This evening at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, the New Jersey Devils found a way to demonstrate several reasons why the 2018-19 campaign has been so frustrating to watch. They were hosting the New York Islanders. The Devils would answer each goal by the Islanders in regulation, including an equalizer with about ten seconds left in the game. But the Devils were downed in overtime yet again so the night ended with a 3-4 loss to the Islanders. The result is not that good (or that bad), but how the Devils ended up there certainly provides much to gripe about.
Let’s make a list:
- Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers. The Devils committed some brutal turnovers and it led to Keith Kinkaid making some of his best saves. It also led to the first and final goals of the game. The first: Sami Vatanen reversed a puck towards Mirco Mueller only for Anthony Beauvillier to pick it off and feed it to Jordan Eberle. Eberle took a shot and potted in his own rebound. The last: Kyle Palmieri decided in 3-on-3 hockey to take the puck right at Brock Nelson on the New York blueline. He lost the puck to him, straight up. The puck got loose, Mathew Barzal sped ahead for a break away, and Barzal put in his own rebound to make it an Islanders win. Those two were the costliest turnovers. But there were many more that gave the Isles several attacking opportunities throughout the night.
- (Early) Struggles to Execute. The final shot count was 42-32 in favor of the Devils in all situations, but it was closer in 5-on-5 play at 30-27. Why? The Devils had many potential attacked denied from blocks, poor passes, and easily-intercepted passes by the Isles. The “energy level” was rather flat until the Devils got on the board and even then it took until the third period before most of the team was playing at a fluid pace.
- Overtime Failure. The Devils generated 42 shots out of 70 attempts in regulation. They generated 0 shots out of 0 attempts in overtime. Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall needed to do much better than what they did on a 2-on-1 attempt; but the whole team did not attack like they needed to despite making it happen with more bodies on the ice. Palmieri’s turnover in OT was a disastrous one, too. Puck possession is the most important thing in 3-on-3 hockey. Palmieri played it like it was 5-on-5 hockey or something. He’s far too experienced to not know any better on that play. I don’t even blame Severson, Palmieri’s play put him in a bad spot. He should have bailed out of his effort and at least New Jersey would have kept the puck. Alas. The Devils are now 0-3 in overtime games this season, and they have not made it to a shootout. Something may be wrong with the 3-on-3 play.
- Questionable Coaching Decisions. Palmieri did not have that great of a night on the puck, yet he was out there in a critical situation like OT. When the Devils first pulled Kinkaid for an extra skater, Brian Boyle came over the boards - which is not the worst decision but definitely not the best. Despite some huge turnovers early, few players if any had their minutes cut. This was not as bad as, say, the OT loss to Detroit, but John Hynes is not exactly covered in glory. And what in the world does Alain Nasreddine instruct the defensemen what to do on rush plays? Between Severson not picking up the passer on 2-on-1s to Greene (and Severson too) on the Leddy goal - hours after it has been scored. Is bodying up players just not discussed as an option?
- Special Teams Working One Way. The penalty kill was great. Three kills, only five shots against, and the Devils made the Isles chase more than they were in the zone. Well done. But the power play was not as successful. The power play did have some good looks but the team ultimately missed on cashing in on a long 5-on-3 early in the game. After Thomas Greiss interfered with Miles Wood, Leo Komorov impressively cleared the puck over the glass behind Kinkaid from his own zone. Despite setting up some good looks and putting Palmieri on a wide position instead of one where he can blast slapshots from, the Devils failed to convert. A later PP had its moments except it also had a few threatening looks by the Isles. While the power play did not cost the Devils the game, it could have put them in a far better position - which contributed to what happened.
- A Costly Loss. It may be November 23, but the Devils are not in a good place in the division and definitely not in the wild card race. Picking up a regulation win over the Isles would have been huge. The Devils would be right with Carolina and right behind the Isles in points. Instead, the Isles get to hang out in fourth place while the Devils could very well enter Sunday night’s game in eighth in the Metropolitan Division again. It is very hard to catch up in this league - yes, no one is running away in points, but remember to move up, someone has to go down and that’s the hard and mostly uncontrollable part - and so dropping point(s) to an opponent in the division hurts the cause.
- A Goalie Not Rewarded. Kinkaid played a good game and made some very good saves. I do not think any of the goals against were soft or all that stoppable. He gets to eat an ‘L’ because of...
- Defensive Woes. While the Devils generated more attempts, shots, and chances, all three goals allowed in regulation could have been possibly prevented with a better defensive effort. Not talent. Effort. Particularly around the crease. While the Devils won the count of high-danger chances 22-14, four of them went bad.
In fact, let’s make Defensive Woes a list of its own:
- For the first one by Eberle, Vatanen’s turnover was already covered. Mirco Mueller was far too slow to help on Eberle as he was a pylon on the rebound attempt. Marcus Johansson could provided much better help as well. Did either happen? Nope. The team suffered for it.
