For the first ten or so minutes of this game, the New Jersey Devils looked great and the Ottawa Senators looked bad. Ottawa was all about turnovers and questionable defensive coverages. Travis Zajac scored an early goal as his line broke down a mess of a shift by Ottawa. The pace was in New Jersey’s favor. Then the game spiraled out of control. The Devils took a penalty, then another, and paid for each one to go down 1-2. Late in the period, the Devils were sloppy as sloppy could be and went down 1-3. Ottawa went up 1-4 in the second period to send Keith Kinkaid packing. While Taylor Hall scored a smashing power play goal; a late period power play for New Jersey ended with Zack Smith coming out of the box on a breakaway to score and make it 2-5. While Kyle Palmieri made it 3-5 in the third period, the Devils were just in too big of a hole to come back further. And they didn’t. Essentially, after those penalties were called, the game just spiraled out of control for the Devils. Too much to recover from.
I have to give Ottawa a lot of credit. Despite their many injuries at forward, they didn’t relent too much. They saw opportunities and they took them. Their back-to-back power play goals set the tone for what would come. They pounced on a lackluster Devils squad since those goals. The wide open goal by Colin White (no, not the defensemen) poured on the misery. The breakaway goal by Smith was a backbreaker. Craig Anderson did well in net. This game may stall any tanking their fans may want to see given their season. But it’s nice to turn what looked like an ugly night into a successful one.
As for the Devils, well, they have no one to blame but themselves for this one. They committed many errors, costly and otherwise. Blake Coleman didn’t need to get a forearm up in Erik Karlsson’s grill as the puck exited the zone in the first period. Kyle Palmieri had good intentions to win a puck, but he needed to control his stick from hitting Ryan Dzingel in the face. Especially while killing Coleman’s penalty, which made it a 3-on-5 situation. Ottawa scoring there - a blistering Mike Hoffman one-timer - was not the issue. It was getting pinned and giving up the second one that hurt. Then the Devils played like they were dazed and confused down 1-2 in the first period. Passes were missed, shots were duffed, and an overskated puck by Stefan Noesen led to a rush up ice that ended with a star-like move for a goal from Matt Duchene. A shortside shot that Kinkaid probably could have done better on. That was just the first period!
Then came the second period. While this period had plenty of penalties (more on that later), the 5-on-5 numbers were instructive: Ottawa out-shot the Devils 12-4 and out-attempted them 22-13 in 5-on-5 play. Mind you, the Devils were losing throughout this period. That’s bad. That’s a big reason why this game got away from them. While the Devils had an attack going in the third and moments where they came close to pulling within one, the game really got away from them in this period. When White, who was uncovered and trailing on a rush up ice by Thomas Chabot, made it 1-4, the Devils’ response was a whole lot of not much. While Hall scored a power play goal and a later power play was actually successful in peppering Anderson with shots (something sorely missing in 5-on-5 play), Jean-Gabriel Pageau hooked up Smith for a breakaway goal to really put the game out of reach. Worse, the pass was created out of a long rebound at the end of a power play; good on Ottawa for shielding Devils away and bad on New Jersey for not getting on that. Even so, there wasn’t a whole lot in between the calls for New Jersey to really build upon. So that fifth goal from Smith was a backbreaker. Say what you want about Ottawa this season, but scoring three in a period is hard to do against anyone by anyone.
And that period was also a struggle in its own right. The Devils at least out-attacked Ottawa. To the tune of 5-2 in shots in 5-on-5 play and 8-3 in overall play. Out-shooting the leading opponent is one thing, but that’s not a lot when the team needs three goals. Palmieri’s goal was nice and all, but there needed to be more going at Anderson. With the faint hope of coming back, every little mistake was magnified. A missed shot here. Not shooting there. An offsides or an icing or five. It all added up and irked Devils fans around the world. Even failing to pull Eddie Lack for an extra skater with about 2:30 left in the game while down two goals was an annoyance. Not that the Devils were necessarily going to score but it was the smart thing to do.
