What do you look for when a team that has little to play for still has games to play? Personally, I look for good, watchable performances. I want to see the team not get dominated. To show some actual fight. Try not to get embarrassed, in other way to put it. Today, the New Jersey Devils managed to do that against Columbus Blue Jackets in a 1-4 loss at the Rock. The goals were anything but conventional, though.
The penalty shot drama from the recent loss in Pittsburgh carried over to Newark, New Jersey today. For the third time in NHL history, a team allowed two penalty shot goals in a game. The Devils became the most recent victim of that rare occurrence. The issue today was not so much whether the penalty shots awarded were legitimate. Andy Greene hooked Lukas Sedlak while he was off on a shorthanded breakaway. Sedlak scored on it. The second one was more contentious. Later in the second period, Josh Anderson beat Dalton Prout to a loose puck in the Devils’ end. As Anderson got the puck, Prout dove and swung his stick to try and knock the puck away. Anderson was tripped up and barreled into Cory Schneider and the net. A penalty shot was awarded although Anderson wasn’t fully broken away, but fine. The issue here was that Anderson didn’t take the penalty shot. Columbus claimed he was hurt - Anderson never left the bench - and so Sam Gagner came onto the ice. Then the refs held up the penalty shot to check whether Gagner was even on the ice when the incident happened. He didn’t, so Brandon Dubinsky went onto the ice and roofed his attempt to make it 1-3. About five minutes later, Anderson returned to the ice and played regularly until the end of the game. He was apparently too hurt to take his penalty shot, but not hurt enough to not play. I don’t know about you, but that seems rotten.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter much now. Dubinsky’s penalty shot goal was just insurance. Back in the first period, the Devils conceded a second shorthanded goal on their second power play of the afternoon. Jack Johnson missed on a long shot, Boone Jenner out-muscled Andy Greene and just flung the rebounding puck towards the net. Cory Schneider was turning at that time so the puck hit off his leg and into the net. A fluke, sure - but a definitely a deflating one. At least Adam Henrique responded very quickly, rushing the net shortly after the faceoff and sliding the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky to convert the power play. The goal stood and it was nice, but the Devils were unable to solve Bobrovsky a second time to make Dubinsky’s conversion to mean anything more than a cause for a historical occurrence.
This isn’t because the Devils didn’t try or anything. OK, the second period resembled plenty of second periods in this season where the Devils struggle to create a whole lot and the opponent - the Blue Jackets - swarm it up and force the goalie - Cory Schneider - to be great. Among those saves, Schneider definitely robbed Boone Jenner of at least two goals and definitively denied Cam Atkinson in the third period. But the first and third periods featured a Devils team that played with pace, played with a kind of purpose, played with an understanding of how passing is supposed to work, and played to compete. Bobrovsky didn’t have an easy day as the Devils racked up 36 shots on net out of 64 attempts. As Alex wished recently, the Devils absolutely played to the score. And it was fun to see Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri bomb away on offense. Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi had some strong performances. It was good to see Pavel Zacha, Beau Bennett, and John Quenneville have their time to shine. Jon Merrill was seemingly more active in moving the puck forward. The Devils had stretches where it was clear they were the better team on the ice, although they were chasing the score. Given the opponent and the state of this season, I can appreciate that.
Still, my first reaction to the final score was probably something similar to most Devils fans: “Welp.” Hall conceded possession too cheaply to Jenner for an empty net goal that sealed up the loss. Funnily enough, the empty netter would be the one direct shot on goal in the run of play that went into New Jersey’s net today. But it’s hard to despair over this loss. We know this Devils team is bad, we know they’re in the basement of the Metropolitan, and we know they can only play out the games in the hopes for a kinder future. So all that’s left really expect is to provide some watchable hockey along the way and not get rolled over too badly. It is what it is.
10 games left.
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: Pale Dragon has this recap of the win. This game was important for Columbus. The win gave the franchise 100 points in the standings and clinched a playoff berth. Congratulations to them. The Metropolitan Division crown is possible for the Blue Jackets.
