Earlier today, I wrote up about how Taylor Hall is the Superstar Left Winger of the New Jersey Devils. Among the heaps of praise in that post, I highlighted how great he has been in 5-on-5 play in 2017-18. Tonight (and at least tomorrow too), Hall was ruled out of the game with a hand injury - presumably something he’s been nursing that past couple of weeks. Hall was sorely missed as the New Jersey Devils came up empty against goaltender Petr Mrazek in a 0-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
How the Devils lost this game can be made in two ways. Let’s begin by looking at it from a more optimistic perspective.
OK, so Hall was not in the game and he was missed because, hey, he’s a Superstar. How can you not miss a Superstar? Still, the Devils ran up 37 shots (which is a lot) against a Detroit team that didn’t exactly put on a master-class of even strength play or even defense in general. Mrazek got hot, the Devils didn’t get the bounces like Detroit did for at least two of their goals, and posts denied the Devils twice for equalizers. It wasn’t as if the Red Wings made the Devils look like scrubs for sixty minutes. It just wasn’t their night to score and, hey, that happens to pretty much every team at some point of every season.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, look to special teams. Once again, the PK was great. Sure, I’m a little baffled at Sami Vatanen not blasting a wide open shot from the center point during one of the kills. But it’s a PK, he made a pass that led to some killed clock, and it was a one-goal game at the point. It wasn’t the time or place to risk a blocked shot coming the other way for an odd man power play rush. Still, the Devils’ PK was fairly strong with only four shots allowed on two opportunities. The Devils drew five situations and actually tried to make the most of four of them. After two weeks of a power play process that has been wanting, it was refreshing to see the power play actually functioned like one. Pucks were moving across the “royal road,” the Devils were keeping possession after gaining the zone, and good shots were taken. Specifically, 11 of the team’s 37 shots generated from their five situations - which doesn’t include one of the two posts. Whereas the PP has been converting in spite of its play for most of this month, the Devils utilized their 1-3-1 formation more appropriately. Those are positives to take away - and the power play is a pretty big one since Hall was not involved.
On another night, the Devils would have scored a bunch of goals, took the lead, and probably win this one outright. Alas, this was the night where Mrazek got hot. The Red Wings got some bounces for their first two goals against and they really only needed one. It happens. There are 38 more games; move onto the next one and any results taken from Boston or Nashville are big points. Not just in the standings but to show that perhaps the world isn’t ending yet for the Devils.
All of the above is certainly true. I respect any fan who comes away from this game feeling something similar. I cannot say it matches my feelings. My initial thought at the buzzer to end regulation was this: I didn’t make a case for Hall as a MVP candidate in my post, but this game surely did it for me! This team was just not good enough in even strength play tonight. In the first period, Hall’s absence forced different lines and they just did not stay on the same page. I was waiting for someone to step up and no one really did at even strength. Travis Zajac lost plenty of pucks to the opposition. Miles Wood did not provide much energy. Pavel Zacha probably threatened the most (the numbers at Natural Stat Trick backup that Marcus Johansson, Zacha, and Drew Stafford did the most good things) and he couldn’t buy a goal. Brian Boyle and Blake Coleman were OK for fourth-liners but the Devils needed more than fourth-liners to be themselves. I can somewhat forgive rookies Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt being neutralized. Veteran Kyle Palmieri, less so. He was a ghost in 5-on-5 play on a night where he should have done a lot more. The defense was OK unless it wasn’t. No one really excelled.
Not that Hall would have made this a win by himself, but his inclusion would have meant that the rookies would have their Hall-Star to help them out, Palmieri could have different support, and Wood could fly under the radar for lack of a better term. by the end of the game, the Devils were out-attempted 43-45 by Detroit and out-shot 25-26 in 5-on-5 play. As for chances, Detroit nearly matched the Devils 21-22 and just edged them 7-6 in high-danger chances. Given that the Devils trailed in most of this game and Detroit wasn’t particularly aggressive or effective in their forecheck, that’s not good at all. Hall would have given the Devils a better chance to at least put the tide in their favor and, who knows, perhaps find that something to beat Mrazek tonight.
While there were some improvements as the game went on, the Devils really did not pick up the pace or take command when they were down one or two or three goals. If anything, they sagged for a shift or two after each goal against - which is not at all heartening to see on home ice against a Detroit squad that is unlikely to play beyond 82 games this season. Two of those three goals were just bad breaks.
- Goal #1: A low shot by Dylan Larkin led to a rebound that Tyler Bertuzzi put home on Cory Schneider’s right flank. The Devils had opportunities to get a zone exit earlier, failed, and both Larkin and Bertuzzi were free enough to make their moves.
- Goal #2: A simple breakout led by Jonathan Ericsson led to a drop pass at the right point for David Booth. Booth took a slapshot, the puck ramped up off Sami Vatanen’s stick blade, and so the shot surprised Schneider (and everyone else) when it went into the top corner shortside.