Ultimately, the Devils failed to do enough smart things tonight. The goaltending was not good enough to cover it all up. The 5-on-5 play ended up not being in New Jersey’s favor after a hot start. While there were a lot of goals, this wasn’t going to be a repeat of the last game in Ottawa. The game got away from the Devils. Simple as that, in my view.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Silver Seven for a recap of this game from their perspective.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Once Again, I Call for a Suspension: Alexandre Burrows absolutely lost his cool tonight and the league needs to absolutely throw the proverbial book at him. Or a real book. In the second period, down 1-4, Taylor Hall took some his frustration out on Burrows with a big hit in Ottawa’s zone. The hit led to the Devils recovering the puck to keep attacking. As that happened, Burrows got up, mad that he was hit in a sport that allows it, sought out Hall, and began to shove at him like someone throwing a tantrum. Hall gave it back to him. Mind you, play was ongoing. After Anderson froze the puck, a scrum emerged. Burrows was unchecked by the refs as Hall was pulled away. Burrows managed to get behind Hall, take him down, and knee him in the head a bunch of times. Hall was thankfully OK. Burrows was given a double-minor: two for cross-checking and two for roughing. Somehow, he did not get a misconduct penalty for taking someone down from behind and kneeing him in the head a bunch of times. If that isn’t misconduct on the ice, I don’t know what that means anymore.
I’m not going to devote a whole part of yet another recap to vent about another player going way beyond the pale in this sport. I’ll keep it brief. First, the post-whistle event could’ve been avoided if an official went to Burrows first and held him back instead of leaving him be. It’s a tough job, but that’s part of it. Second, it was great as it was to see Hall rocket a hammer of a slapshot past Anderson to convert the first of the double-minor. Third, what Burrows did ultimately didn’t cost the Devils this game or anything like it. By the time this incident happened, the Devils were down 1-4 and trying to at least salvage some dignity in the game. Burrows lost his cool because was legally checked hard and went way over the line. All for himself. In a perfect world, Burrows would’ve taken the ‘L’ in that physical exchange and played on like a reasonable person. But this isn’t a perfect world, he didn’t, and New Jersey only took partial advantage. I think this is more of a reason to hit him with a suspension because Burrows did this entirely for his own sake, which could have messed up someone real badly. That’s selfish on top of dangerous.
I wish I was confident that the NHL Department of Player Safety will do something about this. They gave just five games for Marchand jumping and throwing an elbow into Marcus Johansson’s head. They gave nothing at all to Radko Gudas for jumping into an unaware Palmieri. Should knees to the head after taking someone down from behind cost someone some games? Absolutely! But this is the NHL, so who really knows.
Fighting Solves Little: Earlier in the second period, somebody named Max McCormick threw a hard hit on Nico Hischier. It probably should have been a boarding call. It wasn’t. Ben Lovejoy decided to head on over to McCormick and the two fought. This happened while the Devils had a 3-on-2 rush up ice and Miles Wood had the puck. The game was 1-3 at this point so that could have been a thing. Nope! Lovejoy needed to have his say and throwdown. He lost that fight and got two minutes for roughing because the referee crew were too cowardly to call it instigation. Seriously, Lovejoy just skated over and the two went right at it. There was no punch or shove or anything violent before then by Lovejoy. The Devils killed that penalty, but it was two minutes where the Devils could have done something positive and offensive and they could not. All the same, Lovejoy has been around long enough to know that his role is not to step in when the refs do not. And he got a reminder why he should not. Hischier, by the way, was ultimately fine.
Strong Start, Faded Hard: Early on in this game, the line of Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman, and Stefan Noesen looked strong as they created a lovely goal. They got hammered in the run of play. They struggled throughout the night against Mike Hoffman, Matt Duchene, and Colin White. When they were on the ice, the Senators generated at least 15 shooting attempts - much more than what the Devils generated.
Early on in this game, Mirco Mueller nearly picked up a second goal for New Jersey when he sent a bank-shot off Erik Karlsson’s skates - and hit the post. He had another good shot down the left side where he was uncovered. It looked like he was going to have a strong night. He ended up struggling; when he was on the ice, the Sens out-attempted New Jersey 23-17 and out-shot them 12-7. When he lost the puck in the third-period 4-on-4 play behind the net, it was sort of a sign that this was not a good night for him. Well, he was good with Will Butcher. In the few minutes he had with Andy Greene and especially John Moore, he (and the team) was not.
