Pretty much every team is going to eat a couple of bad losses in an 82 game season. Tonight, the New Jersey Devils ate a huge one: a 1-6 defeat to the Columbus Blue Jackets. That this follows two straight losses by the Devils, it’s to a team that has also been on a losing streak and lost last night, and it’s a divisional game in the super-tight Metropolitan makes this bad loss really sting.
This was definitely a night where a whole lot went wrong and what went wrong went really wrong. Where do I begin?
I want to credit Columbus. The Blue Jackets have been unlucky, unfortunate, and un-winning as of late. They took out a lot of frustration on the Devils and never let up. 50 shots on net, six goals, constantly swarming it up, and I felt guys like Oliver Bjorkstand, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Artemi Panarin, Nick Foligno, and Alexander Wennberg were just dominant going forward. Defensemen Seth Jones (4 shots! 7 attempts blocked! 3 misses! 2 assists! Constant attack!) and Zach Werenski were utter studs. Sergey Bobrovsky was strong in net as usual The CF% may not show it, but the Blue Jackets produced, never looked back, and never really stopped. They also made their attempts actually count more often - more on that later. The Devils were bad and the Blue Jackets made it rain misery on them.
Going to the Devils, well, let’s start with the defense. Believe it or not, the New Jersey Devils defense has turned a corner since the first month of the season where they were giving up shots like it was going out of style. I have the proof; so much so, that I plan to write it up on Monday. You wouldn’t know that from tonight. The Devils allowed 50 shots, tying the most allowed in this season (Aside #1: They won the other one, a crazy game in Toronto featuring a 3-on-5 goal). 37 in 5-on-5 play, 12 on the power play, and one shorthanded shot. Amazingly, it could have been a lot worse as Columbus was blocked 22 times and missed the net 12 times. It could have easily been worse on the scoreboard too as they had a lot of scoring chances and odd-man rushes that didn’t succeed. So knowing that as they dropped six on the Devils really highlights how bad New Jersey was from a defensive standpoint.
The correct answer is that the team wasn’t good enough. The forwards were not backchecking nearly as much as they could. Waiting for a loose puck or swiping a stick in the hopes of taking it and going forward wasn’t enough against a Columbus team that maintained a lot of possession tonight. When the Devils did get forward, Columbus counter attacked so well, they had at least six odd man rushes. If that wasn’t enough, there was a total miscommunication that resulted in Artemi Panarin’s rebound goal. It was just bad in general.
Two of the defensemen deserve some specific words, in my view. John Moore was abysmal. From the stupid interference penalty in the first period to getting torched repeatedly, Moore played worse than Mirco Mueller and possibly an offwing Steve Santini. Damon Severson couldn’t carry the dead weight wearing #2 tonight. Nobody could. Sami Vatanen was also real bad. So much so, he morphed into Eric Gelinas on a horrendous pinching attempt that might as well have been given an assist on Josh Anderson’s goal in the second period. Of course, he couldn’t morph into the former Devil to provide something resembling a threatening shot on net out of his three.
Let’s now go to the offense. The Devils did out-attempt Columbus big-time in 5-on-5 play, 72-58. However, the Jackets still managed to out-shoot them in 5-on-5 play, 37-36. They also also out-chanced them, 33-32. Keep in mind that the Blue Jackets led throughout most of this game; so much for trying to go for it. The attempts are evidence that they may have tried but the shots and chances are evidence of how bad the attempts were. So many blocks, so many misses, so many missed opportunities to break through. And a good number of those shots that actually were on target went right into chest of Sergey Bobrovsky. Don’t get me wrong, Bobrovsky is a great goaltender and he was very good. But it did take a goal mouth scramble where Boone Jenner inadvertently pushed a puck into the net for the Devils to get on the board. (Aside #2: Kyle Palmieri touched the puck on an attempt prior to the push. He gets credit for this one, as if it matters.) The larger point is that while the Devils had attempts, they made little out of that many attempts. The offense was not good enough.
