Tonight, the New Jersey Devils extended their losing streak to four games with a 3-5 loss to the Boston Bruins. The Boston Bruins have lost all of 12 games in regulation this season so this is common for teams who play Boston. However, I’m mad about this loss. This was an entirely winnable game for the Devils. They need to win as they’re now riding a losing streak and doing so in the middle of the tightest division in the NHL. They lost again in regulation and it was entirely avoidable. They were that bad on special teams tonight; particularly the power play.
I use a lot of stats and numbers to justify why I see things. Here are some numbers about Boston in 5-on-5 play. Per Natural Stat Trick and before this game, Boston was the best team in the NHL in CF% with a 53.8%. The Bruins entered this game with the best shot attempts against and shots against rates in the NHL. Their shot attempts for and shots for rates are above the league median. The Bruins entered this game shooting over 8% with their goalies stopping over 93% of the shots they face in 5-on-5 play. A big reason why the B’s have lost only twelve games in regulation this season is because they are fantastic in 5-on-5 play relative to the rest of the league. You wouldn’t know it from this game, though. The Devils out-played them in 5-on-5.
Seriously, look at Natural Stat Trick’s team stats. The game flow went on the red side early and just kept going up. The Devils out-shot the Bruins 25-15 in 5-on-5 play. Yes, after getting steamrolled by Columbus, the Devils held the Boston Bruins to just 15 shots in 5-on-5 play. Attempts? It wasn’t even close, the Devils out-attempted the B’s 45-27. What about scoring chances? What about them, the Devils out-did the B’s 32-18. The high-danger ones were 10-5 and those included two breakaways, a post off a close-range rebound, and plenty of huge saves by Anton Khudobin. The Devils outworked the Bruins. They out did them in the run of play and it was obvious on the ice who was making more things happen when the sides were even. It was New Jersey. Not the terrifyingly effective Boston Bruins.
And it wasn’t like Khudobin was unbeatable either. The Devils beat him three times. All on beautiful goals. Miles Wood came out of a penalty box from a stupid penalty he took, picked up a cleared puck, and finished it with a backhander through the five-hole to make it 1-1. Early in the second period, Nico Hischier took an outlet pass in the neutral zone from Taylor Hall. Hischier carried it in, drew attention, and then passed it back across to Hall. Hall deked out Boston’s thug, Brad Marchand, and picked the top corner. Just look at it and marvel:
It was a Superstar play by a Superstar to make it 2-2. Later in the second, Hall fought through a hook going up ice and made a killer pass to a cutting Kyle Palmieri for a lovely goal to make it 3-3. These weren’t just great plays. It was like art.
Ultimately, the Devils out-scored Boston 3-1 in 5-on-5 play. Given that Boston has a goals for rate of 2.7 and a goals against rate of 1.7 in those situations, that’s a huge win for New Jersey. And the Devils found a way to lose despite this. Despite the beautiful goals. Despite the big advantage in the run of play. Despite breaking through over and over to attack Khudobin and make him earn his money. The Devils found a way to lose this game. And it was due to special teams. Mostly the power play, but the PK wasn’t innocent either.
Let’s start with the less aggravating half of them: the penalty kill. The Devils took four penalties tonight. All of them were legitimate calls. The replay on the massive screens at the Rock clearly showed that they were textbook penalties. The Bruins took advantage of the one from Drew Stafford. Stafford elbowed Torey Krug in the head. Having an elbow go that high isn’t allowed. In three seconds, Patrice Bergeron won the draw, Ryan Spooner moved it back to Krug, and Krug bombed one in past Eddie Lack. The other three kills were successful and allowed six shots across them all. The mitigating news is that the Devils did hit back for four shorthanded shots, including Travis Zajac drawing a penalty shot early in the game. It was unsuccessful but it highlighted how the Bruins were susceptible to the Devils getting behind them. Still, the PK wasn’t perfect. The only way that PPGA wasn’t going to happen was if Stafford didn’t get an elbow up or if Zajac won the draw. I would have preferred not taking the penalty. Or the other three as they weren’t necessary or smart fouls to take.
But, hey, the penalty kill ended up as a -1 tonight. It’s not that big of a deal or a killer. It was a lot better than the power play, which finished at -2.
Yes, a -2. It wasn’t enough that the Devils power play had trouble warming up like an old car in the winter. It wasn’t enough that the Devils had issues with their breakout play to gain entries. Oh, no, they gave up two shorthanded goals. And these were really, really, REALLY stupid goals to allow.
