The Arizona Coyotes have been bad this season. How bad? Not only do they have the worst record in the NHL. They have not won a game in regulation on home ice all season. Their two home wins were beyond regulation. That is - until tonight. The Coyotes put together an aggressive, attacking, and quick performance in the face of a really poor effort by the New Jersey Devils. The Coyotes’ passes were good and incisive. Their counter-attacks were threatening and ultimately productive. Their defense got in the way of the Devils and frustrated them over and over. Goaltender Scott Wedgewood looked like a wall. It all came together for the Coyotes. The Devils, on the other hand, looked like a preseason squad. The final score was reflective of how the game went: a 0-5 shutout loss to Arizona.
This is supposed to be the part of the recap where I am to lament about how the team looked past the Coyotes and it was a trap game and a whole bunch of other tired narratives rolled out for games like this just to write a quick, disgruntled recap. I won’t be doing that. Instead, I will make the following six points followed by some notes in this disgruntled recap:
First, the Arizona Coyotes took advantage of their rest and put up an aggressive tempo. This didn’t mean they were banging about like Colorado from Friday night. No, they were forechecking deep into the Devils’ zone and sometimes with two forwards. Those forechecks were successful in winning pucks and creating additional opportunities that were not there. Related to this, the Coyotes were prepared to win pucks from higher up in their zone and position their skaters to allow for quick counter-attacks. This led to a myriad of near-breakaways, odd man rushes, and situations where men in white jerseys (Devils) were expending lots of energy just to backcheck. It even included the defensemen, which led to one of the five goals allowed. Speaking of, Coyotes defensemen Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson were given the greenlight to attack. It worked out big time as they combined for eight of the team’s 27 shots and two of their five goals. These all showed an Arizona team that was going to press hard and take some risks. It was the right call against a Devils team that played the night before.
Second, several Coyotes had strong performances tonight. Derek Stepan was a big thorn in the side of the Devils, especially Taylor Hall’s. Stepan won his matchup in a significant way in 5-on-5 play. Stepan created Demers’ goal within the first minute of the first period and put home a pass of sorts from Tobias Reider within the final minute of the first period. Those two goals put the Devils into a hole too deep to climb out of. Now that I brought up Demers, he had a great game in both ends of the rink. Demers found his way to have three wide-open shots tonight. He scored on one of them. As noted earlier, Goligoski and Ekman-Larsson made impacts on offense and they were also strong in their own end of the rink. Whenever they were in the Devils’ end, Clayton Keller, Anthony Duclair, and Max Domi all gave the Devils fits. Their mix of talent, hustle, and youth is a potent combination. They made the Devils chase a lot tonight. Forget their crummy record, the Coyotes skaters came to play tonight and they played victoriously.
Third, Scott Wedgewood was on fire. Wedgewood was not really challenged in the first period as he saw eight mostly harmless shots. In the second period, the Devils pinned Arizona back much more often and limited them to only four shots while the Devils put up fifteen. There, Wedgewood was called upon to make tougher saves in a variety of situations. His best save was clearly one for the highlight reels. In the second period, Brian Gibbons managed to corral a bouncing puck in for a 2-on-1 with Stefan Noesen. Gibbons got the pass across and Noesen fired a low one-timer. In desperation, Wedgewood threw out his right leg while going post-to-post and robbed Noesen of a goal with his right toe. When I saw that save, I had a feeling it was going to take something great to beat him. The Devils did not find it.
Fourth, there could have been more attempted at Wedgewood. Just look at Natural Stat Trick’s overview for this game. While the Devils out-shot the Coyotes by a wide margin in the second period and out-shot them 11-4 in 5-on-5 play, the scoring chances in 5-on-5 play were just 7-5 in favor of New Jersey. Chances include missed shots but that still speaks to how much of what the Devils were throwing at Wedgewood were not from the best locations. The third period was fairly even in attempts, 15-16 in favor of Arizona; but in 5-on-5 play, the Devils were out-shot 8-2 (9-4 in total) and out-chanced 8-4! Again, the Coyotes did a lot to just block and deflect attempts away while putting in the work to make their shots count. It “helped” that the Devils gave them plenty of space in a third period they were just hoping would end quickly. Even the surge by the Devils when they were down 0-2 was lackluster in retrospect. That’s how bad this game was.
Fifth, what could have really made a difference was special teams. The good news is that the Devils killed all of their penalties tonight. They also did not lose their cool when the game was clearly not going their way. Only Taylor Hall and John Moore took minor penalties. The bad news is that the Coyotes provided the Devils with three power plays when the game was still within reach and the Devils only really threatened on the second one. A power play goal when it was 0-1 or 0-2 would have went a long way to have flipped the script on this game. But there, the Devils struggled with the execution on the puck too.
