On paper, tonight’s game between the New Jersey Devils and the 11-3-1 St. Louis Blues was going to be tough. If hockey games were only forty minutes long, then one could conclude that the Devils were up to the task. For two periods, the Devils played the Blues close. It was close in shots, close in scoring chances, close in energy, and even tied 1-1 at the end of the second period. Hockey games are not forty minutes long. The Blues reigned in the third period as they not only had a defensive answer for anything the Devils tried to do, they piled the pressure to force the Devils back over and over and over and over and over again. As such, the Devils lose 1-3 with Brayden Schenn sealing the defeat with an empty net goal. The score looked close but the game itself was anything but in that third period.
It is really easy and tempting to fall back on a number of facts to rationalize this Devils loss. The Devils aren’t healthy as their forward depth has suffered with Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson on the shelf. The Devils have relied on young players who are still learning the game. The opposition has some of the best players in the league. The Devils aren’t going to win every close game. The Devils have played a lot. The Devils didn’t get blown out by a 11-3-1 (now 12-3-1) St. Louis team. All true. And the game doesn’t care. Few teams, if any, are 100% healthy. Few teams, if any, have the ideal roster available. While young players may be prone to certain errors, they aren’t the whole team. Few teams, if any, are well rested. Every team has multiple players that can make it a long night for anyone else on a given night. Close games and not being blown out are fine goals if you’re a bad team trying to have some respite of being bad. If you’re trying to be good or mediocre, you should push for getting a result out of a close game. If that doesn’t happen, look at why.
Before continuing, I have to stress how bad that third period performance was by New Jersey. Allow me to set the situation. Heading into that third period, the Devils were outshot only 21-18. The score was 1-1 due to Vladimir Tarasenko’s long shot taking a deflection off Mirco Mueller and beating Cory Schneider. Within the final minute of the second, Blake Coleman high-sticked Joel Edmunson so the Devils had 1:51 to kill at the start of the third period. Not an ideal situation, but not at all bad. That kill did not succeed - Schenn hooked up Jaden Schwartz for a weak-side one-timer to convert the power play. It’s 1-2 with a little under 19:30 left to play. Not good, but definitely not a disaster or insurmountable. The Devils have made up one-goal deficits multiple times in this season.
What followed in those remaining 19:30 were the following: six official shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play. Two of those six attempts were actually shots on Jake Allen, which were both stopped. The Devils were awarded two power plays: too many men on the ice call 7:10 into the third and a tripping call on Vladimir Sobotka 12:15 into the third. The Devils generated two shots on net and one bouncing puck that Pavel Zacha whiffed on at the side of an open net. Amid all of that were loads of turnovers, easily-picked off passes, and Will Butcher struggling mightily against the St. Louis penalty killers. Those power plays were largely wasted opportunities. Surrounding those opportunities was not a whole lot of offense by the Devils, as indicated by the previous numbers. The Blues were well-positioned in all three zones to disrupt what the Devils were trying to do. They denied a myriad of clearances. They denied many neutral zone movements and zone entries. In the few occasions the Devils had the puck in St. Louis end for more than a few seconds, there was a man in blue, white, and yellow in the way - denying a shot (one shot block as Tarasenko stuffing Steve Santini, going off on a breakaway, and drawing a call on it), denying a pass, or just denying space.
But the Blues didn’t hang back and played defense for nineteen minutes. Oh, no, they put the Devils to work. The Blues pinned back the Devils often. The Blues generated sixteen shooting attempts and thirteen shots in net in 5-on-5 play in that single period. In all situations, the Blues out-shot the Devils 19-4 in the third. The final shot tally went from 21-18 to 40-22 in just one period. Schneider was doing his best to be as big as possible on St. Louis’ many shots and chances to score. It took an empty netter - a relatively easy empty-netter for Schenn as it was the result of a blocked pass along the sideboards and an outlet to the open scorer - to make it 1-3. Schneider put in a great night’s work. The skaters in front of Schneider were just worked over. Whether it was the first line or the depth guys, the Devils kept getting stuck in. When they did try to go forward, the Blues handled it very well. A lot of credit has to be given to how well the Blues played in that third period. The Devils came out lame and the Blues made sure they would get as few chances as possible to get that crucial equalizer.
