Every team tends to go through struggles, slumps, and poor runs of form in an 82-game season. Nobody wins all 82 or only loses games one or two at a time. The New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders went into today’s game mired in their own respective slumps. The Devils were winless in four and the Islanders lost five straight in regulation. With both teams going on a five-day break after today’s game, both teams should have been and they were desperate for a win. Unfortunately for this site, the team that matters lost. The New Jersey Devils lost 4-5 via a shootout to the New York Islanders.
The silver lining of this game would be that the Devils earned a point. In the bigger picture, if you’re going to go winless for five straight games, then it’s best to make some of those losses happen beyond regulation. However, I reject looking at this silver lining because the big, dark cloud that contains said lining represents a lot that went wrong today.
The biggest aspect of this loss in my view is that the Devils blew another lead. They didn’t have a lead in the first period. Anders Lee threw up a backhand and it got through Cory Schneider for a goal that actually counted. In the second period, Travis Zajac put home a rebound past Jaroslav Halak to tie it up. Later in that period, Matt Barzal put Schneider in a spot. Schneider had to respect Barzal, who was so close to him with the puck. So Barzal flung a pass across to a wide-open Anthony Beauvillier in the left circle. Schneider dove, Beauvillier’s one-timer got through, and it was 1-2. Travis Zajac tied it up with a very lovely shorthanded goal. Brian Gibbons made a great pass to spring #19 and Zajac beat Halak high with a backhander. While that tied the game, the Devils didn’t lead in the second period either.
But the Devils made one happen in the third period. 2:41 into the third, Miles Wood put home another rebound in Halak’s grill off a Will Butcher shot. Less than a minute later, Wood left a drop pass on a rush for John Moore. Moore made a great pass to Taylor Hall, who went around Halak for a goal. The Devils were up 4-2 and they had opportunities here and there to score a fifth goal. They kept on attacking and eventually cracked Halak, who was sensational in denying a 15-shot deluge from the Devils within the first ten minutes of the game. And the Devils blew that lead.
First, Hall took a cross-checking penalty against Brock Nelson. This was a classic retaliatory penalty. The Devils looked good on that kill for the most part. Brian Gibbons had a breakaway opportunity. Blake Coleman delighted all with some impressive forechecking. But towards the end, the Isles were able to keep the puck in New Jersey’s end. The puck ended up on Sebastian Aho’s stick, who fired a shot through traffic to convert the power play and make it 4-3. The Isles started to attack more and more and the Devils started to struggle at getting zone exits and making plays on defense. It was the sort of play where you think, “This could burn them eventually,” and it actually did. The Isles were high in the zone with the puck and it eventually ended up on Sebastian Aho’s stick. Cal Clutterbuck faked a slapshot on the pass; darted forward ahead of Brian Gibbons and into a space before Sami Vatanen could get there. Aho hit Clutterbuck with a pass and Clutterbuck put a wobbling puck off the post and into the net. Tied game, lead blown, and a whole lot of grumbling, sighing, and swearing all around by the Devils fans of the world.
If that was not enough, the Isles took the play to the Devils and drove it to their end over and over in the final four minutes or so. Jordan Eberle and Nick Leddy were inches close to making it a 4-5 loss in regulation on separate chances. The Devils’ offense faded to a point where they had two shots on net since Clutterbuck’s goal: a deflected shot by Greene with 3:37 left and a wrister by Hischier with two seconds left. In between was all Islanders hockey. It was if the Devils were so shocked by the Aho and Clutterbuck goals, that they left their gameplan behind. The third period started off great. By the end, they were lucky to go to overtime.
In overtime itself, the Isles controlled most of the first half of it. The Devils had two opportunities to attack and both times, it led to an Islanders’ response. Thankfully, Hall hustled back to deny a breakaway chance for Barzal and move the puck wide enough to avoid Schneider being beaten on his left flank. At the 2:30 mark, John Tavares tripped up Kyle Palmieri, who was boxing Tavares out from a loose puck. A power play for the Devils in OT? That’s a great chance to win the game. While the Devils were patient, they were patient to a fault. And a lot of the power play ran through Marcus Johansson instead of letting Hall or Palmieri dictate the offense. It left a lot to be desired. Even so, near the end of it, Hall did fire a high shot that hit iron. The Devils didn’t convert, they couldn’t make something happen late, and so they went to the shootout. After witnessing a third period collapse, leaving a power play on the table in overtime was a disappointment.
The disappointment factor jumped up in the shootout. Schneider was great on the first four shots. The Devils only managed to get two shots off out of their first four attempts as Jesper Bratt and Brian Boyle both lost the puck from their deke. Brock Nelson scored in the fifth round on a trickler through Schneider’s legs that the goalie should have stopped. Brian Gibbons, strangely, was selected as the fifth shooter. He got his shot off - only to hit the post. The ping of the metal might as well have been a thud of sadness. The Islanders finally won a game to break their streak and the Devils extended their own.
