The New Jersey Devils hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. The Devils suffered at the mighty hands of the Bolts in 3-8 and 2-5 losses earlier this season. Tonight was no different. The Bolts swept the season series as the Devils ate a 1-5 defeat at the Rock. To put it nicely, the Devils’ performance absolutely sucked.
I would be lying to you, though, if I did not point out the positives from tonight’s game. Let’s get them out of the way:
- The Devils Toy Drive collected many toys for people who could use a gift this holiday season.
- This was apparently Hanukkah Night. A menorah made of hockey sticks was successfully lit.
- Prior to the game, the Devils honored a sled hockey player who had really cool glow-in-the-dark shoes.
- Egor Yakovlev scored his first National Hockey League goal and it was a pretty one. A laser that beat Louis Domingue high - and denied him a shutout. It was a fantastic finish after a pass by Sami Vatanen found #74 wide open across the slot.
- I don’t think anyone got injured
- The moon did not explode.
That’s all I got. Now, let’s move onto the many, many, many bad things by the Devils tonight after the usual stats, opposition opinion, and “highlights.”
The Opposition Opinion: Happy times are at Raw Charge. Writer HardevLad stated in the headline that the Lightning “walked over” the Devils. Yep. The lad is not wrong.
The Game “Highlights:” From NHL.com, here are the “highlights:”
The Even Strength Offense Was Bad: Say what you want about Louis Domingue, but he has put into a tough spot. An injury to Andrei Vasilveskiy meant that it’s been Domingue’s net night after night. The Devils generated a whopping four high-danger chances against him. Mind you, those chances include misses as well as shots on target, that doesn’t mean Domingue had to face four of them. The shooting was lackluster in general. Domingue faced 27 overall - no more than 10 in a period - out of just 43 attempts in all situations. It was sadder in 5-on-5 play as the Devils put up 19 out of 31 on Domingue.
By the way, Tampa Bay generated more 5-on-5 attempts, all situation attempts, 5-on-5 shots, and high-danger chances. Keep that in mind for the next section.
The Devils were without Jesper Bratt tonight due to illness. It just so happened that tonight turned out to be a bad night for Taylor Hall with respect to puck possession. Normally, he leads the offense. Tonight, when he was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 2-13, out-shot 1-8, and out high-danger chanced 0-2 in 5-on-5 play. That’s terrible. Worse, his mishandle of a pass by Ben Lovejoy created a turnover in his own end to Ondrej Palat. Palat passed it to Steve Stamkos, who made a slick pass to a crashing and wide-open Yanni Gourde to re-direct the puck through Kinkaid’s five-hole to make it 1-4, about a minute after Yakovlev scored. This put Hall on the bench for the period. Can’t blame the coach (for this at least). But it’s not just Hall who was bad on the line. Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri were largely non-factors. There were ample times for them to step up and they both did not. When the top line is junk, the Devils’ attack suffers and it suffered tonight.
Marcus Johansson led the team in shots (4) and attempts (6) and none of them were in the slot or near the crease so they weren’t huge issues for Domingue. Miles Wood continued his 2018-19 campaign of being the most disappointing Devils skater. Pavel Zacha tried to make some nice looks happen, but he had another ho-hum night. The only players to generate anything close to Domingue were Brian Boyle (2 HDCF), Blake Coleman (1 HDCF), and Stefan Noesen (1 HDCF). Boyle, Noesen, and Brett Seney were showing energy as they were chasing the play of the Lightning. Plus, Coleman lost his cool and took two penalties, which helped absolutely nobody. So I’m hesistant to praise those guys.
The only Devil who had a CF% and a SF% above 50% was Travis Zajac. Even then, his passes were not always on the mark and his own efforts yielded one shot and one attempt blocked. Again, the offense was bad.
