The score was close. The New Jersey Devils lost their sixth game in a row tonight in a 2-3 defeat to the Boston Bruins. The performance wasn’t close at all. The shot count in Boston’s arena may be inflated at times, but a 40 to 17 difference - favoring Boston, of course - remains massive even if you figure that the scorer was generous with what they call a shot. Attempts were 68-31 in favor of the victors, for what it’s worth. The Bruins often demonstrated superiority in puck possession, passing, and cycling. The Devils were often a step behind as their blueline was easily gained and difficult to exit from. This isn’t to say that the Devils had no chances or no attacking shifts; just that they were few and far between as the Devils largely pounced on the times a puck would elude a Bruin or a quick defensive play actually occurred. Still, by the “eye test” alone, it was clear that the better team won tonight.
It can be said that the Devils’ mistakes amid being forced back in their own end a lot really did them in. For example, Taylor Hall took two tripping minors in Boston’s end in the second period. The first one ended with the penalty kill failing to clean up a rebound and Torey Krug stepping up and into all of his shot on said rebound for a power play goal. The second one almost ended with Drew Stafford - who had an astoundingly good night - jamming a puck past Cory Schneider’s pad. That goal was taken away after a challenge by John Hynes. The Devils took three additional penalties, which further undercut their cause tonight despite the Devils killing those calls. For another example of an error, the game winning goal was “created” by Damon Severson holding onto the puck too long by the end boards and then making a pass to Nick Lappin at his goal line. Lappin foolishly and without looking, backhanded the pass out into space. Frank Vatrano intercepted it, fed it to Stafford, who passed it across to Ryan Spooner, who had Schneider entirely beaten on the goalie’s left flank. Those plays stick out much more in this fifth straight one-goal loss.
As a quick digression, this was a rough night for Nick Lappin. Andy Greene did not play tonight due to personal reasons, so Lappin was called up earlier today. He was just out of sorts. The Bruins really enjoyed playing against him in 5-on-5 play, he fell on his own a number of times while not being on the same page as his teammates, and he accidentally scored Boston’s second goal. While backchecking, he headed towards the net trying to dissuade Brandon Carlo from passing the puck to the middle of the ice. Instead, Carlo attempted his pass and Lappin’s stick re-directed the pass past Schneider. At least that was an accident. His two shots on net were the only things that seemingly went right for him. I know it was a tough situation, being called up on very short notice. Greene’s absence changed the team’s plans; they were originally going to go with eleven forwards and seven defensemen. In a way, it was good that the Devils gave Lappin another chance as he was with New Jersey earlier in the season. This game did him no favors; if he’s around tomorrow, then he surely has to have a better night than this one.
Anyway, Greene’s absence loomed large also on defense. Jon Merrill was paired with Ben Lovejoy and they played a massive amount in their own end. Both did well against Washington, albeit on separate pairings. Tonight, not so much. Merrill alone witnessed eighteen shots against in 5-on-5 play. Lovejoy was his usual one-way self, with that one-way being on defense. Based on ice time, Boston gave them their top line a lot: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Backes. That’s a tough trio to defend against and, well, they had a lot of issues. Those three combined for eleven of the team’s forty shots on net, led by Bergeron with six. It’s impressive that unit did not score amid all of their possession and attack time. That all said, I do not mean to pick on Merrill-Lovejoy alone. The team as a whole got rolled over defensively. For all of the talk about wanting to add grit and size to protect the net, the Bruins’ most common shot attempt location in 5-on-5 play was the slot according to Natural Stat Trick. The Bruins had multiple scoring chances from the middle of the zone in each period. And the Devils’ response was often to hope to break away off a clear or a long pass, chip the puck away, or do something else that forced Boston to hold back. Greene alone wouldn’t have changed the course of the game, but perhaps he would have helped limit some of the damage Boston inflicted.
There were positives tonight. A big reason why this game did not get out of hand when Boston was just pounding the puck over and over was Cory Schneider. Schneider stopped a lot of shots from point-blank ones in the slot to longer shots through some traffic. The goals that beat him weren’t soft at all. As much as Boston’s scorer may overcount shots, Schneider attempted well over thirty saves and tried to keep the game within reach for his skaters, who were just out-classed. Among those skaters, though, two stood out for good things. Devante Smith-Pelly broke away during the end of Hall’s second tripping minor, made a fake, saw Anton Khudobin take the fake, and slid the puck through his legs for a goal. DSP has not scored a lot or done much offensively this season. It was good to see him finish an offensive play, something he didn’t get to have a lot tonight. Defensively, he’s just a guy. The other forward: Kyle Palmieri. He scored, although his goal was academic. Taylor Hall made an amazing pass through a kneeling Zdeno Chara and Palmieri just one-touched it into the net. But Palmieri led the team in shots with four, he was the only Devil not to be out-shot in 5-on-5 play tonight, and he worked real hard to make offense happen even amid a run of Boston dominance. This was the sort play from Palmieri that one wants to see from him night-in and night-out. So those two left positive impressions in my view along with Schneider, even if DSP’s was mostly for just scoring on a sweet breakaway.
