Tonight, the New Jersey Devils hosted the Carolina Hurricanes and lost 1-3. The loss itself isn’t exactly new to this year’s Devils team, but this loss did carry some significance. With this regulaiton loss and Boston picking up any points (they won tonight), the Devils are now mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They were practically eliminated far earlier than that. They weren’t even in the playoff picture for months. I’ve created a fictional pro-tank Devils fan named after two famous tanks to track the team’s race to go low as they go for weeks now. Now it is official: five straight years without the playoffs. On the flipside, the result helps Carolina make a late playoff push of their own.
As for the game itself, the best way I can sum it up is that it ended up being “acceptable.” If you’re a veteran of the experience of being a fan of a non-playoff team that has nothing to play for like I am, then you know what that means. For those that don’t or just don’t know what I’m going on about, here’s a brief summary. Basically, the team didn’t get dominated throughout the game; they didn’t suffer a blowout loss; the players put in a good, entertaining effort; and no one got seriously hurt. That’s about the size of it for the Devils tonight.
It did look grim in the middle frame after a scoreless first period where most scoring chances by the Devils were never realized. Things looked real poor for most of the second period, when Carolina turned an 8-6 shot lead into 17-9 while up 1-0 about 13 minutes into it. The goal featuring Elias Lindholm drawing attention of two Devils and passing the puck in between them to Sebastian Aho, who scored on a one-timer close to the crease. But the Devils eventually figured out how hockey is supposed to operate, the Zajac line started to go off, the shot differential was made up, Taylor Hall set up Travis Zajac for a great equalizer off a counter-attack, Damon Severson hammered a one-timer off iron late in the second to fuel further hope, and the period ended only 13-11 in shots favoring Carolina.
The third period featured a more even, open-ended, action-packed play from both sides. We witnessed Miles Wood reciving passes that allowed him to skate into space and challenge with the puck instead of chasing. We witnessed Joseph Blandisi turn a loose puck after two sprawling stops by Cory Schneider basically work as hard as he could to make a breakaway happen - and he did. We saw Hall play with tons of confidence on the puck and creating a lion’s share of offense. We saw, of all players, Blake Pietila narrowly miss the net when he seemingly had Lack beaten to Lack’s left in the third period. Unfortunately, we also saw Jeff Skinner strip Andy Greene at the Carolina blueline and create a highlight with a breakaway goal to make it 1-2. And shortly after Pietila’s opportunity, Sebastian Aho managed to win a puck despite three Devils (Blake Coleman, John Moore, Adam Henrique) trying to deny him. And Aho put it in past a surprised Schneider to make it 1-3 with a few minutes left in regulation.
I will admit that if this was earlier in the season or if the Devils were in a higher position in the standings, then I’d be more unhappy with how the game went on. But context matters and in a few weeks, this result won’t matter to New Jersey. The Devils had a go at it, made a game of it against a well-structured opponent with some kind of playoff hope, and didn’t just lay down despite what most of that second period showed. What I saw was acceptable for what the Devils are this season: a non-playoff team. Now they mathematically are a non-playoff team.
8 games left.
The Game Summary: 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 Chart | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Justin Lape has this recap up at Canes Country.
The Drivers: The Devils’ improved play in the second period, which was carried over into the third period, was sparked by a good, attacking shift by the Zajac line. The unit did get New Jersey’s lone goal - which was created by a bad bounce off a poor breakout pass by Klas Dahlbeck - and nearly had a few others. Hall, Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri combined for nine of the Devils’ 27 shots. For further perspective, the only Devil with more than two shots on net that wasn’t on that line was defenseman Steve Santini. Furthermore, the trio of forwards created the most shots in 5-on-5 play for New Jersey and all finished well on the right side of attempt differentials. While others had some big moments - like Blandisi’s breakaway, Pietila’s chance in front late in the third - when this line got going, the team seemed to follow suit.