The Defense Was Bad: The Tampa Bay Lightning cut through the Devils like a hot knife through butter on several shifts. The most “memorable” of the bunch that did not end up with a goal was a particularly rough one for the fourth line, Vatanen, and Yakovlev. They had a 1:38 long shift of just chasing Tyler Johnson, Braden Point, and Nikita Kucherov. This shift was before the Tyler Johnson deflection of a Ryan McDonagh shot that made the game 1-3 in the second period. Even when a Devil touched the puck on a shift like that, they were not able to get it free enough to make a play. If they got the puck out of the zone, the Lightning often recovered the puck, reset their skaters and/or change some players, and go again.
The Devils were holding their own through the first ten minutes of the game and then started getting discombobulated in their own end. The 6-1 shot lead the Devils generated early was evened up in a matter of minutes. The Devils tried to respond and after Wood slammed his big body into nobody on the boards, Point streaked up the ice, found Kucherov to his left, and Kucherov (with a little help from Vatanen) put a shot past Kinkaid’s glove to make it 0-1. It would only get worse from that goal onward. The Lightning put on a cycling clinic at times and all the Devils seemingly did was chase them in a matter of futility. Kinkaid had to grab and freeze pucks just to end it and allow for a new line to go out there and get pounded. Again, in 5-on-5 play, the Devils only out-shot and out-attempted Tampa Bay when Zajac was on the ice. The other lines and defensive pairings were picked on multiple times. Even if they did not end in goals and even if Kinkaid - and later, Cory Schnedier - made saves, the Devils were pinned back enough to keep the game easy for the Lightning. They didn’t get their big lead from just one-off plays; they maintained pressure throughout the night save for a small stretch here and there.
The Devils went with seven defenseman and eleven forwards given Bratt’s illness. No, Steve Santini did not play. He was activated from injured reserve, and has been a healthy scratch twice. I do not know what that is about. Anyway, the seven defensemen “shared the pain.” Severson had it the worst by CF% (6-16, ugh), although it was mostly away from Andy Greene (plus, Severson did the best he could on Johnson; it was only a deflection goal). A 1:40 with Mirco Mueller was just bad times for #28. Speaking of, Mueller and Lovejoy each saw three high-danger chances against in 5-on-5 - the most among defensemen. Then again, neither made a critical error or did something stupid like slide through a passing lane to block nothing on a goal against. Will Butcher returned to the lineup and this sentence is a reminder that he indeed played. From what I observed, Vatanen had the roughest time; chasing when he should have held his ground, not keeping up with the play when chasing; not chasing when he should have. If the team needed him to zig, it wasn’t certain he would. He took some bad icings, he had some awful passes to go with that awesome one to Yakovlev, and he had some rough, rough shifts. I could be convinced otherwise.
By default, I guess Yakovlev was the best since he got the one goal? It was a great goal. He also fouled Point with a slash to deny him a scoring opportunity in the first period. Of course, Point would later score on that power play in the first period. But the Yakovlev-Vatanen pairing had issues at times and when Tampa’s best got rolling, they had little answer.
The Discipline Was An Issue: Giving the Tampa Bay Lightning three power plays is one thing. Taking a penalty to deny a scoring chance - like Yakovlev did - is defendable. But the other two were unnecessary and another penalty did cause some theoretical pain. That last one was done by Miles Wood. Stamkos was whistled for slashing Coleman on defense. After the whistle, a large beef ensued and Wood was caught being violent. So Wood, who just needed to be cool, wiped out a power play for the Devils. That could have helped the Devils - in theory.
Coleman took two calls, both out of frustration. The first was a axe-like slash at Erik Cernak. Coleman was beat and he took that one with 7 seconds left in the period. Stamkos would punish it early in the third period. The second was in a beef with Palat in the neutral zone. Earlier in the game, Palat roughed up Palmieri behind the net after a whistle. I suppose Palat has been getting under the skin of the Devils and, what with it being a blowout loss, some were already frustrated. Coleman threw a gloved punch by the boxes and during the delayed call, threw a cross-check at Palat. The refs just called it then and there. While the game was out of doubt by the , it was something that did not need to happen. What’s more is that Coleman is a key part of the penalty kill - he should not be taking calls at all.