The first one came near the end of the first do-nothing power play. After that thug Brad Marchand missed a shot, Torey Krug collected it behind the net. He attempted a pass to the middle. With Nico Hischier and Mirco Mueller there, this pass should have been intercepted. Instead, Hischier gets his stick blade in the way of Mueller, causing it to re-direct the puck towards Lack - and ultimately went through his legs. That power play did next to nothing, the team let Boston have a go near the end, and a miscommunication gifted Boston a goal.
The second one was more controversial. In the dying seconds of the first period, the Devils had a pass picked off in the neutral zone. Boston just dumped it in. The puck went on net and Lack collected it. He hesitated, looking to play the puck. Instead of doing the reasonable thing and covering the puck or even flinging it away as far as he could, he tried to make a pass around the right post to Hall, who was behind the net. Lack fired it hard and the puck bounced off Hall’s blade. Tim Schaller collected this loose puck, wrapped it around to the left post. Lack dove to try and stop it, only to grab the puck while it was on the line. Or over the line. The referee called it a goal on the ice, a length review ensued, and there wasn’t any clear evidence that the puck stayed out of the post. The goal stood. Many were irate as there wasn’t a replay shown of the puck being clearly in, although I saw a bit of the puck just past post initially when the ice-level camera angle was shown. It also helped nobody that Lack was over the line with his glove in trying to snag it. The enraging thing is that the Devils were in that situation at all. All Lack had to do was hold onto the puck. That would have been way better than what he did. Going for a bank pass behind his net was a risky play and he was burnt for it. So with 3 seconds left, the Bruins were up 1-2 with a second gifted shorthanded goal.
Now, this is where I’m not going to make a lot of friends. I don’t want to read or hear about how the refs screwed New Jersey tonight. Not after a game where the Devils had six power plays prior to Bergeron icing the game. That’s six full power plays. Three of them were in the third period! That doesn’t even include the penalty shot awarded. And the Devils utterly wasted all six. (Aside: There was a seventh after a whole lot of angry dumb stuff after Bergeron’s ENG, but the game was out of doubt at that point so whatever.) The Devils generated all of eight shots on them. That’s only a little over a shot per advantage. The Devils absolutely had opportunities to tie or go up in the game. And they were doing the same dumb things that do not lead them to get goals or generate offense. The Devils kept going for cross-ice passes only for Boston to disrupt or intercept them easily. Open shots came with hesitation so they weren’t open anymore. Zone entries were an inefficient adventure of frustration. The Devils had ample opportunities on their power play; and not only did they squandered them, it cost them the game. The power play was a -2! Even going -1 would have likely given them a point tonight!
That’s the part that enrages me. The refs, not so much. Even if they got the Schaller goal wrong, the Devils had the time to make up for it and they did. The refs handed New Jersey over twelve minutes of power play time tonight and the Devils did so little with it. It’s astonishing how the Devils were beasts that didn’t take any junk from Boston for most of 5-on-5 play tonight. Give them a man advantage, and they were weak as mice out there. The only part of 5-on-5 play that was dreadful was the play after the sixth power play failure. Again, Lack was pulled for an extra skater and the Devils ended up defending their empty net more than they attacked Boston’s. It’s like the Devils forgot that it’s a man advantage and how to take advantage with an extra man. It’s down right infuriating. Who looks at this among the Devils organization and says “This is fine.” Drop the 1-3-1. Drop the edict for cross-ice passes. Decide whether to go with one or two defensemen consistently. Move some guys around. Do something! This isn’t working. And it cost them the game, both the stupid shorthanded goals that were entirely avoidable if someone had some sense and the impotent offense in 5-on-4 situations. This isn’t working.
The Devils responded huge from an awful night in Columbus at even strength tonight. They won that part of the game; and yet they lost this game largely because they absolutely sucked on special teams. The Devils lost this otherwise winnable game because of their special teams. And the Devils can not really afford to keep spiraling down like this. This has to change and it has to change fast. (Hint: Fire Geoff Ward.)
The Opposition Opinion: Dan Ryan at Stanley Cup of Chowder wrote in his recap that this was a “weird mess.” Sure.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Seriously, Fire Geoff Ward: This man cannot keep running this power play. If John Hynes cannot see that, then maybe John Hynes should not be where he is behind bench. This lack of functional 5-on-4 hockey cannot continue. It is costing the Devils games like tonight’s and this is not the first time the power play utterly failed and played a big role in the Devils losing a game.
