Tonight, the New Jersey Devils lost to the Carolina Hurricanes, 1-2. This game can be sadly split up into a thirty-second section where the Devils got rolled and a 59:30 long section where the Devils failed to make up for those thirty seconds. What was more frustrating? What was worse to witness? My answer is somehow yes. It does not make sense, but yet it does.
Thirty Seconds of Disaster
The Devils lost the opening faceoff and the puck went into the benches eight seconds into the game. The Devils lost the resulting neutral zone faceoff. Eventually, the play went back to the neutral zone for Carolina to make an entry along the right sideboards. Mirco Mueller tried to get in front of a dump-in attempt by Brock McGinn. The Devils forwards were up in the neutral zone. The puck was partially blocked and hung out at the line. Egor Yakovlev, the left-sided defenseman, and Jordan Staal raced for the puck. Travis Zajac tried to cross up Yakovlev, who lost the race. Staal saw Justin Williams moving ahead away from Zajac and Yakovlev. He made the pass. Justin Williams took the puck in all alone down the middle of the ice and slid the puck through the five-hole of Cory Schneider. 0-1, 22 seconds into the game.
This was a mistake by Yakovlev and Zajac. Yakovlev needed to win the race, he didn’t, and so he was caught on the wrong side. Zajac came back but did not pay attention to what was going on behind him, so he did not really help. But the goal needed be stopped by Schneider. That was a bad goal to allow. That was a very stoppable shot by Williams. That was the kind of goal that proves all of his critics right.
The Devils doubled down on failing on the next shift. The Devils won the faceoff at center ice. The puck gets back to Damon Severson. Severson attempts a pass forward only to give the puck away to Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton carries the puck in the zone and tosses the puck to his right to Teuvo Teravainen. It is a 3-on-2 rush. Both Andy Greene and Severson are in the middle. Both of them watch the puck. Both of them saw Teravainen make an easy-looking cross-ice pass to Michael Ferland on the wing. Ferland one-timed it past a sliding Schneider. Eight seconds after Williams goal and thirty seconds into the game, and it is 0-2.
At the least the goal was not soft. If it was, I’d love to know how you feel about the overtime winner by Detroit on Saturday. In any case, this goal could have had a third assist given to Severson. This was the defenseman’s mistake - the sort of mistake that proves his critics right too - and he compounded it by sticking the middle. Just like the overtime winner by Detroit on Saturday, Severson did not make a good decision in an odd-man situation on defense and it contributed to the cost. Greene not making an effort to Teravainen despite being away from Hamilton also helped nobody. In retrospect, after the giveaway, Greene should have stayed in the middle, Severson should have went hard to his right, and this way at least Schneider can focus on Teravainen. Nope, nope, nope.
These thirty seconds were a disaster. The broadcasters pointed out the glare from head coach John Hynes. I’m wondering what he did or didn’t do to prepare. Yes, the Devils played yesterday. So did Carolina. They took advantage of the Devils’ failures and went up by a good margin early. The only positive out of it, if you can call it that, was that the Devils had a lot of time to make it up.
Therein lies the frustration.
59:30 Seconds of Frustration
It took the Devils a couple of minutes to put a shot on Curtis McElhinney. He’s a #2/#3 goalie who has been bouncing around the league. Carolina picked him up on waivers. The good news for New Jersey is that Carolina did not demonstrate a lot of structure on defense or even good play on the puck. Perhaps they were more tired than they thought since the puck was bouncing a lot, zone exits were denied, and the Devils kept finding ways to get scoring chances. Hope was provided early when Pavel Zacha finished a pass from Jesper Bratt with a sweet top-shelf backhand shot to make it 1-2 a little over six minutes after Ferland scored. Hope was nutured with every Canes giveaway, lost battle, and scramble as a Devil tried to make a play.
However, that hope turned into agony for the fan to watch as time went on. The Zacha goal made me, at least, think that this could become a high scoring affair. McElhinney has not been amazing and the vaunted Hurricanes defense looked as strong as a paper bag. The equalizer was surely to come. The line of Pavel Zacha, Marcus Johansson, and Jesper Bratt was rolling. The fourth line of Jean-Sebastien Dea, Stefan Noesen, and Miles Wood was putting in a lot of good work. Even others had good looks. Other than a Severson shot getting through McElhinney but dropping right into the crease, nothing got through. The first period went by as chances were not realized and rebounds were not cleanly picked upon. But the ice was tilted in New Jersey’s direction. A comeback felt really possible.