Was Anyone Truly Awful for the Devils Today?: While Schneider’s statline isn’t pretty, I don’t think he was really bad. He gave up two penalty shot goals - the risk one takes with fouling on a breakaway - and a fluke. It’s not like he gave up anything extraordinarily bad. And I was more surprised Jenner didn’t score again against them since he seemingly had him on his flank at least twice this afternoon.
With Miles Wood out, John Hynes and the Devils went to eleven forwards and seven defensemen today. Given the shot (36-27) and attempt disparity (64-46 in all situations, 56-37 in 5-on-5), the decision worked out for the most part. Henrique (lazy tripping penalty aside) and Blandisi really did well today; the Zajac line was a power line again; and Bennett, Zacha, and Stefan Noesen had more than just one or two good shifts. The only Devils that really struggled in the run of play were Blake Coleman and Blake Pietila. But they didn’t do anything notoriously awful. On Dalton Prout managed to make another error that was costly. He tripped Anderson, which led to second penalty shot. That said, Prout really wasn’t so heinous throughout the day. While I was happy to see Steve Santini in the lineup, this wasn’t one of his better games.
But was anyone really miserable for the Devils? No. Despite a decisive final score, nobody really stunk. Columbus took advantage of its situations, got a fluke bounce, relied heavily on Bobrovsky, and cruised to victory. It was an odd 1-4 loss, if nothing else.
Noted: Anderson (16) has more goals this season than Dubinsky (now 11), so it wasn’t as if Columbus tried to get a superior goal scorer to take his penalty shot for him.
Also Sweating with Bobrovsky: The Devils welcomed Kyle Quincey again with a game that saw him at 8 CF and 21 CA with 5 SF and 13 SA in 5-on-5 play. In other words, Quincey got to play a lot of defense today and hoped his goalie would do right by him. Blandisi, Palmieri, Quenneville, and Zacha among others enjoyed the game when he was out there. This was also something I noted.
Faceoffs: Someone at the game asked me if this Devils had the best faceoff winning percentage in a game this season. Let’s take a quick look just for kicks. The Devils finished today with 40 wins out of 70 draws, which is a winning percentage of around 57%. While that’s pretty high, the Devils had six better nights overall at the dots so far in 2016-17: 12/27 vs. Pittsburgh (64.2%), 2/21 vs. Ottawa (61%), 11/8 vs. Carolina (60.5%), 1/6 vs. Toronto (59.3%), 2/6 vs. Buffalo (58.9%), and 1/7 vs. Edmonton (58%). The Devils only won two of those games. Off the top of my head, I don’t think the faceoffs mattered too much in those results. Still, asked and answered.
The Sherman Abrams Section: From the gamethread, alslammerz wrote this:
So shorthanded Penalty Shot goal against
Shorthanded goal against
Penalty Shot goal against
We are really finding new and novel ways to fuel the Sherman Abrams.
Sherman Abrams appreciates the attention. And the diverse and innovative ways the Devils are finding to lose games. It’s certainly unexpected. L’s are still L’s and that keeps the points steady for another day.
The Devils remain in 28th with today’s loss. Today has a few other games to note. Mr. Abrams is pleased that Winnipeg is currently winning against Minnesota right now; he wants the Jets to finish that game with a win. There’s also Carolina and Philadelphia tonight, where a three-point night would be the most desirable so both teams can get something today. Florida got pounded by the Pens, but they’re on the fringes of the Race for 28th anyway, so it’s not that huge of a deal.
One Last Thought: I don’t care what Mr. Abrams thinks, I just want a win on Tuesday by any means necessary. I just want one win over Our Hated Rivals this season. I want to see it. Please, Devils, try to make it so.
Your Take: The Devils lost 1-4 to Columbus in a game where they didn’t play badly at all, they were just done in on penalty shots, a fluke, and a hot goalie named Bobrovsky. While I wasn’t disgusted by the loss, what did you think of the performance? Who was and was not good in your eyes and why? What do the Devils really need to improve to try to get a win on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments. Thanks to Devin for previewing the game, thanks to everyone who commented and/or followed along on Twitter, and thank you for reading.