Today, the New Jersey Devils hosted the Detroit Red Wings. Unlike their last game, the Devils flexed their collective muscles and largely out-played their opponent in regulation. The only aspect of the game the Devils did not excel in was finishing their shots today. This allowed the Red Wings to hang around on the scoreboard and get an equalizer in the third period. That’s disappointing. What utterly stunk was overtime, where Detroit controlled the 3-on-3 play and scored to take another two points against the Devils this season. The Devils lost today, 2-3 in overtime.
While the Devils did get a point out of this game, I thought the Devils did enough in regulation to take the game outright. Alas, over the course of an 82-game season, unfortunately, there will be games like this one. This was very much a game where the Devils’ process was on point but the results did not follow, which yielded a bummer of an ending. After an uneventful first few minutes, the Devils submerged the Red Wings with a deluge of attempts, shots, zone exits, breakouts, and zone entries throughout much of regulation. All four lines had chances. The second and third lines were particularly awesome. By the end of the third period, the Devils led 38-24 in shots, 70-47 in attempts, 27-15 in scoring chances, and 11-4 in high danger chances in all situations per Natural Stat Trick. Yes, the score was tied 2-2 too; but that was pretty much the only part of the game that was level.
Detroit was the only team to receive power plays today (they had two) and there was a 4-on-4 situation in the second period. Take those away and the difference was even starker. In 5-on-5 play only, the Devils out-attempted Detroit by 30, out-shot them by 15, out-chanced them by 15, and out high-danger chanced them by 8. In other words, the Devils were the superior team in 5-on-5 action. Except in goals; Detroit led 2-1 there. Further evidence that playing really well does not guarantee results; hockey is like life, it is not fair. Just like the referees that awarded penalties to the Devils but ignored Miles Wood and Taylor Hall clearly getting fouled multiple times in the third period, among other potential calls.
To add further to the frustration, Keith Kinkaid played a really good game in net. He was bailed out by the posts multiple times again. Detroit hit iron three times today. Still, his reactions were on-point, his glove was active and secure, and he did not give up a bad goal. Luke Glendening’s goal in the second period was a well placed and open shot just next to the slot. It was a good shot, not bad goaltending. The equalizer was a low shot by Mike Green that Michael Rasmussen tipped in. John Hynes challenged the goal for goaltender inteference and failed as Ben Lovejoy bodied Glendening into the crease on the shot. The game winner in overtime by Dylan Larkin was a one-timer off a two-on-one rush where the shot just beat Kinkaid on his left flank.My point is that these were not soft goals. He did not contribute to the GA’s. We cannot say that Kinkaid was why the Devils lost the lead or this game. At least, we shouldn’t. More accurately, I will not.
The result also disappoints me as it overshadows two accomplishments this afternoon. First, Pavel Zacha finally got a point. He scored the game’s first goal. Jesper Bratt made a great steal at Detroit’s blueline and the line charged forward. Bratt made an excellent cross-ice pass to Zacha, who one-timed it in past Jonathan Bernier. After several times of missing, misfiring, and being robbed, it was great to see Zacha finish one. Second, Blake Coleman scored the team’s first shorthanded goal of the season. After a month-and-a-half where the Devils would get a shorthanded chance somewhat regularly, Coleman beat Bernier. He made it 2-0 in the second period while making Detroit’s power play net yield a -1 today. Both of those achievements are overshadowed by the overtime loss.
The big failure was in overtime and this was the part of the game where the Devils were bad. After proverbially kicking the stuffing out of Detroit in 5-on-5, the Red Wings did it to New Jersey in 3-on-3. Seriously, the Red Wings out-attempted the Devils 8-3 and out-shot them 6-2. Possession is even more important in 3-on-3, sudden death hockey. The Devils went being great in both ends at 5-on-5 to struggling to keep up with Detroit in it. What really put the Devils in trouble was some dubious decisions by John Hynes. After starting the first shift in overtime, Travis Zajac did not see the ice at all. The other forward combinations went from Bratt and Marcus Johansson, Bratt and Coleman briefly, Zacha and Brett Seney, Hall and Palmieri, Zacha and Johansson, Hall and Johansson, and then Hall and Seney. The OT period started going bad when Hall and Palmieri stepped on the ice.
