When it rains, it can pour. For a one minute and thirty-five second long stretch, the New Jersey Devils suffered a three-goal rally by the Winnipeg Jets. A 1-1 score became a 1-4 deficit. In a word: stunning. The Devils looked stunned after Patrick Laine tipped in a shot by Nikolaj Ehlers at 8:06. They were stunned as Jacob Trouba jumped up on an attack, received a nice feed by Kyle Connor into space, and Trouba ripped a shot past Cory Schneider glove-side. They still looked stunned when Mathieu Perrault found Matt Hendricks wide-open in front of the net for a lethal one-timer. That all happened within a minute and thirty-five seconds. That was enough to seal the game for the Jets. Winnipeg tacked on a late second period goal as additional insurance; a bang-bang play in front of the net where Perreault put home a feed from Hendricks. That run in the second period was so quick, it took me quite a while to process it.
The sad thing was that it was not like the Devils were dominated. They were not abjectly bad. They were just beaten on three straight shifts. Three straight shifts where the Jets capitalized on each opportunity. In general, the Devils hung with a Jets team that went into this game with the same record as New Jersey. It was physical, but both teams were making moves at each other. Whereas the Devils’ opportunities were denied by Connor Hellebuyck (who was really good today), physics, a goal post on one attempt by Kyle Palmieri, or fortune, the Jets struck gold in quick succession on that run. The Devils did not forget to show up or forget to play, except for maybe those shifts. It cost them dearly today. The Devils worked hard to try to get back into the game prior to Perreault’s insurance goal and they still competed in the third. But the root of today’s loss was simple: that three goal run in less than two minutes did them in today.
I’m sure there are positives to take away from this one. I’ll even point a number of them out. I’ll even point out here that in some games just some bizarre runs happen. Not even a week ago, the Devils turned a 2-4 deficit at the end of the first period into a 6-5 lead by the end of the second. The shoe was on the other foot in this afternoon. The Devils were on the other end of it and that run put them in a hole too deep to claw out of. Hellebuyck has been too good of a goaltender this season and on this day. The Jets defense did well to deny most rebound attempts and the like. The Jets forwards never stopped attacking; they kept the Devils more than honest. The run was enough to do them in today. It is as simple as that from my view.
The Opposition Opinion: Derek Gagnon has this recap up at Arctic Ice Hockey.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
No Penalties?: Seriously. No penalties were taken by the Devils. It feels weird for me to type that as well. The refs let both teams bang at each other quite a bit. Dustin Byfuglien especially appreciated that, what with his hard-hitting way of playing the game. But the Devils did well to not lose their cool or cheat - or cheat enough to get caught - to take a penalty. As such, they conceded no power plays today. That is really something in a 2017-18 campaign where the Devils have had penalty woes in several other games already.
The Most Effective Devil: Surely, it has to be Brian Gibbons. Gibbons surprised many when a shot that seemingly hit the crossbar was reviewed at the next stoppage. The puck actually went into the net, which gave the Devils an equalizer at that point of the second period. The goal was Gibbons’ ninth of the season. I should just start calling him GSM because he’s playing like a goal scoring machine. On top of that, Gibbons was quite the effective fourth line player. He drew both penalties that led to the Devils’ two power plays in this afternoon. While he was not positive in SF% or CF%, the percentages were not too bad for the role that he served. Gibbons was quite good with Noesen to get pucks in deep, fight for additional possession, and succeeded quite a bit. If a “best Devil” has to be named from this one, I’d make it Gibbons.
Effort!: From a possession and purely offensive standpoint, this was a day where 9-13-21 asserted themselves. While I am including the power play in these shot counts, Nico Hischier (7 shots!), Taylor Hall (5 shots!), and Palmieri (3 shots and a post!) combined for 15 of the team’s 36 shots on Hellebuyck. That’s a top line putting in some very good work. Hischier definitely did whatever he could to get a goal, ditto Hall and Palmieri. Further, the threesome were far and away the team’s best when it came to attempt and shot differential. When they were on the ice, the Devils easily out-shot and out-played their competition. I’ve been critical of keeping Hischier and Hall together. It is looking like the missing piece was Palmieri as this trio has looked more like a top forward line since his return. I’d love to see this kind of effort in future games. I really think it will yield more points. It did yield one today.
