The Devils and Jets went into this game knowing their seasons were effectively over. They have both been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Both were incredible long shots back when this game was originally supposed to be played on March 14. Inclement weather postponed it to March 28 and the results in between sealed both team’s fates. While a shootout deciding a game between two non-playoff teams may seem appropriate, the actual game itself wasn’t so close.
The Devils kicked things off with Nikolaj Ehlers getting free in the slot and picking a corner on Cory Schneider within the first minute of the game. About seven minutes after that, the Devils registered their first shot on net. The Devils’ play in between was akin to skating through a fog. Their breakouts seemingly invited the Jets to forecheck aggressively, their decisions on the puck on offense went awry constantly, and their execution was so bad that I wouldn’t blame you if you felt the Devils deserved one. That was a sad, sad start to a hockey game.
Fortunately, the Devils got a shot past the eight minute mark: a deflection of a Dalton Prout shot by Beau Bennett. This led to a rebound opportunity for Pavel Zacha. The puck trickled through Connor Hellebuyck and Bennett dove to jam it in over the line for an equalizer. From that point on, it would be about another four minutes before another Devil shot on net. It would come from Travis Zajac springing Taylor Hall for a breakaway. Hall went around the goalie for a lovely goal, a 2-1 lead, and another shot on the board. The run of play was more even after that score with the only downer being Miles Wood somehow getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The disappointing part in retrospect was the long gap between shots on net. Namely because this wasn’t the first or second such gap of the night. They continued.
And in the second period, the Devils killed off Wood’s minor. Then the Jets just started racking up shots as the Devils became sloppier on the puck. They reverted to going for long passes or lobs, hoping to catch a teammate behind or away from the Jets skaters. It often didn’t work as the Jets collected the puck, turned up ice, and threw more shots on Cory Schneider. At one point, the Jets were leading in shots 13-4. I know score effects play a factor, but it was getting ridiculous - unless you’ve been following the 2016-17 Devils all season long and you know they were capable of that kind of disappointment. Believe me, it was a disappointment. The sort where you know that one of those attempts was just going to beat Schneider, by sheer force if need be.
Despite the Jets owning most of the period, the Devils would be able to add to their lead. Blake Pietila fed a cutting Stefan Noesen, who went around Hellebuyck’s left to score before falling over into the endboards. Noesen was fine and quite happy he scored. Devils up 3-1 and so things are good, right? Wrong. The Jets would get a second period goal out of their eighteen shots on net. Julian Melchiori fired a long shot that Blake Wheeler tipped along the way to fully beat Schneider about a minute after Noesen’s goal. While the Devils started to make Hellebuyck work a bit more - and Joesph Blandisi hit iron on a bang-bang play created by Wood - the Jets were back in the game. And Blake Coleman took an interference penalty by fouling Mark Schiefele within the last minute of the period, so the Jets had a man advantage for 110 seconds to start the third period. It was a disappointing end to the second period.
I can happily type that the Devils did not give up a power play goal to start the third. The Devils’ penalty killers and Cory Schneider did their job well tonight. The disappointment would come shortly after. Schiefele was tagged for hooking Pietila before Coleman’s penalty ended; the Devils would get an not-so-abbreviated power play. During said power play, the disappointment hit a new high. Or low. Whatever. The power play was meaningless earlier in the game. But at 2:35, Joel Armia took the puck from Taylor Hall, skated up ice, chipped the puck past Damon Severson and skated around him to recover the puck, weaved past Kyle Palmieri, and sniped a shot past Schneider at 2:40. It was a highlight-reel worthy goal. It was the eleventh shorthanded goal allowed by the Devils this season. It was a very disappointing equalizer amid an equally disappointing power play.
And the third period went on with, again, stretches of time where the Devils just didn’t put any rubber on Hellebuyck. They eventually got there and had some nice flurries. But the Jets - who aren’t all that good of a team either - just kept piling up shots and attempts. They finished the game ahead 54-39 in attempts and 36-23 in shots. A difference that large just pointed to who was really executing at moving the puck, controlling the puck, and making good decisions. This was a classic game where the Devils scored some goals and had to lean on Schneider to make as many stops as he can to keep the score in range. Maybe great for the goalie, despite how you may feel about the Armia goal, but it’s just disappointing when most of the skaters are being taken to school and by a team that isn’t too far ahead of them in the standings.
