There are losses. There are bad games. They tend to go hand in hand. Tonight was another example of one. Tonight, the New Jersey Devils played liked they stopped nothing and stayed there. If you enjoy formless approaches, poor passing, shot attempts right into defenders, bad decisions with the puck, and generally ineffective hockey, then you would have loved how the Devils played tonight. For the rest of us, it was just worth shaking one’s head at how bad it was. The Columbus Blue Jackets just took it in stride. They didn’t seek to dominate the Devils like, say, Boston did on Saturday night. No, they scored their goals and just cruised as the Devils flailed and failed to a 0-3 loss.
The performance was so lackluster, I could understand someone asking me, “John, why do you love hockey and/or this Devils team?” During this game, I don’t think I would have a good answer. There’s been an increasing sentiment that the Devils should tank the rest of the season. Given performances like this and that they have now lost their seventh game in a row, I think they have been doing so already. While the roster was certainly far from any ideal tonight, we’ve seen better and more effective efforts out of the 2016-17 Devils. Even during this winless streak. John Hynes and his staff were just simply out-done yet again. Their tactics are just poor and I fear that even with an improved roster, it would hold the team back.
That said, the Devils’ roster made this game more difficult on paper. Miles Wood and Damon Severson were announced to be out with injury. Karl Stollery was called back up to replace Severson for the night. With Andy Greene still out for personal reasons, the defense was notably out of sorts. And Stollery himself wasn’t good in his own end of the rink. Dalton Prout was also not very effective, which made for a pretty rough pairing. It may be only two games, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Prout’s play has made some fans miss Kyle Quincey a bit more. As for Wood’s replacement, that was internal: Pavel Zacha returned from his concussion. Zacha relished playing on a higher line with Adam Henrique. But he was trying to do too much at times and for little gain. I liked his stickhandling, his pace, and his desire to want to carry the puck into the zone, but some of his decisions regarding passing and between passing and shooting were just awry. With Zacha up there, it meant another night for Blake Coleman, Kevin Rooney, Joseph Blandisi, Stefan Noesen, Nick Lappin and Devante Smith-Pelly to fill in the bottom six. Yes, that is indeed four AHLers, a waiver pick-up, and DSP as your lone, true NHL player. I know Alex wants to keep the youth around, but this crew (plus Stollery, Zacha, and maybe Santini) didn’t really cover themselves in glory. Rooney, Noesen, and Lappin tried at times but with an output of two shots between the three, it’s hard to really give them much praise.
What was confusing was Cory Schneider playing in this game. He faced 40 shots in Boston the night before and did his best to keep that game in contention for New Jersey. While he faced fewer shots (22), I do not fault him for the three goals allowed. Boone Jenner jammed a puck that squirted through for the first goal. The second goal, well, that was a doozy. The unit of Stollery, Prout, Zacha, Coleman, and Smith-Pelly got eviscerated by Columbus’ five men on that shift, with the finisher coming from Oliver Bjorkstrand sniping in a shot after going from above the right circle and firing from inside the left circle unimpeded. In the third period, on a counter attack after John Moore jumped up on a rush and had his shot easily blocked, Bjorkstrand fired a shot on net. Sam Gagner was in position at the top of the crease and his stick not held up by DSP. Gagner was able to put home the rebound to make it 0-3. Maybe you can make a case of the first one being something Schneider should have stopped. But I don’t know why Schneider started. This is a back-to-back set in a lost season with several AHL players in the lineup. Why not give this one to Keith Kinkaid since the results don’t seem to matter so much now?
