Salt. I have a lot of it after tonight’s game between the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins. If you’re a Devils fan, you’re probably a little salty too. Sure, the Bruins have been crazy hot what with not losing any games in regulation in their last 17 games and winning 14 of those 17 games. Indeed, the Bruins are a very talented team with one of the top forward lines in the league. After a lackluster performance against Detroit, the Devils brought the game right to Boston and did a whole lot of things right. Such is sport that they lost despite their performance. I know. It happens but I’m still salty about this loss.
I’m salty that this was the night were injuries have started to really all come together. The Devils have been fortunate in that they have been spaced out in the first half of this season. In tonight alone we have seen John Moore, Sami Vatanen, Cory Schneider, Damon Severson, and Marcus Johansson all get knocked down, slow to get up, and went to the bench or the locker room for some time. Moore played most of the game, but not in the last five minutes. Vatanen also played most of the game, including an astounding nine minutes in the third period. Schneider was shaken up after the second goal against and was ruled out during the second intermission. Severson hobbled to the back after a shot hit him in the ankle, but he returned to the bench. Johansson was elbowed in the head late in the game by a disgrace to the game named Brad Marchand; he wouldn’t return. That’s on top of a team without Keith Kinkaid, Brian Gibbons, and Taylor Hall. That’s a lot to handle even if Hall returns on Thursday (please) and only one or two of those five players are out for anything more than part of tonight’s game. Even if you feel these players aren’t so crucial, a whole rash of injuries are a quick way to undercut anyone’s season.
I’m salty that this was another night where the officiating managed to baffle the masses. In the second period, Miles Wood managed to be tagged for interference and a cross-check on the same play. This was seconds after Nico Hischier was definitely cross-checked down by Marchand and far harder than anything Wood did. Because of course Marchand would take it too far physically. He’s a chumpstain in the game of hockey. Wood’s cross-check was away from the play and it was lighter than 90% of the scrums you see in most hockey games. Somehow that deserved two minors. During that penalty kill, Johansson took a tripping minor so the Devils had a long 3-on-5 to kill. Patrice Bergeron scored as Schneider stretched out and hurt something in the process. That made it 2-2. Then we got the mother of all delays as the arena staff had a malfunctioning scoreboard. Times were wrong, officials had to relay on post-it notes what was the official count, and players were just idling. So of course Boston’s top power play unit got a load of rest to continue the 5-on-3 advantage as Bergeron’s goal only wiped out one of Wood’s minors, leaving it at a two-man disadvantage. The Devils managed to kill that.
The refs a whole lot go until a make up was called late in the third. I was hyped for it and the Devils’ power play, uh, was not so effective on it. Near the end of it, Ken Appleby covered up the puck from a shorthanded attack. With two refs on the ice, both missed Marchand just throw an elbow right to Johansson’s head. They weren’t even beefing; it was Marchand being Marchand. The Bruins are fine with it. Their fans are fine with it. By calling nothing and inevitably not giving him the lengthy suspension he deserves for it, the league is fine with it too. Just like with offside reviews, unless a “name player” on a “name team” is affected, then no one will discuss it.
I’m salty that the Devils did a whole lot right and ran into a wall of a goaltender. At least this wall has been a wall all season long and in seasons past. The Devils unloaded 39 shots on Tuukka Rask. You wanted traffic in front? You got it - it even led to one of the two goals as Miles Wood tipped down a Will Butcher shot in Rask’s grill. Yet, Rask was able to get everything else somehow despite constant masses in front of him. You wanted drives at the net? Rask got those too. You wanted a hot start? How about 20 shots on net, constant puck battles won, and shifts that made Patrice Bergeron look like Marc-Andre Bergeron? The only issue: Rask. He was too good. It could be argued that there could have been more high-danger chances, but I question the count at Natural Stat Trick. The Devils had at least 5 shots at Rask’s doorstep in the third period alone. It could be argued in favor of the Devils’ performance that Boston needed Finland’s answer to Lundqvist to bail them out over and over - and he succeeded. It doesn’t make the night less frustrating.
I’m salty that the goals against went the way they did. For the second straight night, Vatanen’s stickblade yields a goal against. A little shot by Riley Nash popped up and took an odd arc over Schneider for Boston’s first goal. A fluke goal, but a goal against all the same. The second goal was a power play goal by Bergeron from a situation where Wood should have received fewer than four minutes and perhaps even no minutes. The third goal was a 2-on-1 led by Marchand, who despite his violent stupidity, is very skilled on the puck. That 2-on-1 happened because Ben Lovejoy thought pinching in was a good idea. I don’t know who told the slowest defenseman on the team that he is A) allowed to pinch and B) that he should pinch at all, but he did it. Puck gets past him, Marchand leads it, he makes a move, and he scores his 20th goal and 48th point of the season. Of all of the three goals, Schneider maybe should have stopped it, but it wasn’t as if a scrub from Providence went in and took a direct shot. Marchand is very good when he’s not being a thug on the ice. Even with three allowed, a 2-3 deficit going into the third period is far from impossible to make up. And the Devils certainly tried their best as they out-shot the Bruins 12-4. But it wasn’t enough and the feeling that the goaltending - by Schneider, Kinkaid, and now Ken Appleby - has to be near-perfect for the team to succeed isn’t a good one if only because it sort of absolves the skaters.
