Ahead of this game, I figured this would be a tough one for the New Jersey Devils. Any time a team has to play a rested opponent in a back-to-back is a tough one, even if they are coming off three straight wins like the Devils. The Anaheim Ducks took full advantage by controlling much of the game from the very beginning and not really letting up. If you’re looking for the mythical “sixty minute effort,” the Ducks provided a very good approximation. The Devils lost 2-4 for their first loss on this road trip and it was very much a beat down.
Sure, the Devils should feel good about winning in Nashville, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles to start this trip. Sure, games like this do happen and given the schedule, it was likely this would be one of them. For most teams, you just chalk it up as a loss and move on. For a Devils team fighting for their playoff lives, this was not at all a helpful result. Even forcing overtime in a losing effort would have been better for the standings. Given how the game went, that wasn’t going to happen short of some incredible luck and some incredibly bad goaltending from John Gibson. The Devils did not have much of either.
Of course, those would require the Devils to actually attack the net. The Ducks clamped down on the Devils throughout the game in 5-on-5. Their penalty kill was quite good with only one successful pass yielding a power play against them. Anaheim was great in their own end, they were great in the neutral zone, and they rolled through the Devils on offense. The numbers justify what I saw: constant waves of black and orange jerseys coming at the Devils. The game ended with the Ducks out-shooting the Devils 36 to 17 and out-attempting them 67-39 in all situations. While I understand that the Devils were coming off playing in Los Angeles yesterday afternoon, that’s just not going to get it done on most nights against most anyone. And it didn’t tonight.
If anything about this game irks me, it’s the third period. The Devils entered the period only down one goal. They were down 1-2. Despite getting owned in the first period and needing Keith Kinkaid - yes, he played again - to make some big stops in the second, the Devils were just a shot away from tying it up. The Ducks came out and just went, “Not today, Jersey,” as they just denied exits, won pucks in the neutral zone, ended any hopes of a Devils offense, and kept rushing into New Jersey’s end. The Devils took one shot 32 seconds into the period and then didn’t get another one 10:05 into the period. Granted, that second shot was a goal by Patrick Maroon. But by that point, that goal made the game 2-3 and Anaheim hit back with a score of their own to make it 2-4. Effectively, the Devils only needed to be good for this third period and they came out and they put up four shots out of ten attempts in twenty minutes. The Devils had a real chance to get something out of this game and they flopped in the third period like a fish out of water. That’s simply not good at this point of the season, regardless of the fatigue situation.
I feel bad for Keith Kinkaid. After facing 38 shots and 86 shooting attempts against Los Angeles, he was thrown back into the net to face another shellacking by the opposition. The Devils defense was in name only and the forward certainly were not supportive enough. I don’t think any of the four goals against were Kinkaid’s fault. To recap:
First GA: Kinkaid made the first stop on Rickard Rakell, John Moore botched a clearance, and Ryan Getzlaf buried the loose puck.
Second GA: John Moore fails hard at winning a puck after a zone entry by Anaheim. Puck is worked around to the back. Hampus Lindholm goes D-to-D with Josh Manson. Manson fires a shot, Jakub Silfverberg re-directed it in front to beat Kinkaid.
Third GA: After Moore takes a silly cross-checking penalty in the third period, the Devils win the faceoff. But Andy Greene took too long to make a clearing attempt. Ryan Getzlaf’s pressure forces a turnover to Brandon Montour. Three passes later, Getzlaf hooks up Montour with a killer one-timer on Kinkaid’s left flank for the PPGA.
Fourth GA: After a failed move up ice by Blake Coleman thanks to Marcus Petterson putting him on his wallet, the Ducks gain the zone and establish possession for the umpteenth time tonight. Petterson moves the puck to Cam Fowler at the right point. His shot hits off Rakell and past Kinkaid to make it 2-4, seconds after Maroon put the Devils within one.
These aren’t goals I would blame on Kinkaid. Maybe the first one if I were to be rather picky, but Moore failed and failed hard in that situation. Still, he is far from a “hot hand” now. He must be very tired after a remarkably busy weekend. I don’t understand why John Hynes would start him knowing that his team was going to have issues getting going.