Thanks, CJ. This Fuels the Anger: Want another reason to be mad about the power play? CJ highlighted this on Twitter:
Mirco Mueller .... what in the hell? pic.twitter.com/ecEMMUcVRN— CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil) February 12, 2018
That’s right, Mirco Mueller played 40 seconds of power play time and it was all awful. Four attempts against, three were shots on net, and two ended up being the two shorthanded goals. How does that even happen? In a 5-on-4 situation, how?
Mueller came in for John Moore tonight. Moore was not a regular on either power play unit. In what world did the coaches think that this power play needed even a small dose of Vitamin 7th Defenseman? I echo CJ’s “What in the hell?” along with all of the other complaints we can lodge at the coaches for the power play (e.g. Why are there so many cross-ice passes when they don’t work? Why move the puck to the lone point man if they aren’t going to fire at will? How can the players not be on the same page on entries?).
As for Mueller in general, he was great next to Sami Vatanen in 5-on-5 play. His one penalty wasn’t a good one to take and he obviously added nothing to a power play that the coaches should have never put him in for even a second. I give the coaches credit for taking a stand and benching the Shot Colander, John Moore, after a hideous game in Columbus. Whether Mueller did enough to stay in for another game is another matter.
Drew Staff-Ugh: The Devils had four players not finish above 50% CF% tonight. It was the fourth line, which all things considered, isn’t so bad. Plus Brian Boyle, who left the game with an apparent injury. But Drew Stafford was costly tonight. First, for all of his veteran presence and the notion that he can fit in on a power play and chip in offense, he provided all of one goal and one missed shot. That’s not much of anything. Second, and worse, he took an offensive zone elbowing penalty. Boston immediately scored on that. There was no need for Stafford to have his arm up that high on the play and yet he decided to do so.
Third, and perhaps this is cruel, but Stafford effectively scored the game winning goal. About midway through the third period, Boston did something uncommon in the period: they kept the puck in New Jersey’s zone. Adam McQuaid kept it in at the line. He fired a shot that would otherwise be harmless. Enter Drew Stafford’s stick. He re-directed a mostly harmless shot into a dangerous one. The puck hit off the stick, then went off the post, and past Eddie Lack. This put Boston up 4-3. Maybe that’s more of a bad break but that it involved Stafford was the cherry on a crummy sundae. I’m not going to say that he needs to be traded immediately and/or thrown out of the rink, but Stafford was notably not good tonight.
Does That Mean...: Yes, the Devils technically scored five goals tonight - and two of them were on themselves.
So What Did Work and Was Ultimately Wasted with this Loss: How about a huge night from Nico Hischier, Taylor Hall, and Kyle Palmieri. When Hischier was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils allowed only one shooting attempt (a shot). Just one! Hischier may have created a SHGA, but he did create Hall’s beautiful goal in the second period. He definitely helped Hall and Palmieri ring up 3 and 5 shots, respectively. This line saw a lot of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy, Boston’s newest stud defenseman; and that line made them work a whole lot in their end. Hischier showed some real bravery getting smeared along the boards by Chara that led to an interference call on Chara.
Hall was a 5-on-5 machine and put up two lovely looking and, at the time they happened, important points. His goal was astounding - and tied up the game at that point. His assist was critical - and tied up the game at that point. He did his job. Palmieri was not as dominant in 5-on-5 play but he drew a cross-check and scored a big goal on top of five shots out of eight attempts. That’s what I want to see out of Palmieri. Jesper Bratt deserved fewer minutes and this switch on the first line worked out. I’d like to see it continue for a couple of games.
You know who else was storming throughout the game? Miles Wood. His goaltender interference penalty was dumb, but he redeemed himself when he scored a goal coming right out of the box. Wood was very positive in the run of play, he took six (!) shots on net, and he helped create some good chances. His linemates, Zajac and Stefan Noesen, were robbed a couple of times by Khudobin. But that trio kept on going. Seeing that Wood often saw Bergeron, that thug Marchand, and David Pastrnak; coming out ahead against that trio is a huge win.
