Tonight, the New Jersey Devils effectively lost to the Florida Panthers 0-1. Florida’s last two goals were empty net goals. A bad pass by Damon Severson into the neutral zone was picked off by Jussi Jokinen, who fired in an empty netter. Less than a minute later, the Devils decided to use their timeout down 0-2 with 28 seconds left and pull the goalie again. It resulted in Vincent Trocheck putting home an empty net goal. Those goals boosted the lead and put an exclamation mark on the game. The word for the Devils’ performance: Lame!
I have to give credit to the Florida Panthers. They played a good game. Goaltender Roberto Luongo returned to action and he did well. He made kept all of the pucks out, including some dangerous rebound attempts in the second period. Aaron Ekblad was very active on defense at both ends, he was a solid threat. Florida’s top line did OK and Colton Sceviour was a sparkplug given limited minutes. From what I saw, Florida’s best forward tonight was Reilly Smith. He played with an extra bit of pace. He did score the one non-empty net goal tonight: after Schneider robbed an open Smith right in front the net, Smith put home the rebound. That not only put the Panthers up but it held up as the winner. It was scored 16:55 into the first period. The Panthers stuck to their gameplan, they kept the Devils more than honest by nearly matching the Devils shot-for-shot, and they continued to execute. The Panthers weren’t dominating on the ice like Edmonton back on Saturday or putting New Jersey into a big, early hole like Toronto last Friday or challenging New Jersey with their structured play like Carolina last Tuesday or just plain out-classing them like most the Devils’ games in December. They played a good game and that was enough to beat what the Devils put out tonight.
That’s why this loss is so frustrating. It’s not like Florida out-and-out creamed the Devils; this game could have led to a result for New Jersey. I wanted to scream at the Rock that it was just a one-goal game during a third period where the Devils put up a mere nine shooting attempts and eight shots on net. (Game ended at 29-29 in 5-on-5 play and 44-39 in all situations favoring NJ, which isn’t much.) Once again, they did not play to the score. Outside of an impressive diving shot by Miles Wood off a slick drop pass by Beau Bennett, Luongo wasn’t really in trouble. The Panthers weren’t pinned back. The Devils continued to defy convention and not significantly turn up the offense when losing. There were some good attempts at jamming in a rebound in the second period and Pavel Zacha hit a post. Those moments felt like ages ago as time ticked off the clock and the Devils continued to dither and dawdle the game away.
The execution by the players tonight was just a mess. The biggest thread among them all, to use a phrase from Ryan’s excellent post on breakouts, was that there were not enough Devils being options to each other. Granted, that can be hard when Michael Cammalleri has the puck and instead of making a pass or taking a shot when available, he’ll turn, try to stickhandle the puck into a new location, and do something less effective. But the issues in all three zones tonight from what I saw could be summed up as players not being options. Defensemen, like Jon Merrill, weren’t options to give a forward an outlet on offense or to provide a better pass for a breakout. Forwards were either too far up the neutral zone to try and stretch a Florida team that didn’t get fooled by it, or stuck tentative in their own end to challenge a Panthers defenseman with the puck or collapse with the defenders. The latter being a big deal given that injuries have resulted in Florida’s blueliners to play a bigger role in their offense. There were too many instances of skaters going to the same spot so they run into each other and/or get caught in the same spot. There were too many instances where a teammate was too far or too close for a pass, which hindered the offensive zone play and some of the breakouts. There were too many shifts that could have been productive, effective, and positive but they went “poof” because someone didn’t want to be an option for someone with the puck or in case the Devils won the puck. Throw in taking five penalties and continued ineffective tactics on the power play. That’s a hot mess of a hockey performance and it just looked oh, so lackluster. I didn’t doubt the players’ work ethic or heart or whatever. I doubted whether they can execute fundamentals of the game.
This could be chalked up to just having a “bad night.” Every team has a night where very little goes right and a potentially competitive game became a decisive loss. I would argue that if it wasn’t for how the team has performed since the middle of November. The Devils were just awful in the run of play in December. Five games into December and I can say the Devils played one good game: the win over Boston last Monday. There’s been so many bad nights that I can’t really agree that tonight the Devils were just having a bad night. I would be more forgiving if the Devils shelled Luongo and he was forced to stand on his head, or something like that. But there wasn’t even that tonight. Tonight was the first game of the second half of the season for the Devils; this wasn’t their first game or anything like that. Early season rust cannot be attributed to this game. The New Jersey Devils were just lame at most aspects of the game tonight. And it’s hard to keep watching this much lameness and being patient with it.
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 NHL.com Shift Chart | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Litter Box Cats for their take on this game.
