Sergei Bobrovsky is hot right now. Sure, he shut out the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. That was a game where the Devils skated like they had two left skates, passed like they just learned about it from watching .GIFs on Reddit, and played with the level of teamwork of five strangers meeting each other for the first time at pick-up basketball. The Devils were awful against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday with a 22-shot effort. Tonight, the New Jersey Devils were much more competent. They attacked the Blue Jackets more and more often. While there were lulls in the attack, the Devils made Columbus and Bobrovsky work much harder. The Devils gave Mr. Bobrovsky sixteen in the first period alone and thirty-three overall. The Devils gave Mr. Bobrovsky plenty of shots in close-range and pushed for second-chance opportunities. The Devils made Columbus pay for their errors, forcing Bobrovsky to be great. Unfortunately for the Devils, Bobrovsky was sensational tonight. He stopped all the straight-up shot attempts, the rebound attempts, the pucks coming through traffic, and all of the others for his third straight shutout. The Devils lost their eighth in a row 0-2 namely because of how great Bobrovsky played.
I’m framing this 0-2 loss in this way to point out that this wasn’t really that bad of a game by the Devils. For one, the second goal against was an empty net goal, so this was effectively a 0-1 loss. For another point, the performance between Sunday’s loss and tonight’s loss was night and day. I cannot stress enough how poor Sunday’s game was to watch. It was akin to someone trying to dig a grave with a teaspoon. You know it’s not happening and it’s painful to watch someone try anyway. Tonight, the Devils made plays, made reads, and did plenty of things to compete with Columbus. They competed well with a playoff-bound Blue Jackets squad despite a roster containing a number of AHLers. For a lot of the talk I get about how the Devils need to lose, there’s always that qualifier, “I want them to compete.” The Devils did that tonight. So while this was their eighth straight loss and their second straight shutout loss, I’m not really disappointed or mad about this loss.
Enjoyment through players playing the game of hockey at least decently was on display for the Devils tonight. The top line of Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri were just better tonight. They were a dangerous trio, they had the better run of play against Brandon Dubinsky’s line, and they combined for a third of the team’s shots tonight. Joseph Blandisi and his teammates were far more effective than they were on Sunday. This forced Columbus’ hand a bit more; they couldn’t just cruise when the top line wasn’t out there. Adam Henrique was visible for several shifts, which is always nice to see. Keith Kinkaid was terrible in his last start. Tonight, he bounced back in a big way and played very well. While he was not tested as much as Bobrovsky, he had to make plenty of tough saves on his own. The one goal that beat him wasn’t his fault and, honestly, a goalie only giving up one goal is usually a good night for the goalie. Even Ben Lovejoy and Jon Merrill had a good night. There were plenty of positives amid a generally better performance by the Devils squad. That made the watching experience much better and that does adjust how I feel about this game (as well as the one before this).
From my perspective, their biggest problem tonight was Bobrovsky. And when a goalie is as hot as he is, that’s enough for the loss. Even if it’s the eighth straight one. So it goes.
15 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: Ryan Real appropriately praises Bobrovsky in his quick recap at The Cannon.
Returning Devils: On Sunday, the Devils were missing, well, a lot. They also did not have Damon Severson and Miles Wood in the lineup due to injuries. Both were absent for a short time as they played tonight. Wood was OK. He didn’t take too many penalties; the Devils didn’t revert to solely “Route 1” hockey when he was out there; and he was steady. Severson had a rougher night in a way. Severson and John Moore were paired up and they saw plenty of Alexander Wennberg, Nick Foligno, and Brandon Saad. That match-up did not go so well, although it did not lead to a goal against. Others against Columbus’ top line or other forwards were more even, so it was not like Severson was just poor all night long. He wasn’t. It was refreshing to see him with the puck on his stick instead of, say, Karl Stollery. Just that Wennberg unit match-up wasn’t so good.
