The slump is not over.
Last night, the New Jersey Devils ended a winless streak by decisively beating Pittsburgh 5-1. It was not just the score that was great. It was in how the Devils attacked, how they possessed the puck, and most relevant to tonight’s “performance,” the Devils kept finding ways to win pucks, supporting each other on defense, and making plays even after the opposition scored or had a good shift of their own. They did not react to one bad shift or a goal against as if it was the end of the night. Tonight, the New Jersey Devils did exactly that as they collapsed against the Ottawa Senators in a shameful 3-7 loss.
To say that I was frustrated from watching this game would putting it lightly. I would think most Devils fans were frustrated as well.
I understand that the New Jersey Devils played a game last night; a high-event game that featured plenty of shots and attempts by both teams. Yet, the Devils showed little signs of fatigue as they came out strong. They nearly scored on their very first shift. Taylor Hall scored early in the game with a sweet move. Kyle Palmieri was in the right place at the right time to put home a rebound from a Ben Lovejoy shot to make it 2-0. The Devils were playing as if last night did not end. The Senators looked lost.
And then came a bad shift for New Jersey. A shift where Lovejoy was lost in his own end, the Senators were winning races to pucks, and moving it about. Brian Boyle planted his 6’7” frame in front of Cory Schneider just as Thomas Chabot received the puck. The defenseman hammered a slapshot past the screen to make it 2-1.
This was followed by another bad shift. An arguably worse one. Mirco Mueller and Damon Severson played plenty of not-defense. Severson seemingly justified his critics as he stood by as Matt Duchene sent a pass from the right side of the crease to Mark Stone at the left side of the crease through Severson’s legs. Stone scored the easy goal on Cory Schneider’s left flank. That’s two goals for Ottawa within a minute. That’s 2-2 shortly after Palmieri made it 2-0.
It was on the shift after that where Ottawa continued to attack and threatened to make it 2-3. Whereas Ottawa completely did not throw in the towel when they were down two goals, the Devils were seemingly stunned by the two quick goals and struggled to recover. Sure, they had a look here and there at Craig Anderson. But the Gameflow chart at Natural Stat Trick reflected how the remainder of the first period went. It was Ottawa hockey and the Devils were just trying to survive.
The good news is that they did survive the period at 2-2. The bad news is that the Senators went right back to pinning New Jersey back at the start of the second period. It would not be long before the Devils paid for it and they did. A little over two minutes in, another terrible shift for New Jersey that ended up being costly. It ended with five white jerseys watching the puck and nobody watching Colin White - least of all Mueller who was supposed to be aware of this. Stone hit White perfectly through the seam and White scored easily on Schneider’s left flank. Now the Devils were losing 2-3. The Senators kept attacking.
I’m going to break here because these first few minutes, of all things, is where the Devils truly lost the game tonight. Last night, the Devils scored first and the Penguins responded with a goal. An entirely stoppable goal, too. The Devils did not respond by putting up the weakest effort against a Pittsburgh offense looking to play the game of professional ice hockey. They took a hit and sought to hit back themselves. They showed resilence. In Ottawa, the Devils that arrived on the ice showed up softer than tissue paper. I can understand a bad shift. I can understand a bad period. But at no point was it the end of the game or the world. The Devils’ play suggested otherwise and that came after John Hynes, the head coach, had a chance to talk to his charges, make some adjustments, and generally get the team’s mind right. Given how the Devils opened the second period, he clearly failed. And he certainly did not get much help from his staff or the captains on the roster either. After White’s goal, the Devils continued on as if nothing at all happened and continued to chase the game.
Ottawa was free to tilt the ice and tilt the ice they did. And the Senators kept on rolling. A rush play that ended with Stone firing a high shot that Cory Schneider probably should have stopped (the only one of the four too). 2-4. Schneider was pulled for Keith Kinkaid. The goalie change did not spark any difference from the 18 skaters where Devils uniforms. There were a few minutes where the Devils put up some semblance of a response to these four goals. That ended after Miles Wood was called for cross-checking White behind the Devils’ net. No, the cross-check did not hit White hard but he did the full motion right in front of a referee. The resulting power play ended with a pass by Stone going off White’s skate (I think he touched it in after) to put the puck past Kinkaid’s left flank. 2-5. By this point, the game was effectively out of doubt. Short of Ottawa putting in one of the worst third periods ever in recent memory, the Devils were going to lose.
