This was painful.
First Period: The first couple of minutes featured a lot of neutral zone play, with some occasional Sharks chances and shots. The Devils did not get themselves going at all until Nico Hischier drew a slashing minor from Kevin Labanc at two minutes and nine seconds into the period. The power play started off well, with some good passing before a pass to Zacha went out of the zone before being hit into the bench. Martin Jones made a good pad save on a Marcus Johansson one-timer, before the puck was cleared and the Devils had to restart. The Sharks defended most of the power play well, and the last 45 seconds were mostly spent trying to get things set up.
The first Devils line I saw get any sustained possession at even strength was Adam Henrique’s line, with Johansson and Kyle Palmieri, about five or six minutes into the game. They were followed by some more movement towards their offensive zone. New Jersey had a slow start, but Keith Kinkaid gave them time to build towards a competitive performance. By about seven minutes into the game, the run of play was more back and forth. There were plenty of goalie covers, and not many opportunities or rebounds that forwards could get to.
The first penalty called against the Devils came nearly halfway through the first period, with the Sharks getting some sustained pressure on the delay. John Moore took a minor for holding along the boards, which is the exact penalty I like to see the second fastest skater on the team taking. Jesper Bratt made some good moves in the defensive zone, moving the puck to Coleman in the neutral zone, who banked it off the boards for a Mueller slap shot which went off Jones’ glove and then the crossbar. This is why I like to see Bratt on the penalty kill. Instead of his only move being to clear the puck, he is sometimes able to make some agile moves around the other team to kill time through possession. The Devils killed the rest of the penalty, in part due to another Bratt move that killed some time (but did not create a sustained zone entry).
The first goal of the game was weak, with the Sharks getting a deflection to bank off the boards, and it was sent to Melker Karlson, who was able to take advantage of Kinkaid not exactly knowing where the puck was. John Moore should have been stronger behind the net, but that’s not really a new criticism. Regardless, shortly after the goal, Blake Coleman drew a high stick from Joe Thornton. The second power play for the Devils was slow to develop, and Johansson just missed the puck on a Severson shot from the point. If he hit it, it might have gone in. Hischier took a shot after the faceoff, and the rebound just got past Drew Stafford right in front of Jones. Right after the penalty was killed by San Jose, Hischier and Johansson made an excellent passing play to get the puck to Stafford, and Jones made a great save. This was followed by Blake Coleman taking the puck to the net from the neutral zone, and rang a backhand shot off the post, which was followed by a Hayes shot from the slot that was gloved by Martin Jones.
A penalty was called on Miles Wood with about two minutes and 40 seconds left in the first period, for holding Joakim Ryan’s stick, Early in the power play, Thornton got the puck to Meier, but it was just far enough ahead of him that it could only be knocked into the post. Bratt and Coleman got the puck all the way down to the other end of the ice after the next faceoff, to no avail yet again. Gibbons and Henrique nearly created a chance after getting onto the ice, but the puck just went past Henrique on a pass to him in the slot. Pavel Zacha got some time on the penalty kill at the end of it, and he drew a penalty himself. Kyle Palmieri made sure the rest of Wood’s penalty was killed, giving the Devils the full two minutes of power play. In the 39 seconds at the end of the period with the man advantage, no great opportunities were made. However, they would have the next one minute and 20 seconds or so of power play to start the second period.
Second Period: The power play got a quick zone entry and a shot on net to start the period. Unfortunately, their possession in the zone was poor, and that early shot was really all that happened. Passing was an issue, and much of the Devils’ possession seemed to be based upon moves with the puck by individuals.
The Sharks got a lot of pressure in the minutes after the penalty was killed. I thought a lot of it was based on what might have been a missed call where Moore lost the puck after he lost his footing. His legs were hidden by the boards, but given the positioning of him and the Shark nearby, and the way he fell down: I thought he was tripped. Nonetheless, Kinkaid made several stops before the puck was frozen, but the Devils were not able to get the puck to stay out of the zone for more than fifteen seconds until about a minute and a half after Kinkaid froze the puck.