Most of all, I’m salty that the Devils otherwise put on a very fine performance in general. Consider the situation. The Devils played last night. They played poorly enough to have a players-only, closed-door meeting after the game. They were going on the road to play a team that was 13-0-3 in their last 16 games. They were going to play a team on their way to surpassing Tampa Bay to lead the Atlantic. They were going to face up against a lineup led by Canada’s Datsyuk and his 20+ goal scoring linemates. All signs pointed to at least a decisive loss. The Devils said nuts to that; they brought the fire right to the Bruins. Damon Severson was a monster out there, Sami Vatanen was a monster out there, Brian Boyle and Miles Wood played inspired hockey even Jimmy Hayes had a positive shift or two, and overall the Devils were just playing that much better. Their skating was a little swifter, their hits were just a little harder, their drive to the net was more pronounced. This was the sort of response after a lame 0-3 loss to sixth-place in the Atlantic that I didn’t expect and absolutely enjoyed. The players-only meeting gambit actually led to a better game - and it wasn’t enough. The Devils dropped 39 on Boston - and it wasn’t enough. The Devils had contributions from most everyone - and it wasn’t enough. It was far better than last night against Detroit - and it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough.
Now the Devils get to “enjoy” Nashville with potentially more players on the shelf and really risk falling in the standings sooner rather than later. Frustration isn’t even the word.
The Opposition Opinion: Not a link to the recap, but Colin Beswick posted at Stanley Cup of Chowder whether Marchand will get a suspension for elbowing Marcus Johansson in the head. I’ll answer the question for Colin: Oh, hell yeah he should. It was a blatant elbow to the head! There’s a whole rule dedicated to headshots for plays just like that one! Given that two refs somehow missed it, the NHL needs to step up. Whether the league will get their heads out their rectums and have the testicular fortitude to do so is another question.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Adding More Salt: From Chris Ryan of NJ.com on Twitter:
Miles Wood said refs admitted they made a mistake on his double minor. Should have been one penalty, not two.— Chris Ryan (@ChrisRyan_NJ) January 24, 2018
I repeat that I’m very salty about this game. Of course the refs made a mistake and told Wood that! Of course they did nothing about it! Of course!
Severson Dream: When Damon Severson was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils had 23 shooting attempts and 15 shots on net. The Devils had 43 attempts and 30 shots total as a team. When Damon Severson was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Bruins had only 11 shooting attempts and 5 shots on net. Severson faced an array of Bruins tonight, including at least five minutes against David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, at least six minutes against David Krejci and Ryan Spooner, and at least four minutes against Bergeron. Severson was positive against them all. He was great in his own end. He scored a beautiful goal in the second period, finishing a cross-ice feed from Johansson off a rush up ice. He stole a puck in the third period and went off on a breakaway in an individual effort that was Hall-like. It was a shame Rask stopped him. Severson was absolutely excellent tonight. This was the sort of performance where he shows that he absolutely can be a top-pairing defenseman. I really hope he is not too hurt from the shot that hit him in the ankle in the third period.
Stepping up for Appleby: The Devils defense in general was pretty good, Lovejoy pinching aside. I was especially impressed at how the team clamped down in the third period. Appleby only faced four shots and eight attempts in his period of relief. That’s a very low amount for anyone, much less in the house of a very tough Boston Bruins squad. This was a lot better than Appleby’s debut in Philadelphia where the goalie was left on an island many times.
I’d like to see how the team will handle a full game with Appleby in net. Short of a miraculous recovery for Kinkaid or a really, really minor injury for Schneider, I would have to think Appleby will make his first NHL start against Nashville on Thursday. With Eddie Lack hurt, we could very well see Mackenzie Blackwood in New Jersey for the first time too. It’s hard to maintain a strong performance for a long while, especially against a tough opponent. We’ll see what else could be stepped up for it.
This Line Didn’t Work...But These Other Ones Did: With Hall out again, there were some shifts in the lines tonight. Jesper Bratt got to ride with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri. To say this didn’t work out would be an understatement. In 5-on-5 play, the Bruins took 16 attempts, 11 shots, and scored 2 goals against them. The Devils were pinned back as there was just one shot on net and five attempts on net when those three were together in 5-on-5 play. They saw a lot of Bergeron’s line, but the line that really crushed them was Krejci, Spooner, and Jake DeBrusk. It was only for about three minutes but it was pretty much all-Boston for those shifts. It’s one thing for a line to struggle but it was really, really obvious tonight.
The good news is that the other lines thrived. Johansson, Zacha, and Stafford were 5-on-5 powerhouses with loads of Devils shots being taken when they were out there. Nico Hischier had some success with Wood and Stefan Noesen. Brian Boyle, Blake Coleman, and Jimmy Hayes were better tonight. The forwards definitely need a big dose of Vitamin Hall, but the group was more offensive than they were against Detroit and they needed to be. Alas, Rask.
One Last Thought: I’m not going to criticize the penalty kill. Defending a long 3-on-5 is hard enough. The power play - only five shots on net with four opportunities? Sure, there were some abbreviated ones, but after a functional performance against Detroit - that is what comes out? This is an underrated aspect in this loss. Especially since the Devils had a late, two-minute advantage in the third period whereupon one (1) shot actually was on target. This in a 2-3 game! Geoff Ward, what are you even doing? John Hynes, how can you keep this guy on your staff?
Your Take: I’m salty about this one. Devils lost 2-3 to Boston; suspend Marchand. Wait, put a hashtag on it. #SuspendMarchand There. Now you know what I think and feel, I want to know what you think and feel about this one. Who impressed you? Who didn’t? How long should Marchand be suspended for? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.