The Penalty Kill - What?: I know the Lightning are a terrifying team on the power play. But I was baffled with what I saw. They were beaten twice. The first goal was a simple pass through a seam from Stamkos to Point in the slot. At the time of the pass, the Devils appeared to be in a small box instead of their usual wedge+one. Either way, Point had a big pocket of space in between all of the red. He roofed one past Kinkaid for a score. The second goal, well, Cory Schneider should want that back. The first shot of the third period was an open one from Stamkos from above the right circle. Stamkos’ shot is excellent but it should not have fooled Schneider. Related to the PK, the Devils had no one on that side of the ice and no one even watching Stamkos come in. Upon looking at the video, the only hope for the Devils was to deny the entry or deny a pass across - and they did neither. The PK did hold the Lightning PP to no shots on Coleman’s second penalty, but the game was already decided at 1-5 at that point.
Normally, the penalty kill has been a sign of consistent strength for the Devils. Opposition power plays have not been the major reason why they are winless in their previous five games. I’m the least bothered about it since they have been better recently, but tonight, it was a factor.
The Goaltending Wasn’t Good Enough Again: Cory Schneider will likely get further jeers. He came in relief of Keith Kinkaid in the third period; the second time this season (and the second time against Tampa Bay) where Kinkaid was chased. Stamkos scored on the first shot he faced. He should have stopped it. Even though Schneider stopped the other seven shots he would face, this does nothing for him or the team. There is still no reason to give him games unless it is absolutely necessary.
However, that point may be coming soon given Kinkaid’s recent outings.
- November 23 vs. Islanders - 4 GA, 31 saves out of 35 shots, 88.6% Sv%, OT Loss
- November 26 at Florida - 4 GA, 30 saves out of 34 shots, 88.2% Sv%, OT Loss
- November 30 at Washington - 4 GA, 25 saves out of 29 shots, 86.2% Sv%, Loss
- December 1 vs. Winnipeg - 4 GA, 34 saves out of 38 shots, 89.5% Sv%, OT Loss
- December 3 vs. Tampa Bay - 4 GA, 16 saves out of 20 shots, 80% Sv%, Loss (pulled in 2nd)
Five straight starts with four goals allowed each helps nobody. Yes, Kinkaid is better than Schneider, but Kinkaid has not been anywhere close to good recently. I do think several, even most of these goals against are not his fault. However, as I’ve been told in the past, he’s got to make some more saves. This is not good enough goaltending for any team, much less a team that needs a win in the worst way.
The Power Play Was Utter Trash: The Devils were credited for seven power play shots in total. Over four advantages, the Devils would get a couple in a matter of seconds and then proceed to fail at whatever they were trying to do. The Devils are still passing backwards on their breakouts. It may get them in the zone, but the Devils struggled to turn that into any consistent offense. More often, the Devils would end up putting the puck in a non-shooting position with only one option for a pass that the Lightning could defend or apply pressure on.
The biggest issue with the PP tonight and most of this season was identified in the Gamethread by Devs1o1:
I don’t know why they keep putting two players in the slot. they never used the guy between the hashmarks. might as well be playing the goal line. its like they turn a 5 on 4 to a 3 on 4
This was especially apparent tonight. The Lightning penalty killers were well-prepared for the Devils’ power play. The Devils do not move much once they are set up in their 1-3-1 formation. With a man (like Marcus Johansson on the first unit, Brian Boyle on the second) standing in front of the goaltender plus another in the middle, the Lightning PK just had to be patient. The Devils did not move or make plays that would draw them out of formation to create space and/or chaos. Hall would either lose the puck, have a cross-ice pass picked off, or make a pass to Butcher that also did not lead to much. While Hall having a bad game did not help, the relatively stationary positioning of Hischier, Palmieri, and Johansson meant that the Lightning did not have to worry much about them. Just stick to their own formation and react - and they did just that. It was frustrating under Ward and frustrating now under Kowalsky because of what Devs1o1 pointed out. These players are not at their best just sticking to a spot; they need to be in motion. Yet, their power play does not incorporate what their skillsets are.
