Everywhere on the ice, red was present. No, not only because both the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes both have it in their uniform’s color scheme. Players clad in the all-red home outfit of the Canes were just everywhere. They were forechecking the Devils’ faces. They were making life difficult in the neutral zone and at their blueline for zone entries. They were constantly on top of the Devils whenever the Devils even had the puck for a second in Carolina’s end in the rink. While Keith Kinkaid did his very best and Taylor Hall pulled out another goal, the Canes got more of the bounces as they out-played the Devils tonight and handed them a regulation loss.
Stating that the Devils lost the game from Derek Ryan sending a pass to Lee Stempniak but the puck bounced in off Damon Severson’s skates and Brett Pesce’s long shot hit off Teuvo Teravainen’s skates in front to get past Kinkaid would be true. To state that is only how the Devils lost this game ignores how it all went down in Raleigh. Carolina took control of the game and came at the Devils early and often on offense. When that faded, there was not much of a response from the Devils as the Canes’ skaters just got in their faces on defense. The second period was even worse as the Canes out-hustled, out-worked, out-controlled, out-passed, out-coached, and out-performed the Devils. It was fortunate for the Devils to come out of that period 1-1 and needed only one good period to take the game. While the third period from New Jersey was better, the Canes did more than enough before Justin Williams sealed the win with an empty-netter. They kept their positioning, they kept making plays with their sticks, and they threw excellent checks that may not have looked or sounded big but separated the Devils from pucks. Carolina showcased again why they’re such a difficult opponent tonight - only this time they won despite Kinkaid putting in a great night’s work.
That Carolina clamped down on the Devils early and often makes the near-chances even more agonizing. Even with the Canes keeping the Devils largely to the outside in 5-on-5 play and held them to 14 shots on net in the first two periods (Devils ended the game at 26), there were a few what-ifs. What if Brian Boyle skated a bit harder on a first period 2-on-1 when Hall sent him a killer pass to the left post? What if Patrick Maroon got on a killer pass to the right post on the team’s first power play - the only offense that power play generated? What if Kyle Palmieri didn’t sail a shot from the slot in the third period that surprised Cam Ward? What if Damon Severson found a hole when he was open on the inside of the left circle? What if the loose puck that Travis Zajac struck at went in the net instead of hitting the post with a bit over five minutes left? There are enough what-ifs to make one think the Devils were denied by luck. I would agree except I watched this game and witnessed the Devils just struggling to generate clean shots on Ward as Carolina made Kinkaid earn his money.
Tonight was a frustrating night and arguably more than the frustrating loss to Florida last night. And there’s not much of an excuse here. The Devils played poorly and needed their goaltender to bail them out. And Kinkaid did that. He was great. It wasn’t enough. The Devils get a deflection going their way from the hottest player in the league. It wasn’t enough. The Devils were in a situation where they needed one good period - and that literally was not enough given the final score. The Devils had more power plays than the Canes - it wasn’t enough. I cannot even factor in fatigue since the Devils certainly weren’t lacking in energy and Carolina also played (and won) last night. There are less than 20 games left in the season; I don’t really have time for excuses and you probably do not either. There is only one true answer to how this game went down and it is simple: the Devils weren’t good enough tonight.
Given that this followed another poor performance and that the Devils will only see one more non-playoff team before facing Carolina again on March 27 (and maybe they occupy a wild card spot by then), that is cause for concern. The Devils need to sort things out and get back to winning ways as soon as possible.
The Opposition Opinion: Kyle Morton has this recap up at Canes Country.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Possession Mattered and Carolina Had the Edge: If you watched this game, then you may have noticed that the Canes had the puck more often than New Jersey. Whether it was getting the puck away from the Devils on defense, denying a zone exit (they preyed on the Devils’ tendencies to pass from the boards towards the inside of the zone), and just swarming it up, the Canes had the advantage in possession by eye. If you disagree, then, I’m sorry, I don’t think you watched this game carefully enough.
The numbers at Natural Stat Trick back this up. The Canes out-attempted the Devils 50-38 in 5-on-5 play, out-shot them 28-22, out-chanced them 23-19, and out-high-danger-chanced them 10-5. This was mostly done in the first and second periods. The second period was especially bad as Carolina out-shot the Devils by a 2:1 ratio and ran up 23 attempts alone in 5-on-5 play. The only positives in that period for New Jersey were an excellent penalty kill, Kinkaid being a monster in the crease, and Hall’s PPG. The rest was all Carolina. The Devils were ahead in the third period, which reflected an improvement of sorts. But the Canes did more than enough to keep them honest - and they got the go-ahead goal. It was representative of the Canes having a superior game plan, executing their plays more often, and not letting up when they had successes.
The heat map at Natural Stat Trick is also instructive how this night was in Carolina’s favor. Carolina had high marks in the slot and in front of the crease. The Devils’ most common area for attempts was above the left circle. The Devils struggled to break down the Carolina defensemen. Their forwards backchecked excellently and provided support to one of the best bluelines in the league. The Canes created opportunities after opportunities to catch the Devils’ defensive efforts unaware or a step behind the play.
What’s more is that several Canes really were thorns in the side of the Devils tonight. Nine players posted CF%s above 60%, which is astounding. The line of Lee Stempniak, Derek Ryan, and Victor Rask crushed their matchups. Derek Ryan had some of the best shots on net in the first period, a bounce off Severson’s skate gave him a goal in the second period, and finished the game with four shots - tied with Williams for the team lead tonight. But Stempniak and Rask were fearsome in both ends and they supported Ryan going off tonight. Philip Di Guiseppe, Jeff Skinner, and Lucas Wallmark were also dominant in the run of play even though they did not play a whole lot of minutes. Defensemen Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk were fantastic.