Ultimately, it looked as if the Devils were just fading away in this defeat. The Blues took care of business and came away with what they wanted. As for the Devils, they have to sort out what happened tonight - and quick. There’s two more home games this week and a four-game road trip following Saturday night’s game. Sure, they won’t be playing the Blues again anytime soon but that awful third period proved how bad it could get. If nothing else, the Devils have to figure that out. They’re not going to make games forty minutes long anytime soon.
The Opposition Opinion: HullandOates85 at St. Louis Game Time touts the Blues’ top line in their recap. As the author should. Tarasenko, Schenn, and Schwartz dominated the Devils and contributed a combined thirteen shots out of forty by the Blues, and all three goals in this victory.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
John Hynes Undercut an Already Bad Defense Tonight: It is common for hockey fans, bloggers, writers, and so forth to complain about roster decisions. Usually, this is about a fourth-line forward or a third-pairing defender getting in over someone else in that role. In the larger scheme of things, it does not usually make that big of a difference. Tonight, John Hynes absolutely made a big difference with one roster decision. Damon Severson was a healthy scratch for this game.
Yes, the same Damon Severson who has been featured quite a bit on the first pairing this season. A healthy scratch.
I understand that Ben Lovejoy played well in Calgary and it would be best to put Steve Santini in the lineup. I also understand that Severson has had some issues with penalties and some bad nights on the puck. But neither takes away that Severson has been one of the team’s better defensemen in this season as per Natural Stat Trick. A SA/60 over 33 isn’t great, but on this team, it’s actually quite good. Given how the defense has been exposed for most of this early season, sitting one of the team’s better defensemen makes little sense. Especially as this meant a regular pairing of John Moore and Mirco Mueller, the two worst Devils in SA/60 so far this season; Moore leading a power play unit; and Andy Greene getting stuck with Steve Santini against St. Louis’ strong top six.
The results of this game speak for themselves as to whether this decision worked out. If the idea was to punish a player for discipline, then the team didn’t get the message as five penalties were taken and four were avoidable. In terms of the run of play. The Devils could have used a defenseman who is able to make good passes out of the zone and smart offensive decisions; but they scratched Severson so they were short on that. That could have really made a difference as to how the third went on. Moore and Mueller were quite bad and it became increasingly obvious as the game went on. Moore demonstrated his collender approach to hockey; he was on the ice for quite a bit of offense and managed to be on the ice for more shots against in 5-on-5 than anyone else. Mueller was bodied, out-positioned, and just was a mess. Greene-Santini were pinned back a lot and had plenty of struggles. While the Schenn line was awesome in general, imagine that Greene-Severson taking that group and potentially give Santini a less overwhelming situation. (Aside: He was overwhelmed tonight. I know he gets a lot of tough zone starts, but he’s still struggling to turn those defensive situations out. Another double digit negative Corsi night means he’s struggling. He’s not doing well in his own end. It’s on the coaches to give him some more favorable situations. ) On top of that, Butcher had issues running the Devils’ first unit on the power play; no Severson means the Devils just had to deal with it. Lovejoy performed like he did for most of last season. If the idea was to have Severson sit in a luxury box and reflect on the game, then he surely learned that he’s really better than most of the Devils defensemen. That’s my takeaway from Section 1, at least.
Even if you strongly felt that Severson has underperformed, I don’t think you could justify scratching him for the likes of Mueller, Moore, Lovejoy, Santini, and/or Butcher. Tonight proved that. Without Severson, the Devils were run over on defense in the matter of a period; their power play was less effective given a struggling Butcher and a Moore-led unit that did little; and their breakouts suffered. Hynes made a big mistake in scratching Severson and it’s hard to argue that this did not contribute to tonight’s loss. I believe it did. It was a stupid decision. I believe Hynes should be called out on it. Whether he will or not, well, that’s not up to me.
The Letdown: In Calgary, the line of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt were fantastic. They hit up the Flames with shots, attempts, and plenty of speed. None of that was on display tonight. While they combined for eight of the team’s twenty-two shots, there were few chances from them. The Blues limited them from going off as they did on Sunday night. The line of Alexander Steen, Sobotka, and Paul Stastny held them in check; as did the Schenn line when they were out there. St. Louis’ top four on defense were on point against, well, everyone. If the line struggles in the next two games, then do not be surprised if there are further changes.
