As it was a late night in New Jersey, this recap is broken up into a period-by-period summary. There will only be one more start past 10 PM ET this season after this one and it is way out in March. That said, the main summary of the game is simple. After taking time to “get going,” the San Jose Sharks rolled through the New Jersey Devils. They were better on and off the puck. Combined with Keith Kinkaid not having a good night, the defense being made to look foolish, and an offense that was kept at bay, it was a decisive loss for the Devils. They lost 2-5 and fully earned it.
The California trip overall ended at 1-1-1. Normally, that is not bad. The Devils are not in a normal situation. They entered the trip last in the Eastern Conference. They end the trip last in the Eastern Conference. If their goal was to get out of last in the Eastern Conference, then they did not succeed. They need to get more than 3 out of 6 potential points to get out of last in the Eastern Conference. They did not so they remain last in the Eastern Conference. This game against San Jose alone is not why they are last in the Eastern Conference, but the Devils have had a lot of nights like this where they were clearly outplayed and ended up faltering. When that happens a lot, the team will end up, you guessed it, last in the Eastern Conference.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Fear the Fin for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
The First Period, or A Sluggish Sharks Team Sharpened to Shred Devils Later: The start of this game was sloppy. Travis Zajac split the defense for a shot at Martin Jones. Nico Hischier made a defensive play to stop Kevin Lebanc at the net. That would be it in terms of notable scoring chances until much later in the period. The Devils were not sharp and the Sharks were just failing to execute. The Devils ran up a 7-0 shot count where the Sharks did not register a shot on Keith Kinkaid until past halfway through the first period. Unfortunately, the Devils did not take advantage - particularly with a power play that was hardly powerful.
Then the Devils would get a break from Martin Jones. He was caught not on the left post during a Devils 3-on-2 rush. Drew Stafford fired the puck from the wing and it got through. The goal was Stafford’s first of the season and the first of the game. However, the Sharks did more than respond. They began to dominate the game.
More and more, the Sharks just kept attacking the Devils in waves. Line by line, pairing by pairing, the Sharks were pinning New Jersey back more and more as the Devils failed to generate much offense. Stafford’s shot was New Jersey’s eighth of the period with 7:55 left to play. The Devils took one more shot. In contrast, San Jose took eight of their own.
Worse, they scored twice. A bad turnover by Sami Vatanen to Tomas Hertl led to an odd-man rush by San Jose led by Timo Meier. Meier skated to the left circle and beat Kinkaid straight up on a shot. Egor Yakovlev curiously did not engage Meier and so Meier had the time and space to beat Kinkaid cleanly. 1-1. The Sharks attack rolled on and caught a more fortuitous break. Brendan Dillon fired a shot on net that Kinkaid could not handle. The puck dropped to Kinkaid’s right pad - where Joe Pavelski could fish it away and put it home. Pavel Zacha was in the area, but it was a right-place-right-time score for Pavelski as Kinkaid failed to handle the shot. 1-2. By period’s end, the Sharks were up 22-14 in shooting attempts, 11-9 in shots, 11-4 in scoring chances, 7-3 in high-danger chances, and 2-1 in goals in 5-on-5 play.
Remember: the Sharks struggled to move the puck effectively or with pace for the first ten minutes or so. San Jose looked like they played the night before and not New Jersey. However, they got their acts together by winning small battles, kept repeating their fundamentals, and built on smaller successes to punish the Devils. That’s the mark of good coaching. The Devils, on the other hand, were out-classed in those final eight to nine minutes of the first.
The Second Period, or San Jose Built Up a Larger Lead to Make it an Uphill Battle: The Sharks continued to tilt the ice somewhat to begin the second period. They largely kept the game in New Jersey’s half of the rink as the Devils did not get a shot at Martin Jones, who gave up the soft one to Stafford, until 8:20 passed in the period. While the Sharks did not exactly pound Kinkaid with rubber, they beat him again. Defenseman Radim Simek fired a shot through traffic that beat Kinkaid to his right. No chance Kinkaid could have saw it. Simek scored his first NHL goal and put the Sharks up 1-3. The game was looking grim as the Devils failed to mount a response that would have threatened San Jose on either of those three goals.
However, minutes later, the Devils would claw one back. Kyle Palmieri took a loose puck in the neutral zone and turned on the jets against Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Palmieri won the puck behind the net from Vlasic, forced a wraparound try off Jones’ right pad, and the rebound came out to the middle of the ice. Andy Greene, who was part of the rush up ice, hammered in the puck - into the right net tonight - to make it 2-3. The Devils were back within a goal and had something resembling hope.
Those hopes unfortunately faded. Brett Seney, who was tripped up in the first period to draw New Jersey’s first useless power play of the night, took down Barclay Goodrow with a slash. The Devils survived the kill. Later, Vatanen was hit away from the play by Joonas Donskoi. The Devils’ power play took to the ice and could not figure out the San Jose penalty kill, the concept of puck possession on offense, and the reality that they had one extra skater on the ice. In the middle of all that, the Devils took exactly one shot on goal since the goal by Greene and Meier’s second of the night. Yes, Meier struck again.