To that end, I don’t understand why Hynes kept most of the same lines and pairings intact. The only change was to bring in Maroon, which did work out in that he contributed a goal. The initial lines and pairings got hammered in the run of play tonight. I know they beat the Kings, but coming off a win cannot be the sole justification to make no other changes. Not after a game where they won 3-0 but were creamed in the run of play.
That said, the game wasn’t so much lost because Travis Zajac centered Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri instead of Nico Hischier. (Especially since Zajac was creamed a lot less severely in the run of play than Hischier tonight.) It was lost because the whole roster of skaters put in a second-rate effort against a Ducks team that was well-prepared and did their jobs well. It was bad enough that we saw some actual switches on defense for a change; not that it stemmed the Anaheim attack. It was bad enough that the team was out-shot by a 3:1 ratio in the third period, which began as a one-goal game. It was just plain bad.
Adding further to the frustration, the Devils’ power play came up short. Yes, Kyle Palmieri converted the team’s fourth power play of the game, which put the team within one goal in the second period. That was a success That came after three situations, including a long 5-on-3 situation, where the team combined one shot on net out of all three. Yes, even a 5-on-3 did not result in shots on net. A 5-on-3 where there was acres of space and most of it came after intermission, so players certainly had time to catch their breath and think about it. While the power play did get one on the board, it was still a little made out of what could have been a lot as Anaheim took the first four penalties of the game. Forget scoring, creating some offense against a Ducks team that started off so hot would have been a big help. That didn’t happen at all. What can you say about that? Other than “Fire Geoff Ward.”
If that isn’t enough, Miles Wood left the game in the second period, clutching his right elbow after a collision with Francios Beauchemin. The speculation is a hyperextended elbow. It’s still a blow to the team’s group of forwards.
The bigger picture of this road trip still looks good. 3-1-0 is very nice given the level of opponents. But this loss should still be seen as a wake up call of sorts. The Devils can’t just keep getting steamrolled in 5-on-5 or in all situation play and hope to get by with opportunistic goal scoring and outrageously good goaltending. Kinkaid played well tonight but the Devils’ attack was so dulled that it didn’t matter. And the next appearance for Kinkaid may not go so well - then where would they be? The skaters need to step up in general on Tuesday and in future games. Yes, the road is hard and the opponents are good. If the Devils are the playoff team we hope and expect them to be, then we should want them to rise to the occasion. They didn’t tonight. They were beaten down by an Anaheim team who absolutely did as they fight for their own playoff lives.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Anaheim Calling for their take on tonight’s games.
Two Notable Stats of Sadness: Kyle Palmieri had five shots on net. Sami Vatanen had two shots on net. They were the only Devils to have more than one shot on net tonight. In case you needed another perspective to show how bad this game was for the Devils’ offense tonight.
Another way to look at it is the team’s CF%s for each player. Every single Devil was below 50% tonight. No matter who was on the ice, the Ducks were out-attempting the Devils. It was nearly a clean sweep in terms of 5-on-5 shots too. Only when Drew Stafford (on ice for 3 shots for and 3 against) and Brian Boyle (on ice for 5 shots for and 5 against) were on the ice were they not out-shot in 5-on-5 play either.
Around the Division: The Devils did get a big help from Florida losing yesterday as they won in Los Angeles. Tonight, a win would have kept the Devils in pace with Philadelphia and move them ahead of Columbus. Instead, the Devils lost, Philly beat Washington 6-3, and so the order is Philly 85, Columbus 83, and New Jersey 82. Florida fans are happy with tonight’s result as they now have three games in hand on the Devils, who are still five points ahead of them. Even a fortunate point in Anaheim would have been a big help. Alas, the Devils will have to do some more scoreboard watching in addition to getting back to winning ways as soon as possible.
Your Take: The Devils lost 2-4 and it was a lot more definitive than the score may look in my eyes. What did you see in this loss? What can the Devils learn from this one before they play San Jose on Tuesday night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Ryan for previewing the game. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.