There are other units that could use some shakeups. Pavel Zacha had a poor game and I do not think playing mostly with Jimmy Hayes (I would guess he would sit if/when Palmieri or Johansson return) and Miles Wood has helped him. Adam Henrique really needs to take more command; he has not done much positive lately. Again, I do not think he’s helped by Drew Stafford and/or Brian Gibbons. I know that with injuries that you’re left with who you’re left with. But if these combinations are not getting it done, then why not mix them?
By the way, I didn’t bring up Coleman, Stefan Noesen, and Boyle. Namely because they were OK for a fourth line and contributed a goal. They weren’t a big problem. No, they weren’t great, but they were the least of the issues up front.
The First Point: Some congratulations are in order for Brian Boyle. He tipped a shot by John Moore in the first period that was stopped by Allen. The puck just lied in the crease and Blake Coleman jammed it into the net for an early goal. The tip gave Boyle his first point as a New Jersey Devil. On top of that, Boyle can also claim having more shots on net than anyone else tonight with four. This was not because Boyle was some kind of offensive powerhouse this evening. He was able to get his attempts on target. Still, it was good to see Boyle get on the scoresheet as he works his way into game shape.
Just Shoot It, Man: Adding to the frustration of tonight’s game was that the Devils would have had more shots and perhaps more opportunities to score if the Devils did just that. Several times in the first two periods and on each power play, a Devil would have a shooting lane that is passed up entirely for one reason or another. Whether it was Adam Henrique showing pass all the way on a shorthanded 2-on-1, Bratt forcing cross-ice passes to Hall on power plays, or deferring from the middle of the zone, the Devils literally passed up challenging Allen. I know he’s a talented goaltender. But he is not so great that he needs to only see shots right after changing the point of attack or some extraneous angle. The Devils could have found some more success - especially in a 1-2 game - if they just fired away in the few moments that the Blues allowed a shooting lane. Maybe Allen would have left another rebound to put home. That’s all guessing now as the Devils failed to do that.
The Food Drive: The Devils are hosted their first of three nights of taking in food to help people. If you bring any goods, you will get a voucher for two free tickets to a free game. If you’re going to Thursday’s or Saturday’s game, then please do so and help yourself by helping someone out.
The Scoreboard Issue: The scoreboard had a notably large dead set of pixels on the panel facing the former Fire Lounge side of the ice (the side with the penalty boxes). Hopefully the Devils can sort that out as they have two more home games to show it off this week.
The Power Play Issue: The Devils coaches and power players really need to get on the same page with what they’re supposed to do to gain the zone and get set up. Once they get that far, they’re usually fine. Tonight, a lot of time was wasted because a pass was not good enough, a pass went to the other team, Butcher dumped it in, and so forth. The Devils received four power plays, which is more than what they have received in recent games, and the Devils really made the least out of them. It could have played a big difference tonight. Instead, the Devils looked lost at times as to what they’re supposed to do. Therefore, the glorious opportunities
Best Devil: Cory Schneider and it isn’t even close. 38 saves on 40 shots and he had no real chance on the two that beat him. After a 2016-17 season where it was questioned whether he could steal some games, Schneider has been doing exactly that. Alas, this performance by #35 would have done it if the skaters cooperated and played a solid 50 or 60 instead of a solid 40.
One Last Thought: I would be more satisfied with this loss if the Devils really did play well for all three periods. If it was just a case of St. Louis just making the most of just one more chance than the Devils or Jake Allen standing on his head like Schneider did, then I would be more pleased with this 1-3 result against a team like St. Louis. But that wasn’t the case tonight. The Devils were garbage for a third period that was mostly a one-shot-to-tie period, the team played it close but didn’t surpass St. Louis in the other two periods, and the team scratched one of their better defensemen for likely poor reasons unknown, a decision that impacted how this game was played. As such, this loss left me with a metaphorical poor taste in my mouth.
Your Take: The Devils lost 1-3 to the Blues. What did you make of the game? Who was the best Devil in your eyes? Who was the worst? Can one really justify the Severson scratching? What do you think went wrong in that third period? Other than playing better in all three periods, what can the Devils takeaway from this game before their next game against Edmonton? 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 @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.