Tonight, the New Jersey Devils lost a second consecutive game in regulation. They lost 2-3 to the Calgary Flames. All things considered, tonight’s performance by the New Jersey Devils was not a bad one. The first period was fairly even. The Devils were done in by the second period, which wasn’t really a poor one except for the goals that they allowed. Down two goals, the Devils needed an amazing period to make a comeback. They had one in the third period, pulled within one goal, and only faded in the final minutes of the game. This was very much a close loss.
I am disappointed that it was a loss in that the Devils could have avoided this situation entirely. Among the three goals allowed in the second period, the second and third ones were bad ones to allow. It did not reflect well on Keith Kinkaid, who was doing just fine until these goals. It did not reflect well on the skaters on the play.
The second period did have its runs where the game opened up with both teams trying to catch the other on rushes up ice. At 1-1, things looked promising when Jesper Bratt stripped Johnny Gaudreau of the puck. With Gaudreau still collecting himself, Bratt sprung Taylor Hall for a 2-on-1. They rush up ice, Hall elects to pass it across, and his saucer pass was just too high for a tired Bratt. Bratt loses control of the puck after a challenge from T.J. Brodie along the boards and Michael Ferland won it from Bratt. He found Gaudreau all alone at the Devils’ blueline. Gaudreau took the pass, took it in alone, and fired a backhander through a large gap between Keith Kinkaid’s legs. Yes, someone on New Jersey should have noticed Gaudreau. Yes, Bratt could have done better. Yes, Hall could have shot it instead of going for a killer saucer pass. Most importantly, though, Kinkaid should not have given up his five-hole so easily. That was a soft goal against and it put Calgary up.
Throughout the second period, the Devils were doing a good job preventing Calgary from getting to rebounds and extending attacks from winning loose pucks. There would usually be a shot, a Devil collected it, and the Devils tried to push it up ice. Two exceptions occurred. One was Sean Monahan batting in a puck that rebounded off Kinkaid’s shoulder from a high shot by Dougie Hamilton. Monahan hit that before the puck hit the ice and that made it 0-1. Fine. It was a fantastic shot - nothing much that could be done there. The second goal Monahan scored hurt a lot more, though. Late in the second period, Gaudreau fed Monahan down the right side of the zone. He easily went around and past Sami Vatanen and took a shot. He hit the frame of the goal. Monahan continued to skate around the net. The puck popped up, hit off Andy Greene’s back (he was unaware), and dropped right to where Monahan was going. Monahan one-timed it shortside as the Devils looked like statues. It was like a video-game move. It was very impressive from Monahan. What kills me about it was the lack of communication on the ice. Why didn’t Kinkaid get to the left post faster at all? If Greene was unaware, why didn’t another Devil yell for Kinkaid to get to the other post faster? Or yell to Greene to turn around or something? This goal occurred within the final minutes of the period, extended Calgary’s lead to two, and that put the Devils in too deep.
And I do mean in too deep. T.J. Brodie had a knack for swallowing up failed zone entries by the Devils all game long. Michael Stone was great. The Flames did a very good job making life difficult for the Devils offense to get opportunities. That partially explains why the Devils kept going for long passes and pass-in zone entries to try to get Devils skating into space. It’s why they kept trying to turn defensive stops into quick counter-attacks. Even when the Devils were able to get space for a shot, goaltender David Rittich was able to get in front of a lot of the shots. Even when they were point-blank one-timers, he was able to get his pads or something to deny the Devils. So at the end of the second period, I was down even though the Devils were putting in a good effort and doing quite a bit better than it seemed.
