The New Jersey Devils suffered their first blowout loss of the season. A 3-8 beat down by the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are arguably the best team in the East and could very well make for another Stanley Cup run. The start of the game was great as the Devils went up 2-0. The Lightning responded with an unstoppable combination of hard work, talent, taking advantage of opportunities, excellent coaching, strong puck control, and some fortune (Andy Greene’s thigh) to ring up five straight goals. While the Devils had a faint ray of hope by scoring a PPG in the second period, the Lightning went right back at it with three more goals in the third period, all unanswered. By the mid-way point of the third period, it did not even matter what the score was about two hours earlier. The Devils leave Tampa Bay holding a massive ‘L,’ presumably with a lightning bolt somewhere on it.
That is your summary of what transpired in a game in one easy-to-read paragraph. Now let’s dive into it further.
It would be easy to say that this was a totally awful game by the New Jersey Devils. It would also be correct. Yes, Miles Wood was smart to get in front of the net and be in the right place and right time to re-direct a shot by Sami Vatanen early in the game. Yes, Travis Zajac finished his chance well. Yes, Keith Kinkaid was not solely responsible for most of the goals. The only one I would blame on him on was way back on GA #2 (Braydon Coburn’s second goal), which feels like splitting hairs in the aftermath of a night where the team conceded eight goals. Yes, the Devils’ power play cracked a long Lightning PK success streak at home in the second period. Yes, there were no injuries. There are some positives but they are silver linings amid the massive dark clouds around this performance.
While the offense was not totally shut down as they registered 55 attempts and 30 shots against Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Devils did not have nearly enough offensive pressure to keep Tampa Bay at bay. A lot of their one-and-dones or none-and-dones were quickly turned up ice and forced New Jersey to defend quite a bit. Outside of the first five minutes, the first few minutes of the third period, and the final few minutes in garbage time, the Devils did not spend a ton of time in Tampa Bay’s end. There were some good looks but it was not nearly enough even if the Devils hit them all and got a few more past Vasilevskiy given how the Lightning steamrolled through the other zones and the defense tonight. Put it this way: in 5-on-5 play, the Devils were out-shot no matter who on New Jersey was on the ice. So, no, the offense was not good enough.
The defense was utterly abysmal. Just as all five skaters need to contribute on offense to function effectively these days, all five skaters need to contribute on defense. Jacques Lemaire, Lou, and the Devils organization understood this in the mid-90s. The Devils were as preventive as a wet paper bag in their half of the rink tonight. When Tampa Bay would rush up after stopping a Devils’ attack, they were caught on their heels and chasing the play. When Tampa Bay would set up on offense, they often had at least two attempts and were able to make passes to players in good positions to score. They were not settling for 60-footers from their defensemen, to put it one way. When Tampa Bay wanted to go to the net, they made it in there like a rock band in a hotel room. They trashed the Devils’ place. It was an area of the ice the Devils have done a great job defending so this season. Tonight, Tampa Bay scored five out of their six 5-on-5 goals and eight total goals in that area. Sure, there was a fortunate bounce off the endboards for one, but how the sea parted for Brayden Point and how Ben Lovejoy left Tyler Johnson alone was a nightmarish sight. It also ensured the game was dead for New Jersey - but that happened in the second period. But beyond the goals, when the Devils would try for an exit, it was not long before Tampa Bay recovered and went back in for more offense.
Special teams? Well, the Devils’ PP did get one past what has been a very hot-in-Tampa PK. Kyle Palmieri gets to keep his 1 goal-per-game average with a fortunate re-direction off a Lightning stick. Taylor Hall keeps his point-streak going with his tenth assist of the season. So it was not all bad for the Devils’ power play. However, the Devils’ penalty kill was eaten up. Blake Coleman put them in a horrendous spot when he high-sticked McDonagh in the second period. It was not necessary; Coleman did not win the puck he was trying to win; and he drew blood. Tampa Bay has one of the best power play units on paper and they demonstrated why tonight. Nikita Kucherov was robbed once on a one-timer by Kinkaid, but he got his revenge on the next shift when he scored with six seconds left on the first minor. During the second minor, Zajac chopped Johnson’s stick into pieces for a 1:22 long 3-on-5 situation. Steve Stamkos hit the post on one of his frighteningly hard shots. On the second attempt, he fired a laser past Kinkaid. Those two PPGs turned what was a 2-3 game into a 2-5 game. Technically, the remainder of Zajac’s penalty was killed but practically, the PK came up empty tonight as the Lightning did whatever they wanted. It was a bad situation for them, it was created by two of the team’s best penalty killers at forward, and it kicked off the rout.
I have sympathy for Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider, who made his season debut after GA #7 in the most no-pressure situation a goalie he could have appeared in. Other than that Coburn goal, I really thought Kinkaid was left hung out to dry for most of this. Just watch the highlight video if you can. A goal off Andy Greene’s thigh (Coburn’s first goal) was a bad break. You can see the failures of the men in white, red, and black on the other six goals. Try as he might, his team put him in some incredibly difficult situations. Tonight, he could not bail them out enough and I do not think it is fair to fault Kinkaid for this loss. As for Schneider, he was beaten on his first shot. Ryan McDonagh’s goal involved a perfect bounce off the endboards and the defenseman was on Schneider’s flank with no help on defense. Which was pretty much the theme of the night for the goaltending. Schneider stopped five other shots. I’m sure he’ll get a proper game soon (Detroit?).
