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Poor Play & Poor Calls in New Jersey Devils 1-3 Loss to Montreal Canadiens

The New Jersey Devils lost tonight directly because of three power play goals by Montreal Canadiens, with two coming off a dubious major penalty for boarding. But this recap explains that the Devils’ awful performance was at the root of this loss.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at New Jersey Devils
It’s not your fault, Keith Kinkaid. Seth Helgeson, well, you were a skater tonight so you have some of the blame at least.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

I effectively paid money to see the New Jersey Devils play against the Montreal Canadiens. I almost wish I did not. The Devils did not just lose to the Montreal Canadiens, 1-3. They put up a dismal performance amid some dubious penalties that effectively did in the Devils tonight. This ends a three-game winning streak. How the team played killed plenty of the goodwill that was built up over the last three games.

What directly led to the loss tonight were penalties. The Devils conceded seven power plays to Montreal out of five penalties and the visitors scored all three of their goals on those power plays. What was frustrating was that several of those power plays were drawn by the fouled Canadien. I’m using drawn in the same sense I would use for Dustin Brown or Patrick Kaleta. Max Pacioretty, a very fine player and were otherwise very good tonight, loved to use his offhand to grab a stick while turning to help him fall easier. Alex Galchenyuk did similar. Alex Radulov lost an edge and that led to a Blake Coleman trip. I will admit, I saw this game live at the Rock in Section 1. With the benefit of television, perhaps there was a stick or a contact that legitimately took down some of these men.

Anyway, several power plays will cost a team in time and risks goals against. Let’s go through that. Miles Wood slashed Alex Galchenyuk’s stick into pieces in Montreal’s end of the rink. That was one of the few penalties that wasn’t sold in someway. It resulted in a power play which ended when Radulov set up Galchenyuk in the slot for a score. Adding to the pain was that the penalty was less than a minute after Steve Santini wired a shot through traffic and past Al Montoya to open the game’s scoring. The penalty put the Devils back on their heels and it led to a relatively quick equalizer. That hurt.

In the third period, Karl Stollery shoved Nathan Beaulieu from the side into the corners. It was an ugly hit live as Beaulieu lied on the ice and a melee ensued. Beaulieu would get up on his own, skate to the bench with a trainer, and eventually return to the game (and be on the ice for the two power play goals for it). The referees, Frederic L’Ecuyer and Dean Morton, assessed a major to Stollery. Live, I thought it drew blood since boarding and other physical penalties that result in blood tend to get majors. I was informed through Twitter that there was no blood. So I remain confused that the hit tonight was worth a major penalty. Boarding? Absolutely. A minor penalty? Sure. A major? Really? In a league where Tom Wilson can knock John Moore out legitimately for weeks with a full-on hit from behind and get nothing for it, Stollery received five minutes? Come on. Torrey Mitchell’s involvement in the melee after the hit led to a roughing minor for him so the Devils had three minutes to kill. Montreal took full advantage. Shea Weber blasted a shot from the center point to make it 1-2. Later, Galchenyuk had enough time and space to find Pacioretty in the slot. He scored to make it 1-3. The call on Stollery proved to be very costly as the score stood up as the final score.

If that wasn’t enough, there were plenty of non-calls on Montreal players fouling Devils as well as the myriad of stick-holds I kept seeing from Galchenyuk and Pacioretty from their offhand. It’s not so much I want or expect the Devils to get enough calls or for the refs to even up penalties in games. I certainly did not want to see the Devils power play many times after what they put out tonight. I just don’t get some of the consistency.

It’s a shame that the refereeing played a major role in tonight’s loss because the run of play was very clear: Montreal were very good and the Devils were very bad. I cannot stress enough that I do not think the Devils lost this game because L’Ecuyer and/or Morton got it wrong on Stollery. The Devils were bound to lose this game from how they were playing on the ice. It was downright offensive at times. Except it really wasn’t because this was a performance that yielded three shots on net halfway through the game.