The second period was more of the same only with the addition of penalties. Yes, the referees did call penalties on the Devils’ opposition this evening. Unfortunately, the Devils made the least of their power play opportunities. The first situation was not bad, the second situation was a waste of time, and the third ended early thanks to Noesen tripping Justin Faulk by the Canes’ endboards. Still, the power play yielded five shots as the 5-on-5 play created six whilst holding Carolina to one. Carolina’s one power play in the second period was their primary source of offense in the middle frame of regulation. The run of play was still in favor of New Jersey. The proverbial door was being knocked. Surely, someone would answer. Surely, a bounce or a great look would be created. From Hall, from Zacha, from Johansson, from the fourths, surely anyone.
In the third period, the Canes had a slight surge and a power play of their own. And then it started dawning on me that the comeback may not be happening. The Devils have impressively kept a high-shooting Canes team to few shots. But the Devils began to fail more and more to generate good shots. As time went on, Carolina realized that their bread-and-butter was frustrating opponents in 5-on-5 play. It grew larger and larger. The blocks by the Canes began to feel bigger. The zone exits by Canes became more successful. They started winning more board battles. By the final few minutes of regulation, the Devils tried to play more desperate hockey but the Canes’ forecheck was on point and their neutral zone trap seemed massive. Even with an extra skater, the Devils were basically hoping for a puck to be deflected or bounced or put their way. As time ticked off, my frustration as a fan only grew. After seeing the Devils lose leads in close games in the third period, I was hoping so much for the opponent to suffer the same fate. Instead, I saw Hynes switch up lines to little avail, see McElhinney look like a wall, and a Canes team go from slopper to proper for about the final ten minutes to clamp down for the win. Sure, Taylor Hall heroically slid to deny the empty netter but with 4.2 seconds left, the Devils secured 59:30 long run of a futility to score two goals against Carolina and Curtis McElhinney.
The sad thing is that Cory Schneider did provide that sub-3 goal-allowed performance that many were jeering him for not providing. He played much better as time went on. It was not enough. The defense kept the Canes to 25 shots overall, which is on point. It was not enough. The Devils drew power plays albeit ones that the Devils needed to do much better on. They were definitely not enough. We wanted lines outside of the top ones make an impact this season and the Devils got good performances out of the initial Zacha line and the fourth line. Zacha’s sweet backhander was the one result and it was obviously not enough. What we saw for 59:30 was not enough to make up for 30 seconds of utter failure.
As I always write, life is like hockey, it’s not fair.
The Opposition Opinion: Brett Finger’s recap at Canes Country appropriately praises McElhinney’s performance tonight. The goalie did make the stops. He’s right in that regard.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight’s highlights, for a given definition of highlights:
Another Hynes Mistake - A Rant: With the goalie pulled for an extra skater, the idea is to have six attacking players. The Devils were down a score, they did not need defense. With 1:20 left in the game, the Devils had a neutral zone faceoff. Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Zajac, Johansson, and Will Butcher were on the ice with Schneider in the crease. Schneider got to the bench with 1:05 left and Stefan Noesen came on the ice as the extra skater. Yes, Stefan Noesen. Hynes kept this six-pack of players out there until Hall crashed into his own net to deny an empty-net goal. Even with an offensive zone faceoff and timeout in the middle of 1:05, 23 was still with 9, 19, 21, 90, and 8.
Look, Noesen had himself a fine game. When he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils out-attempted the Canes 13-3. They also only out-shot them 4-1. He is also only Stefan noesen, who has not been productive as of late. Sure, he had three shots on net this evening. But by no means is he the sixth best attacker on this roster even with Nico Hischier out due to injury!
Jesper Bratt has four assists in six games and created the only goal of the night for New Jersey. He didn’t see the ice in the final 2:32 of the game! But Stefan Noesen did!
Pavel Zacha, who now has two goals in his last two games, had another great night. Four shots on net! That sweet backhander goal! Stuck on the bench in the final 2:52 of the game!
Blake Coleman is not just a guy CJ was hyping up as a tie-in to National Pickle Day! CJ has plenty of reasons! Coleman has been playing rather well! Tonight, he led the Devils with five shots on net! He had a shorthanded goal on Saturday! He had a three-point night in Philly! OK, he had a 58 second shift that ended at 1:34. But why not bring on the leading shooter of the day for that offensive zone faceoff instead of Noesen? Coming out of a timeout, he would have been fresher for it.
If Hynes wanted a fourth-liner to do business, why not Dea then? He also had three shots on net. He also had six individual attempts. He was also a
the only Devil center to win a majority of his faceoffs. (Brett Seney also did so, but Dea had the more active night so I’m highlighting him in this rant than Seney.) I wouldn’t pick Dea normally but he would have been a better choice than Stefan Noesen! At least do not bench him for the last 5:07 of the game on this night of nights!
Did I miss something? Did any of these guys scuff Hynes’ shoes or something?
