Ordinarily, I could possibly see the New Jersey Devils losing 2-3 through a shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues as a positive result. The Blues are a very talented team. The Blues are very good at home and they tend to not lose when they lead after two periods. The Blues also played an excellent game of hockey; when they were able to get their cycle going on offense, they were difficult to stop. While there were not an excessive number of shots, the Blues had many dangerous shots and forced Keith Kinkaid to make a lot of tough saves. For the Devils to come back twice to tie up the game and come close to leaving a win in St. Louis thanks in large part to Kinkaid putting in one of his best performances this season, I could leave this game with positive thoughts. Ordinarily, that would be the case.
This was not an ordinary game. The Devils went up 3-2 in this game in the third period. Scottie Upshall coughed up the puck like it a cat threw up a hairball in his own zone. Nico Hischier took the puck, fed it across to Jesper Bratt, and Bratt hammered a one-timer past Carter Hutton. In the third period, the Devils turned a 1-2 deficit into a 3-2 lead on that goal. I have to describe the goal in detail because this will be what you get from it. It is no longer on the play-by-play log. It will not likely be in the highlights at NHL.com. It was wiped away due to an offside challenge from St. Louis.
You see, about fifteen seconds earlier, Marcus Johansson attempted to gain the zone. He appeared to have done so. He lost possession - something he did plenty of in regulation - and the Blues were looking to reset. The Devils changed players. Then Upshall made his mistake. But upon an incredibly long review by the linesman, it was found that Johansson committed the grave sin of lifting his skate as his other one went over the line just millimeters before the puck did. Because of that, the goal was overturned.
Yes, the Devils had a goal by Jesper Bratt and an assist by Nico Hischier stricken from the scoresheet because of something done by a player who was not in the play at all and probably was not even on the ice when the goal was scored. Because of a bang-bang play missed by the linesman fifteen seconds earlier, an otherwise legal play did not count.
The offside challenge was presumably created with the intent of making sure players were not clearly in the offensive zone before the puck went in for a goal. In practice, it allows officials to completely second-guess themselves over events regardless of whether the event had anything to do with the scoring play. Between that plus that review taking up several minutes (Aside: boo to whoever called for a TV timeout shortly after the review) to completely delay the game on top of taking away goals in a hockey that gets in its own way with respect to scoring, I fail to see what good this rule does. Given that the league instituted a minor penalty to go to teams who lose this challenge, I struggle to think that the league thinks it has been a good one too.
I’m belaboring this because this is absolutely the story of this game. I try to keep it real and focus on what happened in the performances and give my opinions on what I saw. But I cannot ignore this and neither should any Devils fan. Those who watched this game or followed along know how huge this challenge was on the game. The Devils were denied a potential game winner. Again. They were denied a potential game winner against Buffalo last week for a similar offside challenge. In their last game, the opponent got away with six skaters on the ice for a goal which is not allowed to be challenged. And now we have another offside challenge taking away a goal - all due to someone who wasn’t even involved in the scoring play being so slightly ahead of the puck it requires about five minutes of a review to identify and confirm it. Yes, if the ref doesn’t see it, you can apparently get away with murder but do not dare fail on a minute incident that may or may not have to do with the scoring play at all.
Yes, I know that it was technically the right call. It’s a remarkably stupid rule. It royally sucked to see it. It incredibly bailed out St. Louis from a rare mistake that they made in the game. This is the Internet so I know I will receive plenty of comments about how I should just accept that this is the rule and, hey, the Devils could have tried to score a third goal (oh, they absolutely did in overtime). I didn’t say I accept this; I’m saying it’s terrible and I believe it denied the Devils from a win tonight.
This could have been put in the past had the remainder of the game went a different way. In a tight and not-so-offensive third period (shots were 5-6 in the third period), the Devils maintained the 2-2 score. In overtime, the Devils were the dominant team. They won possession more often, they maintained possession more often, and they created the best scoring chances. The very best one came from Nico Hischier and Marcus Johansson. Hischier pulled away on a breakaway and beat Hutton - only to hit the left post. The loose puck came to Johansson and he chipped it towards the net. Hutton somehow put his left pad on the puck before it crossed the line. It was absolute robbery. On the next shift, Johansson had a point-blank shot right in front and Hutton stoned him again. The Devils were very good in overtime but Hutton was a monster.