Ottawa did not put in one of the worst third periods ever. They even out-shot the Devils in the third too. They did not come out with as much aggression, but they would have bursts of keeping New Jersey scrambling on defense and hoping to break Kinkaid again. Their one big error came from White needlessly high-sticking Brett Seney. Unfortunately, the Devils power play could not crack the very-leaky-this-season Ottawa penalty kill. The Sens finally put a second one past Kinkaid did past the halfway mark. Ryan Dzingel took advantage of a Devils turnover in the neutral zone and torched Kinkaid with a low, stoppable shot. 2-6. About a minute later, Blake Coleman took a cross-check on offense and almost started a big beef. Fortunately, the Devils killed that call. Coleman would fire a long shot later that Travis Zajac tipped in front for a consolation goal. 3-6. After an injury to Craig Anderson forced Ottawa to put in Mike McKenna, Hynes pulled Kinkaid really early for an extra skater. They drew a power play - which also failed to crack the Ottawa PK at 6-on-5 and 6-on-4. After that, Magnus Paajarvi sank in an empty netter to make it 3-7. Even in “garbage time” the Senators out-classed New Jersey tonight.
It would be one thing to lose the game. It would be one thing if I could point to one player like, say, Schneider and say that this was mostly or all his fault. It would be one thing if I could point to a part of the game and write how that part of the game - 5-on-5, power play, penalty kill, etc. - was why they lost. But this was a blowout loss that did not need to happen. The Devils played a good game for 10 minutes, they got scored on twice in successive shifts, and played like it was already over despite it being tied from those two goals. Yes, the goaltenders (plural) did not stand on their head. But just like last week’s blowout loss, the skaters largely hung out the goalies to dry. Tonight’s defensive performance was utterly abysmal. The offense would disappear for stretches because of said scrambling and struggling on defense. The special teams were a net negative as New Jersey’s power play somehow could not solve a Senator penalty kill that has stunk on ice this season and the Devils’ own PK was beat. The Devils took more calls to only further their suffering. All the while, the leaders on the team and the coaches on the bench utterly failed to even adjust or do much of anything to try to limit the damage. Spare me the “fatigue” reason; the Devils demonstrated that they are a soft team that has a tendency to crumble when bad things This game didn’t remind me of 2016-17; it reminded me of 2010-11 under another bald head coach with the first name of John: John MacLean.
Again, frustration isn’t even the word. The slump is not over. The Devils, as a team, own this embarrassing loss in Ottawa.
The Opposition Opinion: Ross A at Silver Seven highlights Mark Stone in his recap. As he should. The Devils had no answer for Stone tonight. The man did more than put up two goals and three assists, which is astounding on its own. He took seven shots by himself. His linemates, Duchene and Dzingel combined for just three, but they supported Stone with plenty of passes, puck battles, and possessions. When he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Senators out-attempted the Devils 28-17, out-shot them 15-8, and out-chanced them 11-7. All that and he drew a roughing call out of Coleman. Why, yes, he was named the First Star of the Game by Tonight’s Attending Media. This should not surprise you.
The Game Highlights: Highlights? Yeah, to some. Not so for the Devils tonight. Here’s the video from NHL.com:
The Other Dominant Senator Tonight: Not only did they have no answer for Stone, they had no answer for Chabot. The defenseman had nine shots on net tonight and when he was on the ice, the Senators out-attempted New Jersey 42-20 per Natural Stat Trick. 42-20! For one player!
I’m Going Stop You Right Now: No, the Devils did not lose this game tonight because of how badly David Conte drafted a decade ago. No, the Devils did not lose this game tonight because of how the Era of Lou ended. No, the Devils did not lose this game tonight because your favorite scapegoat was not good. No, the Devils did not lose this game tonight because Drew Stafford played like he was a tryout in camp or because Miles Wood did very little or because Marcus Johansson took three unremarkable shots and that’s it or because the fourth line alone stunk. Those things were true, but those things alone did not result in this loss. No, the Devils did not lose this game because Cory Schneider could not see around all 6’7” of Brian Boyle to make a save or stop shots on backdoor plays despite how you may think he should because of how much money he makes. (Either they are all bad goals that should have been stopped or they are not; salary doesn’t matter.) Fine, Schneider should have stopped Stone’s second goal. Given how the game ended, that’s akin to stating how Kinkaid should have stopped one of the seven that Tampa Bay rang up on him last week. Even if we agree on the single GA, it’s moot in the larger picture. So do not pee on my leg and tell me its something else. Anyway. No, the Devils did not lose this game tonight because every time the camera went to John Hynes, he looked like a statue. No, the Devils did not lose this game tonight because of one particular line combination or defensive pairing. No, the Devils did not lose this game tonight because Jesper Bratt and Steve Santini are still out with fractured jaws.
Aside: No, it does not matter how much money Schneider makes (which means little on this team) or how long his contract is; you do not get to deny how the goals were scored as part of the evaluation. Believe it or not, most goals against a goalie are not soft ones and general statements about how goaltenders “gotta make some tough stops” is no different than stating “Well, real MVPs have to step up in tough games,” while any line without Hall tonight got their lunch handed to them of the rink. Maybe this means I’m soft on goalies, but this isn’t different than how I wrote about Kinkaid last Tuesday in Tampa. Point the finger at him last week would have been foolish of me. Likewise, it would be foolish to do the same tonight regardless of how good or bad their save percentage is for a given range of dates. If only for seemingly absolving a terrible team performance by the skaters, which is why the Devils lost and lost big tonight.