Overtime was necessary and it was quite exciting. Both teams had some strong possession shifts and created some great looks at goal. The Jets missed on their best chances. Literally in a few cases, such as when Patrick Laine went high after making a deke in the slot. The Devils also made some big moves. It appeared in the final minute that Hall would get a breakaway. But Wheeler took him down with a trip. If you were like me and expecting a penalty shot, then you were very disappointed. The man was tripped from behind on a penalty shot and it affected the shot. I don’t know what else needed to happen for it to be a penalty shot. So with 30 seconds left, the Devils had a power play which created all of one shot: a close one by Kyle Palmieri before he was tripped by Jacob Trouba and overtime ended. The referee’s decision was a disappointment, the Rock got to see another waste of a power play situation, and the game dragged out to a shootout. In a word: disappointing.
The shootout was the Devils’ first in 2017. It really has been a while since the Devils had one. The shooters for Winnipeg: Schiefele, who was saved and Laine, who scored. The shooters for New Jersey: John Quenneville, who lost the puck; Hall, who was saved; and Pavel Zacha, who was saved - ending the game. All of the fans who stayed to the end spent nearly three hours to witness that end. Disappointing.
And, yes, I’m belaboring my point, but it’s the best word to also describe some of the performances tonight. Adam Henrique was a non-factor. Wood and Blandisi had a handful of decent moments, but their impact was minimal or negative. Coleman took two penalties. Ben Lovejoy was very poor to start and didn’t get much better. Steve Santini also had issues. Damon Severson wasn’t so hot on the puck either. John Moore better resembled Marek Zidlicky at times tonight both good and bad. (Is it the jersey?) Kyle Palmieri managed to get three shots on net but still be largely anonymous, although he did truck Laine in overtime trying to deny him a chance at a puck he was carrying up ice. Still, it wasn’t a good game for #21. I may be over-dramatic, but I’m kind of at a lost to point out who had a really good game for the Devils tonight. I’m kind of inclined to name Schneider if only for making 33 out of 36 saves. The goalie wasn’t the issue for New Jersey. Hall would be my choice, but even so, he has only one shot on net. It went into the net, but on a night where the Devils were shotless for multiple stretches in each period, John Moore (John Moore!) led the team in shots with four, and said team put up a total of 23, it would have been nice if he did more. But it would be even nicer if the other players also did more. That’s the disappointing reality, even if you disagree with my choices; there weren’t enough good performances.
Even with a longer view, this was a disappointment. Tonight, the Devils didn’t really do a whole lot well or even enough to make one be hopeful for the future. Noesen’s goal was nice and Zacha did create Bennett’s goal, but it’s not like either Noesen or Zacha played particularly great all night long. The Devils didn’t exactly get the crowd going with their poor performances. Lots of time of generating little on offense, throwing pucks away on long passes that didn’t often hit, failing on power plays, and so forth don’t get the fans exciting. Rock the Rock night may be a neat promotion, but the fans need something to get rocking about. (Aside: Poor Guitar Guy just being called Guitar Guy while annoying “host” Brandon Maly gets his name mentioned.) As for the standings, well, Sherman Abrams will have his own section - but he’s disappointed too. I think I made it clear that I am, albeit for different reasons.
6 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: Check out Arctic Ice Hockey for their take on this game.
The Sherman Abrams Section: Sherman Abrams is disappointed too. While the Jets winning really takes them on the fringes of the Race for 28th, the Devils picked up a point in the process. This isn’t good, especially given the other scores tonight. Detroit was defeated decisively by Carolina. Vancouver is being lit up by Anaheim. Dallas saw a 1-0 lead turn into a 1-4 loss to Montreal. In other words, the Devils moved up in the points while their closest competitors stayed put. Not good. Now the Canucks are ahead of New Jersey by one point. Devils fans who are with Mr. Abrams will have to hope the Canucks get hot. Detroit (with an inferior ROW) and Dallas are a bit further away but Mr. Abrams isn’t counting them out of anything yet. The Devils made a tanking cause trickier by picking up a point tonight.
Mr. Abrams is hopeful that the next five games will yield more regulation losses: two against the Islanders, two against Philly, one against Pittsburgh. While they have the incentive for this Friday, the hope is that Isles still have something to play for by April 8. The hope is that Philly thinks they have something to play for in the two games coming up. And the hope is that Pittsburgh wants to take the game against New Jersey. All so that the last game at the Joe Louis Arena on April 9 doesn’t become the final deciding point. Combined with hoping for more success out of Vancouver, Dallas, and Detroit; that’s a lot of hope. So despite the Devils having been in this spot for weeks, Mr. Abrams is now more concerned. All because of a point earned tonight.
One Last Thought: Seriously, I don’t understand how Hall did not get awarded a penalty shot in overtime. Between the other calls and non-calls for penalty shots in this past month, I don’t even know what drives refs to call them anymore.
Your Take: I’ve said this game was a disappointing loss. What did you make of it? What was the worst part of the Devils’ performance tonight? Who was good for the Devils? Who was the worst for the Devils? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter. Thank you for reading.