I’m not saying Noesen’s inclusion ensured that the game was lost. The Devils went to six skaters in desperation, it was likely they were going to lose at that point and they did. But this is another example where Hynes did not make a good, justifiable decision in a situation where a coach can make an impact. His selection of players in overtime against Detroit was more obvious and costly. But it’s the second straight game where Hynes failed with these details amid two losses this weekend. These are the moments where he needs to perform. Speeches for tissue-soft quasi-documentaries in preseason or after wins aren’t it, chief.
Frustrating losses bring out some details about the team that annoys someone. This is mine.
Top Line Not Tops: The Devils, as a team, out-attempted Carolina 54-45 and out-shot them 27-21 in 5-on-5 play. Given that the Canes went into this game with a team CF% over 58%, that’s really impressive. Moreover that the Devils did so without a very good game from their top line.
This was a night where the Devils could have used a gamebreaking move by Taylor Hall or a killer shot by Kyle Palmieri. It was not that long ago that we saw Hall put up four points in 4-2 win over Pittsburgh or Palmieri wrap in a big insurance goal in Philly. But tonight, the Hall, Palmieri, Zajac line were beaten in 5-on-5 play. All three forwards were out-attempted and out-shot in 5-on-5 play, the worst among forwards. Given that much of the team’s offensive talent is in Hall and Palmieri, when they struggle in a game to create, attack, and shoot (only five shots combined from these three), it is a hinderance. In contrast, the Zacha and Dea lines shined. I also now think that is why Hynes mixed things up; hoping to get Hall and/or Palmieri going. Neither worked that well. In retrospect, Hynes should have switched to the original lines and hope that the Johansson-Zacha-Bratt line or the fourths would have found the goal instead. Unfortunately, top players have off nights too and this was their off night.
Alternatively, Carolina’s line of Jordan Staal, Justin Williams, and Brock McGinn had a fine night in 5-on-5 play. In addition to getting that goal Schneider should have stopped, when either one was on the ice, the Hurricanes were out-playing the Devils. They’re the only line that can say that in full.
Need Better Chances?: The count of scoring chances in this one suggests that the Devils could have used some more quality. For all situations, per Natural Stat Trick, the Devils had 25 scoring chances and 9 high-danger ones. Carolina actually had more: 28 scoring chances and 12 high-danger ones. Yet, the heat map for the Devils at Natural Stat Trick shows a big blob right to the left of the crease - which is a good place to take a lot of attempts from. I can agree the Devils could have generated more. I can also argue they could have done better on those 25 chances and/or 9 high-danger ones.
I will not agree that the Devils over-passed or over-looked plays though. The Devils took 34 shots out of 62 attempts. They weren’t giving up good for a better that did not exist. If anything, maybe they should have done that a bit more. When Hall and Palmieri are not having good nights, it is a struggle - and that is not good for the Devils as a whole. At least Zacha scored.
Get A Stick: The Devils penalty kill was pretty solid. Although it was an ordeal to see Joey Anderson to go without a stick (it broke, he had to drop it) and that helped Carolina stay in the offensive zone for much of the first power play and almost a minute after it ended. This was their main source of offense in the second period and a big part of it was that Anderson could not help get a clear or make a play without a stick. During the PK, OK, it is hard with the bench being away from the zone. I know it was the second period, but when Ben Lovejoy returned, he should have darted to get a stick. Better to be still in a make-shift 5-on-4 than a 5-on-5 where one guy is effectively useless because he is stickless. Get a stick. Travis Zajac did that and it turned the third period penalty kill into a much easier one for New Jersey.
Poor Penalties: I was not at all a fan of Ben Lovejoy hooking Warren Foegele after a loose puck turned into a near-chance on Schneider’s doorstep. Namely because Lovejoy was beaten prior to that foul. I was not at all a fan of Noesen tripping Faulk during a Devils power play because fouls during power plays are usually bad ones. I was not at all a fan of Andy Greene coughing up the puck (he was not particularly sharp on the puck this evening, by the way) and then tripping Lucas Wallmark to deny him a one-on-one with Schneider in the third. Again, like Lovejoy, I know why he fouled him but he was why he had to do it. While taking three calls is not particularly undisciplined hockey, how they took them was another needling point in this game filled with them.
One Last Thought: This weekend was filled with the Devils having many strong 5-on-5 shifts with a combined two goals to show for it. I repeat: Hockey is like life, it is not fair.
Your Take: The Devils were damaged in a thirty-second disaster and then frustrated the Devils faithful all along the world for the following 59:30 as they lost 1-2 to Carolina. What are your thoughts on this loss? What can the Devils do, if anything to rebound for Wednesday’s game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account during the game. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading. You deserve better than these kind of losses. Alas, life isn’t about deserves either.