Eleven rounds! I do not know if the New Jersey Devils have ever went to a shootout that late. At this current moment, I do not care to look it up if it was or not. Leaving the Rock after Charlie McAvoy became the third person total to score in tonight’s shootout was a deflating experience. How can it not be after seeing such a long shootout end with a loss? The New Jersey Devils lost 2-3 to the Boston Bruins on Thanksgiving Eve after both sides exhausted over half of their skaters in the shootout. What makes the loss sting a bit more is the performance: the Devils absolutely put on their working skates tonight and pushed the B’s back a lot. But hockey is not fair and so this is how tonight ended.
If you want to know what a dominant period looks like, then the Devils’ third period against Boston fit that to a ‘T.’ The Devils entered the final regulation period down 1-2 and they did a whole lot to try to crack goaltender Anton Khudobin. The Devils ended up out-shooting the Bruins fifteen to five. In 5-on-5 play, per Natural Stat Trick, the Devils out-attempted Boston 21-5 and out-shot them 11-4. Even their lackluster power play led to four shots. They would get that equalizer: a deflection by Brian Gibbons from a Damon Severson shot. They could have had more and earlier in the period, from a Nico Hischier breakaway to a one-on-one near the end of regulation by Adam Henrique to some great looks from Andy Greene to Taylor Hall taking four shots and making more happened. The only downside to that third period was a poor second power play. But they tilted the ice back, they made Khudobin sweat a whole lot, and as difficult as it was to beat him, they did eventually get the goal. The only thing one could have asked for was for another puck to just elude Khudobin.
The Devils’ offense was present throughout the game. While a bad defensive breakdown led to an easy goal for Patrice Bergeron in the second and the second period was filled with Bruins players having good looks and opportunities in front of Cory Schneider, the Bruins’ defense was just loose all night long. Hall just tore right through them at times. Jesper Bratt was a force of nature against Boston. Hischier had not one, but two breakaways and set up Bratt with a gift of a chance in the second period that Bratt bizarrely passed back on. Adam Henrique continued to play with an edge and make his presence felt. Damon Severson provided great support from the backend. Brian Boyle had some solid contributions. Even on the penalty kill, Blake Coleman became a forechecking demon that gave most of Boston’s power plays plenty of time in their end of the rink. The team registered 42 shots on Khudobin and they were all over from not-so-good to absolutely great locations. All from the first period onward. It was a good thing too as they needed a lot of volume to beat Khudobin and catch up in the game.
If nothing else, it must be said that this was a comeback of sorts from New Jersey. Jake DeBrusk led a 2-on-1 and scored on Boston’s first shot of the game. It was a well-placed shot that Schneider should have stopped. The aforementioned breakdown - Boyle was trailing late but Wood also stopped skating - led to Bergeron making it 0-2 early in the game. Thankfully, Boyle was able to cause enough confusion for Khudobin to lose a puck that he should have had. As Khudobin lost sight of it, Bratt swooped in to put the loose puck home to make it 1-2 before the end of the first period. (Yes, Boyle contributed to a PPG.) The goal was big not just to give the Devils hope, but also to end a power play drought. While the Bruins’ offense showed up and threatened to make it a two-goal lead again, the Devils offense did not fade away either. It was undercut by a number of penalties. The attack bloomed in the third period and once the Devils obtained possession in overtime, they were just beasting on the Bruins for about three minutes. Alas, Khudobin was too good, luck wasn’t totally on New Jersey’s side, and so a shootout was needed. That was long and eventually unsuccessful. But at least the Devils made it that far instead of just succumbing to a Bruins team that had an inferno in net to demoralize them.
It was also a comeback for a number of players. After a poor game in Minnesota, Boyle contributed something positive in how he created the situation that Bratt scored on. Related to that, Bratt did not do much in Minnesota and he looked great tonight. Will Butcher and Ben Lovejoy had better games than before. Travis Zajac looked more like himself tonight. Even within the game, Schneider rebounded very well from a bad first goal allowed and Hall played with a lot of determination after his own penalty issues. It wasn’t great across the board, but it was heartening to see various players respond well after recent games and after events within this one. In light of these points, taking a point out of this game is a good thing.
Still, it is disappointing that the Devils’ effort did not lead to two points. Again, to see that long of a shootout end with a loss is deflating to see. What’s more is that Schneider was as fantastic as you could ask a goalie to be in a shootout. Yet, a good number of the Devils’ attempts weren’t even actual shots at Khudobin. Boyle may get some flack for taking a standard shot but I’ll take a shot over skating in close with a bunch of moves only to lose the puck or have the goalie harmlessly poke it away. Again, hockey is not fair.
And neither is this part of the schedule. While everyone is off tomorrow, the Devils get to enjoy a three games in four nights after Thanksgiving. While they had a little rest before last week’s game in Toronto, the Devils have traveled a lot and played in some long ones as of late. Hopefully, they can catch some of their breath for Friday’s game.
The Opposition Opinion: Dan Ryan has this recap at Stanley Cup of Chowder where he says this wasn’t a thriller. What? Did he check out after the second period?
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
The Best Bruin and a Response to the Inevitable Comment: Anton Khudobin was hands-down the Bruins’ best player. Sure, Patrice Bergeron was the best skater (six shots and an easy goal in the first period). Charlie McAvoy - who Hall liked playing against, if you get my drift - was the shootout hero. But Khudobin was the man throughout the game. He is also Boston’s backup goaltender. This inevitably leads to some comment about the Devils not being able to score against the other team’s non-starting goaltender. I want to preemptively respond to this.