Yes, that’s not a typo. That’s not a result of the Devils’ scorer being extra stingy tonight. There were three shots on net in thirty minutes of hockey by the New Jersey Devils, a team that plays in the National Hockey League. Three. There was a shot by P.A. Parenteau at 3:58 of the first period, Santini’s long-range goal at 4:00 of the first period, and then a shot by Jacob Josefson 16:32 of the first period. When Beau Bennett took a shot on Montoya at 13:13 of the second period, the fans at the Rock provided a derisive cheer. And did so for the next few shots. Keep in mind that during the very long shotless stretches in the first and second periods, the Devils did have two power plays and had the puck at least in Montreal’s end of the rink. The Devils just played so bad on and off the puck that they couldn’t turn whatever defensive stop or good bounce they would receive into anything resembling offense at all. Three shots in thirty minutes of hockey. That’s beyond just a “slow start” after a road trip. That’s beyond just a bad period. That’s just excremental by all of the Devils’ skaters. All of them. Because despite whatever feelings you may have about the offensive skills of some players, everyone contributes in their own way on offense and defense. That there was so little offense by the Devils tonight (17 shots out of 30 attempts) and so much defense speaks to how little everyone contributed for the Devils this evening.

What’s astounding was all of the little things. I get the sense that the Devils get told by John Hynes and his staff to play with tendencies. Such as looking for an outlet in the defensive zone instead of chipping pucks away. Or collapsing around the slot when the opposition has the puck. Or supporting a teammate on offense when the play is stretched by a dump-in or a long pass. These aren’t bad in of itself and in some cases, they are the right plays. The problem tonight is that the Devils stuck to these tendencies despite what the Canadiens were doing and where their teammates were. Too many times I saw one Devil go to one part of the ice on offense and have a second Devil go to the same place. At best, it gives the original no real support for finding an advantageous place to shoot. At worst, Montreal has two Devils away from the play when they push it up ice. Too many times, I saw Devils hold onto pucks in their own end and/or risk losing it for an outlet pass despite other options being available. Too many times, the Devils would collapse around the slot and the Canadiens would still battle or get to loose pucks to keep their offensive shifts going. And given how some of the passes just missed the mark at times, I’m further convinced the Devils do not talk to each other - or not enough - on the ice. Montreal preyed on these errors and controlled the game as a result. A second (or third) goal by them seemed more and more likely as they kept flexing on a Devils team that just had no response for it. The Stollery major, dubious as that call was, just provided the platform for said goals. As we witnessed last month (and in previous seasons because, guess what, this is a bad Devils team like some of those past teams), this kind of performance tends not to yield any wins. Guess what, they didn’t get one tonight.

I will give the Devils this much credit. Keith Kinkaid played very well on short notice. Cory Schneider was ill and could not play tonight. Given how the Canadiens kept attacking and passing the puck and playing like their teammates communicated with each other, Kinkaid did an excellent job from keeping this game from being the rout that it perhaps should have been. As loathe as I am to note it, I will also point out that the Devils showed something resembling life in the third period. But it was the definition of too little and too late. Short of a collapse, Montreal sealed their win with their power play goals in the third period. Most teams would try to make a game of it and see how it went. The Devils proved not to be most teams and just sputtered their way until the end. the calls were costly, but the root of this loss lies with how abjectly bad the Devils performed. An average, mediocre, competent performance would have been one thing. This was a stinker by the Devils and it was a minor miracle it remained 1-1 at all until Montreal’s power play made New Jersey pay a major penalty. The refs were bad, but the game by New Jersey tonight was worse. I’m sorry if you paid money to see this one.

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

The Opposition Opinion: Over at Habs Eyes on the Prize, arowe has this short reaction recap. There may be a fuller reap tomorrow morning.

Three Shots in Thirty Minutes: Three. I almost can’t get past this. How ineffectual do you have to be as a team to register only three shots on net in thirty minutes of hockey? Three!

OK, So the Devils Were Bad, Were Any Devils More Bad Than Others?: A few stick out in my mind. Let’s quickly go through them:

Tonight was one of Miles Wood’s stupider performances. He not only took a penalty on offense, but he was just a mess on the ice. One of his lowpoints was taking the puck on defense, skating east-west through traffic, somehow getting through said traffic, and then launching the puck down the ice well before getting to the red line. That kept Wood and his unit out there, which Montreal took some advantage of by applying further pressure to Kinkaid. Wood can be threatening with his speed, but he had issues just knowing where to go, what to do, and how to do it. As a result, along with other players, he ended up shotless in 5-on-5 play. Meaning he wasn’t on the ice for a single shot in 5-on-5 play. It was a bad night for #44.

