It’s over! It’s finally over! The dulling pain provided by the 2016-17 New Jersey Devils is over! The Devils lost 1-4 to the Detroit Red Wings. It was a game that they weren’t likely to win as this was the last game ever at the famous Joe Louis Arena. I would be shocked if Detroit didn’t come out, feed off a raucous crowd, and play their hearts out to close it in style. I wasn’t shocked. Nor was I at the Devils’ slow start and paying the price for their errors. It was a game that they deserved to lose. Now it’s over for the season - and the Joe.
The hero of the night was clearly Riley Sheahan. Sheahan entered this game playing about a full season, over a hundred shots on net, and no goals. The term “slump,” would be putting it lightly. Sheahan snapped his own streak early in the first period. He was able to around Dalton Prout and towards the slot before roofing a shot over Cory Schneider. Minutes later, the Red Wings struck again when Tomas Tatar beat Jon Merrill to a rebound in front and promptly fired the puck into the net. The Devils’ response to both goals was muted as Detroit took control early on. They out-shot the Devils 17-5 in addition to creating a two goal lead. The Devils looked lost as they often did in this season.
The sadness rolled onto the second period for about half of it. The Red Wings didn’t pick on the Devils all period long. It wasn’t that bad, except for realizing that the Devils weren’t yet taking advantage of Detroit’s more muted play. Of course, a Prout turnover on a clearing attempt went right to Gustav Nyquist. He found Henrik Zetterberg, who was playing in his 1,000th NHL game tonight, who got around Prout, took the pass, and beat Schneider at a sharp angle to make it 0-3. From that point on, the Red Wings were cruising. And why not? New Jersey didn’t really give them too many opportunities to worry by that point.
Fortunately, the Devils did put up more of a fight from that point onward. Jimmy Howard was forced to face more shots and more difficult shots from the likes of Taylor Hall, Michael Cammalleri, and - believe it or not - Ben Thomson (he had three in the second period). The Devils were knocking on the proverbial door. It would be answered early in the third period. Jacob Josefson slid a long diagonal pass that somehow eluded several sticks right to John Moore. Moore fired in an even sharper angled shot than Zetterberg’s to beat Howard and put New Jersey at 1-3. Seconds later, a puck bounced off the toe of Hall’s skate and went off Howard’s shoulder and into the net. Suddenly, a comeback seemed possible. Alas, it was not to be. That goal was disallowed after review; the refs judged that Hall used a kicking motion. I thought it was accidental - Hall was skating in that direction, not trying to boot the puck. But my thoughts don’t matter. Still, the Devils swarmed up the Red Wings and Howard had to be very good to stop the surges of offense. He was only beaten one other time on a rebound shot by Stefan Noesen; but he was bailed out by the post.
The Red Wings’ offense would wake back up past the ten minute mark of the third period and keep the Devils more than honest. By this point, the crowd on the broadcast was more in a celebratory mood. There were lots of cheers. More octopi hit the ice during stoppages (31 total in the game, if I recall correctly). There was a wave. There was sing-a-longs to some songs like “Sweet Caroline” (expected) and “My Own Worst Enemy” (that surprised me). The Red Wings faithful were saying goodbye to their home and doing so with a winning score. Late in the third, Noesen was called for hooking after a Nyquist rush up ice. This power play for Detroit ended with a tic-tac-toe like play ending with Sheahan - the hero of the night - scoring his second of the season on Schneider’s right flank. There were over three minutes left, but it was all meaningless at that point. The crowd were elated and the Devils lost 1-4.
The loss means the Devils ended the season with a three game losing streak. That’s a streak part of a larger run where the Devils won exactly three games in their last 24 games. The Devils end this miserable season dead last in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. Those who wanted a tank back at the turn of the new year, well, you got one. Where will it end? They’ll finish 27th in the NHL unless Vancouver earns a point against Edmonton tonight. If they do, then the Devils will be 28th (they have more ROW than Arizona, so Arizona is set at 29th). All the same, they Devils earned their fortieth regulation loss of the season like so many others in this 2016-17 campaign. Last season, the feeling was more optimistic. Now, it feels like a new low because it’s the worst the Devils have done in a season since the 1980s. That’s why I’m glad that this long season is finally over.
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: Peter at Winging it in Motown has this recap.
Other Red Wings Game Thoughts: Sheahan scoring the first goal of the last game and the last goal ever at the Joe was massive after a long season of Sestito-like futility at scoring. For him, for the team, and for the fans. In my mind, he’s the hero of the night.
That said, Henrik Zetterberg had a masterful performance. In addition to a goal, he earned his 51st assist of the season, he put up six out of the team’s thirty five shots, he constantly pushed the play forward, and he was an offensive threat all night long. He may be 36, but the night capped off a 68-point season which further shows how important he is to the organization. Tonight was a milestone night for him personally in addition to the Joe closing. It was also just a great night of hockey for Zetterberg too.
Howard did not get as many shots on target as Schneider(25-35), but received just a few more shooting attempts than him (50-48). I was impressed with how he was moving. While he wasn’t as crucial as Jaroslav Halak was for the Islanders last night, Howard did come up big when the Devils’ offense showed up more often in the second half of the game. It seems a bit trite to point that out now, but a lesser performance by him would have made this much closer.
