The New Jersey Devils lost 0-3 for the second time this week. Tonight, it was to the Nashville Predators with a poor performance that makes me very glad there’s a break in the season for the All-Star Game. The Devils are hurting big time on their roster and the healthy ones just put up a lackluster effort at the Rock tonight. With four straight losses and on a run where the Devils have won two of their last twelve games, the Devils are mired in a big slump.
While the Predators are a top tier team in this league, they didn’t need to put in a top tier effort to prevail tonight. I’m not saying the Predators were bad. Just that they put out a perfectly B-level performance. It was more than enough to get another win as they try to stay atop the Central Division. Pekka Rinne stopped 27 shots that he mostly saw and had no real issue stopping. The Face of the League, P.K. Subban, stood out as he scored the first NHL goal against Ken Appleby, he made the defensive play on a terrible Travis Zajac pass that sprung Viktor Arvidsson for a shorthanded goal, and carried Alexei Emelin for most of the night. In addition to his shorthanded goal, Arvidsson was constantly in New Jersey’s end of the rink. He was also by Appleby for Subban’s goal and Mattias Ekholm’s goal, which deflected off Kyle Palmieri’s skate. Those three Predators were a cut above everyone else tonight and they powered this 0-3 defeat for the Devils.
Somehow, this game was worse than the 0-3 loss to Detroit earlier this week. In that game, the Devils made Petr Mrazek work somewhat hard for his shutout. They had a power play that was actually threatening. They put up 37 shots on the man on top of two posts. Tonight? The Devils’ power play was a negative as they conceded a goal while generating exactly one (1) shot on Rinne; many of their scoring chances were easily seen shots by Rinne; they had four 2-on-1 rushes and all four had passes that led to no shots on them, and one of their two post shots was a Stefan Noesen backhander hitting off the outside of the post. Even the post shots weren’t as hopeful as they were on Monday. Nashville matched the Devils in 5-on-5 results even with fewer zone entries as the Devils spent large chunks of the game without a shot on net - despite actually getting over Nashville’s blueline with some regularity. The Predators’ defensive play was on point. And that lack of success on offensive moves just highlighted any miscues that led to odd man rushes against New Jersey. I understand the Devils were even more shorthanded than they were on Monday night, but if the Devils mustered an offensive effort that made a team lean on their goalie without Hall in two straight games, then tonight could have been much better than what the Rock saw tonight.
The thing about this loss is that it is foolish to point a finger at one or two players. This was very much a team loss. Travis Zajac has been bad and he was bad tonight, yes. Palmieri has become a ghost in 5-on-5 play. Jesper Bratt isn’t sparking anything and didn’t spark much tonight. Pavel Zacha was killing it with Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford and he was run over in 5-on-5 play with Bratt and Palmieri. Miles Wood and Nico Hischier had some good moves but their shooting (or lack thereof) left a lot to be desired. Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen didn’t provide much of an offensive impact. (Well, Butcher would’ve had a goal if Wood didn’t slide into Rinne prior to the shot.) This is all off the top of my head. I’m sure we can find faults with others, but I think my point is clear: This loss falls on the team as a whole.
As such, there isn’t a whole lot more to say about this one. There will now be a short break until January 30. Hope among all hopes that Taylor Hall will be back for that one. Ditto for Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid. As well as Ken Appleby has done under the circumstances, relying on the #3 goalie isn’t going to get the Devils very far. But also hope among all hopes that the coaches and the healthy players figure things out. The power play has been a large waste of time. While the team’s been better in possession, they’re not finishing as well as they could be - and we saw the team overthink some pretty obvious shooting situations tonight. While the team’s not giving up as many shots, their defensive issues have become very costly. A lot has to be figured out ahead of a crucial and very busy February where they will play 14 games in 28 days. Tonight was a stinker and Nashville benefited for it. It is what it is. But this needs to end as soon as possible.
The Opposition Opinion: Alex Eichner has this short recap at On the Forecheck. He appropriately praises The Face of the League.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Appleby’s First Start: Ken Appleby did the best he could. For almost the first thirty minutes tonight, he was still perfect. His best save was a shot towards his left flank (thank you John Moore for the non-defense on that play, by the way), where he just lunged over and blocked it away with his left shoulder. His perfect run in the NHL did end. He was beaten five-hole on a slapshot from the right point by The Face of the League, P.K. Subban. Even with a fly-by screen by Arvidsson, Appleby was just beaten low on the shot. The second goal against was a deflection, so whatever. The third goal against was from a slapshot in 2-on-1 from Arvidsson. It was a good shot but not a great one to allow. At least it was moot at that point since New Jersey was unlikely to score by that point of the game and, well, they didn’t. Still, Appleby kept the Devils in the game for most of this one and that’s all I can really expect. To that end, I do not blame him too much for this loss. Even if he stopped the first and third ones, all things being equal, New Jersey still loses this one. Goalies don’t score goals.
The Return of Rooney: Kevin Rooney was called up tonight. He made some appearances last season that were entirely forgettable. I wished John Quenneville was called up instead. It was noted that Rooney had four shorthanded goals out of the nine he had this season, so perhaps New Jersey wanted an extra penalty killer. Rooney ended up playing only fourteen seconds on the PK. So much for that logic. Rooney played 11:48 tonight and managed to take three shots on net. Outside of his rough first shift, the run of play went well with Rooney on the ice. He even did draw a penalty when Austin Watson tripped him in the third period - not that the power play did anything right, but there’s that. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Rooney played a really good game. There were shifts where he was just out there, not contributing much. But he wasn’t an anchor, he wasn’t a taking anything away from the team, he wasn’t a real problem tonight. I suppose that’s something on a night like this one.
