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Nine Winless Games: New Jersey Devils Edged Late by Colorado Avalanche

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For the ninth game in a row, the New Jersey Devils lost. The Devils lost to the last place team in the league, Colorado Avalanche, 2-3 on a late third period go-ahead goal. This recap summarizes the game and offers some further thoughts.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Colorado Avalanche
Well, the Devils put up a fight. But these rationalizations are old given that the winless streak is now at nine games.
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils visited the Colorado Avalanche. They lost 2-3 thanks to a late third-period go-ahead goal by Francois Beauchemin. The Devils have now lost nine in a row. In a word: Sigh.

As this was a late night game - and the last one for this season - I decided to summarize each period for this recap.

14 games to go.

The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Shift Charts | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: JJ Seward has this recap at Mile High Hockey.

The First Period: Colorado went on the attack first and largely kept it up. The Devils brought out their usual struggles at breaking out of their own zone, transitioning through the neutral zone, and puck movement in general. It also did not help that the Devils took two silly penalties. After a whistle, Dalton Prout decided it was a good idea to shove Mikko Rantanen in front of a ref. It wasn’t; he sat for two minutes. Shortly thereafter, the Devils were caught with more than five skaters on the ice. Another two minutes. At least the Devils’ penalty kill was good and Colorado’s power play was not, so there were no shots on net. All the same, the Avs did their damage at even strength and registered 26 shooting attempts (!) and 10 shots on Cory Schneider. The Devils gave up that much to Colorado in the first period.

At least Schneider did come to play tonight and stopped them all. His best save: denying Gabriel Landeskog on a sharp-angled attempt. A rebound came out to the young winger and instead of firing it immediately, he decided to try to go around Schneider. The goalie was able to get his stick down to make the save. Notice I didn’t mention any other Devil - they weren’t involved. I suppose that’s a good summation of the Devils’ performance in the first period: they weren’t involved.

A “memorable” play of the period: Jon Merrill went behind his net to start a breakout play. Two Devils skaters streaked up the right side of the rink while Merrill went to his left and skated it up ice. He had another Devil just a few feet ahead of him. Merrill saw a forechecker, stopped, went back a bit, and lost the puck. This breakout fail gave the Avs another offensive shift and forced the Devils ice to scramble back to prevent calamity. That was a way for a bad team to help make another bad team look good.

After those twenty minutes, I hope that was the rock bottom of New Jersey’s winless streak. Unfortunately, there are two more periods to go.

The Second Period: Presumably, someone had a word with the New Jersey Devils in the first intermission because they came out with point to prove in the second period. They attacked on the first shift and for most of the rest of the period. Attempts? How about 19 of them by the Devils. Shots on net? 13 of them got to Calvin Pickard, which may or may not include a high one from behind the Colorado blueline by Beau Bennett that surprised the goalie a bit. A power play that actually created something? With three shots on net, the Devils did that. Did you want Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Travis Zajac to do positive things for the team? Hall and Palmieri had the best chances at scoring in the period. Hall fired a strong shot from the slot and while he didn’t win the initial rebound, Palmieri got away from his man in the corner to take said puck and fire a strong short-side shot that Pickard warded off. Good moments, but no goal. Support from other lines? Strangely, Bennett, Stefan Noesen, and Joseph Blandisi has been effective. And amid all of the hustle, bustle, and post-whistle tussles, Colorado was limited to two shots on Schneider out of seven total shooting attempts.

Of course, one of those shots went in. Nathan MacKinnon fired a shot from the left sideboards. At the time of the shot, Rene Bourque and Kyle Palmieri both appeared to be in front of Schneider. The shot saw its way through low and through the goalie to make it 0-1. Despite the far better play - and far, far better to watch - from the Devils in the second period, they ended the period losing. I’ve written it before. I’ll write it again: hockey isn’t fair.

The Third Period: The start of the period seemed promising. For the first time in over 174 minutes of action, the New Jersey Devils scored a goal. Ben Lovejoy fired a long shot and Taylor Hall slammed in the rebound. It was Hall’s first goal since the middle of February and the Devils tied up the game. It was glorious. It was a sign that maybe, just maybe, everything in this game would be alright.

Then Colorado scored a little later. Sven Andrighetto picked off a pass by Adam Henrique in New Jersey’s end of the rink. Right as the winger was being hit, he fed Rene Bourque in a small pocket of space by the slot. Dalton Prout went down on one knee in front of Schneider and Bourque’s shot hit off his leg to go high past Schneider. Why Prout decided to play goalie? Why Henrique decided to make that pass? I do not know, but Colorado was up 1-2.

But the Devils hit back themselves. After winning an OZ faceoff, Blandisi won the draw and Beau Bennett took the puck. He went around the corner and made a drop pass to the right post. It was a play that required trusting your teammate to be where the puck was to go. Stefan Noesen was at the right place and at the right time. Noesen one-touched the puck at a sharp angle past Pickard for his first goal in forever. OK, his first since January 31. The game was tied at two and maybe, just maybe, the Devils could see this winless streak end.

However, as the period went on, the play was somewhat even. Colorado had a man advantage thanks to Blandisi hooking down Barrie in Colorado’s end. They even tried to do something with it. But the Devils were holding down and trying to get a third past Pickard themselves. For two teams that effectively have nothing to really play for - remember: tanking means you don’t want any results - it appeared that both teams wanted the game. Pride is a thing.