The shootout came and the deflation happened. Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko scored with ease. Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri were stopped. It was a disappointing end to a game that the Devils battled to possibly win - only to be denied by Hutton in overtime (tough but fair) and the rulebook in the third period. I’m admittedly bitter about how it all went down; this was not an ordinary game.
The Opposition Opinion: You can visit St. Louis Game Time if you’d like.
The Performance Aside from the Offside Challenge: I thought the Devils played better hockey as the game went on. They were clearly overmatched in the first period. The Blues out-shot them 7-2 in 5-on-5 hockey in the first period, the Devils took two unnecessary penalties in the first period, the Devils took minutes to get their first shot on net in the game, and the very first minute featured a giveaway by John Moore and Marcus Johansson losing a puck that led to an open shot for Schenn for Keith Kinkaid’s first big save of the night. Kinkaid was probably the only positive from that first period. After getting shelled in his last few appearances, that he was only beaten once was a huge improvement. The one that beat him was a rebound shot off the endboards by Tarasenko shortly after Sami Vatanen gave away the puck for the play. That’s not on Kinkaid, who kept the Devils in the game after a rough go of it in the first period.
In the second period, the Devils were able to attack more often. A lot of it was one-and-done chances and the Blues had multiple shifts where they would just spend it in New Jersey’s half of the rink. Especially against the Moore-Vatanen pairing and the Travis Zajac line. Vatanen took an early penalty in the period and his coverage early on was pretty dire. He would redeem some of his bad night later in the second. After Bratt carried the puck in deep, Vatanen salvaged a pass back by Bratt and fired into traffic. Hischier tipped the shot to have it beat Hutton for a tied game. The Blues would answer back later on. Johansson tends to carry the puck whenever he can, but it cost him on a scoring play. Paul Stastny caught up to him, knocked the puck away, possibly held him up, and Tage Thompson was able to recover. Thompson faked out Kyle Palmieri by showing a pass and curled towards the middle of the zone. He rifled in a high shot to make it 1-2. Johansson should have tried clearing the puck earlier and Palmieri could have supported his winger instead of wating for said clearance. Despite that, the Blues were not as potent in their attack as their 19 5-on-5 shot attempts in the second period yielded only six shots. The Devils put up 17 shot attempts and seven shots. It was evidence of a more even period.
In the third period, the Devils were able to tie it up again and fairly quickly. Alexander Steen tripped up Bratt. The Devils won the ensuing faceoff, Will Butcher hit the post on a shot, Kyle Palmieri missed on a rebound chance and the puck went to the corner. Taylor Hall picked it up, fired a shot from the goal line, and it hit off Hutton to go in. It wasn’t exactly how they drew it up, but the power play goal was welcomed as an equalizer. While the Blues tried to exert their strength, again, they had issues turning it into shots on net. They had a couple of good looks (e.g. a 3-on-1 rush, Ivan Barbashev all alone in front off a late rush into the zone), but the Devils were able to keep the Blues from rolling through them like they did in the first. The Devils at least kept them somewhat honest even after Bratt’s goal was taken away. They killed another Vatanen minor with aplomb. They did not lose their nerve late to take it into overtime. Again, shots were limited to just 6-5 (Devils led) in 5-on-5 play in what was a tight affair. Credit to New Jersey for not losing their cool after the challenge and adjusting somewhat to how well St. Louis played.
Outside of overtime, the Blues just looked crisp - especially in the first period. Their passing tended to be on point. They threw good checks that won them pucks and ended Devils advances. They looked a lot like the Capitals in that they just executed their game plan very well and their talent was clearly on display. In that regard, I can appreciate how the Devils tried to go after them and limit their shooting opportunities as time went on. They squared themselves up well in regulation even if it took a period before they started to figure it out. In overtime, the Devils were the superior team on the puck and I really liked how they did not attempt many risky plays that could have them lose the puck and be caught in a bad situation. That was smart and I so wish it did lead to a goal that could have them won the game and make that awful, awful challenge situation irrelevant to the game.
#1 Was #1: Of course, the star for the Devils was Keith Kinkaid. No, he did not look good in the shootout. In the 65 minutes before then, he was very good. While he was fighting off a number of pucks and he ended up out of position a few times in the first period, the main goal is to stop the shots from becoming goals. Kinkaid made a lot of good saves in regulation. He was good with his blocker; not just to deny the shot but to knock it away. Kinkaid was able to get his body in front of most of St. Louis’ shots. The goals that beat him were not bad goals to allow. I place more fault on both on the skaters for those two. Given that Kinkaid gave up ten goals in his two starts in December, he really needed a strong performance. Not just for the benefit of the team, but also to give the coaches a reason to play him more often. Cory Schneider was not starting nine straight games just for kicks. I think that Kinkaid did that and so I expect to see more of him in January.