The Hall and Palmieri decision was for a defensive zone faceoff against Dylan Larkin, who is a center; Gustav Nyquist, and Mike Green. No natural center against a center worked as well as you’d expect as Detroit stayed in New Jersey’s area. But Kinkaid gets a freeze about 30 seconds after the Devils nearly got burnt. Zacha and Johansson fared better, Damon Severson came in for Andy Greene, and, more importantly, the trio got a stop and started having the puck go in the right direction. During the run of play, Zacha went out for Hall. OK, it was an attack, might as well have Hall out there. He takes a low shot and Bernier holds on for a freeze. About 50 seconds pass and the Devils have an offensive zone faceoff. Hall just came on for about 10 seconds, and Severson and Johansson just had a full shift. With 1:04 left in OT, Hynes decided to change Johansson for Brett Seney - who wasn’t awful today on faceoffs but not great and keep Severson and Hall on the ice. Hall, fine, it’s Hall. But Severson was then beyond his average shift length. What did Detroit do? Get three fresh skaters out there: Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Danny DeKeyser. Hynes had last change so he put out only one fresh man out and figured Hall could handle it (fair) and Severson too (why).
The result: Seney lost the faceoff to Larkin (did Larkin also trip Seney too?), Hall fell as he tried to grab (?) Larkin, Mantha collects the puck from the faceoff win, and Mantha and Larkin rush up ice against Severson. Severson bizarrely takes no one, not even the passing lane. Mantha passes it across to his right, Larkin hammers the one-timer, and that’s game. No chance for Kinkaid and I’m wondering how in the world did Hynes come up with this. Why didn’t Zajac take this draw? Why Seney instead of a more experienced player like Coleman, even? Why wasn’t a fresh defenseman put on for Severson? Who keeps teaching these Devils defensemen to not take the passing lane or the open man in a 2-on-1 situation? Severson was guilty today and Will Butcher was guilty of it in the last game against Detroit.
I cannot help but think that Hynes coached his way out of OT today and out of a potential win. The Devils’ performance in regulation should not be ignored. It is a very good sign that perhaps this slump has passed. However, it also showed why many feel Detroit is going to eventually fall to the basement. They looked like boys against men for several shifts, save for Jonathan Bernier, the refs not calling them for anything on their own, and some puck luck of their own. They could not get much going through the neutral zone, the Devils defended rather well against their zone entries, and they spent a lot of time in their own end. Given that tomorrow’s opponent, Carolina, is the NHL leader in CF% and SF% by a large margin per Natural Stat Trick, I worry about how Hynes and the team will handle business in 5-on-5. So I wanted them to do well today and they did - except for the result, which stinks given how it ended.
The Opposition Opinion: From jmcurran28, this is the recap at Winging it in Motown.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, you have evidence of both Zacha’s goal and a shorthanded goal by the New Jersey Devils:
The Other Goalie: Yes, we can lament the lack of finishing on some plays that 40 shots on net only yielded two goals. Yes, there were some big opportunities not realized. Two from the third period come to mind: First, a great series of passes yielded the left of the net wide open for Bratt only for the winger to whiff on a pass he wanted to one time. Second, a wide-open Taylor Hall mis-hit a rolling puck from the slot, which resulted in an easy grab for Bernier instead of a shot torching the net. There were more, but you get the idea.
However, just as we have been praising Kinkaid for playing well, the reality is that Bernier had a very good game of his own. He played a lot like Kinkaid from my vantage point. He made some quick reaction saves. He also displayed good fundamentals in the crease and squared himself up well for most shots. While there were rebounds available, he did not give up any that were particularly juicy to be finished on. In an 82-game season, there will be games where you do everything but score and while we can look back in hindsight and point out particular plays and shots, you have to admit the other goalie just had an excellent afternoon of their own. That’s how I see it in the aftermath of this loss.
Gaze Upon the Heatmap and Gameflow Charts and Sigh: Both are with Natural Stat Trick’s stats for the game. The Devils took a huge lead in attempts and never really looked back. Even when Detroit mustered up some offense in 5-on-5 play, the Devils more than answered back. The heatmap shows that there were plenty of attempts in good places to shoot. The hottest part was around the slot, just inside the right circle - which is a very good place to take attempts. We cannot say the Devils settled for long bombs and shots from poor angles and distances.