The struggles for Devante Smith-Pelly continue. Like Wood, he was 0-for-13 in attempts and 0-for-7 in shots. I’m not sure why DSP is on the penalty kill and it’s something to question for future games. It’s sad that I’m beating up on two bottom six forwards, but the bottom six was a key part of the Devils’ recently successful road trip. Tonight, they were largely poor and DSP was among the worst, next to Wood.

I personally continue to be confused by what Michael Cammalleri does sometimes. Sometimes, he’ll go down low to help players that may not really need it. Other times, he’ll stand below the left circle as if it’s a power play and hope a rebound comes to him instead of playing closer to the net. I remain baffled at times of what he even tries to do with the puck, whether it’s passing it to no one particular or holding onto the puck thinking he can ride out whatever pressure he’s being given. It’s all furthering my thinking that his time in New Jersey should be ending soon, somehow, someway.

Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique were almost ghost-like tonight. Sadly, so was Taylor Hall at points. At least Hall kept his point-streak alive with an assist on Santini’s goal. And he drew a penalty, which led to the waste of time known as the Geoff Ward Coached 2016-17 Devils Power Play.

Defensively, it was not pretty for anyone. Jon Merrill was actually missed tonight. Like Schneider, he was sick today so Seth Helgeson stepped in for him. The Rock got to witness Helgeson and Ben Lovejoy as a pairing. Needless to say, I missed Merrill, Andy Greene, Yohann Auvitu, and Larry Robinson coaching up the defensemen tonight. The Canadiens liked playing against Helgeson and Lovejoy all night long. Lovejoy was very poor off the puck from what I saw. Helgeson was just trying to fill in, which I know is a tough spot, but he didn’t quite do it. While he scored, I wasn’t a fan of Stollery and Santini tonight either. Despite the goal, Santini on breakouts just didn’t work well and Stollery appeared to be overmatched many times tonight. Montreal enjoyed playing against them too. Damon Severson, who has been playing well recently, had an up-and-down night where it appeared he wanted to push to make a difference but ended up faltering everytime he tried to do so. Just bad from the defense despite not conceding much. In other words, I’m pretty impressed with how Kinkaid tried to keep it together for the Devils tonight.

Credit Where Credit is Due: Montreal, despite the dives and the little fouls, played a great game. They moved the puck with purpose. Players didn’t just bunch up or chase a puck around when they did not have the puck. They utilized their talents well as Radulov, Pacioretty, and Philip Danault tore it up. Their fourth line had a strong night. Shea Weber was a stud. Al Montoya didn’t have to work too hard as the Devils’ few shots on net were rarely dangerous shots. If the Devils aren’t where they are in the standings and if this game didn’t remind people of some of the worst hockey from last month, then I would just chalk this up to being “a very good team just showed they were very good.” But I can’t so I am not. Still, the Canadiens earned their win and it should be a pick-me-up for what was recently ailing them.

Status Quo: The power play remains a mess. So much for hoping they were turning it around after the last three games.

One Last Thought: With less than three minutes left, Hynes pulled Kinkaid for the extra skater. The Devils at least did not give up an empty net goal. But I question the decision to do it at all. It’d be one thing if the Devils were threatening to score on Montoya and/or the team was comfortably tilting the ice against Montreal. None of those were true tonight. I would have rather had Hynes make a point by not pulling Kinkaid for the extra skater and then telling the press afterwards something like they weren’t playing well enough to warrant the move. I think Jacques Lemaire did that once when in his previous stint as interim head coach of the Devils.

Your Take: I know I gave this game more words than it deserved. So how about you use your words to let me know what you thought about it. What went so wrong for the Devils tonight? What was up with the Stollery major penalty; surely there has to be some reason behind it that I’m missing? What can the Devils do, if anything, to get ready for Philly on Saturday night? 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’s account, @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.