Productive Nico & Jesper: Despite being denied a primary assist, Nico Hischier was on form. He was great at going forward when he was able to do so. He took four shots on net, which did include his deflection goal in the second period. Hischier hit the post in overtime; narrowly missing on a breakaway. But I really liked how he turned it up; it was the kind of night where I just enjoy how Hischier plays. To think he’s only 18; he could be better one day.
I also enjoyed Jesper Bratt’s performance tonight. While he was given a secondary assist, he put in plenty of work that led to Hischier’s tip-in goal. Bratt was smart on the puck in overtime. While he did not shoot the puck - his one shot on net was wiped away from the challenge - he was good at getting others the puck, namely Hischier and Hall. The Hall-Hischier-Bratt line was good in 5-on-5 play and the young winger proved to be an asset tonight. May this line continue to do good things.
Whither Severson: Ben Lovejoy was inserted in the lineup for Damon Severson. It was thought that Severson’s poor play against Washington led to his scratching. From what I saw, especially early on in the game, I fail to see how Severson was worse than all six defensemen. Once again, Andy Greene and Steve Santini were drowned in their match-ups. Santini notably had issues maintaining the puck on his stick and lost plenty of possession to Blues players. That led to his really poor CF% of 25.9% in addition to being 0-4 in high danger chances. Moore-Vatanen struggled early on but did improve in the run of play as they contributed to the offense. Again, Vatanen was the more problematic of the two with one of his giveaways creating St. Louis’ first goal in addition to two minor penalties. He created a goal for New Jersey, which mitigates some of the bad things but in total, it was not a good night for Vatanen. Even with both Moore and Vatanen being above 50% CF%, they were out-done in high-danger chances, 2-7 each. Ben Lovejoy and Will Butcher were OK, but I do not think they did so well that Severson could not match them.
What I do not get is why Severson gets to be punished for a poor performance whereas others are seemingly locked into the lineup. Again, who saw the Devils in the first period and thought, “Good thing Severson isn’t here.” I don’t know.
Forward Issues: While the Hischier line did well and the Devils had some nice moments from Blake Coleman, they had some issues at forward. Brian Boyle and Brian Gibbons were non-factors in 5-on-5 play. Gibbons also took an unnecessary high-sticking penalty while on offense in the first period, which I did not like either. I liked them on the penalty kill and they each created some shorthanded offense. Including Gibbons setting up Coleman for a seemingly wide-open net in front after a puck was in no man’s land in the corner. Alas, Hutton robbed him. (Hutton later robbed Coleman in the third period with his leg on a close rebound. Poor Coleman!). But in 5-on-5, Gibbons and Boyle did not add much. I also did not think Pavel Zacha did a whole lot out there either, even though he was on a different line.
The line that really struggled at times was Johansson, Palmieri, and Zajac. While the trio were not so bad against the line that carried Tarasenko, their few shifts against Patrik Berglund, Steen, and Kyle Brodziak were just awful. Johansson was especially poor in regulation. His tendency to carry the puck got him into trouble as he would lose possession. On top of that, a number of his passing attempts were thwarted by a Blue right in front of him. I liked Johansson in overtime; but he was not so good in the three periods. Palmieri had four shots on net but his defensive effort left something to be desired. Zajac did what he could but he could not turn the tide much either. If John Hynes and his staff want to tinker with the lineup, then maybe he should consider moving this line around a bit. At least until one of Zajac or Johansson “gets going.”
One Last Thought: Last season, there was a run of games where penalty shots seemingly impacted games and I was left wondering what they even were with how they were called. The Devils were jobbed on a few of those and it may have cost them some games. I can’t help but be reminded of that given this game and the overtime loss to Buffalo. I hope it does not continue into Dallas.
Your Take: The Devils lost this one and I’m still salty over the challenge. Are you? What did you make of the Devils’ performance other than the challenge? Do you think this should have been a win or do you think a point out of this night was just fine? Who do you think excelled and not-excelled for the Devils? What should they learn from this game - other than to watch your skates when going over the blueline - before their next game in Dallas on Thursday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this shootout loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who filled in on the site while I was away. Thanks to Devin for the game preview this morning. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and/or on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.