The notion that the Devils plays poorly against backup goaltenders is dubious. The Devils have started this season with more goals in many seasons. They have scored at least four goals against Colorado’s backup (4 against Bernier), Buffalo’s backup (6 against Johnson), Tampa Bay’s backup (5 against Budaj), Ottawa’s backup (4 against Condon), and Arizona’s definite non-starter (4 against Domingue). Further, Khudobin has played in nine games to Rask’s twelve. He’s more of a #1A and he’s been outperforming Rask this season, per NHL.com. Tonight tremendously helped his cause to get in more games. There could very well be a goaltending controversy brewing in Boston. Regardless, backup goaltenders have not at all been kryptonite to the 2017-18 Devils and Rask is not your usual #2 goalie that plays only here and there and in relief like, say, Keith Kinkaid. So please not make the inevitable comment.
Second-guessing the Shootout Choices?: I think it’s a fool’s game to second guess who was sent out for the shootout. It went eleven rounds. Teams have eighteen skaters. Both sides were dipping into players who almost never take shootout attempts. I agree it was strange to put Boyle out fourth, but I have no idea how he has been performing in shootout practice. And, again, I’ll respect him taking a shot than those who didn’t take a shot at all like most of the Devils in the shootout. Schneider ensured it was not game-ending choice anyhow. With as much roster turnover as the Devils have had from last season to this season, the coaches may still be figuring out who should be where in a shootout. Given that shootouts going beyond three shooters is not common, I would not be surprised if the fourth or fifth shooter is just whoever has done well in practice or in the game. I think it is somewhat wishful to think whether John Moore or Blake Coleman or Miles Wood would have won the game. Had McAvoy missed, we would have likely saw those players anyway. I don’t anticipate long shootouts in the future, so I am not really concerned about this.
Penalty Woes: I am concerned about penalties, though. It took quite a bit for the refs to call something against Boston tonight. After some non-calls in the third, Hall and Hischier each drew a penalty by being fouled. Not that the Devils did much with those power plays, but it was something. On the flipside, the Devils conceded four power plays and each call was legitimate. Moore was off for interfering with David Pastrnak in the first period, which led to Coleman and the PK units just owning Boston’s power play. The three calls in the second period were more frustrating. Hall was sent off twice for tripping calls. The second one seemed weak live - until I saw the massive scoreboard showing a replay of Hall dragging his skate to take out the skate of Tim Schaller. That was not smart from #9. Ditto Boyle high-sticking Frank Vatrano while on offense. He was upset about the call, but again, the replay in the arena showed it was a legitimate call. Worse, the call negated a potential scoring opportunity - and for himself! It was a bad penalty to take. Boston’s power play improved with each opportunity. Thankfully, Schneider was solid, the penalty killers did a great job with the first three of the four, and the Devils took no calls after the second period. Still, the calls did hold back a Devils team trying to get a second goal in the game in the second period. On another night, that would have been their doom. Given that so many of them seem avoidable, the penalties remain as an issue with this season’s squad.
Relevant Post: CJ posted an article on Wednesday about goal projections entitled, “Okay, But For Real, How Many Goals Will Brian Gibbons Score this Year?” It is a very good post about the goal projections for all of the Devils. But the current Goal Scoring Machine picked up his tenth marker on a deflection in front. And the goals combined with his other play has saw him moved up to play with Henrique and Zajac. What’s more is that the line did well tonight. For a guy who made many Devils fans go, “But why is he on the team instead of Blandisi?” back in early October, he continues to cement his spot as a contributor on this team. Go read CJ’s post. By the way, I’d be thrilled if he somehow got to twenty goals by mid-April.
Not Doing Enough: If Gibbons is an example of someone doing more than enough to stick in this lineup, then there were two Devils who I do not think has been doing enough. Pavel Zacha was limited to just ten minutes and while in spots he seemed to “get it,” he was one of the few Devils to be negative in attempt differential in 5-on-5. The Devils as a team were beating Boston decisively in this category. So when Zacha was out there and the Devils suffered, then that’s not good. Neither is being credited for no shooting attempts at all, although I swore he took at least two attempts in this game. Jimmy Hayes appeared in this game after being scratched for quite sometime. He had one shot on net, one minor penalty for elbowing Vatrano (who also got a minor for roughing in the exchange), and less than 8:30 of ice time. While he was not negative in attempt differential, I’m pretty sure if I did not mention him in this post, I could not recall tomorrow that he even played tonight. Hayes was just a body out there. It is disappointing to say this about both players because the opportunities to play are there for the taking. Gibbons has done it. Bratt has done it. Coleman - even though 5-on-5 play was rough for him, he was a PK star - has done it. These two have not played like they have realized that. I hope they can sort it out before they stay in the press box.
One Last Thought: I really do think Hischier and Hall should stop starting these overtime periods. They tend to lose the draw and not having possession is a big deal in 3-on-3 play. I appreciate that Hischier has picked up on that over the past few weeks; he has not been throwing pucks away on low-chance shots or just losing possession like he was earlier in this season. But with Zajac back in form, I think he should run with Hall and Hischier can frighten teams with, say, Bratt as a forward. Given that Hischier played about eight minutes of 5-on-5 time with Hall and Zajac played about seven minutes with Hall in the same situation, do not be surprised if you start seeing that. I think it should happen in OT.
Your Take: I apologize for the lack of live tweets and comments in the Gamethread. But I do hope you enjoyed this recap. What is your take on tonight’s shootout loss? Who impressed you? Who could have been better tonight? What should the Devils take away from this game and apply it to their game against Vancouver on Friday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who did comment in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading. Have a happy Thanksgiving.