A Fault: I’ve watched the video replay of the one goal against Kinkaid. I think this was Blandisi’s fault. The play began with the puck up high at the points before being fired in deep. Blandisi was there, he did a “drive by” block that didn’t work, and turned wide. While turning so widely and slowly, the play developed. Stefan Noesen did Kinkaid no favors by knocking his stick out of the way by accident, but Noesen tried to take his man. Jon Merrill tried to deny the pass from Sam Gagner, but that didn’t work. Gagner’s pass was a very good one. As Oliver Bjorkstand enters the scene and in position to receive the pass, I notice only two Devils on-screen. The first is Ben Lovejoy, who’s by the right side of his crease, which is where he’s expected to be. The other is Beau Bennett, who is in the left circle - in case Gagner sent the puck up the boards. No one is on Bjorkstand, who is too far away for both. The middle is typically covered by the center for this reason. Since Blandisi was up high and turning, Bjorkstand had the slot open for enough time to swoop in, take the pass, and fire a high one-timer past Kinkaid. A shot so good, I am still not mad about that being the goal against. This is the sort of thing Blandisi could stand to watch again and again to better understand why he needs to recognize his defensive assignments. Especially if the Devils are going to let him keep playing center.
I feel a bit bad picking on him as he otherwise had a pretty strong game for a bottom-six forward. However, being caught out of position on the one goal against a goalie all game makes one stand out.
Shot Leaders for NJ: Your shot leaders for the Devils tonight: Taylor Hall and Beau Bennett with five each. Hall was motoring all night long and he was taking plenty of initiative on the puck. He had the kind of night where you are reminded that he really is the most skilled forward on the team. Bennett just kept chipping away, especially in the first period. If he could do things like that more regularly, then I’d like his chances to stay on the team more and more. We’ll see.
What Does Tanking Look Like?: Pretty much this. Speaking of...
The Sherman Abrams Section: BOOM! The cannon only needed to go off once, but an easy ENG for Cam Atkinson made it twice. The final score did not look as good as the Devils’ performance. For the tread-drivers like Mr. Sherman Abrams, tonight’s a win-win. They got the eight straight ‘L’ and didn’t play to the level that would make fans wonder whether following this rebuild is worth it. While there are games going on as of this writing, the continued losing streak dropped NJ to be just one point ahead of Detroit for last in the East. Alas, other scores did not help. Detroit lost to keep that last place spot in the conference. Buffalo failed again to increase their gap over the Devils, but a four point gap looks like the Grand Canyon for a Devils team that hasn’t earned a point since the NHL Trade Deadline. The hope is that the Canes beat the Avs tonight. With Colorado as New Jersey’s next opponent, Mr. Sherman Abrams is afraid that the Devils may actually win that one. Earning wins makes Mr. Sherman Abrams’ feelings complicated. Losing streaks are easy for tanks. I don’t think this section will be so easy for much longer. We’ll see.
AHL Line: I asked Tracey of Thoughts Inside the Box, but Miles Wood, Nick Lappin, and Blake Coleman was not a line in Albany. It certainly had a good amount of energy. No, not the energy that leads to penalties and other dumb things. Energy as in speed, pace, pep, and so forth. When they were able to get forward, you could see the hustle from one of them. The problem was that they weren’t quite in sync and when they weren’t going forward, it wasn’t going much well at all. Wood, as mentioned before, was OK. I’m still not sold on Coleman or Lappin being NHL players. I understand that this is the time of the season to give extended looks to some players to see if they have a real future. For that, I think we’ll continue to see those players skate hard and try to make a good case for themselves. I don’t know if it’ll be while they’re together. Until some forwards come back from injury, though, it may remain.
Suggestion for Perhaps the Next Game on This Road Trip: I would selfishly like to see Pavel Zacha and Wood with Henrique. That may work better than tonight’s line of Zacha, Henrique, and Devante Smith-Pelly. while Henrique was noticeable, the other two were not so much. From an attempts differential, the line was great in 5-on-5. Despite positive differentials in attempts, they were out-shot in 5-on-5, though. Therefore, I’m not sure it’s a combination that works.
One Last Thought: Bjorkstrand now has four goals in four career games against New Jersey. I hope he isn’t going to become Denmark’s version of Alexei Morozov.
Your Take: The Devils were shutout again and lost their eighth in a row. I’m (somehow) more fine with this shutout loss to Columbus than the one before that. But that’s my view. I want to know yours. What could have the Devils done differently tonight? What should they learn from this game ahead of their next game in Colorado? Who was the best Devil in your eyes tonight? 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.