The third period took a while to get going, but it ultimately went the way you would want it for a team down two goals. The Flames were effectively shut down on offense as the Devils conceded a mere three shooting attempts and one shot on net. The Devils eventually ran up 12 shots on Rettich and most weren’t easy ones. The Devils went high-to-low, they tried jam plays, they tried to catch the Flames out of position. In a game where the referees were not calling much of anything, the Devils drew a power play. And they scored on it. The only part of the third period that did not go well was the final three minutes or so. Calgary was able to waste about a minute of time in New Jersey’s end to prevent Kinkaid going off for an extra attacker. With six skaters, it took until there was 37 seconds left in the game before Retting saw the puck. Despite offensive zone faceoffs, the Devils couldn’t create one good shot. A bouncing puck eluded Brian Boyle - not his fault, just pointing it out - the Flames got one last clear, and that was that. The Devils prevented the Flames, they got some offense going, and they got one back. Alas, they did not get the equalizer.
The Flames are a good team and the Devils did play a respectable game against them. There were some positive events for sure for the Devils. But those two goals in the second period were killers. They had to have been stopped. Otherwise, this game could have turned out more favorably. I liked how the Devils eventually turned it on in the third period; it’s the kind of comeback effort that should be lauded. But it wasn’t enough tonight and the standings don’t care about performances. So it goes.
The Opposition Opinion: From Matchsticks & Gasoline, this recap by MilhouseFirehouse has two points I want to really highlight. First, Calgary is 15-5-5 on the road now. The Flames have been one of the best performing road teams in the NHL. It’s not like the Devils fell to scrubs. Second, Rettich has yet to lose a game in regulation. He’s started in seven games and appeared in nine per NHL.com; his even strength save percentage is 93.7%. You may not be familiar with him, but he’s been stopping most of his opposition this season. He’s a man taking ownership that #2 goalie spot in Calgary. If he’s for real, he could usurp Smith after next season.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
The Name Players Showed Up: For Calgary, Sean Monahan displayed why he’s one of the better scorers in the league. He didn’t just win two rebounds and caught the goalie. He batted one out of mid-air (Sami Vatanen possibly could have bodied him up, but the man hit that puck perfectly.) and slammed in another one shortside at a tough angle after his own shot hit off a post and a player. He’s a dude with a nose for the net. Gaudreau’s speed was noticeable and, with Ferland’s help, he caught the Devils for a score of his own. While Mark Giordano didn’t make a huge impact on the game, T.J. Brodie was very good in his own end tonight. For the most part, Calgary’s top players showed up.
As for the Devils, well, their name player is Taylor Hall. Hall absolutely showed up for this one. While his 5-on-5 numbers weren’t so dominant, when Hall was able to get forward, you couldn’t help but notice him. Whether it was forged from his days Edmonton or otherwise, Hall clearly had some extra jump against Calgary. When Hamilton made a terrible turnover right to him, Hall made sure to score - and he did on his own rebound. Hall picked up a secondary assist on the PPG. This is among four shots and seven attempts of his own. And early in the third period, Hall was given some extra shifts at the expense of Blake Coleman. Which I can understand. You’re down two goals, have the star forward get some extra shifts. That didn’t last too long, but I respect it. Anyway, he did his job tonight too.
By the way, Hall’s point streak is now 12 games. He also has surpassed his entire scoring total from last season. Again, Hall is the Superstar Left Winger of the New Jersey Devils.
Finally: Pavel Zacha finally scored a goal. Zacha took a feed at the front of the net from Brian Boyle. Zacha turned and put a backhander through his own legs (!!) and Rettich’s legs for a power play goal. That’s his first goal since December 23 against Chicago and it’s a sick one:
While his 5-on-5 numbers were also not so hot (unlike what they have been in recent weeks), Zacha put up three shots. He had the lone shot on New Jersey’s first power play before he took a nasty and uncalled cross-check from Troy Brouwer. Zacha has been playing so well as of late that one was just hoping for something to break his way. He got it tonight. It’s a shame the Devils couldn’t get the equalizer to make that goal even more important. I know it was a huge relief for the young forward all the same.