But just as the Devils were starting to not be opportunity sieves again, Justin Braun got a one-time from the blue line quickly after a zone entry, which was tipped by Joe Pavelski through Kinkaid’s five hole. It was really not Kinkaid’s fault, as no Devils were doing anything to clear the crease of players. Both Moore and Mueller were nowhere close to the net at the time of Pavelski getting his uncontested tip, because of course.
Henrique got a the post on the penalty kill after his backhand trickled through Jones - a penalty being called for Palmieri’s sandpaper activities. The kill got more sustained pressure in the offensive zone than the power play and even strength offense could muster through the first six or so minutes of the second period, so that was something.
In the second half of the period, the Devils started to buzz more in transition. Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier both created chances that were stopped by timely reactions by Sharks defensemen. The Devils dodged a bullet when the refs stared at Drew Stafford tripping someone up in the neutral zone, preventing the Sharks from getting as good a chance as they might have. However, they called a double minor on Miles Wood shortly after for high sticking Joe Thornton. It may have been called to make up for the missed trip, as I didn’t see any blood. I’m not saying there wasn’t, but regardless, Miles Wood continued his poor game.
The penalty kill on the double minor was a continuation of their greatness to that point of the game. I was not worried by the Sharks’ power play for just about the entirety of the kill. If I’m not mistaken, the Sharks only registered a shot on a Brent Burns slap shot.
The deficit became three late in the period on a Joonas Donskoi goal, as Mueller continued to play utterly brutally. His stick work did not change Donskoi’s attack at all, and on the rebound he was just as inneffectual as the initial shot. Thus, 3-0.
Third Period: The beginning to the third period was a bit slow. San Jose seemed to be playing safely, trying to just keep the Devils from scoring and not stretching the ice too much in counterattack. Brent Burns took a crosschecking minor about three and a half minutes into the period, and the power play got another chance to solve its inconsistency. Hayes just missed a puck off the boards early in the power play, and the Devils continued to get little sustained time in the zone with the man advantage. A Hall goal was actually prevented by a Hayes tip attempt, which went straight down. Far too many passes missed their targets. However, Gibbons drew a slashing call from Donskoi shortly after the penalty was killed. But again, nothing really happened on the opportunity.
The Devils repeatedly got inches away from scoring. Whether it be the shots themselves, or the positioning of the players, it was a tad frustrating to watch them come so close to scoring, yet feel they had no chance. Joe Pavelski also speared Jesper Bratt with no apparent aggravating reason in the neutral zone. It received no call. Following that lack of officiating, the Devils had more trouble getting things going.
The final six minutes or so, the Devils simply looked flat to me. Too much of the team seemed to be going through the motions, and this was exemplified to glaring detail when Gibbons thought he tripped someone up, gave up on the play, stopped skating, and just stick tapped the Shark who took the loose puck away from him, and San Jose created offensive pressure as a result. I’ll touch on that later.
Accountability: John Hynes has made accountability a key point to this season. As the murmurs went, the Devils were soft in 2016-2017.
They were pitiful tonight.
If you were trying to teach someone hockey, you could use the Devils’ game tonight as an example of how not to go about such a team-oriented sport. The passing was poor. Defensive accountability was inconsistent. Possession seemed to be based on individual efforts alone.
A pound of flesh would not have made me remotely happy. But the angriest I saw any Devil get tonight was Palmieri when he took his sandpaper activity penalty in the second period. When Jesper Bratt was speared in the groin by a veteran NHL player in plain sight in the neutral zone, I didn't see anything happen. No Devil did anything, and I didn't even see anyone look for a penalty. By that point, they gave up.
Miles Wood took stupid penalties. He sat a lot more than usual for that. Sure, Hynes held him accountable. But if you ask me, that lapse of judgement pales in comparison to the apparent decision by some players to not go all out.