Being at the game, I got the sense that more and more fans - in the crowd and elsewhere - are realizing how bad this team is. Not a lot of shots (20), not a lot of shot attempts (42), and not lot of smart hockey. The Devils’ execution was to a point where more and more fans would be in favor of it. From the power play to odd man rushes to defensive shifts, it’s just not good. The penalty kill may be the lone exception to that. It’s one thing to not win, but in their last few, they made a game of it on the scoreboard at least. This was a team that started skating with more purpose near the end of the game and they still didn’t take advantage. It’s disheartening as a fan and more so with the fact that this is the fifth straight playoff-less year for a franchise that once prided itself about being successful no matter how others perceive it. Even if you have fully accepted the rebuild, a game like this has to make one question whether there really is progress being made. Most of all, it’s just not fun.
By the way, the Devils get to play this same Columbus team again on Tuesday.
16 games to go.
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: Matt Wagner has this quick recap of the win at The Cannon.
What About the Top Line: With the state of the roster - no, Adam Henrique can’t carry his linemates - the pressure was on for Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Travis Zajac to make things happen tonight. They didn’t make much happen. I’d say they had the better of the Devils’ zone entries, but like the rest of the squad, a lot of them were left begging for a shot or a play that never happened. It wasn’t such a good game for them.
What About the Power Play: The Devils had a glorious opportunity early to at least get on the board. Gagner tripped Hall early in the first period. Near the end of that power play, there was a loose puck in the crease and Palmieri trying to slam it in the net. Quincey hooked down Palmieri so the puck didn’t go in the net but Palmieri himself did. That led to another power play. Combined - they didn’t do much, only two shots on net. The Devils received a third power play to start the third period as Columbus was tagged with an illegal substitution (!) with twelve seconds left in the second. They generated one shot on Sergey Bobrovsky. Between their breakouts and how they were moving the puck, I remain confused how the Devils had the hottest power play in the NHL in February.
What About the Opposition: They did what they had to do, they did their business, and they went on about their evening. Bobrovsky had a fairly easy shutout. Gagner and Bjorkstand were not only goalscorers tonight, but they made a positive impact in the run of play. Jack Johnson actually looked like a solid defenseman tonight. The only guys that didn’t look good on Columbus was their fourth line - although Stollery hooked William Karlsson up with a giveaway to the slot that Schneider had to stop in the first period - and their Murray-Quincey pairing. Even then, the Devils didn’t really make their opponents suffer.
The Sherman Abrams Section: Well, if anyone was happy about this depressing-to-watch Devils game, then it was Mr. Sherman Abrams himself. Whether it’s 0-1 to the best team in the NHL or 0-3 to the #2 team in the Metropolitan, regulation losses are still worth zero points. That’s the goal in his mind and the Devils met it. The loss alone moved New Jersey down to 25th overall as they now match Dallas in games played, but the Stars have one extra win on them. There are some games on-going, but the good news is that Vancouver is currently winning and Carolina is tied with Arizona. One would want those teams to get points so they rise up to New Jersey’s level - making them ripe for the Devils to fall. The only out-of-town score that wasn’t ideal was Buffalo losing in regulation. They’re still four points ahead of New Jersey but a larger gap would be great for safety reasons. The only concern for Mr. Sherman Abrams and his ilk is that the Devils have lost seven in a row. Like winning streaks, losing streaks eventually come to an end. His hope is that it doesn’t lead to more positive results that make the Devils gain the ground they should be losing. Still, Mr. Sherman Abrams says, “Roll on to Ohio and try do the same thing!” We’ll see if it does.
One Last Thought: Originally, while heading home from the game, I was going to try to come up with some cheesy jokes since the Devils’ poor performances have become comical. I only like this silly one that I learned from Dave Barry Slept Here:
Winston Churchill is at a dinner party and walks up to a woman. He says, “Good evening, Madam. I may be drunk, but a wasteful New Jersey Devils breakout has descended upon your bre-BLEAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGH.”
I’m glad I didn’t go through with that. Or the Hawley-Smoot Tariff.
Your Take: The Devils were just plain too easy in this hard-to-watch game against Columbus. And, remember, they’ll do it again in Ohio on Tuesday. What did you make of this game? What, if anything, can one take away from it? 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 in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.