This time, Donskoi made a play on defense, knocked a puck loose and Meier took it up ice in a 2-on-2. Strangely, Ben Lovejoy was occupied with Donskoi and gestured to Palmieri - who was to Lovejoy’s left to take on Meier skating at them, who was to Lovejoy’s right. Weird decision by #12 and it was not a right one. Again, Meier had time and space to beat Kinkaid straight up. 2-4 and the Devils were back in a deep hole. The Devils did have somewhat of a surge on offense with five of the next seven shots of the period. The 5-on-5 attempts, shots, and chances were more even in the second period. But the damage was done. Kinkaid’s unimpressive night plus some bad defensive decisions made it an uphill battle for the Devils by the end of the second period.
The Third Period, or My Line About Western Comes True: In the game preview, I referred to the Sharks as being Western Carolina. It turned out to be a very accurate statement in the third period with respect to how Carolina shut down the Devils in the third period of their game several weeks ago. San Jose did not allow the Devils to have a lot of space on offense. Their defensive play was superb as the Devils were kept to the outside on many of their zone entries and often lost the puck instead of trying to shoot against Jones. The Sharks often followed up those stops by going forward and attacking. This happened over and over and over and over and over again. It is why San Jose out-attempted the Devils 24-14, out-shot the Devils 13-5, out-chanced the Devils 11-3, and out-high-danger chanced the Devils 6-2 in 5-on-5 play in the third period.
San Jose did not score in 5-on-5 in the third period but they absolutely threatened to score several times. Kinkaid did well there in that sense. But the whole point for the Sharks was to keep the Devils from trying to get back into the game and they excelled at doing so. It made for a third period that was just hard to watch if you’re a Devils fan. Sure, every team is going to have stretches where they just do not keep up with their opponent. But it has happened frequently to the Devils and the third period against the Sharks was no different.
While 5-on-5 was kept scoreless, the Sharks did tack on one more goal to make it a 2-5 ‘L’ for the Devils. It was thanks to a strange delay of game penalty that led to John Hynes spitting out verbals. Something to do with an equipment issue. Of course, this is a three-road trip where Kinkaid knocked a puck to an opposing player for a goal against (Clifford in the LA game) and the Devils scored on themselves three times (Noesen, Lovejoy, Greene in Anaheim), so this penalty does not make the top-three in terms of new ways for the Devils found to make themselves suffer. Nonetheless, the Sharks made them suffer for this penalty. Seconds into the power play, Hertl essentially posted up Lovejoy in front of the crease as Kevin Lebanc took a shot on net. Hertl spun around, found the loose puck, and backhanded it past a sprawled out Kinkaid to make it 2-5. At this point, it is hard to be mad but it is easy to be further disappointed.
The game was seemingly over before that point and Hertl’s goal more than sealed it. The well-coached Sharks were better than the Devils. Their 2015 first rounder, Meier, was way better than the Devils’ 2015 first rounder, Zacha. Their depth players contributed. Stafford got a goal because Jones did not cover a post properly. Jones has had an awful season but his teammates helped him out a lot. Kinkaid was not given a lot of help and failed to help himself as he was beaten three times on unscreened shots and dropped a puck that Pavelski easily put home. Kinkaid was not very good and continues to leave the door open for Cory Schneider. The Sharks’ defensemen generally made good decisions. The Devils’ defensemen did not; Lovejoy was especially poor in moments and in general, Greene was pinned back throughout the night save for his goal (which at least put into the correct net), Yakovlev was out-matched, and Vatanen is turning into the worse version of Marek Zidlicky. After a rough first ten minutes, the Sharks’ forwards were effective at moving the puck, rushing up ice on counter attacks, and played well in all three zones. The Devils’ forwards were not. If this all reads that the Sharks were a totally better team tonight, then you get the point: they absolutely were. The Devils looked very much like a team that is in last place in the Eastern Conference.
One Final Thought: Amanda Stein Tweeted this quote from Andy Greene after the game:
#NJDevils Andy Greene: “We’ve got to turn this around. It’s embarrassing.”— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) December 11, 2018
It is. But the time to turn it around may have been during or after the Road Trip from Hell last month. Or before going on a six-game winless streak. Or before scoring on your own goaltender. The Devils have been an on-ice embarrassment for a while now. I’d like to think the team captain (and the other leaders and the coaches and management and etc.) have said things like this for a while. That it continues to happen means a lot still has to turn around. I’m becoming less and less confident it can even happen, much less happen at a point where the Devils can actually play catch-up and stay caught up in the standings.
I suggest starting with yourself, Greene, because opponents absolutely love playing against you these days. Tonight, when Greene was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Sharks out-attempted the Devils 21-9, the Sharks out-shot the Devils 11-7, the Sharks out-chanced the Devils 10-4, and the Sharks out-high-danger-chanced the Devils 7-3. Yes, Greene scored a goal and the Sharks did not against him in 5-on-5 tonight. But those on-ice differentials all point to the Sharks hanging out a lot in New Jersey’s end of the rink and a defenseman (and a team) that could not do much about it. That the Greene and the Devils continue to not do much about it on many other nights speak to larger issues with the talent, the systems, and the personnel on the team. Again, I suggest starting with yourself, Greene.
Your Take: The Devils What was your take on the game? Who impressed you? Who did not? What do the Devils need to work on before their next game on Friday against Vegas at the Rock? Please leave your answers and other comments about the game in the comments.
Thanks to Mike for running @AAtJerseyBlog for the game. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.