Who did I think gave it their all tonight? I'd say Hall, Hayes, Coleman, Henrique, Greene, Hischier, and Bratt were definitely trying throughout the game. I didn't see Severson, Zacha, Lovejoy, or Stafford give up, but I also didn't think they were trying harder than usual to come back. Butcher was forgettable. Wood looked lost. Moore and Mueller were utterly brutal. I was surprised when it happened, but I thought Gibbons absolutely gave up towards the end of the third, after the last power play.
As I stated earlier, Gibbons thought he tripped someone, didn't play to the whistle, and stopped skating despite never touching the puck. When he realized the play wasn't dead, there was no penalty, and there was a Shark skating right around him to take the puck towards his offensive zone, he gave a haphazard push and tapped his opponent’s stick from behind. At least Greene and Severson made sure to get back, and didn't stop playing despite never hearing a whistle. Greene laid a good hit on Carpenter in the corner, and continued to try where his teammate did not.
So, if we’re holding our players accountable this year, I don't really want to see Brian Gibbons on the ice when we play the Senators on the 27th of October. I don't want to see Miles Wood benched. No, he just had a bad game. Gibbons gave up, and I'm not pulling punches with that. If someone is going to have a game in which their CF% is 16.67%, they can't really afford to give any less effort.
Thankfully, this is not the week off, and the Devils have practice. John Hynes needs to remind them that this team has to work for their results. This is not a team that was expected to contend, and it cannot afford to have lapses in commitment. The only thing that has been shown is the raw talent of some players. There will be games like this, and they need to prove that they are resilient enough to get through several of them, let alone just this one.
Did Somebody Say, “Zajac”?: Reading around the comments a bit, I've been noticing more comments about how the team is offensively better off without Zajac. Let’s just start off with a fundamental aspect of hockey that is the beginning of all play. The Devils won 22 faceoffs. That was good for 36.67% of faceoffs that the Devils won. In the intrinsic fundamentals of hockey, Zajac makes the difference. In defensive accountability, Zajac makes the difference. Maybe one of Mueller or Moore’s lapses could be bailed out by him. I know he wouldn't have let an opponent skate right next to him and take a puck towards the end of the ice. So despite his lack of ability to stickhandle like Hall, or spin people out of their skates like Hischier and Bratt, let's not get too ahead of ourselves on replacing one of the team’s longtime top six centers. He was that for a reason, and will be when he comes back.
Tip of the Cap: Martin Jones was excellent in net for the San Jose Sharks. He let a few get through him, but none went for goals. I can't help but feel some of his desperate saves took some of the fight out of the Devils early on.
Not a Tip of the Cap: The referees missed another shot on one of the New Jersey Devils’ players. This time, it was Jesper Bratt. While skating away from the play in the neutral zone, Joe Pavelski speared him in the groin, in the line of sight of, I'm sure, at least one referee. It was near the center of the ice.
But aside from the referee’s failure, that's not what captains should be doing. Spearing 19 year old rookies in a game the offending player is up 3-0 and hasn't had much hostility at all? Suspendable. I won't hold my breath, though.
Thank You: I think that Keith Kinkaid gave much more than he could have been asked for. The Devils, frankly, were terrible. The Sharks were good. If not for Moore being weak behind the net; Moore and Mueller leaving the front of the net unprotected and playing towards the blue line; and Mueller not blocking the shot, taking the body, or getting position to knock the rebound away (I see a pattern with names…) - Keith might have had a shutout through 60 minutes. Then again, the Sharks would have been trying to create offense for the last third of the game, but he was stellar when he was allowed to be.
Power Play: Throughout last season, I advocated for the firing of Geoff Ward. Through a few games this year, the power play looked pretty good. But it wasn't because Ward’s power play is remotely well designed. As we saw tonight, the pure talent of a few players cannot defeat soundly positioned players very often. I'm not calling for the chopping block yet, but I think that this is something that the Devils front office cannot forget to monitor.
Your Thoughts: What were your thoughts on this game? How do you think the next few practices will go? Do you have anything to add to this recap? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading, and goodnight. See you all in a week, and I hope it will be better then.