Who else had a big night that maybe doesn’t get enough love because it didn’t lead to a goal? Pavel Zacha. The youngster had five shots on net! He was denied by a shoulder to go up 4-3 in the third period and his other four shots were pretty good too. While a combo of Bratt, Zacha, and Stafford seems odd. It mostly worked out - save for Stafford. Then again, his inadvertant goal against was while Zajac and Palmieri were out there - clearly a line change for them. Still, Zacha is firing the puck more often and being more involved on offense. This is a good thing.
Defensively, who can complain about 15 shots against in 5-on-5 play and 27 total against a team that is used to doing so much more? Vatanen and Mueller saw the least amount of damage at 5-on-5. Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy were paired up and it wasn’t awful. While Will Butcher and Damon Severson struggled throughout December together, they weren’t so bad in 5-on-5 play either. The power play, well, that’s another story. But the defense did not miss John Moore.
Are You Still Writing Too Many Words About the Defense for Tomorrow: Yes. There are plenty of numbers to show improvement and suggest that acquiring Vatanen was a good thing and that demoting Steve Santini doesn’t hold up in retrospect. Thankfully, the Devils did not get blown up like Columbus did to them.
Lack’s Start: Eddie Lack made his first start as a Devils goaltender tonight. He got better as the game went on. I’m still mad about his attempted pass that led to the second shorthanded goal against. Lack is not some newbie in the NHL. He’s appeared in 142 NHL games and 124 AHL games. He absolutely knew better than to do what he did. That was Hedbergian in how bad he played the puck.
Now that I have that out of my system, Lack made some impressive stops, such as a second-period post-to-post denial of an open shot by Matt Grzelcyk. I liked his pads and he was not conceding too many rebounds. Given Keith Kinkaid’s struggles, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lack gets the next game. He does need a talking to on how to play dump-ins and the puck, though.
Around the League: Want another reason to be mad? Check this out. Washington lost in OT, so they picked up another point. Pittsburgh beat up St. Louis for a regulation win. Philadelphia picked up a rare win in Vegas - and in regulation. Even Our Hated Rivals won on the road. The only help the Devils received were the Brooklyn Non-Defenders losing to Calgary in regulation. While tonight’s extension of the losing streak has the Devils stay in fourth in the division and in a wild card spot, they’re now 3 points behind Philadelphia for third and 4 behind Pittsburgh. A single win within the last four games and they would be right there with them. Instead, the Devils are trending in the wrong direction.
Every game counts. This is a far cry from last season where we all knew this team was done by this point in February (and earlier). That means these losses where the Devils did themselves in because they failed so hard in one area (tonight, it was special teams, namely the power play) really hurt the cause. The Devils have to sort it out before it gets worse. There’s a lot of hockey left but if the other teams start passing New Jersey by, it’s going to be a massive hill to climb.
Oh, and the next two opponents are Philadelphia and Carolina. These are you-better-win games. They absolutely matter.
Marchand: I appreciate that everyone booed Brad Marchand tonight. I appreciate the Marchand Sucks chants. I didn’t appreciate Damon Severson crushing Marchand because as that was happening, Bergeron iced the game with a ENG to end a futile 6-on-5 sequence from New Jersey. Great hit, the Devils got a pound of flesh after effectively shutting Marchand down tonight (one shot, an assist on that ENG), but I’d rather have the win. That’s way more important than extracting some kind of revenge against a thuggish winger, who will never learn his lesson or start respecting others’ well-being on the ice no matter how many times somebody punches his gigantic nose into his stupid face.
By the way, of course, McQuaid wanted to fight after a perfectly legal hit was made. Can someone tell the Keepers of the Code(TM) that body checking is legal in the men’s game? Sometimes those hits are hard and so there is no reason for the guy who threw the hit to be required to catch any hands for it. You’re about to win, there was no need for McQuaid or any Bruin to do any standing up for anyone. Good on the refs to give McQuaid a misconduct for it.
One Last Thought: I was taught that when you’re given a gift, the right thing to do is to accept it. Boston accepted their gifts tonight. New Jersey did not. It ended up making a huge difference. Heed what I have learned. Maybe John Hynes and his squad learned it the hard way tonight.
Your Take: The Devils lost this game 3-5 to Boston. I thought they could have won it. Their power play and their special teams were net negatives, which factored in big time as to how they lost it. What do you think of this loss? What, if anything,should the Devils change before their next game in Philadelphia on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the loss in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog? Thank you for reading.