Congratulations on the Tap-In: Will Butcher scored his first NHL goal. This one was created by the 9-13-21 line. Hall carried the puck out to the center point and had a go at the net. Hischier deflected the shot and the puck trickled past Hellebuyck. As the puck was sliding towards the goal line, Butcher swooped in to put the puck over the line. While his defensive issues were on display today (stick with your man! stay between him and the net!), it was good to see Butcher get his first NHL goal after compiling as many assists as he had done so far this season.
Process but Not the Result - Again: I liked what I saw on the two Devils’ power plays. The two opportunities created seven shots between them. The puck movement was solid. The team was able to get set up multiple times. The second unit had a good attack on the second opportunity. Unfortunately, like in Toronto, the Devils had it all but the goal. I’m heartened by how the power play performed. Despite the lack of a PPG, they have moved the puck and players have appropriately moved as if they were up a man. That process has been lacking in past Devils power plays this season. I’m hopeful that if they keep that up, more goals will eventually come.
Defense in front of the Net? The heat map of shooting locations for this game at Natural Stat Trick showed an issue for the Devils. The Jets were able to get in front of the net for several attempts. Three of their goals were scored right in front: Kyle Connor put home a rebound from a Blake Wheeler shot to open the scoring plus Hendricks’ and Perreault’s goals. On these goals, the scorer was in front of the defense or open in the area. Connor was able to get in front of Palmieri for his goal. Will Butcher was in an ineffective position on the Hendricks’ and Perreaults’ goals. (Related Aside: Butcher was quite poor in front his net today.) While they did not yield goals, Andy Greene and Steve Santini were the defensemen when the Jets put up ten and nine scoring chances against New Jersey in 5-on-5 play, respectively. The Jets put up 34 shots in total and in 5-on-5 play today and a good number were from dangerous locations. The Devils’ defense was made to be at least foolish-looking if not actually foolish by the Jets today. This was an area as to why.
A Porous Start to the Third: Related to that, the third period play at the beginning of the period was quite porous. While the Devils did make some kind of effort and did pull one goal back, the Jets drove the play for the first several minutes of the third. Not that a four-goal comeback was in the cards with how well Hellebuyck was playing, but that is not what you want to do with a big deficit. While Keith Kinkaid did well in the third and stopped the shots from that surge, it only solidified Winnipeg’s chances of winning the game.
Second and Third Lines, Where Were You?: I was not really happy with how the second and third lines performed. Jesper Bratt, Drew Stafford, and Travis Zajac did not generate a whole lot going forward. Ditto Adam Henrique (I assure you, he played today), Brian Boyle, and Miles Wood. Perhaps the matchups were the problem; the Jets are a deep team in addition to being big, strong, and pouncing on opportunities. But it was noticeable that when when 9-13-21 came off the ice, the Devils’ offense tended to lapse. Those lines did not have good games. I wonder if they’ll stay together or be mixed up for the next game in Minnesota.
A Goalie Change: I think the only goal Schneider would have liked to have back would be Trouba’s goal. That was the only goal from an open shot that beat him clean. Connor’s goal was off a close rebound; Laine’s goal was a deflection; and Hendrick’s and Perreault’s one-timers were fairly close and too quick to stop. But the goalie does not get judged by whether he could have stopped the shots or not; only by whether he stopped the shots at all. I had no problems with Kinkaid coming in just because the game went out of hand in the second period. He did well in the third period.
Hold On One Minute: I can understand if you’re concerned that this may be the end of whatever run the Devils have undergone this season. It’s two straight losses now where the Devils brought the offense in terms of shots and attempts, but have only scored two goals in both games. I would advise patience. First, it was not even a week ago that the Devils dropped seven on Chicago. Second, there is not likely going to be a big moment or a game so bad that everything falls apart in the season. Any decline that may or may not come will be gradual. If the Devils end this month winless, then sure, we can look at this game as a warning sign in retrospect. Although, I think the bigger one may be thee OT loss in Toronto where they played well and yet lost with two seconds left. But that’s me and it only applies if the Devils actually fall hard from where they are now. For now, it is what it is.
One Last Thought: I want to offer our wishes, hopes, and thoughts to long-time reader and commenter EliasStillRocks. In recent posts, he noted that he was in the ER. And he was still watching and commenting from the hospital. Talk about dedication. But more seriously, everyone here hopes you recover soon and can continue to enjoy the Devils from the comfort of your own home.
Your Take: An awful 1:35 long stretch did in the Devils today. What did you take out of this performance in general? Who were the best and worst Devils in your opinion today? What should the Devils learn from this game that they should try to apply in their next game in Minnesota on Monday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along with sparse tweets from @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.