Ultimately, the Devils have to sort themselves out in a big way. The hard part is that the Devils really only had one decisive loss out of these past five games, but they shot themselves in the foot in at least three of the other four. Buffalo? A blown lead. Dallas? Greene’s turnover and Vatanen’s follies dug too big of a hole to comeback from. This game? Another blown lead. Looking closer, you can see some common threads: Penalties that ended up being costly, defensive errors on and off the puck, and getting into game situations that are not ideal. Yes, officiating played a role in that a video review took away an early wraparound goal for Kyle Palmieri. But that happened 2:22 into the game; the Devils had at least 57 minutes to make up for it and they did - until they blew it in the third period.
Adding to the frustration factor is that this was another game where a Devils offense that has not been terribly productive in shots rang up 46 shots on Halak and did score four goals on him. This was another game where Taylor Hall went off with eight shots on net to go with his goal and two assists. This was another game where other Devils stepped up, such as Zajac scoring two important goals that equalized the score when they were scored and Wood being responsible for the third period lead that was built up on top of a 5-shot day. This was a rare game for Greene and Santini to not be killed in CF% (Santini was at 50%!!). There were good, positive things in this game that would generally be a cause for a winning game. Instead, it’s just good, positive things in another loss.
What is it going to take at this point? Does Schneider or Kinkaid need to be near-perfect in a game so the Devils don’t pay dearly for their errors? Does the team need a change in tactics or mindset when they have a lead? Or during the run of play as the period goes on, as the Devils started off the first and third periods great and not as great by their end? Does the other team need to be so poor that the Devils just have to play their game? I don’t know. I know struggles, slumps, and poor runs of form happen to everyone in a season. I don’t know what is the best way for them to win a game and get out of this funk. The Devils will have five days to sort it out.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik has this recap at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
I Understand Nobody Likes Referees But...: Yes, it was silly that a goal called on the ice was taken away due to apparent goalie interference upon video review. The officials didn’t cost the Devils this game. The Devils had more than enough time to make up for it - and they did so. Hall’s penalty was legit; he lost his cool. I understand why he lost his cool but he still lost it. If anything, the refs handed NJ a chance in overtime to win it.
I Don’t Understand...: Why in the world did John Hynes challenge the goaltender interference call that took away the Palmieri goal? If review gave them a reason to look at the play and make a call; then more time for review was not likely going to give them a reason to reverse it. It was a bad challenge and given how the Devils were running around late in the third, a timeout would have been real nice to have to calm things down a bit.
Yuck: I have plans to write something about Coleman tomorrow because I admire his PK work. I didn’t admire his 5-on-5 play today. Coleman, Boyle, and Gibbons were just hammered in the run of play. They were the line that struggled to get pucks out of their end in general. Coleman and Boyle were out there on the plays that ended with Lee scoring; the trio were out there for Clutterbuck scoring. Gibbons was especially poor as the Devils were outshot 8-16 in 5-on-5 play when Gibbons was out there. Shots were 31-30 in favor of the Devils in 5-on-5 so that should give you an idea of how bad it was for #39. The Isles wrecked this line.
Severson’s Return: Hynes went with eleven forwards and seven defensemen today. Sami Vatanen’s mistakes went unpunished. Given that the Devils allowed 38 shots on net, I question whether the defense played well. Greene and Steve Santini were largely together and they played well. Will Butcher and Ben Lovejoy were together. Butcher was quite good on the power play and he was active on offense with five shots on net. Lovejoy? Well, he was just kind of there. That middle pairing? Yikes. John Moore didn’t do anything wrong but he didn’t do a whole lot right other than that one pass to Hall that led to a goal. Sami Vatanen and Damon Severson seemingly rotated. The Moore-Severson time together was bad. Severson could have tied up Lee before Lee’s goal, so that will do nothing to silence the criticism about his defense. Moore-Vatanen was a bit better but not really good. Vatanen was late in getting over to Clutterbuck. Given that he was covering nobody before then, that wasn’t good either. So it wasn’t a good return for Severson. It wasn’t a good game for the defense. Who knows what happens next.
Everything but the Goal: While I thought the Devils needed to take more initiative in their overtime power play, the Devils’ power play was at least functional and effective. Their first power play was as perfect as you’re going to see from them without scoring a goal. Their 1-3-1 worked incredibly well. Players were in the right spots. Everyone was adjusting such that the Islanders couldn’t sit in a box. Devils won pucks after shots to keep the attack going. It was great. Shame they didn’t score there, but that they put up six shots on it and they were good shots showcased how it’s supposed to be done. In general, the power play did put up 11 shots and a post. I wish they had scored; especially in overtime.
Two Last Thoughts: While the Devils have plenty to sort out, I hope the Devils do not do anything too rash during these five days off. I’m frustrated with how they’ve found ways to not win any of their last five games. But they haven’t been completely dominated in most of them. For Hall’s sake, find some ways to keep leads and take advantage of chances to go ahead.
Apparently, I learned from the broadcast that the Devils have not won in Brooklyn. Alas, they could have done so. But they blew it.
Your Take: The Devils lost in a shootout to the Islanders and are now winless in five games. What do you think about all of this? What did you think of the game? What should the Devils do to prepare for their game against Philadelphia? Will they win that game? Please leave your answers in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented that followed the rules in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.