First Line Woes: Zacha was moved up to center Bratt and Palmieri. This was a kind of reward after two good performances. With Johansson out, a move needed to be made anyway. I understood the thinking. The actual practice thereof was rough as this unit was wrecked in 5-on-5 play. The Devils had 3 shooting attempts when these three were together whereas the Predators had 12. This line was out-shot 2-9 in 5-on-5 play tonight. Most of their minutes were either against Kyle Turris’ line or Ryan Johansen’s line whilst facing Nashville’s top two pairings that separately feature Roman Josi and The Face of the League, P.K. Subban. The Zacha line lost those matchups big-time. This only added to the offensive struggle the Devils had in 5-on-5 play tonight. Given that Bratt and Palmieri have been run over in 5-on-5 play in Detroit and Boston games, perhaps John Hynes should break them up. Because different centers for them - Hischier, Zajac, and now Zacha - has just not worked. I don’t think it’s only the centers.
Do Something with this Power Play: I haven’t written much about the supposed horror of Brian Boyle and Travis Zajac being on the same power play unit as we’ve seen in recent weeks. Namely because when I see Bratt or Johansson or Palmieri or Butcher or Vatanen lose possession or fail on a pass, I don’t think the issue is really with Zajac and Boyle being out on the same unit. The coaches have got away from that in the past few games. But Zajac’s attempted pass to Wood in the slot was a risky one that the team paid dearly for. Yes, if it was perfect, it’s a great chance. That’s one of my problems with Geoff Ward’s 1-3-1 formation. It has the players attempt passes across the Royal Road, allowing opposing penalty killers to just wait to pick off or disrupt the pass. This one was lower than usual and, what with the Devils being down 0-2, I get the idea of taking a risk. But this wasn’t a good decision and the Devils paid for it. I expect Zajac to receive even less PP time for it (definitely when Hall returns and even more definitely whenever Johansson is available). But the system that allows for such a decision will likely remain. Something still has to be done about that as this power play struggles to utilize its man advantage correctly.
Injury Scares: Less than a minute before Subban’s goal, Watson hit Damon Severson knee-on-knee. Severson went down and was helped off the ice. The good news is that Severson did return to the game. Shortly after that goal, Wood tried to cut inside to make a move on Rinne. He slid into Rinne and the goal and then into the boards. He was slow to get up as well. Wood would also return to the game. The last thing the Devils need are even more injuries; hopefully they are truly OK and weren’t just playing through a lot of pain just to play.
Hall Out, Boyle In: After the game, the Devils have announced that Taylor Hall will not be at the NHL All-Star Game. Brian Boyle will replace him.
Boyle will replace Taylor Hall at #NHLAllStar Weekend. Hall will miss the festivities due to a right hand/thumb injury.— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 26, 2018
Hall gets some more time to rest, which is crucial. Future Masterson Trophy winner Boyle gets an experience he likely never would have received and does it one of his former stomping grounds in Tampa Bay. I call this a win-win for the situation. Get better soon, Hall. You’re needed in New Jersey.
Don’t Panic: This kind of night does happen to everyone in the NHL at some point. But when it happens for the team’s fourth straight loss, frustration and despair about the team is totally understandable. In New Jersey’s case, this losing streak is after winning two games that came after six straight winless games. In that winless streak, there were some legitimately good performances in there. In this current losing streak, there’s the Boston game and Appleby and that’s pretty much it for goodness. I can understand those who think this is a free fall and the Devils are facing impending doom.
I do not necessarily agree that this will doom the Devils. Yes, this is a bad slump. There are also 34 games left in this season. The Devils have been riding high with percentages for three months and this past month has shown the opposite in both ends of the rink. I’ve written that the Devils weren’t going to keep shooting at 9-10% in 5-on-5 play. I’m writing now that it’s not likely they’ll be less than 6% for the rest of the way. To that end, the smart play for the Devils is to not panic. Make adjustments? Absolutely. Consider a trade or two? Sure. The worst thing the Devils can do is blow everything up (good luck tanking in a season where Arizona and Buffalo may not win 25 games) when there’s still plenty of talent on this team and a lot of hockey left to make up for this losing streak and secure that elusive playoff spot. This game sucked and this losing streak sucks. It’s not forever. Don’t panic.
One Last Thought: Tonight’s promotion was Rock the Rock night and they had a 90’s rock cover band called Nine DEEEEZ Nite. I’m not a musician and I have the musical talent of a head of cabbage. I respect that they went out there and did their thing and the music itself was good. The singers can sing - but the singers just don’t have the voices for the songs they play. They don’t. he singers would make for a great early 2000s cover band doing Thursday, Thrice, Saves the Day, Sum 41, and so forth. Not Nirvana, Lit, Bush, and Metallica (oh, please don’t do Enter Sandman). It made for a lackluster performance - kind of like what the Devils put on the ice tonight. In retrospect, they should have just let Pete Canarozzi do his thing and let Arda Ocal have a bass solo.
Your Take: The Devils lost 0-3 to Nashville. The Face of the League was a star. Viktor Arvidsson was a star. Rinne had an easy shutout. The Devils stunk and need this break. Boyle is in for Hall for the All-Star Game. There’s your quick summary. What did you think of this loss? 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.