- Goal #3: Detroit has New Jersey pinned back a bit. Andreas Anthanasiou was open in the bottom of the left circle. He turned and fired a pass across the slot to Dylan Larkin. The pass went past Damon Severson, Stefan Noesen’s stick, and John Moore. As Moore was facing the pass and not the open Larkin behind him, Larkin just hammered a one-timer past Moore and Schneider’s right flank. The shot hit the back post hard and bounced out. A video review was required to confirm that, yes, he scored.
There was a fourth goal for Gustav Nyquist, who beat out Miles Wood to the slot for a one-timer in Schneider’s face. But a video review took that late goal away as the puck hit the crossbar and not the bar behind it. Still, each of those goals happened in each period and there was more than enough time for a response. The Devils really did not provide one at even strength. While their power play was far more threatening (and easier to watch) than lately, they didn’t convert either. Opportunities were for the taking and the Devils simply did not do so tonight. Even if you thought Schneider could have had the second goal or maybe not kick the rebound out that led to the first goal, the Devils still would have lost since they didn’t beat Mrazek anyway. They didn’t take enough advantage and/or opportunities to generate enough dangerous shots that could have beaten him. That’s on the skaters.
What makes this loss more deflating is that the Devils now get to go to Boston to play a team that has not lost in regulation in their last sixteen games. On Thursday, they’ll host a Nashville team that sits atop (or maybe near the top by the time Thursday comes around) a really tight Central Division. With only two wins this month, the Devils are only in a playoff position by the grace of most of the other teams in the Metropolitan Division stumbling in January. On paper, this was the one to win before two really difficult games. Now, they need to sort it out and it’s bleak given that they couldn’t sort it out at home, after a notable loss to a rival, and to a team that’s likely going to go golfing this Spring. From that perspective, it’s hard to be optimistic.
Again, from my viewpoint and how I felt about watching this live, I’m admiteddly on the pessimist view of this loss. I don’t think an optimistic standpoint is wrong or should be ignored. I would agree that the sky isn’t falling for the Devils and they shouldn’t act like it amid these poor January results. It’s just that I don’t see this loss in the same way. Especially now that I saw on Twitter that there was a players-only meeting taking place after tonight’s loss, as reported in this Tweet by Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record.
#NJDevils did have a closed-door, players-only meeting after the game. Several veterans stood up and talked, Greene, Boyle, Stafford, Schneider among them.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) January 23, 2018
Nothing says “high hopes” like a closed-door, players-only meeting after a 0-3 loss.
The Opposition Opinion: From Winging it in Motown, Kyle has this recap.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
The Return of Hayes: Jimmy Hayes played in his first game since December 15. It showed. The right winger was one of the three Devils who did not register a shot on net tonight in his 9:13 of play. His “highlight” was trying to breakaway from the neutral zone after a puck got past a fallen Nick Jensen, only for Jensen to get back up and catch up to Hayes before the winger could do anything resembling offense with the puck. He wasn’t so heinous that I think the Devils will go with seven defensemen tomorrow instead of eleven forwards. But I wouldn’t mind if that actually happened.
An Annoyance: While some may still carp about Vatanen not having a go on a penalty kill in the second period, the play that made me frustrated came much earlier in the second period. Palmieri was sprung over the Detroit blueline on his first shift. If he hustled, he had a chance at a one-on-one for a goal. Maybe he could have drawn a call or something. Instead, the offensive winger skated to his left, allowed a Red Wing to catch up to him, and negated something that could have led to something in a 0-1 game. The mitigating news was that the Devils did have two good offensive shifts afterward. But I’m still baffled why an offensive player like Palmieri wouldn’t take the initiative. Then again, he really didn’t take much of it at all in 5-on-5 play tonight.
Another Silver Lining: Drew Stafford was one of the top Devils from an attempts-differential perspective tonight in 5-on-5 play. He also had three shots, a backhanded attempt at a wraparound that almost fooled Mrazek in the first period, and he drew two penalties in the third period. If nothing else, Stafford has been trying to make an impact over the last couple games. He knows that he has to if he wants to stay in the lineup with some regularity. Even with current injuries, his spot is not 100% secure.
The Larkin Night: Petr Mrazek was Detroit’s best player tonight. Outside of him, who impressed? While he wasn’t the best in CF% tonight, Dylan Larkin made the largest impact on the game. He set up Bertuzzi’s goal and helped him get four shots on net. Larkin scored on a one-timer that effectively put the game out of reach in the third period. Larkin almost cost Detroit with taking two straight minor penalties, including a totally unnecessary closing-hand-on-the-puck call right not long after his first penalty. Larkin’s speed was on display whenever he had the opportunity. While others had better games in the run of play and did not take two minors, I couldn’t ignore #71 when he was on the ice. Combined with the scoresheet, Larkin stood out among the non-goaltenders on the Red Wings.
One Last Thought: Maybe it’s trivia, maybe it’s me, but I’m glad this was the one and only Monday night game of the 2018 part of this season.
Your Take: Now that you know what I think and what a more optimistic take on this game might be, I want to know what you think. Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about this loss? What can/should the Devils do to try and be better tomorrow (if that is possible)? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Ryan for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.