The Dominant Lines: The Devils were constantly attacking with Zacha’s line and Coleman’s line in 5-on-5 play. Zacha was great. Johansson didn’t hold things back although he was kind of a third-wheel. Somehow, he ended up with no shots on net. The Devils took 40 and when he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils out-attempted Detroit 16-7 and out-shot them 9-4. That’s really hard to do. Jesper Bratt’s 5-on-5 numbers were not as outstanding, but he created the best chances for this line as well as their goal. I respect his hustle today. In any case, Zacha’s line were great in going forward, they created a great goal, and they also kept Andreas Athanasiou, Frans Nielsen (he played today), and Gustav Nyquist to a minimum in the run of play.
Coleman scored shorthanded but he was also a hustler all afternoon long. He finished the day with four shots out of five attempts, including that shorty. When he was on the ice, the Devils out-attempted Detroit 11-4 and out-shot them 9-3. His most common match-ups were against Tyler Bertuzzi, Glendening, and Rasmussen. Neither of them scored against Coleman, at least; and he kept them to a minimum. Coleman has been playing rather well over the past few weeks and it’s enjoyable to watch. Joey Anderson and Seney were very good in 5-on-5 even though they did not register as much on net.
That both of these units did so well today was a big reason why the Devils looked so good despite the score.
The Not As Dominant Line: They had some great shifts, do not get me wrong. And the right winger had five shots on net while the left winger had three. But Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Travis Zajac were not as dominant as they have been in past games. Every single Devil finished the game above 50% CF% and every Devils except Butcher (out-shot by 1) finished the game at 50% SF% or better. This means that whoever the Devils had out there in 5-on-5, the Devils attacked Detroit more often than not over the whole game. This includes these three, but it was just that others were doing it even more often. The Zajac-centered line had some issues with the common match-up for Zacha’s line and their usual match-up was against one of Detroit’s top lines: Larkin, Mantha, and Justin Abdelkader. It was not an easy match-up. Yes, they won it; but they did not win it outright like the other lines today. Throw in Hall losing some pucks that he usually doesn’t, pucks bouncing off Palmieri’s stick, and it’s easy to forget how much they did do among the things you usually do not see them do. Maybe this is nitpicking, but it is what it is.
Except for the Last Shift...: Damon Severson had a great game today except for how badly he played that last 2-on-1. Those are the sorts of plays that cause fans to think he is a problem in his own end. That was not the case for all of the other shifts he played today. Severson was great at getting stops and turning them into offense. In fact, it was his clearance that gave Coleman the opportunity to break through for a shorthanded goal. In 5-on-5 play, the Devils out-attempted Detroit 30-15 (!!), out-shot them 16-6, and out-chanced them 14-5. Severson was not solely responsible for all of that, but he facilitated a lot of offense. That usually happens from making good plays on and off the puck in the defensive zone and the neutral zone as well as the offensive zone.
The defense in regulation was very good. Despite one missed coverage on Glendening’s goal and a couple of big post-shots, they did keep Detroit to fewer than 25 shots and 50 attempts in regulation. That’s a positive as a whole. Mirco Mueller played on the right side today and it was not a disaster as Egor Yakovlev played a solid game on the left side. Lovejoy was annoying in how he piled Glendening towards Kinkaid on the Rasmussen goal plus his holding penalty in the second period; but he was also effectively pinching and making decent passes to other Devils not named Butcher. Andy Greene had a solid game as well.
Conclusion: I liked the defense as a whole today. I liked the offense as a whole today. I liked Kinkaid today. Yet, they found a way to not carry it into 3-on-3 play and lose it in OT. So it goes.
Perspective: Yes, the Devils only took 1 point out of 4 from Detroit this season. They also took 5 out of a potential 8 points in this week and 5 out of 6 since the end of the 2018 Road Trip from Hell. All of these are true statements.
One Final Thought: If the Devils play well tomorrow in Carolina, then I’m comfortable with calling the slump over. Related to that, Mike’s post on Friday is insightful.
Your Take: The Devils played great for the better part of 60 minutes but lost a game in overtime that they probably should have won. What is your take on this game? What did you see that I may have missed? Who impressed you? Who failed to do so? What can the Devils do to improve in a short amount of time before playing in Carolina tomorrow? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview, thanks to Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account during the game, and thanks to all those who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.