Sixth, this loss raises a larger, more concerning point about the Devils. It is not so much that they lost to Arizona. It is that the Devils played three less-than-ideal efforts in a row against Florida, Colorado, and tonight against Arizona. There is still a month full of games against stronger opponents (Columbus is up next) and three more back-to-back sets. While the Devils did not concede a metric ton of shots against, they didn’t need to since Arizona scored so many goals early. The offense was mostly muted, the defensive breakdowns were costly, the special teams weren’t in their favor, the 5-on-5 play only looked good because of score effects and even that only applied to the second period, and the team failed to adjust to what Arizona was doing. I don’t know what the coaches or players were thinking, but continuing to try the same zone entries or passes or breakout plays when Arizona already showed how they could mess those up was foolish. It played into the Coyotes’ hands and helped ensure them this shutout win for them. Everyone on the ice and behind the bench need to get their acts together. Arizona wrecked New Jersey with what the Devils showed tonight. Imagine what Columbus or Our Hated Rivals would do. By the way, those are the opponents for this coming week of games.
All told, the recap for this one is simple. The Devils stunk it up like a landfill in the summer tonight. Arizona took them out with a 0-5 score. But the performance unfortunately deserved more words than something simple.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Five for Howling for a recap of this game from their perspective, which should be much happier than this one.
The Game Highlights: No. Not tonight.
The Worst Devil?: There are multiple candidates for who was the worst Devil on the ice tonight. I’ll name three.
Taylor Hall was amazingly poor. His defense was not helping. He only had one token shot in the third period. Even when he would carry the puck in over the blueline, a Coyote player was ready to receive and deal with him. Which they did. The Hall-Hischier-Bratt line was blown up in the first period and caused John Hynes to move Hall to a line with Travis Zajac and Drew Stafford. This line was a bit better to start but as time went on, Hall continued to struggle.
Andy Greene made a meal of it tonight. His giveaway to Stepan led to Arizona’s quick first goal. Greene’s skate helped a Jordan Martinook diving tip of a Kevin Connauton wrister from the point get past Keith Kinkaid in the second period. That goal turned out to be a backbreaker; it put the Devils past a point of no return. Greene respected Goligoski too much in a 2-on-1 so Anthony Duclair set him up for a score. In 5-on-5 play, while attempts were not so negative, the Devils were out-shot 5-10 when Greene was on the ice. Sami Vatanen was not providing the issues Greene was providing, but he suffered from them all the same. The team’s top defender was definitely not tops tonight.
Travis Zajac won plenty of draws and played quite a few minutes. The Coyotes did not score when he was on the ice. He also had no shots on net, he obviously did not register a point (nobody did), and when Hall joined him and Stafford, the line faded to being pinned back more often than not (out-shot 4-10) For a veteran center expected to soak up tough minutes and not get wrecked, he did not really meet expectations tonight. And I like Zajac, for what it’s worth. I think Hall and Greene were worse, but Zajac just being a body is worth noting as bad.
I could see giving Keith Kinkaid a pass as most the goals against were not soft. They involved Brendan Perlini screening him on the Demers goal, John Moore making a mess of a bouncing puck that led to a mini-two-on-one for Stepan, a double-deflection for a goal credited to Jordan Martinook, and possibly screened by Greene on Goligoski’s one-timer. Those four aren’t bad goals to allow. The fifth was, as Dylan Strome’s shot went right through his legs. That said, allowing five goals from 22 even strength shots is not good for any goaltender.
Have your say in the comments as who was worse.
The Best Devil?: I’m reaching a bit here but I thought Brian Boyle was the best Devil on the ice tonight. Boyle’s line with Jimmy Hayes and Miles Wood actually showed up to do some positive things in the first period. Boyle had four shots on net out of eight attempts, which is a lot for him and it speaks to how he was getting in good places to shoot the puck. His line won his match-up from an attempts perspective, although the 19-10 attempt advantage went along with just a 5-4 shot differential in 5-on-5 play. Still, Boyle was a bright spot among a lot of dreary and dull play. That’s my take on it.
Scratched Thoughts: Pavel Zacha was scratched for Jimmy Hayes tonight. Hayes showed up in the first period with two shots on net. He was the winger on the one Devils line that was not run over. That said, Hayes did not do much in the second or third periods. I forgot he was in the game over time, although even I just wanted the game to be done as soon as possible too. I do not think the switch was a totally bad thing. I’m not sure why he was scratched after the Colorado game, though.
Steve Santini was held out again. Should he have played? With Vatanen now on the team, it behooves the Devils to play him. Damon Severson was not going to leave this lineup either, I thought he handled things as best as he could. That leaves Ben Lovejoy. Lovejoy was not so bad but he did have moments of confusion. But I would not be surprised if the two are swapped if only to get Santini back on the ice.
Asked and Answered: On Twitter, a man named Scott (@sctbrdy) asked how many times the Devils gave up a goal within the first minute this season. This came shortly after Demers scored (Aside: That play worked for Demers as all five Devils were on the right side of the ice and Stepan made that pass to a wide-open Demers. Over commitment only works if you win the puck). I have the answer: three times. It happened on November 12 in Chicago, November 25 in Detroit, and tonight. Coincidentally, it all happened against Keith Kinkaid.
One Last Thought: Get it together, Devils. Columbus is going to be a real eye-opener if they didn’t learn from this one.
Your Take: The Devils stunk it up and lost big, 0-5 to Arizona. What did you think of the loss? Who was the best and worst Devils on the ice in your view? How can the Devils sort it out before a tougher game against Columbus on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter though @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.