- For the second one, Anders Lee got inside position on Travis Zajac. It was a simple pass-shoot-score right at the left side of the crease; from Valtteri Filppula to Lee. Zajac overskated a loose puck earlier in the shift, he was chasing the play a bit, he correctly went down low to help since Vatanen moved up in the zone, but he was too slow to react to Lee. He needed to tie him up, foul him, something. Nope. The team suffered for it.
- For the third one, Nick Leddy magically became Scott Niedermayer and skated up from his end with the puck on a rush. Andy Greene and Damon Severson were back. Leddy took a shot. Leddy kept skating. Severson was lost and Greene tracked Leddy - and did nothing to him. Two men back against one and they did nothing. Leddy got his own rebound and scored. This made it 2-3 in the third period and this was downright disgraceful. I’m not saying Greene or Severson needed to become Scott Stevens and crush his bones. But that was a play where he needed to be denied the rebound by any means necessary. A check. A tie-up of the stick. Even a penalty would have been warranted. Nope. The team suffered for it.
- For the fourth one, Kyle Palmieri unwisely skated to and lost the puck to Brock Nelson. The puck got free and went right in front of Barzal. Barzal broke away from Severson, shot, and put in his own rebound. The even stupider thing about it is that right before, Palmieri got a pass back to his own zone so the Devils could change personnel. The Isles were changing, but it wasn’t a full unit. Instead of waiting for support to be ready, he thought he could do it himself. Nope. The team suffered for it.
I think you get the picture of the Defensive Woes and other frustrations that marred this game. The sad thing is that I can paint a positive picture of this game. Here’s another list:
- Despite the issues with execution and effort, the Devils did not act like they were down four when they were really down one. More importantly, they answered every goal scored in regulation.
- The second and third period efforts were much more lively compared to the first. It is not an accident that the shots and attempts rose up in a big way in those two periods.
- The Devils did do better than the Isles overall in the run of play in 5-on-5 and all situations. While certain Islanders made it a long night for the Devils (Barzal, Eberle, Bailey), this was not a game where the Devils were steamrolled.
- After being shut out for four plus periods by this man this season, Greiss was finally scored on - and the team beat him two more times. The goals themselves were not pretty. Taylor Hall batted in his own rebound; Brian Boyle tipped in a long shot by Blake Coleman; and Johansson batted in a puck last touched by Hall. Still, that’s three goals against a goalie who has been having a whale of a season and was a wall to the Devils for over 90 minutes.
- The Devils even got a two equalizers in the third, which means the other team blew a third period lead for a change. That is nice.
- As much as they were too loose on the puck at times, Vatanen and Will Butcher played through their mistakes and were frequently supporting the many shots made by the Devils.
- Miles Wood had a more impactful and positive night. Sure, he had a brutal turnover in the first period, but he drew a call and used his speed wisely to create some opportunities for the Devils that other players would not have realized. While his performances have not been great this season, he also has been rather unlucky. Wood’s on-ice shooting percentage in 5-on-5 play is well below 5%. More nights like this and I think (and hope) the points will come.
- There was a point earned when it seemed certain after Leddy’s goal that it was going to be a loss.
The saddest thing is that Boyle scored another goal on Hockey Fights Cancer Night. Could you write it any better than that? Of course! It would be a great point in a story if the Devils won the dang game. But these are your 2018-19 Devils, where a great win could be followed by a close and maddening loss (like tonight) or a blowout or something else. In this week alone, there was this game, a comfortable win over a good Montreal team, and a game that was effectively lost in the first 30 seconds in Carolina. What will happen in Florida on Sunday and Money? Who knows! But I wouldn’t trust any big turnaround at this rate.
In a sound: Phbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbt.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik has this recap at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Game Highlights: Hall batting in a puck, Boyle tipping in a puck, Johansson scoring a late equalizer (if I’m not mistaken he’s the only Devil to score 6v5 this season, he had that useless one in Detroit earlier this month), all overshadowed by tonight’s OTL.
Two Last Thoughts: Since the comments will inevitably have it, I’ll pre-empt them. Yes, Barzal should have been the pick at sixth overall in 2015. Yes, Barzal was great. Yes, Pavel Zacha was not much of a factor tonight. Yes, if ‘if’s and ‘but’s candy and nuts, then we’d all have a nice treat.
Lastly, Katie Strang had a typically great article in The Athletic ($) discussing about connections between the military and hockey teams. One of the main points was how a trip to West Point helped the 2005-06 team of Our Hated Rivals (who the Devils swept in the playoffs) get it together. Among the quotes, one point stuck out to me by Eric Joyce. That despite all of the planning and instructions, once the game starts, what your fundamentals are matter a whole lot in what decisions you do or do not make. It’s a great point. It makes me wonder: what are the Devils working on when forced into a difficult situation or when something goes wrong? What that answer is may be a reason why the team is where they are.
Your Take: The Devils lost in OT to the Islanders and did so in a disappointing way despite some real positives that one could take away from this one. What’s your take on it? Who impressed you and who did not? What can the Devils do differently before their next game in Tampa Bay on Sunday night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this overtime loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview. Thanks to Mike for running @AAtJerseyBlog during the game. Thanks to everyone who commented during the game. Thank you for reading.