While he wasn’t perfect, Damon Severson played a rather good game in terms of helping create offense starting from his end of the rink. When the Devils got rolling, #28 was involved at stopping whatever the Canes wanted to get started with and keep the puck moving ahead. It was the sort of night where I wish the Devils had one or two more players like him.
The Top Canes: Skinner’s play was a total highlight and reminded me, at least, that he’s a “name player” for Carolina for a reason. He was a threat throughout the night with four shots on net out of eight attempts. That said, the top line for the Canes tonight was Aho, Lindholm, and Phillippe Di Guiseppe. Aho had both goals, Lindholm created Aho’s first goal to go with three shots on net, and all three out-shot their competition in 5-on-5 play.
However, it was the back end that shined more for Carolina. Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk were very good in their own end and contributing to Carolina’s offense when they did go forward. Even when a mistake was made, the two defenders had the support they needed or provided the needed support for their teammate. I liked Ryan Murphy too; he did well to deny Miles Wood in a number of one-on-one opportunities during the game. Most of all, Eddie Lack played very well. Carolina’s big problem in past seasons and in this season is the play of their goaltenders. Lack and Cam Ward’s save percentages just haven’t been good enough. In this playoff push, though, the goalies have showed up and Lack definitely did tonight. He was only beaten once and through the five-hole at that; but he made a lot of the right reads and reactions to a Devils team that managed to fire plenty of attempts from the middle of the ice tonight. He was excellent tonight and that was a big help for a Canes team that didn’t really pull away on the scoreboard until late in the game.
That Third Goal Against Needs Some More Words: I’ve watched it again on video at NHL.com. I think I got this figured out. Derek Ryan chips a puck to below the right circle. John Moore and Adam Henrique scramble to try to get the puck away from Aho and the puck just eludes both. They sort of get in their own way at the process. Blake Coleman is behind Aho, just watching the play instead of trying to get his own stick in there. In retrospect, that was a big mistake as it meant Aho could just focus on keeping the puck away from the two guys in front of him. Schneider’s one big error of the night happens at this point: he didn’t cover the left post in this sequence. I can understand that he expected Henrique and Moore to get the puck away, if not win it from Aho. But he assumed and you know what that makes him look like - and he kind of did with the goal against. The only mitigating factor is that it just turned a 1-2 game into a 1-3 game late in the third period. I admit that wouldn’t be such a factor if this game meant anything for New Jersey. Even so, it was a pretty heinous sequence for the Devils involved.
Strange Events: In the second period, Teuvo Teravainen appeared to have caught the Devils unaware as he received a long pass. Jon Merrill managed to catch up and help deny him a chance. Teravainen lost control and fell into Schneider and the net. Amazing to me, there was no penalty. I just assumed that when I saw Merrill get involved that there would be a penalty called or perhaps a penalty shot. I suppose Teravainen just fell on his own and so no call was the correct call. The refs didn’t exactly call a lot, so it’s possible they just missed the foul. That was the second strangest thing I saw in this game.
The first came shortly after Kyle Palmieri powered his way to force a close shot at Lack. As he got in close with the puck, I thought the puck was going to slide in or get knocked in by a Cane in the area or perhaps go in off Lack himself. Palmieri was slashed by Faulk in the process; he definitely forced that foul. So I and probably thousands at the Rock were stunned to hear the ref announce a bench minor for the Devils for too many men on the ice after announcing Faulk’s minor penalty. I can’t tell you the last time I saw the Devils called for too many men on the ice while an actual scoring chance took place. In the neutral zone or amid a fire-wagon change, sure. Deep in the offensive zone? That’s new to me.
Special Teams Had One Good Side for New Jersey: The nadir for the Devils in the crummy part of their second period was the two penalties they took. First, Blake Coleman received an unsportsmanlike conduct. I thought it was for the beef he started after a whistle; it ended up being for giving Lack a snow shower. Over a minute and twenty seconds in, John Moore (yes, on a penalty kill) tripped Skinner. The Devils had to deal with a 3-on-5 for 39 seconds before having another penalty to kill. Fortunately, the Devils shined here. Their positioning helped dissuade Carolina from registering a shot on net during the 3-on-5. They got a clear just as Coleman came out of the box, which allowed him to start the remaining 4-on-5 situation by taking some seconds off the clock. In total, the Devils only allowed two shots on net during this run of shorthanded hockey. That’s rather good. If you need a positive, then the PK provided it.
