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New Jersey Devils Faded by Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-4, for Fourth Straight Loss

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In their next to last game of the season, the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning played a watchable game; the Devils lost 2-4 for their fourth straight loss. This game recap goes over what went wrong on the goals allowed and which Devils line was the best.

This goal by Jonathan Drouin turned out to be the game winning goal in New Jersey's 2-4 loss to Tampa Bay.
This goal by Jonathan Drouin turned out to be the game winning goal in New Jersey's 2-4 loss to Tampa Bay.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Compared to Tuesday's stinker, tonight's game between the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning was a much more enjoyable experience. The Devils actually played like they wanted this game for more than a few minutes. The Lightning performed like a NHL team and despite some poor play at times, they fully earned the win tonight.  Despite the lack of talent on New Jersey's end, Tampa Bay's top skaters not playing, and another low-event contest, there was perfectly acceptable hockey on display in Newark.  Therefore, I'm not so disappointed that the Devils lost 2-4 to the Lightning.  Of course, it helps that this is Game #81 and in a few days, this result won't matter.

There are plenty of points to criticize from tonight's performance. Some are familiar given New Jersey's whole season. For example, the passing.  While there were some real sweet dimes on display, they were amid many pennies getting thrown into a sewer if you get my drift.  That is my attempt - and I'm sorry - at being "cute" and "hip" to describe that some passes were really well placed but many more just went awry.  The latter ended potential attacks and occasionally gave Tampa Bay an opportunity to strike.  Another example would be that the Devils endured a long stretch without a single shot on goal.  They got an early power play in the first period and put up three good shots. Those were the only shots they had in the first period; they went shot less for about nineteen minutes straight.  Making that stretch worse was the fact that the Devils did have some time in Tampa Bay's end and they just either missed their shot or failed to take one at all.   The good news is that Tampa Bay made them only suffer one goal against in that time frame.  It still at least represents lost opportunity.  The last big talking point would be how the team just plays like they don't communicate well, whether it's in a 4-on-4 situation, two skaters going after the same puck, or that hideous 6-on-5 situation that mercifully ended when Valtteri Filppula put home the empty netter.  Those were the moments where I just rolled my eyes and sighed something like "It's Game #81, guys. Really."  There are other criticisms, but those were the major ones from what I saw.

There are plenty of points of praise from tonight's performance as well.  The Devils responded to that poor, three-shot first period by firing away and making Ben Bishop work more in the second and third periods.  Sergey Kalinin got his first of the night when he just happened to have his leg in the right spot when John Moore shot the puck right off an offensive zone faceoff.   Moore could have easily went D-to-D and the Devils would proceed to move the puck around the perimeter looking for some window of offensive opportunity.  He just ripped it and the team benefited from the chance deflection.  I especially liked how the Devils came out hard after both goals were scored. They were very close to putting up a second quick goal each time. There was no "cool down" after the score.  I appreciated how much more disciplined the Devils played. While tonight's refs weren't keen on calling too many penalties, I am pleased with the Devils handing Tampa Bay only two power plays compared to the six or so from last Saturday.

Lastly, I was particularly pleased with how Stephen Gionta and Bobby Farnham played with Sergey Kalinin. Each created the two goals Kalinin scored tonight.  That's right, Kalinin scored twice tonight for the first time in his NHL career.  That energy line brought more than just some exciting shifts and Farnham skating like a bat out of hell; they made this game a game right until that horrid time when the Devils got the extra skater out there.  It was definitely one of the better nights this season for each of those three players.  They won their matchups, they didn't take any penalties aside from a fighting major for Farnham, and they created all kinds of looks.  Seriously.  Farnham got a clean breakaway! Gionta had a close shot on net! Kalinin scored shortside after Farnham won a puck from Bishop outside of his net!) here are other parts of the game to praise, but those were the major ones from what I saw.

Ultimately, I'm most pleased with the fact that this game was treated like a competitive game even though it will be all for naught very soon.  Both teams wanted the 'W.' There were tempers flaring - mostly with Joseph Blandisi involved. That is not necessarily a good thing on it's own, but it showed that the players cared to a degree about the game.  At this point of the season, and especially after Tuesday's debacle. No, it's not good that the Devils lost four games in a row. I'm personally hoping that streak ends on Saturday.  Even if it doesn't, so what? It's not like the Devils have anything to play for.  So, again, I just want to see a solid, decent performance from my favorite team.  Imperfect as it was, I got that tonight.

The Game Stats: The Game Summary | The Event Summary | The Play by Play Log | The Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats | The Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Brett Frieman has this recap at Raw Charge. It was Jonathan Drouin's return to the lineup. With the goal that eventually won the game, Frieman called it "mission accomplished."   Fair enough.

The Goals Against...Sigh...: If you want to be unhappy at how this game went, then just look at the goals against.  The first one featured Andrej Sustr coming in on the left flank for a wide open shot.  No one was on that side of the ice. In a 5-on-5 situation. Sustr amazingly only hit the post.  Then Erik Condra scores after two rebound attempts, the second going by Andy Greene and another fallen Devil.   Not exactly a great recovery effort by the skaters after being bailed out by the goal frame.

The second goal came off a 3-on-2 rush for Tampa Bay.  Matt Carle made an excellent long pass to spring Filppula forward. While Damon Severson engaged Filppula, the forward was still able to get past his outstretched stick.  While John Moore hustled back to make it a 3-on-2 instead of a 3-on-1, he stuck with J.T. Brown going to the middle.  When Moore turned around, Cedric Paquette was about to get the puck for a one-timer that beat Keith Kinkaid.  That's unfortunate for Moore, but that play made Severson look bad.  Despite the fact that many good things happened while #28 was on the ice, Severson's passing, decision making with the puck, and that play were pretty big blemishes.

