Embarrassed is one of those words that I think fans throw around too freely. However, it certainly applied to the New Jersey Devils on this evening against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Devils lost by a score of 2-4 to Toronto, which in of itself is not bad. How that score came about was absolutely awful to witness if you’re a Person Who Matters, also known as a New Jersey Devils fan.
The start of the game was fine. But when special teams came to the forefront in the first period, the Devils absolutely collapsed. It all started with Jon Merrill boarding James van Reimsdyk. It was a fair call. The Devils tried to kill the penalty, they had some good clearances, but Toronto would convert. Nazem Kadri buried a rebound guided to him by Tyler Bozak to make it 1-0. No chance for Cory Schneider, but it was the first of the game, so one takes it and moves on.
Then the Devils received their second power play of the night. After about 1:40 of time spent showcasing that New Jersey does not understand the fundamental concept of a man advantage (that is, they have one extra skater on the ice), Damon Severson knocks the puck back to Schneider in the face of shorthanded pressure. Schneider takes one touch, sees Connor Brown coming, fails to knock the puck away, and Brown scores a gift a shorthanded goal while also making Schneider look like a chump. It was the worst goal I’ve seen allowed since, goodness, Johan Hedberg conceding a dump-in from Minnesota’s zone because he assumed it would go around the boards back in January 2011. That goal allowed was terrible, it followed yet another terrible power play effort, and it was a surprise to me that Schneider was allowed to stay in the net.
Shortly after that, there was a brief bit of 5-on-5 play. The Auston Matthews led line of Zach Hyman, Brown, and himself were pressuring the Devils. Jake Gardiner took a shot from distance, it hit off Hyman (who was in front of Schneider), it popped up in the air, and Matthews - who was also in front of Schneider - knocked it in from mid air. Sergey Kalinin was the lone Devils skater near Matthews and Hyman and his approach of trying to box out Matthews while being behind him failed. That goal irked Kyle Quincey so much, he punched Hyman, and received a roughing minor for it. As that was the fifth shot on net for Toronto and with that being the third goal allowed, Schneider was pulled for Keith Kinkaid. Understandably so; again, I would have pulled him after that horrible shorthanded goal he allowed.
In any case, Kinkaid would get his first bit of action on a penalty kill. Toronto set up in New Jersey’s end and van Reimsdyk made a pass to Kadri in the middle of the zone. Kadri re-directed the puck on net and Kinkaid stopped it. Tyler Bozak was the first to the rebound, put it through Kinkaid’s five hole, and as Bozak passed the right post, he knocked the puck over the line for the goal. It only took two shots before Kinkaid was bested. The Leafs were up 4-0 with only seven shots on net and I’m pinching myself only to realize this wasn’t a bad dream. This was reality and it stunk. The first period ended with a mixture of unhappy people booing and shocked fans still stunned by what they witnessed.
Adding to the pain was that tonight, the team inducted their first member into the Ring of Honor. This was something Jeff Vanderbeek wanted to do a few years back, but Josh Harris and his group made it happen. The team honored the original owner, the man responsible for bringing the Colorado Rockies to become the New Jersey Devils, Dr. John McMullen. It was a very good ceremony. There was a good video package, the team brought out a jersey commeorating him as well as a replica street sign as a street in Newark was named in his honor. Fans were happy to see various alumni - especially Chico, Claude Lemieux, Ken Daneyko, Lou Lamoriello, and Patrik Elias. Most of all, they unveiled McMullen’s spot on the ring of honor on the back wall of Section 103, right below the team’s Stanley Cup banners. That confirmed that the Ring of Honor is a physical place inside of the Rock itself. It’s a great image too:
One would think that would give the team some additional emotional lift, some additional reason to play well for the fans and in honor of someone crucial to the organization’s existence. Instead, the team just embarrassed themselves by being in so deep to an opponent within less than ten minutes of the first period and giving up some bad goals and plays in the process.
And how did the Devils respond? With very little fire. The first period was a waste. Toronto basically cruised through the second and third periods. They were up by four goals, could you blame them? While the Devils out-shot Toronto 11-5 in the second period, the Rock was quiet as the Devils weren’t really creating much to threaten Frederik Andersen. There was one glorious opportunity when Miles Wood torched Gardiner for a breakaway. Andersen stopped Wood, but the puck was loose and the Devils frantically tried to jam it in the net only to be thwarted by luck, Connor Carrick’s skate, and physics. But for the most part, the Leafs kept the Devils from doing too much to threaten Andersen. It also helped that the Devils tended to settle for worse shots and worse passes than they could have had. Instead of going to the net like Toronto did for their four goals, the Devils were content to go for shots from the perimeter. It didn’t work.