By the way, the second unit still had two defensemen and, for some reason, Severson was in the Palmieri spot. They created, what, one shot for it? Given how much Vatanen likes to bomb away and how much he has shot the puck this season, shouldn’t he be there? It’s just another mystery of a power play that failed to convert, failed to provide consistent pressure, and failed to help the team in spots when it could have before the game’s score got out of hand. The fans booed them - especially after the incompentent second power play - and they deserved every decibel of it.
The Opposition Was Really Good: I give credit to the Lightning. They did not really ease up. Jon Cooper had his team prepared. Their talented players kept bringing the pain to the Devils. Their defense kept the Devils from generating too much danger for their goalie. Their special teams were on point. Fans continue to rue that Point was not drafted in any of the three rounds New Jersey could have drafted him in. They are one of the best teams in the league.
While some may point to that as to why this loss should not be lamented as much as it is, I will respond that it was not so much the Devils lost by four but that the Devils struggled to compete with the Bolts for more than half of a period. Losses are one thing, but the Devils provided little resistance for the Lightning this evening. That’s hard to watch - unless you are a Lightning fan, who is probably pleased with yet another ‘W’ for the TBL.
The Coaching Was Bad: I do not know what John Hynes, Alain Nasreddine, Rick Kowalsky, Mike Grier, and Roland Melanson are doing these days.
Slumps are one thing, but the Devils are now mired in a six-game winless streak thanks to tonight’s big loss. The Devils played the Lightning last week. They played them one time earlier. The Devils played competitive hockey for about ten minutes and then looked like boys playing against men for much of the rest of the game. Kinkaid and Schneider are colanders at this point; and the decision to start Kinkaid in three games out of four nights now looks more dubious. The defense, while they did not bleed 30+ shots tonight, they were gashed by the Lightning’s scalpel-like precision. The offense was lackluster and did not challenge Domingue nearly enough as they could or should have. The roster decision to go with 11 and 7 did not work out. The response after each intermission was entirely flat and the Lightning picked up on that to pick on the Devils some more.
I keep going thinking back to the Katie Strang article at The Athletic ($) that I referenced in the recap to that OT loss to the Isles. When the pressure is on or something goes awry, hockey players default to their fundamentals. The Lightning rolled over the Devils easily, sure. But why? Are the coaches giving them the right tactics, the right game plan, the right spots where they can succeed? If they are, then are the Devils players just reverting to past habits or what they did elsewhere? And does that mean the coaches are failing to effectively communicate with their players? The point is that the coaching staff is at least partially responsible for this loss, plus this winless streak, plus their 4-8-3 November (that I posted this morning), and their overall record of 9-12-5.
Like many other Devils fans, I have noticed the silence from general manager Ray Shero in all of this. Surely, he has to do something. Or at least acknowledge the situation. Even if the plan is to “re-build” and possibly mail in 2018-19 at this point, the coaches surely have to be on his mind. Coaches on other teams that have earned only a little less success have been axed already. (Note:The Devils are only two points ahead of last-place-in-the-league-LA) Hynes is apparently on the final season of his contract. If he’s not a long-term answer and his assistants are not contributing in a support role to improve the team for the future, then does Shero pull the trigger on him? Or, in the interest of getting more lottery balls, just take whatever Hynes & Co. have done, suffer through 2018-19, and reset later in 2019?
To be blunt, Hynes has earned himself a hot seat by any other measure. If Shero wants to fire Hynes, he has the justification. And a game like tonight only provides more support for that justification.
One Last Thought: I am glad that the Devils-Kings game will be on late in New Jersey. I do not think many should watch it under most circumstances. It could be a real ugly affair.
Your Take: The Devils’ performance sucked and this game was an awful blowout loss. The Devils will now have two days off and then play in Los Angeles on Thursday. Yes, it is time for the annual trip to California.
Yay. What did you think of this loss? Where do you start with fixing any of this? Can the Devils get a win soon? If so, when? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this blowout loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview, Mike for taking care of @AAtJerseyBlog, the readers who commented in the Gamethread, and you for reading.