The Return of Quenneville: John Quenneville made his season debut tonight. He largely played with Drew Stafford and Brian Boyle. In the run of play, Quenneville was OK. With Boyle and Stafford, attempts and shots in 5-on-5 play were about even. Quenneville himself definitely showed some hustle on some plays. He also took four attempts for two shots. I think the biggest stat to note is his ice time. Quenneville didn’t get the ten or so minutes you’d expect for a fourth-liner. He played 13:51 and received shifts late in the game. I wouldn’t say he was outstanding; but I thought he did more than Jimmy Hayes - who was available - would have likely done in that spot. We’ll see if he continues to play now that Hayes is back in New Jersey. I certainly would not mind seeing Quenneville getting a second game this weekend; he’s done well enough to get that, in my view.
Improvements: Miles Wood definitely got shots on net tonight. He had four, tying him with Hall, John Moore, and Nico Hischier for the most on the team tonight. The line of Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman, and Stefan Noesen was run over in 5-on-5 play in Ottawa after scoring a goal. While they did not score tonight, they were much better in the run of play as the Devils tended to attack more when they were on the ice. Speaking of the run of play, Ben Lovejoy and Will Butcher were a fine third pairing in 5-on-5. Lovejoy was better in his own end tonight and even had some offensive looks. Butcher was continued to be fine in the role that he played. While these shifts didn’t end up making the big difference, they were improvements from last game.
One improvement that did make an impact: the power play. It was kind of a mess in the first period with only one shot on net and one bizarrely broken and effective zone entry. The second one was more successful and the power play was more like what an extra-man situation should be.
Letting it Go: Some want to see the players play and the referee crew absolutely did so. There were plenty of examples of interference, holding, hooking, cross-checking, and even a blatant trip tonight. All were uncalled. There were two penalties assessed tonight, both given to Calgary. Dougie Hamilton boarded Kyle Palmieri in the first period. Amazingly, Hamilton did something similar to Palmieri in the neutral zone in the second period in front of a ref and it wasn’t called at all. Even more amazingly, the second penalty was called in the third period: a high stick by Travis Hamonic on Blake Coleman. That penalty was fortunate as the Devils did convert that power play. I’m glad no Devil or Flame got seriously hurt from a violent act as both teams were given plenty of leeway in terms of physical play. Clearly, referees Graham Skilliter and Kevin Pollack wanted to keep this game moving.
Get Better Soon, Cory: Keith Kinkaid really made a mess of it. He was perfectly fine until the Gaudreau goal. And the second Monahan goal showed he was slow getting to the post. I was surprised he led the team out of the tunnel prior to the third period. I expected Eddie Lack to get in the game. He did not. As much as I hate to pin a loss on a goalie, Kinkaid bears plenty of the burden for this one.
Cory Schneider’s status remains unknown. With a huge weekend coming up, Kinkaid has to get it together somehow because he will be starting one of those games. He has had some good games in recent weeks, but when it rains, it tends to pour for him. Lack has not been all that either; Calgary traded him for a reason. Whether you think Schneider is elite is completely missing the point; he’s far, far better than either option the Devils have in net at this point.
Around the Division: If you want a reason to be disappointed about this loss, then look at the standings. Despite losing to Ottawa on Tuesday, New Jersey had a chance to move on up to second place. Even a point would have done it and given them some breathing room from the wild card spots. After all, the Isles were heartbroken in the final minutes by Buffalo in a regulation loss tonight. Yesterday, Our Hated Rivals were beaten so badly by Boston prior to formally announcing their “we’ve always sucked but now we’re going to suck more - for the future” process. Philadelphia did win against Montreal and the two Pennsylvania teams are the only ones in the division that have been on somewhat of a roll. And the Devils just beat them both last week. So this 2-3 loss really stings from a standings perspective. The time to secure the playoffs is when everyone else is struggling. Winning games like this one does that. Alas, it will have to wait. Saturday’s game in Columbus was big to begin with; it’s even bigger now.
Your Take: The Devils lost 2-3. I didn’t think the performance was that bad. But the Devils didn’t win and they could have really used this comeback. Alas. What did you think of it? Who impressed you the most? Who did you think was lacking the most on New Jersey tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Ryan for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.