Tonight, the New Jersey Devils hosted the Philadelphia Flyers. Both teams were coming off a five-day break. While limited in what they could do, the Devils players and coaches had plenty of time to think about their five-game winless streak and get their minds right to try to end that streak. The atmosphere was in New Jersey’s favor too. The Rock was mostly filled with Devils fans as many Philadelphia fans were understandably concerned about a big playoff game in their city. The Devils even had a good start to this game. Yet, the Devils declined from the second period onward to disappoint the fans and lose an important rivalry game to the Flyers, 3-5.
I can understand that professionals may not care so much about rivalries as fans like I do. Still, this was an important game for New Jersey. They have yet to win in 2018. They need to get some wins within their division to keep playoff hopes alive. They do not have many home games in January; so there’s merit to wanting to succeed in the few times they get to play in front of their fans. Tonight was a sellout and mostly Devils fans who wanted something to cheer; the Devils players took them out of the game whilst taking themselves out. This was an important game and the Devils lost it decisively. How can that be anything but a disappointment?
Perhaps it was different for you, but I know when when I became disgusted with the performance. It was not the second period where the Devils were up 2-1 fairly early in it and proceeded to end that period down 2-3 and out-shot 5 to 11. It was in the third period. Not after the Devils wasted yet another power play opportunity. It was a little bit after Ivan Provorov hooked Travis Konecny with a perfect pass as the Devils kind of stopped during a delayed penalty call. Konecny took that pass in for a breakaway and scored on his own rebound to make it 2-4. It was about a minute and a half later when I realized the Devils entered the third period down one goal, started the period with a 5-on-4 situation for 1:18, gave up a goal, and still only had one shot on net. It was clear to me then that the Devils were not only not going to come back, but the effort was to even try to do it was not going to happen. And it didn’t. Other enraging points would be the really shameful defending and “not-backchecking” on a counter-attack that led to Michael Raffl making it 2-5 in the third; the team realizing what offense was only after going down three goals; and Drew Stafford’s garbage time PPG to flatter a power play performance that was just not good enough tonight. Feel free to pick, choose, and share your thoughts on when you knew this game was going to end and end badly.
This was a bad loss in that the Devils had opportunities to succeed, they failed to meet them, and the Flyers did so. The Devils had seven power plays and six within the first two periods. The officiating was definitely not a problem for the Devils. They scored just one goal outside of garbage time - a Kyle Palmieri one-timer from the Ovechkin Zone - and took a total of seven shots on net. Seven shots in 10:33 of power play time is just sad on its own. It was worse to witness it. Contrast with the Flyers, who not only scored on both of their power plays but did so after getting set up in their formation and finding the seams to set up great shots that went in the net. Outside of special teams, the Devils were able to go up twice in the game and the Flyers kept working to tie it up and go ahead. The Devils were not able to answer any of the Flyers’ goals after Wayne Simmonds’ deflection of a PPG until Stafford’s consolation goal. And they didn’t really attack often and get shots on Brian Elliott until the game was well out of doubt. This was bad in that the Flyers had a poor first period and rose up in response. The Devils had a good start to the game and either did not adjust to set things right, not even after a bad second period that should have been a wake-up call or their adjustments suffered. This was a bad loss.
A loss like this is kind of a Roschach test for fans. Depending on who you are pre-disposed to blaming or praising, certain things about this loss will stick out more than others and so you’ll likely point them out as being The Main Problem with this game. For example, if you’re unhappy that Cory Schneider was not a superhero in being beaten five times on 25 shots, then you’d see him as The Main Problem tonight and point out his flaws. For another example, if you were unhappy with Kyle Palmieri being mostly invisible outside of his power play goal, then you’d see him as the one and point out his flaws instead. This can apply from Damon Severson to Marcus Johansson to Travis Zajac to everyone on both power play units. As for me, I see the coaching staff as being as much fault for this one as any one else. From Geoff Ward and his ineffective power plays to John Hynes failing to make appropriate adjustments or even try some different looks like not leaning on the same two power play units after failing to even gain the zone on some of those situations. The correct answer is that everyone on the Devils, players and coaches, owns a part of this loss. They also have to take ownership on how to make things right. Going winless for six straight is never good and it is even worse in a division as tight as the Metropolitan.
I’m not going to go much further into this loss. There’s only two or three other things I want to point out. As much as I enjoy writing at length and in detail about games, I do not want to write and you probably do not want to read 2,200+ words that boil down to “The Devils blew another game and stunk it up by the end.” I may be repeating the sentiment, but what I put on the AAtJ Twitter account near the end of the game remains applicable:
Dear #NJDevils, hockey games are 60 minutes long and often require you to adjust in game as well as prepare on special teams. Maybe if you learned that you wouldn't have been winless for now six straight games and lose a rivalry game you led twice in.— All About the Jersey (@AATJerseyBlog) January 14, 2018
The Opposition Opinion: Duces31 has this recap at Broad Street Hockey. Duces is right in that Couturier is hot right now and his two goal, one assist performance powered the Flyers to a fourth-straight win.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
The Narrative of Nico vs. Nolan - Summarized: While I’d much rather have a win and/or a better performance, Nico Hischier was better than Nolan Patrick tonight. He set up Jesper Bratt for the game’s first goal and Patrick’s addition to the scoresheet was taking two high-sticking minors in the second period.
Stafford: One of the few non-negatives I can take away from this one is that Drew Stafford actually played like he knew he need to be somewhat impressive. He even threw a big hit in the first period, which is atypical for Stafford. How did he do? Well, the results were mixed. I liked the jump in his skates. He had a rush or two in a second period where the Devils had very few. It was nice he scored a meaningless power play goal at the end so he got on the board. Stafford was not so strong on defense, but he never was. Is he worth keeping in the lineup when Stefan Noesen is fully OK again? I don’t know. At least he appeared to give more of an effort than previous appearances, which is not saying much after witnessing the second half of this game.
One Last Thought: I know the Devils organization read this site. I know that players and those connected to them also read this site. I’m sure they know the team has not won since December 26, 2017. I would hope they would play like they know that in their coming games, all of which are against opponents within the division. I don’t want to say the sky is falling but extending the winless streak through next week will turn a team that could reasonably think about the playoffs into a team that may not be able to. Don’t look for help from other teams. It’s up to you, Devils players and coaches. Have a meeting, have a bag skate, have a long video session, whatever. Sort it out.
Your Take: This loss was bad and it was very disappointing. As I believe this is a sort of Rorschach test, who or what do you think was the biggest issue with the Devils tonight? What can they do and what should they do to sort out their problems before they play again on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.