight's game.
Seen Stamkos? Nope: Steven Stamkos was out tonight. That may be another reason to rue this result as the opposition's best forward was missing and they were still able to roll through the Devils for a period. Jon Cooper, head coach of Tampa Bay, put the "triplets" back together. Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat were re-united and gave the Devils fits all night long. The threesome did their best work at evens against the Devils' top unit of the Travis Zajac-centered line, Andy Greene, and Adam Larsson. (Aside: This week has been rough for that five-man unit. Maybe they're not as top as we may think, but consider the rest of the roster.) They contributed ten of the team's 37 shots on net and were responsible for two of the three goals scored. They stepped up in #91's absence.
The Lightning also benefited from solid efforts from their bottom six set of forwards, such as J.T. Brown (four shots), Brian Boyle (four shots and the game winning PPG), and Vladimir Namestikov (three shots). Defensively, Hedman was as good as advertised and the pairing of Nesterov and Braydon Coburn was solid. Ben Bishop did well when called upon. All told, despite some poor stretches in the second period, the Lightning had a very good team effort. I'm sure they want Stamkos back as soon as possible, but the team's clearly more than just him and some guys.
The Returns of Schneider (and Schlemko and Josefson): Cory Schneider played in his first game since getting injured in Dallas back in the first week of March. He was excellent. He was composed. He was only beaten on plays where he had no chance: he didn't see Hedman's shot due to a screen and Boyle's goal was from a rebound right in front. In other words, he played like Schneider has played all season. As with Kinkaid earlier this week and Wedgewood last week, the goalies showed up and did their jobs very well.
David Schlemko also returned to the lineup. I didn't like the hooking penalty he took in the third period. While the Devils were not punished by it, it wasn't a good foul to commit. It didn't prevent a goal or a dangerous play. He was not going to get the puck by impeding Valteri Filppula in that spot. Other than that, I think he had a fairly solid effort. He played quite a bit in all situations and, for the most part, handled his business decently. Jacob Josefson also took to the ice for the first time in quite some time. The third line looked much better with him in the middle. I'd like to see more of Blandisi on his win, although he needs to get smarter on defense and with his discipline if he wants more minutes. The power play was functional in part to how he was handling and distributing the puck from the sideboards. It only yielded one goal, but thirteen shots out of six situations is pretty good for a Devils power play that isn't necessarily consistent at generating offense. I think he had a good return.
All told, I'm glad these three are back in the lineup. Schlemko can help a defense that was bleeding shots. Sure, they allowed 37 tonight, but that can be chalked up to one awful period as opposed to two or more. He's much better than Seth Helgeson. Josefson improves the bottom six and can help on special teams as well as Schlemko. Schneider playing at all is always a plus. Alas, it did not push the team's performance to a good result tonight.
About that Zajac Line...: While the Travis Zajac line spent plenty of time on defense, they created some of the best offensive opportunities of the night. With all of the PK work, Zajac was effective. Boucher put up five shots to lead the team. Palmieri could have had five shots on net - maybe goals? - if he put any of his one-timers on the power play on target. Palmieri ended up with two shots and seven attempts that didn't make it to Bishop or the net. So while they struggled against the triplets, I found them to be more impressive than, say, the Henrique line even though Henrique scored the lone goal of the night.
One Last Thought: As a note, there's no March Month in Review. I'm combining April's games into it as to avoid making a separate post for just four more games. So that will come shortly after the Devils' season ends. Back to the game, sorry Florida, but the Devils are "free" these days.
Your Take: The Devils lost 1-3 in a game loaded with penalties. What was your take on tonight's game? Who do you think played better on special teams tonight? Who excelled and who did not on each team? What did you think of the referees? Why do you think that third period went completely awry for the Devils after two decent periods? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's loss in the comments.
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