If you’re looking for a greater meaning in tonight’s game, then consider this as a goal. As in, how Boston played tonight should be the goal for this organization. Boston was fast, attacking, supportive, and - most of all - relentless tonight. They didn’t their proverbial foot off the gas pedal, and if they did, it wasn’t for long. I want to see a Devils team to go through the neutral zone on a regular basis without it being an adventure or a gamble. I want to see a Devils team that doesn’t just throw pucks to the perimeter on dump-ins and figure it out; I want them to have more diversity in their zone entries and set-ups on offense. I want a Devils team where teammates are in good positions to be passing or defensive options. I want a Devils team that can control possession. I know Boston does not do this every night, but they’re one of the top CF% teams in the league so they do at least some of this on most nights. That’s what the Devils should strive for out of this rebuild. This was a game that showed how much the gap is at the moment; you can’t go to too many places without knowing where to go. The Devils were pounded despite losing by only a goal. Perhaps lessons can be learned from this and other losses to reduce such occurrences over the next few seasons.
17 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: Check out Stanley Cup of Chowder for their take on this game.
Oops: There was some arena drama during the third period. The horn that is played to signal intermission at the TD Garden went off twice while the Devils had the puck in the offensive zone. Thankfully, it did not go off when Hall was driving to the net that led to Palmieri’s goal. Chalk it up to an glitch in the system, I suppose.
The Mighty Stafford: Drew Stafford played like he was possessed by a legend of the game tonight. Stafford was just asserting himself on offense in every which way and put up seven shots on net. He was frequently in New Jersey’s end of the rink and causing seemingly everyone but Schneider problems. Stafford had an assist on Spooner’s goal, but he also had a power play goal disallowed due to a coach’s challenge for goaltender interference. All the same, he was a threat seemingly every time he stepped onto the ice tonight. He was named the first star of the game and I think that’s right. As great as the Bergeron line performed tonight, Stafford was the Bruin that stood to out to me the most.
The Debut of Prout: In a word: meh. Based on my quick understanding of his numbers, Prout was a defensive-minded defenseman who would contribute little to offense. That was the case tonight, although Boston really saw to that. How did Prout play on defense? In my view, I wasn’t really impressed. I was pleased that he did not take a penalty or do something incredibly dumb. It’s just that he wasn’t much of a factor either. Granted, Boston made most of the Devils be non-factors, so your mileage may vary. I was not pleased that he was paired with Damon Severson, who I didn’t think had a good game. Both Severson and Prout are right-handed shots. Why did the coaching staff think it was best to put them together instead of having a left and a right handed shot on each pairing? Steve Santini and John Moore were wrecked the least, but they played the least as a pairing (Moore received more time, though). Why not go with Severson and Moore, which was at least a pairing with some familiarity and Prout could be brought into the lineup with Santini with lesser minutes? I don’t know. I wonder much, if any, Severson’s bad night was contributed to by how he was paired up even if Prout was not so notably bad.
A Question of Perspective: Hall took two tripping penalties in the offensive zone that turned out to be costly for one goal against and a successful coach’s challenge denied a second. Hall made a sweet pass that created a goal and shows why his skill level is just on another level compared to nearly all of the other Devils. I think the set-up redeems the penalties somewhat. Do you agree? It depends on your perspective. He still shouldn’t take those calls.
As an aside, I did note that the Devils took five penalties tonight. Boston only took one, a retaliatory call on Kevan Miller after Miles Wood got away with a boarding.
The Sherman Abrams Section: Like Thursday’s night loss to Washington, you’d have to be pretty jazzed about the Devils losing in regulation again. They’re kept steady in the standings on a busy night in the NHL. Yesterday, Detroit picked up a point and as of this writing, they’re only down a score to Edmonton. They’re also only behind the Devils by a point, so go Red Wings! Carolina managed to lose to Arizona, so the Devils remain two spots ahead of last in the East. But there’s good news: Buffalo and Philly both took post-regulation losses, so there’s still a cushion if/when the Devils break this losing streak. Anyway, zero points tonight and two points out of a possible twelve in their last six games keeps the tank treads pushing ahead to the promised land of 18-year olds with hopefully superior hockey potential.
One Last Thought: And here is a list of players that I didn’t think made much of an impact tonight: Kevin Rooney, Blake Coleman, Beau Bennett, Stefan Noesen (one late second period shot aside), and Adam Henrique. Which one of those names sticks out of that group, well, I think you can figure that out.
Your Take: The Devils lost their sixth game in a row. They won’t have much time to dwell on it as they play Columbus tomorrow. I think this was another close-score, not-close-performance games. What did you think of tonight’s game? Who was the best skater for the Devils tonight? What do you make of Prout after making his Devils debut? What can the Devils learn, if anything, from this loss to prepare for Sunday’s game? Do you like the Sherman Abrams Section? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for writing the preview for this game. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog during the game. Thank you for reading.