Other Devils Game Thoughts: Damon Severson was a healthy scratch for this game because of how he was torched by Alan Quine for a goal against on Saturday. This meant we, the fans, got to witness Jon Merrill make some errors, Dalton Prout be involved for two goals against with his brand of “defense,” and Michael Kapla not really contributing much of anything. As bad as Severson’s error was, I fail to see why he needs to be punished while worse defensemen were able to get minutes. If the idea is to give guys more of a chance in the most meaningless game of the season, then why not sit one of the older, more known quantities? It was a coaching decision that hurt the Devils tonight and makes me further question John Hynes’ abilities to see this team to a better place. If he and Shero are of the understanding that Severson is a problem, then I’m really concerned about the viability of this rebuild.
Poor Schneider. The guy gets shelled for seventeen shots, his teammates don’t give him enough support, and the four goals against only further hurt his numbers. Such is the harsh reality of being a goaltender on a bad hockey team. Even playing well, like Schneider did tonight, isn’t enough.
I really hope Joseph Blandisi and Miles Wood get smarter in this coming offseason. Both players have talent to at least be useful bottom-six forwards. They’re just not very smart when it comes to discipline, reading the play, and defense.
I was impressed with how involved Hall was on offense with four shots on goal and a disallowed goal. Pavel Zacha struggled tonight and wasn’t a huge factor. I did like Beau Bennett with them, though. I think Bennett fits in nicely on this roster and it shouldn’t cost too much to give him another year at it.
In terms of squeezing the stick the most, Michael Cammalleri definitely tried to end his own goal drought tonight. I can’t fault the man taking five shots on net, or 20% of the team’s total tonight. He should be firing away. But Howard was able to stop them all. I question if this is it from him for a number of reasons, but we can discuss that later.
What’s Next: The 2016-17 season is over. So what happens now?
First, New Jersey Devils players will be clearing out their lockers. This is a big event for the media as they collect final quotes regarding the next season, free agency, and more from the players, coaches, and management. We may receive some hints as far as what could happen in the coming months.
Second, New Jersey is done but Albany is not. They’re in a playoff race and, should they make it, will have one last go at the Calder Cup before the organization leaves New York’s capital. Not all of the young Devils will go to Albany. Off the top of my head, Zacha is ineligible, Kapla is going back to school to complete his courses, and I don’t believe Severson is eligible either. I would expect Blake Coleman, Joseph Blandisi, Miles Wood, and Ben Thomson to re-join the A-Devs later this week.
Third, there are the World Championships. That annual international event that is run by the IIHF and the NHL does participate in. We’ll see if any Devils are invited to the event in the near future.
Fourth, there’s the NHL Draft Lottery. Elliotte Friedman at Sportsnet says it’s expected to be April 29. How Vancouver does tonight will determine the final set of odds for the Devils.
Following all of that, June will be a massive month between the expansion draft, the NHL entry draft, the negotiation period for free agents, and free agency beginning on July 1.
Overall and most of all, we are not done. The Devils season is over, but there’s a lot for us to write about. There’s a season to analyze (with another tracking project I’m going to do). There’s an offseason to preview and look closer at what the Devils should do. There will be plenty of prospect profiles for a draft where the Devils will have many picks within the first four rounds. There will be plenty of content here. The Devils may be done, but the hockey does not stop at All About the Jersey.
Thank You: As this is the end of another season, it’s a good place as any to specifically thank several people.
First, I want to thank my loved ones for supporting me throughout all of these years blogging about the Devils, whether it’s a game night, rushing to get a news reaction up, or working on something for a post on Monday. I cannot do it without them; they know who they are.
Second, I want to thank the other writers at All About the Jersey. I thank Brian, CJ, Gerard, Mike, and Alex for making posts on a weekly basis and helping out when necessary. They help keep this site something worth reading every day and provides other perspectives and opinions. I thank Matt for the fantasy hockey posts; I hope they have helped some of you do well in your pools and leagues. I thank Steve and Chris for helping get short posts up when news breaks so we’re more timely in stating what happened and giving you a place to discuss it. I thank Nate for his links posts for providing another way to know what’s going on in the league and other not-so-urgent news about the Devils. I thank Devin for being a massive help with previews and recaps for this season. This is a group effort and without them, this site wouldn’t be what it was in this past season and what it is today. I thank them all.
Third, I thank for all of the additional support from the Devils “scene” online. Whether it’s someone on r/devils or NJDevs.com or the Devils forum at HFBoards linking to something written here; someone interacting with @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter; David Sarch having one of the AAtJ people on Talking Red; or Ryan Stimson stopping by to provide some analysis that no one else is doing at the moment, it all makes the community larger. I’ve never been very good when it comes to that sort of thing, but I appreciate it all the same. It’s proof that we, the Devils fans, are a larger group than some will recognize.
Fourth, and perhaps most of all, I thank you, the reader. In this day and age, who wants to read long posts about the Devils? Who wants analysis into something that doesn’t seem like a big deal? Who wants data that isn’t in a pretty visual that’s short on details or explanation on what it means? Who wants all of this content? The answer to all of that is you. Some of you, I met. Most of you, I have not. I thank and appreciate you all the same. You all are the proof that sites like this one matters. Therefore, you, the reader, matter. Sites that are short on drama, long on reasoning and explanation, and focuses on what this site is all about. This is a Devils blog. And I will try to not take you for granted as we, the writers, ensure that this site continues to be All About the New Jersey Devils. Thank you for reading this site whether it is in the past, it is for the first time today, and for the future starting tomorrow. We will continue to do what we do because your readership supports how we do what we do.
Please leave your thoughts about this game, this season, or whatever about the Devils in the comments. For one last time until preseason in September, thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow for our awards for the Devils’ 2016-17 season.
0 games left. It’s finally over.