Special teams? Well, the Devils drew one (1) power play and wasted it entirely. That’s sadly par for this team in 2018. The penalty kill was doing well but even by the end, they were bound to be broken down. After all, the Devils’ lack of discipline reared its ugly head with five penalties and maybe one of them actually was defensible. Columbus was generating shots - twelve out of five opportunities - and they got the last one in the net. Whilst killing Kyle Palmieri’s hook-down of Zach Werenski (this might have prevented a goal, this was the maybe-defensible one), Jenner found Matt Calvert in the slot for a one-timer to scored the sixth goal of the night. So even the penalty kill was stricken. At least by that point the game was out of doubt. I guess we can excuse the PK for that.
Coaching was also a big, fat failure tonight. Happy birthday, John Hynes! John Tortorella and his staff drank you and your collective staff’s milkshake tonight! Columbus figured on an aggressive Devils attack and their players anticipated it. Even after the fourth or fifth odd-man rush up ice - and especially after a goal coming from a make-shift one late in the first period, you’d figure on some adjustments. After a first period where 18 shots were allowed, you’d figure on some defensive adjustments. The weird thing is that earlier in this week, when things weren’t going right, you’d see some mixing of the lines at least to provide different looks. That didn’t happen and it didn’t matter as the Blue Jackets kept storming through the free area that was the neutral zone tonight.
I feel bad for three groups tonight. First, Keith Kinkaid. He really did not have a bad game tonight. The Blue Jackets peppered him early and often. He did well to keep the game somewhat competitive. That three-goal flurry from 11:00 to 15:00 into the second period did in the Devils. One was a rebound play where he got no help, the second was a two-on-one, and the third was a well placed shot by Oliver Bjorkstrand who used John Moore like a pylon. None of them were really soft. From my stand point, the guy didn’t let the team down. The team let him down.
Second, the Devils’ players mothers. This was the Mom’s Trip. For the last two seasons, the Devils had a Dads’ Trip where the player’s fathers would travel with the team for a road game and also check out a home game. The Devils won the two road games with their fathers watching. The moms got to see, well, this. This garbage performance with a heinous and miserable score. Disappointing isn’t the word. How could you do this to your mothers?
Third, the Devils fans. Granted, I am one of them. I certainly felt bad watching it. I feel bad writing and thinking about it. Maybe you do too. While I try not to be defeatist and think everything is falling apart and everything is miserable, I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you feel that way now. The team followed up three-straight wins with now three straight losses. The Devils could have moved up to second place in the Metropolitan with even a single win out of the last three games. Instead of being ahead of the pack, they’re in the middle of it. The Devils are now entering the busy part of February on a losing streak with a really tough week ahead: Boston tomorrow, a resurgent Philadelphia, a difficult Carolina, and a back-to-back weekend of road games with Tampa Bay and Carolina. Coming off a loss this bad, it does not look good for New Jersey! A lot has to be sorted out and fast.
The short version of this game is that the Devils sucked real bad tonight. The longer version ultimately would conclude that the Devils sucked real bad tonight. We can hope for a brighter tomorrow if only because the Devils would almost have to try to be worse than they were tonight.
The Opposition Opinion: The Cannon should be lit for this one. Go check them out for a Columbus-based opinion on this one.
The Game Highlights: No. There were no highlights for the Devils; they technically didn’t even score their only goal tonight.
Say What Now, Hynes?: Per Andrew Gross on Twitter after the game:
Hynes said going to Eddie Lack tomorrow night is a consideration.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) February 11, 2018
Consideration? Come on, son. Hynes, you left Kinkaid in net as he was being lit up in a 1-6 loss. Surely, that would not have happened if Eddie Lack was going to get the whole game tomorrow. That’s surely why he stayed on the bench instead of getting involved in this miserable performance. I’m confident we’ll see Lack start tomorrow. But if Hynes goes back-to-back with Kinkaid, then he’s being rather foolish.
One Last Thought: I’m still going to write about how the Devils’ defense has improved over the course of this season for Monday. This one bad loss doesn’t negate that. I know I am risking tomorrow’s game undercutting that too. But if we’ve learned anything from CJ, it’s that streaks do not mean a whole lot in the larger view of whether a team is doing well or not well in a season. Of course, I’d sure like to see some wins for the Devils real soon. They will need them real soon.
Your Take: The Devils sucked tonight and lost 1-6 to Columbus. What do you think of it? What can they do to prepare for Boston tomorrow? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.