The third goal came early in the third period.  Adam Larsson hit Patrik Elias with a long pass in to the neutral zone. Elias had trouble corralling it and Jonathan Drouin came back for a takeaway.  Drouin made a little pass off the boards to get past Reid Boucher, which allowed Vladimir Namestnikov to gain the zone.  Alex Killorn skated past and sort of into Greene, which threw him off balance for a bit. A stick on the ice also was in the way.  Namestnikov made a little drop pass for Drouin. Drouin went around the stick, Greene, and beat Kinkaid five hole. That was a soft goal to allow by Kinkaid, and the steal from Elias ended up being another neutral zone turnover that started the whole play. There were many in the first period of this game, but this one turned out to be damaging.

In each of these goals, one can identify who or what went wrong. It was pretty obvious live what went wrong.  Either way, it certainly was not pretty or even respectable looking.  A Devils mistake or inaction helped the Lightning get the goal and take the game.

The Power Unit of Non Power: For this game, Adam Henrique lined up with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri. That's pretty much the one power line the Devils can put together at this point.  I was hoping John Hynes would do it and he did.  Unfortunately for me, they didn't exactly run over the Triplets  14-19-21 combined for four shots; two each from Henrique and Palmieri.  It was apparent Palmieri really wants his 30th of the season; though it seemed like he was pressing too hard for it.  Henrique had his moments but I felt Zajac was more active in trying to make things happen, even though Zajac was shotless for the night. That all said, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov combined for five shots and ended off the scoresheet except for Kucherov helping Filppula's ENG happen.  So it wasn't as if Tampa Bay really dominated in response. On paper, I still think Henrique, Palmieri, and Zajac would make for a line that can handle the other team's top line while hitting back with offense.  In practice, that was not necessarily the case.  At this point of the season, it's just data for 2016-17.

Chill: Joseph Blandisi had three separate beefs, all for roughing minors, all with different people on the Lightning: Mike Blundin, Drouin, and Namestnikov.  The one against Drouin turned out to be the only power play Tampa Bay got from a Devils player.  At least the other two led to minors for those Bolts. (The other PP for Tampa Bay came from a too many men on the ice call. Anyway, Blandisi's main contribution were those three separate visits to the penalty box. That's not the kind of energy or offensive spark that one hopes from the man wearing #64.  Hopefully he'll settle down for the last game of the season.

What I Also Noticed: I really liked how David Schlemko and Vojtech Mozik performed on defense tonight.  OK, I was a little scared when Schlemko took the puck in front of his own net on defense during a shift in the third period, but he put in a good night's work.  I liked his shots on the power play and I only wished he had (or took) a few more looks.  Mozik put in a solid effort as well.  Since that first game, he's beginning to get used to the speed of the NHL game.  I'm not going to say one should start penciling him into the lineup for 2016-17, but I think he's done enough to get a long look in camp next Fall.  That he'll be in the last year of his ELC would also drive the team to focus quite a bit on him, but I think his play warrants it.

On the flipside, I'm glad to see Patrik Elias on the ice at all, I was not really enthralled with his game.  I liked how he was skating hard right until the end.  I liked how he was getting involved on defense.  I don't like how he's struggled to keep the puck on his stick and that he still has a tendency to force passes when he has a perfectly good shooting lane.  As much as he is an icon and as much as he's still playing off the rust built up from a long absence due to injury, I'm not convinced he should be back with the Devils for one more season.

Elsewhere: Since the Devils don't have anything to play for, a few games tonight are of some interest to the Devils faithful. First, shout out to the Rangers for blowing the second place spot in the division.  Their recent slide combined with Pittsburgh being crazy hot - which only makes that 3-0 win over them a few weeks back even more impressive - had the Rangers fall from that home-ice spot.  In fact, their 4-1 loss to the Isles means they're in a wild card spot. Bummer.  Second, shout out to the Leafs for hurting two teams. By beating Philly in OT, they have put Philly in a tough spot where they have to win out or get help to secure a playoff spot; and they have put Boston in a tougher spot as they'll need help to get in too. They were briefly moved up to 29th place, but dropped down when Edmonton won.  They still have an incentive to lose that last game to secure 30th, which means the Devils may have a pretty good chance of ending their losing streak of four games on Saturday.  Do they want that? We'll see after Friday's game. Third, the Caps lost so unless Braden Holtby plays in and wins Washington's last two games games, the most wins in a regular season record with is safe with Martin Brodeur.

One Last Thought: I was rather impressed by how well Andrej Sustr and Jason Garrison played on defense. While the Lightning will want to have Victor Hedman ready to go for the playoffs, those put in such a good night's work that I think they can be an asset in their own end in the postseason.  Sustr's major failing was hooking Elias near the beginning of the game, but even that denied a potential breakaway. It wasn't a foul for the sake of a foul like he has been prone to do.  Garrison showed he can do more than just have a heavy shot, although the Lightning have to be pleased with his three shots on net out of five attempts.  So while Drouin will get attention for scoring his return game with an organization that all but exiled him (more like he exiled himself, but whatever), I want to point out that pairing did rather well and that played a role in keeping the Devils at bay to a degree.  After all, shots and attempts were only 22-22 and 39-41 in favor of Tampa Bay.

Your Take: The Devils lost their fourth in a row but did so in a manner that was actually not a chore to watch.  There was a reason to believe that they could tie it up and almost did on a few occasions. It was not to be, partially due to their own errors that led to goals and their issues in trying to go forward.  That's how I saw the game.  How did you see this? Would you agree this was a perfectly acceptable hockey game? Who do you think excelled for the Devils other than Kalinin's brace?  Which one of the goals against was the worst?  What do you want to see for the team's last game this season, other than a win?  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 team's account: @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.