Unfortunately, that’s the only part of special teams that went right for the Devils. The power play remained its struggling self. Over two power plays, the Devils took two shots on net, had one scoring chance (Hall setting up Blandisi in the slot), conceded a shorthanded one-on-one to Brock McGinn, and several failures to maintain possession whether it was in setting up in Carolina’s zone or just after the zone entry. The man advantage was anything but for the Devils yet again and it was the low point of their execution problems. The good news is that their execution would improve after the mostly waste of time that was their second period power play. The bad news is that their third period power play contained little of the things they were doing right in the third period as a whole. This aspect of special teams remains a thorn in the Devils’ side.
Speaking of Not Good: Whew, Jon Merrill was just all over the place and not in a good way on defense tonight. He was caught focusing on Lindholm instead of Aho on Aho’s first goal and he was a mess with the puck. Again, he somehow didn’t foul Teravainen on a one-on-one with Schneider or at least didn’t get called for it. That was sadly his best moment of the game. Ben Lovejoy also had a real rough time of it, featuring a moment where he failed on a keep in attempt and John Moore - John Moore! - hustled back to bail him out of conceding a breakaway. John Hynes went with seven defensemen tonight and, sorry to say, Dalton Prout wasn’t picked on nearly as much as either of them. That’s how bad it was for #7 and #12 at times tonight. Moore may have helped out Lovejoy, but he had his own issues and was implicated on Aho’s second goal.
This was also a rough night for Adam Henrique. For 18:58, he generated one shot on net, one missed shot, couldn’t knock a puck away from Aho, looked on as Aho scored from the slot on the first goal (that was more of an error on Merrill), and was out-shot in 5-on-5 play pretty badly (3 to 11). Beau Bennett didn’t do much and Blandisi only had a handful of positive moments (his one power play shot, his one breakaway). But Henrique just wasn’t getting much done in 5-on-5 play and it’s noticeable in light of how much is done by the line ahead of him: Zajac, Hall, and Palmieri.
The Sherman Abrams Section: Mr. Sherman Abrams never believed that the Devils would go on some kind of epic winning streak and get all of the help to make the playoffs. Mr. Sherman Abrams banked on a regulation loss and got one tonight. The Devils remain in 28th going into a gotta-lose game with Dallas tomorrow.
Mr. Sherman Abrams is in a good mood because of the help the Devils received over the last two days. On Friday, Dallas beat down St. Louis to pull them five points ahead of New Jersey. That doesn’t mean New Jersey should win a game against them; if anything, they should want to avoid dragging Dallas any closer to that 28th place spot. Also on Friday, Detroit lost in overtime so they picked up a big point to be four points ahead of the Devils. Today, Vancouver whipped Minnesota and so are three points ahead of the Devils. Florida and Buffalo won today as well, pushing them to the fringes of this race for the third-from-the-bottom spot. Mr. Abrams told me it would have been grand if Winnipeg won just for safety’s sake and Arizona somehow beat Washington (HA!), but it’s otherwise all good. Because as of now, the Devils have a small cushion for their current spot in the standings. There’s two full weeks left so Mr. Abrams is becoming ever hopeful for his stretch goal to be realized.
One Last Thought: During the game, I realized that not only are the Devils making up their game with Winnipeg on Tuesday, they’re also re-using the same promo. And why not? Might as well rock out as the Devils roll on to another ‘L.’
Your Take: The Devils lost 1-3 to Carolina and are officially eliminated from the postseason. And all I can do is shrug to that. What is your take on this particular game? What was good and what was bad in your eyes? What do you want the Devils to do, if anything, for the Dallas game? 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.