I will caution you, the fan and the reader, to avoid picking on one or two players. Allow me to point out that pretty much all of the Devils skaters had a bad game. Marcus Johansson underwhelmed again. Pavel Zacha had a game where he did not make enough of a positive impact. The fourth line of Brian Boyle, Kevin Rooney, and Stefan Noesen got owned and was easily New Jersey’s worst. Hall, Palmieri, and Nico Hischier could not generate enough positive things and they were bossed in the turning point of this game. Jean-Sebastien Dea was in over his head. The pairing of Greene and Damon Severson was not good. The pairing of Sami Vatanen and Mirco Mueller was not good. Ben Lovejoy was awful and Will Butcher could not carry that. The “best” line statistically was Wood, Zajac, and Coleman and the latter two took the penalties (Aside: NJ only took these penalties, so it was not like they took seven or eight to keep TB’s PP on the ice) that blew the game wide open by a Tampa Bay team that knew how to take opportunities and make their opponents pay for it. Unless I missed somebody, that’s all eighteen skaters.
I can understand the idea that this was one night where the Devils followed Murphy’s Law (the concept, not the band) and this was just one crummy night. That does and will happen in an 82 game season. I would not try to forget it, though. I would want the team or at least the coaching staff study it. While the Devils may not be “re-building” like they were two or three seasons ago, the Lightning put on a demonstration of what I would like to see the Devils strive for. The Lightning were faster, they were working harder, they were working smarter, and when they went down two goals early, they did not panic or look for a big hit or a fight or chase momentum. They stuck to their game plan and built on it. No, the Devils may not find a Stamkos or a Kucherov or a Point (sigh), but they have put together a roster that can be legitimately fast, attacking, and supportive. Reviewing how Tampa Bay did it to them may inspire them for future games. Future games that they should really try to win to keep this road trip from building a deficit. Tonight’s loss sucked and the performance sucked even worse, but there is a tomorrow. The Devils should learn and not burn this tape.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Raw Charge for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, if you dare want to experience and/or re-live the pain of this loss, here are the highlights of this game.
The Turning Point of the Game: I do not want to highlight much after what I have written, but I do think this warrants further detail.
So Coburn scored a brace, his first since October 2009, to tie up an early two-goal lead by the Devils in the first period. Tampa Bay clearly responded to the early deficit and did so by playing their game and executing their plays much better than the Devils. It’s tied 2-2 after one. The team comes out in the second period and the first shift is the Devils’ top unit: Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri with Greene and Severson behind them. Tampa Bay has Johnson, Point, Yanni Gourde, Anton Stralman, and McDonagh on the ice. In 31 seconds, the Lightning pin back the Devils, have them chase the puck around from the top of the circles to the endboards, force two blocks, force one quick save by Kinkaid on Gourde, and Point tucks in a loose puck at the right post after the save because Point had inside position on Greene.
This was not the fourth line. This was not Johansson, Zacha, and Dea. There was no Lovejoy or Mueller or Butcher or Vatanen. This was the Devils’ top unit and they were utterly steamrolled on the very first shift of the second period of what was a tied game. The Lightning not only made it 2-3 but they took over the game at that point. Check the Gameflow at Natural Stat Trick, the Lightning never looked back, added two power play goals, and continued to attack and control the game. In my opinion, this was the critical shift of the game where it became apparent that the Devils were going to be in a lot of trouble.
To that end, what in the world did John Hynes and his staff do in the first intermission? What was the message? What were, if any, the adjustment(s) made to account for what happened in the first period? The Devils had two days to prepare for this one, they took a punch in response to giving one out, and the response was - in retrospect - getting creamed in the first ten minutes in a dastardly mix of poor play and an opponent being incredibly hard working and talented? Rather than use a player as a point of criticism, this is one of those games where I think you have to point some of that criticism at the coach. Seeing how Tampa Bay dominated the attempt, shot, chance, and high-danger chance count in all three periods in 5-on-5 and all situations as per Natural Stat Trick, I have to think that Jon Cooper and his staff out-coached Hynes and his staff tonight. Yes, the blowout includes the benches.
Technical Note: Devils went 5-3-1 in October, which is a successful month. The month in review post will be up next Monday.
One Last Thought: while scoreboard watching in late October does not make a whole lot of sense, we can take solace in the Isles beating on Pittsburgh, 6-3; and Carolina dropping another game, 3-2 to Boston. Columbus losing 5-3 also helps NJ from not losing much ground; although they lost to New Jersey’s next opponent, Detroit. Just goes to show that no one is an easy win in this league.
Your Take: The Devils got wrecked 3-8 in a blowout loss to Tampa Bay, one of the best teams in hockey. What was your take about the big loss? Who suffered the worst? Who suffered the least? Most of all, what should the Devils take away from this game to better prepare themselves for a better performance against Detroit on Thursday? By better, I mean an effort that might be at least decent for more than 5 to 8 minutes; what should the Devils do (trying is not enough, they tried and failed a lot tonight).
Thanks to Chris for writing a game preview that showed more substance than a good part of the lineup tonight. Thanks to Mike for keeping things moving on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog, which was much more successful than many of the Devils’ zone exits. Writing recaps like this is no fun if only because of the performances that require such a write-up. I imagine it is not as fun to read about a bad, bad, bad blow out loss. So thank you for reading. I hope we all get something much better than this on Thursday night.