Technically, Keith Kinkaid was good early on. Until he wasn’t. This was like Kinkaid back in the 2017 portion of this season. Even if the goals could be argued against him being bad, it’s still a lot to allow. He was unceremoniously hooked after White’s goal. Not that Eddie Lack was amazing in net. Unlike Ken Appleby, he didn’t really settle things down in the crease as he was constantly moving and trying to smother pucks. But in retrospect, I think Lack coming in after the first period should have been the right move. Related to this: I hope Cory Schneider feels really good, really soon.
Was Anyone Good For More Than the First 10 Minutes?: I did like how Hall, Palmieri, and Pavel Zacha rose up as the game went on. While Hall mostly played with Hischier and Jesper Bratt, that trio was not so hot. With eleven forwards, some mix-ups were inevitable but some of those 9-37-21 shifts were intentional and they weren’t as bad. Still, the trio ended up combining for 13 of New Jersey’s 33 shots. Hall and Palmieri each scored; Zacha was close to scoring twice. If Hischier and Bratt are struggling with Hall or if the match-up isn’t working, John Hynes may have a Plan B with sticking Hall with Palmieri and Zacha. Anyway, Hall drew calls, kept his point streak alive, and didn’t get hurt from Burrows’ violent idiocy. I’m encouraged by Palmieri showing up after going invisible when Hall was out two weeks ago. Zacha’s play continues to be encouraging in general, although I wish (and probably so does he so badly) that he gets a goal his way soon.
I didn’t think Drew Stafford or Brian Boyle were all that bad. For the minutes they play, getting four shots out of Boyle and two from Stafford is good. So is getting positive run of play on a night where Ottawa took over from the aftermath of the two PPGs in the first period up until the third period. I did notice early on that Hall was not double-shifting with them throughout the entire game. They had some good shifts with Noesen and Wood too. It’s not much but at least the bottom end of the forward group did relatively well.
Will They Go Back to the Traditional 12 Forwards and 6 Defensemen?: With the Devils now losing after winning three in a row with eleven forwards and seven defensemen, it stands to reason that a change will now be made. I don’t think John Quenneville or Jimmy Hayes (I know he’s in Binghamton now, he was a spare forward) would have necessarily made this game much better. Again, Boyle and Stafford did well with rotating forwards. And a few extra shifts, especially Hall, was likely to contribute more than whatever Quenneville, Hayes, etc. could do. As for the defense, as much as John Moore deserves something in response to his terrible night, I think either Mueller (who wasn’t good after the first ten minutes) or Lovejoy (who played just over ten minutes tonight) sits to make way for a twelfth forward.
How?: Miles Wood was charging into the zone and used his speed quite a bit. Per Natural Stat Trick, he was one of the few Devils tonight where upon when he was on the ice, the Devils out-attempted (18-12) and out-shot (9-6) Ottawa. Amazingly, he had no shots on net himself tonight. I’m baffled by that.
Nothing is Over or Around the Division: While the Devils lost to Ottawa, they did not lose a guaranteed playoff spot. Pittsburgh held on against Vegas for a regulation win; they pull ahead of the Devils by a point. Washington helpfully scored in the final minute against Columbus, so they stay with 58 points while the Caps go up two more. Annoyingly, Philly and Carolina went to overtime where Philly won. Still, they’re three points behind the Devils - who have games in hand on Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Columbus, and even Washington. Even salvaging a point, somehow, would have been great. But the Devils have 30 more games left to play and they’re still in the top three for the moment.
One Last Thought: John Moore was quite bad tonight. From being beaten one-on-one with White for a shot in the first period to a cringe-worthy, Gelinas-level pinch that failed resulting in a 3-on-1 rush for Ottawa in the second, and all kinds of not-defense. Tied with Mueller, the Devils gave up the most shots in 5-on-5 when he was on the ice with 12. How in the world did this guy get 19:36 of ice time tonight - more than all defensemen except for Sami Vatanen (who was hot-and-cold between making good passes and shots to some really poor ones), who beat him by a few seconds? Who sees John Moore, especially tonight, and thinks “I got to get him on the ice over and over?” Who? What am I missing with him?
Your Take: The Devils lost 3-5 to Ottawa and largely have themselves to blame for it. That’s my view on this loss. What’s your view? Who did well for the Devils tonight in your opinion? Who did not do well for the Devils tonight in your opinion? What should the Devils learn from this loss before playing Calgary on Thursday night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview this morning. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.