A Dangerous Hit: The goal Smith scored was during a major penalty. After a good shift by Pavel Zacha and his line, Zacha chased down Denis Malgin. Zacha crushed him into the boards from behind. Not so much like Tom Wilson did to John Moore, but it was a dangerous hit. After the Florida trainer came out, Malgin did eventually get up and skate off the ice, but he was out of the game from that point. Zacha received five minutes for it and I wouldn’t be surprised if the league takes another look at it after the game. You may think it is harsh, but it is the sort of hit that the game can do with less of. Anyway, Shawn Thornton tried to start a melee over the hit - literally over Malgin - and received two minutes for it. So the power play was knocked down to three minutes. The Devils’ penalty kill actually nearly escaped it. Except as Jokinen chased down a dumped-in puck, no one picked up Smith going to the net. Not Kyle Quincey. Not Cammalleri. not Adam Henrique. So Smith had all the time in the world to score.
Ugh: Quincey was just a mess with the puck. Merrill was all over the place with respect to his positioning; he wasn’t much of an option as he should have been. Kyle Palmieri started off well but he faded away. Taylor Hall worked hard to move the puck only to struggle at points with P.A. Parenteau (By the way, that tripping call right off a faceoff within the final ten minutes of the third period was a dumb one to take. It was also a legit call too.) really not getting in spots to support what he was trying to do. It’s not like these players did nothing at all. Hall ended up having six shots on net, Palmieri had four, and even Quincey and Merrill weren’t run over in 5-on-5 play. But in watching this game, there were just so many lackluster and “what could/should have been” from players like them and others tonight. Then there guys like Devante Smith-Pelly, Sergey Kalinin, and Nick Lappin that contributed very little. That added to the generally lame performance by the team.
Ehhh: Special teams were uneven, by the way. The penalty kill was mostly successful except for the brainfart that led to Smith’s goal. Florida was held to only six shots on net. The Devils’ problem was that they committed four additional penalties along with Zacha’s major. They weren’t mostly good ones to take; particularly Parenteau’s trip off an offensive zone faceoff in the third period and Ben Lovejoy hitting Jared McCann in the face with his stick at the end of the first period. Even with the mostly successful work by the PK, the Devils spent eleven minutes of this game down a man. That doesn’t help anyone. As for the other side, the Devils’ power play did yield four shots on net and one good minute out of four. Sadly, that’s progress for this woeful special teams unit.
Some Good Things: Schneider played well again. With strong performances in four out of his last five starts, I think its safe to say that he’s back in form. Unfortunately, the rest of the team has yet to follow suit. He was not lame at all tonight. I did like what I saw from Seth Helgeson and Steve Santini as a pairing. They were appropriately limited in their usage, but they usually did their job without too much hassle. Miles Wood’s speed was nice in bursts, too. Again, he’s better when he’s directly set up with a pass or has a shallow puck to chase - not a long, launched puck that can put him offside or result in an icing.
An Unnecessary Timeout: Down two goals in a third period performance that yielded little offense and with 28 seconds left, John Hynes figured on calling a time out. This wasn’t necessary. The first ENG effectively ended the game given the Devils’ punchless offense down the stretch. Hynes didn’t believe that so he pulled Schneider for an extra skater, and hoping the Devils would miracle two scores in less than a half of a minute. Instead, Trocheck scored an ENG. Great timeout usage there, coach.
Is it the Coach or the Players?: While the Devils skaters are the ones responsible for what they do, I continue to see more and more evidence that coaching is a problem. I see it when the Devils continue to collapse around the slot on defense instead of letting their goaltender see shots. I see it when the Devils struggle against a forecheck, pass it around multiple times in their own end, and stick to looking for outlets in their own end for breakouts instead of trying a different tact to make the forecheck adjust for it. I see it when I see Devils players who can and should be shooters end up down low, behind the goal, or along the goal line where they really aren’t going to get good shots from it. I see it when I see the power play try to do whatever it is that they’re trying to do. Being an option is definitely on the players and, of course, they are the ones actually making plays out there. But I don’t think the instruction and tactics are working out. Games like this in light of the last month and a half calls into question whether they will work out. I understand that patience is required as the Devils are a bad team and they are re-building. However, after 42 games of this season, I’m not still not sure what they are building towards - and it’s even more confusing when the players fail so much at what they’re trying to do.
In other words, the answer to this question is “yes.”
One Last Thought: Having watched this game live, I can sum this game up in three letters: S.M.H.
Your Take: The Devils conceded one goal and it was enough to lead to a loss. The empty net goals just inflated the score for Florida. Florida played well, but the Devils made it easy for them with this performance. How did you feel about this loss? What could and should have the Devils done better at tonight? Can they address it before they start this road trip later this week? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
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