By the start of the third period, I was hoping the Devils would not get shut out. In my mind and in many others, this game was done. Just salvage some pride, Devils, and score a goal. That did happen, but amazingly, something very rare occurred. The Devils scorer may be stingy, but the Maple Leafs were not credited for a single shot on net in the third period. Toronto was held to 0 shots in the third period. That’s impressive even with taking score effects into account. One would think a player would just throw something on net if given a chance to do so. It’s also something I would think head coach Mike Babcock would impress upon his players as something they shouldn’t do again. With Toronto having issues protecting leads, a shotless period means the other team was making things happen on offense. That could lead to a comeback, something Toronto should try to avoid when they are leading. And he would be right in that the Devils would eventually get goals. P.A. Parenteau had a rebound attempt denied by Andersen and Matt Hunwick and then put in his own rebound attempt to convert a power play. Yes, the Devils scored a power play goal tonight - their first since the December 27 game against Pittsburgh. Less than a minute later, Jon Merrill jumped up on a rush and had a mini-2-on-1 with Beau Bennett. Merrill elected to shoot and miss the net as he does. But Merrill picked up his own rebound, wrapped around, and caught Andersen out of position to slide the puck in. Nice as those goals may be, they came too late in the game to be anything more than consolation goals. The four-goal-against first period was enough to give Toronto the win tonight.
I cannot stress that enough. I may look back at this game and wonder, huh, the Devils out-shot and out-attempted the Leafs badly and they only lost by two goals. Maybe Toronto’s goaltender was good or something else went awry. Frederik Andersen played very well, but tonight’s result happened largely because Toronto blew out the Devils in the first period and coasted to a win. Because of that, it’s hard to really praise not giving up a shot on net in a period, breaking a power play goalless streak, or out-shooting an opponent 25-5 in the last two periods. The hole was dug for the Devils, it was very deep, and the Devils have no one but themselves to blame for how that hole was made. Schneider made a colossal error, the Devils skaters didn’t respond with any goals until late in the game, power plays were wasted, and the Devils were just bodied around the crease - for all of the skill Toronto has, it wasn’t like they scored their goals with sensational moves. They just got to loose pucks first. It wasn’t a bad period, it was a monumentally bad period. To have it come after a celebratory moment for the franchise just made it look worse. This was an embarrassing 2-4 loss for New Jersey.
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: At Pension Plan Puppets, nafio has this recap of the game.
I Missed Andy Greene: While Toronto was held to fourteen shots on net, I can’t say the Devils’ defense was good tonight. Not with how the goals against were scored; all four were right around the net and with no one in Devils white in a position to have done anything about it. I don’t have many nice things to say about either of them. Ben Lovejoy wasn’t effective. Damon Severson shot the puck a lot and helped create Schneider’s terrible SHGA. Quincey may have been on power plays on other teams, but he remains useless on New Jersey’s. Plus, he took two penalties - one because he went aggro on Hyman after Matthews’ goal and one because he coughed up a puck to Mitch Marner and took him down from behind. Great stuff, #22. Merrill may have scored a goal, but his shooting was all over the place. Seth Helgeson was just a body out there and so was Steve Santini. Not that Yohann Auvitu would have turned the tide of this one, but this was another night where I questioned why he’s not here. If John Hynes and his staff are set on having 5-on-5 offense be built from the perimeter as well as having a mobile puck-handler on a power play unit, then Auvitu would do nicely. He isn’t worse in his own end than Merrill, Quincey, and etc.
But the man they clearly missed was Andy Greene. Greene is a top guy on the PK, he was missed there. Greene is captain of the team and has been through many tough stretches with the team; he could have calmed things down when Toronto was scoring goals quickly. Greene could even fill in on power play duty and likely do a better job that Kyle Quincey. Greene on the ice means someone else can play in a role more suited to their skillset because Greene can handle a lot of tough minutes. I hope the former ironman of the Devils (third all time with 350 straight games, that streak ended tonight) is back soon.
Fire Geoff Ward (Assuming He’s Still Running the Power Play): Parenteau goal scored aside, the Devils’ power play was just terrible again. For the better part of two months now, Devils have struggled at breaking out, gaining the opposition’s zone with the puck, setting up in their formation, and playing within the formation. Tonight was more of the same, with the Devils telegraphing where the play will go so Toronto can even up in bodies to get the puck in a situation where the Devils would have an extra man. That extra man for New Jersey has effectively been on an island until they’re set up. And even when they are in their 1-3-1, whether it’s by design or by the player’s choice, the PK can just focus on one man at a time because the decision making by the puck carrier and the puck distribution isn’t fast enough. If you read the preview for this game, then you know that the Toronto penalty kill has been very successful. Yet, what did New Jersey do? They made it easy for them. In fact, they provided an opportunity for a shorthanded goal and Connor Brown took it thanks to Schneider. The plays aren’t working, the formation isn’t working, the stupid drop-pass in their own end to start the breakout isn’t working, and it’s been costing the Devils opportunities to get back into games or establish leads. If Geoff Ward is still in charge of this, then he needs to go. Last season was last season. This season, it’s been a big problem with the team’s play. And to have streaks - streak, plural - of over twenty opportunities without a goal, I do not see how this is just a run of bad luck. There are systemic issues with the power play. That’s on the coach(es) running it. It occurred tonight, it helped lead to tonight’s embarrassing loss, something has to change.
One Last Thought: Devils should consider crashing the net. For all of the talent, skill, and hype about Toronto, it’s not like they scored their goals with dazzling arrays of moves to make people go “ooooooooh.” The goals were around the net off loose pucks. This means players have to be in front of the net, not behind or to the side of the net. Just a thought at this point, could be useful for tomorrow’s game.
Your Take: I was unhappy with this loss. What did you think of it? Were there any other positives in your eyes tonight? What could and should the Devils take out of this game before their next game against Edmonton? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
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