I need to make this incredibly clear: the 2018-19 team entirely failed tonight. The Devils conceded 42 shots on net in 60 minutes of play. They allowed 76 attempts in 60 minutes of play. They took four penalties and drew just two - both of which happened in the third period. The Devils power play struggled to generate shots on net against Ottawa’s lackluster PK units. While the Devils won the HDCF battle, they were notably not winning around the crease for Stone’s first goal and White’s two goals. The Devils let Ottawa own the neutral zone. As time dragged on, so did the effort. The Devils went from battling hard for 60 minutes to going through the motions by the 30th minute tonight.
Only one line on New Jersey was not horrid and that was the Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri line. They provided two goals. Early ones that the team could have built on. Early ones that prevented an early deficit when Ottawa hit the Devils with a quickfire double. Alas, they could not break through on the power play or in 5-on-5 play as time went on. They tried as they combined for 13 of New Jersey’s 39 shots on net and each finished with CF%’s above 50%. They certainly did not receive a whole lot of help from the other forward lines, to put it lightly. To put it more honestly, the fourth line was wrecked; Wood was wasteful; Stafford was not good; Seney struggled; Johansson was not effective; Coleman was a net-negative; and even Zajac, who has been doing quite well this season, had an off night. Unfortunately, tonight showed the fault of the Devils’ forward situation: it’s led by one line and even when that one line does well, it doesn’t mean it’ll be a good night. But this is the closest I’m coming to praise for the Devils tonight.
The defense was also notably not helping a ton. Sure, Andy Greene was positive but I’m loathe to praise a blueline that did not generate a lot of offense whilst allowing over 41 shots against goaltenders. The forwards were not supportive or helpful in their own end and the defensemen themselves were scrambling to many faults. Severson was not good. Lovejoy was not good. Will Butcher was not good. Sami Vatanen and Mueller were particularly not good. Alain Nasreddine and his work has been ripped to shreds in recent games and I’m stunned there has not been many changes. It’s not like the Devils have been winning a lot recently, so I do not know why . I would have loved it if Schneider (or Kinkaid) made some miraculous stops on some of the goals that beat them tonight. I would have loved it even more if Boyle didn’t decide to plant himself right in front of Schneider; if Severson understood what was around him on Stone’s first goal; and if Mueller (or any other Devil) even noticed White coming down the left side of the slot before he scored. Likewise if they didn’t commit that turnover that gave Dzingel a late goal to juice up the score. Don’t misunderstand me, I’d like Schneider - and now Kinkaid - to have overall save percentages above 90% this season.
But I would have loved it even more if the entire team and coaching staff did not fall apart like a paper bag in a rain storm after Ottawa scored two goals in the first period. I would have loved it even more if the Devils came out in the first intermission and played like they knew it was a tied game and there was a lot of time left to still make it a win. I would have loved it even more if the Devils responded to White’s first goal as if they took it as being just down one goal instead of playing like they’re down five. I would have loved it if the Devils decided that defense in the neutral zone would be a good idea as well as executing much better in their own end such that Schneider and Kinkaid didn’t face a total of 41 shots. I would have loved it if the Devils got the talking to they needed from Greene, Hall, Zajac, Hynes, anybody to recognize that the world wasn’t ending at 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, or even 2-4; that they could still play a game of competitive professional ice hockey and maybe, just maybe, get a result anyway.
That did not happen, the Devils were skated off the ice from Kanata, and so many Devils fans are and should be unhappy because this ugly loss is a cruel reminder that the Devils are still mired in a slump. And the team - the team - has no one to blame but themselves for this shameful performance.
I am a veteran of the Internet, so I know some will jump right into the comments and ignore this whole rant and go on about how I’m not criticizing the scapegoat of the moment enough. At least I tried. Which is a lot more than what the Devils displayed after 12 minutes passed in tonight’s game.
Two Last Thoughts: Early on in the broadcast, Ken Daneyko noted how there were no passengers in the Pittsburgh game. I agree. Tonight, the Devils played like drifters who jumped on a broken-down traincar in the hopes it would go somewhere.
More relevant to the post-game, does anyone know what questions were asked of Hynes tonight after this game? Were any of them about how mentally weak the team looked tonight or something in that vein?
Your Take: To put it politely and briefly, this game absolutely sucked for the Devils. The slump continues. Toronto is next and it could another ugly one again. I got my thoughts out for this game. I’m sure you’re already to go with yours. So please share your thoughts on the loss in the comments. Thank you for reading.