So it heartbreak. Most of the last five minutes of the game didn’t feature a shot attempt by New Jersey. Colorado had a few of their own and the most important one of the period. With Henrique, Miles Wood, Devante Smith-Pelly, Jon Merrill, and Ben Lovejoy pinned back, the Avs were on the attack. Under pressure, Blake Comeau flung a puck towards the left point. DSP went to pick it off, missed, and that alllowed Francois Beauchemin to have a go at goal. With Schneider screened by multiple bodies, the shot found its way in and with 1:14 left to play, the Devils were down 2-3. They pulled Schneider for an extra attacker but to little avail.

The sad thing is that the third period wasn’t a bad period except for the end of it. Yes, the last goal against helps make it bad, but the lack of any shot attempt really hurt. It meant the Devils weren’t really forcing the Avs to defend or giving themselves a chance to win the game. It doesn’t matter if the opponent is first or thirtieth in the league; if you don’t attack, then they will. The Devils continue to suffer that lesson. They’ve suffered a lot of lessons in these losses.

A Collection of Thoughts: I understand the idea behind giving some younger or less experienced guys a shot now to see what they have. After a number of games, I’m unconvinced that Blake Coleman is really a NHL player. I’m also less than impressed with Nick Lappin too.

Defensively, I miss Kyle Quincey over Dalton Prout. Prout may not be as slow as Quincey but he’s seemingly not very effective at much of anything.

I fear that Ben Lovejoy’s issues on breakouts in the face of pressure has been transferred to Jon Merrill. In addition to his notable fail on a first period breakout, he’s just not handling forecheckers so well. I’d like the Devils to bring in support closer to him when that happens. But that would require coaches who seemingly know what to adjust.

I want Schneider to make a big scene for his skaters about how he’s able to stop shots and so they don’t have to sell out for blocks or try to get in his way to do so. It worked for Martin Brodeur. Schneider’s rather good at making saves; he doesn’t need the extra help others think they’re trying to give him.

I liked Hall and Noesen breaking their respective goalless streaks. Hall has been trying so, so hard to get that goal and so it was refreshing to see him get it. Bennett being able to get on the scoresheet is also a plus. Bennett has been New Jersey’s top player from a Corsi perspective, but with little production to show for it, it hasn’t meant as much as it could. Not that Bennett should be riding on top lines; but I think Bennett may be one of the few bottom-six forwards I’d want to see back next season.

I know the roster is weak but the coaching continues to be poor. Just look at the usage and development of Wood as an example. Is he better off now, with constantly chasing pucks with little hope of turning it into offense and not understanding defense, than he was when he re-debuted this season against Winnipeg? I know that the run of losses makes it all look worse than it may truly be, but for this re-build to work, the team has to re-build to a future and one of those cornerstones is in how they want to play. That will drive, in part, what kinds of players they try to acquire. I’m not convinced the coaching staff has the right ideas for the future for how they want to play because their current ideas aren’t good. The many losing results and poor analytics point to that. It’s not just the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s, the X’s and O’s matter and it showed tonight from a sleepwalk of a first period to more of the same issues on goals against - screening your own goalie! - in this one.

The Appleby Aside: With Keith Kinkaid ruled out with a right knee injury, Ken Appleby was called up to be his backup. Should Kinkaid be out for more than a little bit, then we may see Appleby make his debut. Eric Elliott of the New Brunswick (the province, not the city in central NJ) Telegraph wrote a Fanpost about Appleby and how he got here about a year ago. It’s worth a read now that he was called up to the NHL.

The Sherman Abrams Section: Boy, most of you must have not enjoyed this one. But Sherman Abrams is pleased. Nine losses in a row? Mr. Abrams will take all your ‘L’s in the hopes for a brighter tomorrow, whenever that comes. Colorado is too far back to make one think the Devils could sink below them. Knowing they’re pretty much set for last place makes this ninth loss in a row sting more. But losses to last place teams count as much as losses to first place teams.

Mr. Abrams is somewhat pleased tonight thanks to the results of other games. What helped: Carolina won a game in regulation over Our Hated Rivals, so they’re now ahead of New Jersey in the standings. Vancouver picked up a point last night and are keeping it close as of this writing against a playoff-fighting Isles squad. What didn’t help: results from other teams closer to the Devils in the Race for 28th. Dallas got wrecked, Buffalo and Winnipeg lost their last games so they’re still “in the picture,” and Philadelphia lost. Sherman knows it’s a bad thing to ask, but those who see it Mr. Abrams’ way should want Philly to win games and keep their playoff hopes alive as much as they can. The Devils have three games left against them and those potential six points may make a difference for this race to the near-bottom. A Flyers team that would be packing it in isn’t ideal. A Flyers team that needs points late in the season is for those who want the Devils to aim for the bottom. Likewise for the Isles.

All the same, Mr. Sherman Abrams may be one of the few Devils supporters pleased with this loss. Me? I’m just tired of watching and writing about losses at this point.

Your Take: The Devils lost to the last place team in the NHL on a late, go-ahead goal. Yep. The winless streak is now at nine games. Yep. Is this fun? Not at all. What did you make of this game? Who was the best player in your eyes tonight? Will the Devils finally end this streak on Saturday? 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.