I understand some fans may turn up their nose at Corsi or possession or stats beyond the boxscore. But tonight was a great example of how a team good in those things can just control a game and make it a win. That was Carolina tonight. Not New Jersey.
Poor Kinkaid: I cannot praise Kinkaid enough tonight. The two goals against were not his fault. He absolutely denied Ryan in the first period. He robbed Sebastian Aho at the ride of the net in the third period that could have ended the game right then and there. Kinkaid was moving well in going from the post to post. He handled the puck well outside of his net. He was not conceding a lot of dangerous rebounds. Kinkaid did his job tonight. It is a shame that the players in front of him did not reward his performance with a good one of their own.
Improvements from Last Night: Before criticizing a bunch of Devils, I will note some improvements from last night’s game.
First, I will credit John Hynes for mixing the lines during tonight’s game. It did not take long for the Devils to realize that Carolina was owning the match-up game. By moving players around, it allowed for some different looks. Did it work well? No. Not until the third period when Devils’ passes and on-puck decisions improved a bit. But I prefer the coach trying to make a change rather than standing at the bench and letting his initial lines get creamed. Note I didn’t write the defensive pairings in that paragraph.
Second, while not always together, the Devils received better performances out of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and especially Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri himself put up 5 shots on net after going shotless and being invisible in Sunrise, Florida last night. Hall didn’t just get a goal but he was not dispossessed nearly as much. Hischier was more aggressive in both ends and made some plays happen as a result. These three didn’t get run over in the run of play as much as last night either even though Nico was separated from the other two.
Third, I really liked Sami Vatanen at both ends. I thought he was the Devils’ best defenseman tonight. He put up five good shots on net and what would have been a sixth ended up becoming a primary assist. He was a boss on the Devils’ one penalty kill tonight (along with Blake Coleman). Andy Greene was not too shabby either. The pairing was the only one where the Devils out-attempted and out-shot the Canes when they were on the ice tonight. Vatanen had a lot to do with that.
Fourth, the power play, well, wasn’t great. But they did get a goal and created some shots on the third power play. As much as I still think Geoff Ward needs to go, the issue tonight was really with Carolina. Their approach to 4-on-5 defense was a lot like their 5-on-5 defense. Even if the formation changed or the instructions differed, the Canes were just locking down players left and right. Still, it was a bit better than having an opposing defenseman tip in a long shot. So it’s a small improvement. It could have been better, but the Devils overall could have been better.
Criticism for Many: Defensively, the second and third pairings were bombed tonight. Damon Severson did the right thing to tie up Stempniak, so it was unfortunate a goal went in off his skate. He wasn’t going to leave the veteran winger open for a tap-in. Still, Severson was picked on over and over and over. When he was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 8-22 and out-shot 4-18 - worst of all defenders. John Moore was everything bad about Marek Zidlicky minus the penalties tonight. Moore did not add much on offense despite his pinches and he was just terrible in his own end tonight. While he was on the ice for more attempts by the Devils, he witnessed only three that actually got to Ward. Moore-Severson was blown up tonight.
So was Butcher-Lovejoy. Will Butcher definitely had a role of fault on the Ryan goal. He was also not contributing much on offense and was not a factor at all on defense. Ben Lovejoy also struggled to make plays on defense as well. This pairing saw plenty of Aho, Teravainen, and that Ryan-Rask-Stempniak line that creamed the Devils tonight. It’s hard to succeed when two-thirds of the defense failed. It makes me wonder why Hynes didn’t try switching up the pairings to at least provide some different looks there.
Where do I begin with the forwards? First off, Brian Boyle not only missed a glorious pass from Hall in the first period, he was missing Canes all over the place. He was often pinned back. I don’t know why he was on the ice in a 6-on-5 situation at the end. Not that it was a reason why the Devils lost, but it was strange to see it all the same. His sole positive contribution was drawing a foul from Justin Faulk after he was sprung for a one-on-one with Ward.
Second, I expected the Devils to get their speedy wingers going. It could have helped in lessening the pressure Carolina brought to the Devils. It could have given the Devils some much needed space on offense. It could have made a difference That didn’t happen. Jesper Bratt was a non-factor on offense with his zero shots and attempts on net tonight. Michael Grabner and Miles Wood were also held shotless. With the Canes forechecking as much as they did, the Devils did not have many opportunities to hit these players with long passes or put pucks into space so they can chase them. Even when they did do that, not much came from it. The Canes defenders were ready for it and played them near perfectly.
Third, Pavel Zacha was especially difficult to watch at times. He coughed up the puck several times on defense. There were situations where he could and should have chipped the puck ten feet forward; but instead passed it towards the middle, where a Hurricane player could battle and win the puck (and did). On offense, Zacha had all of one shot on net out of four attempts. His linemates weren’t all that tonight but neither was he. And his struggles were noticed by Carolina. That’s why he saw the Canes’ top line of Aho, Teravainen, and Elias Lindholm more than any other forward line. And he didn’t win that matchup at all.
Fourth, while not totally awful, there just wasn’t enough from other forwards like Patrick Maroon, Stefan Noesen (I don’t mind the hustle but...), and Coleman. Combined with the others, this game really stood out as one where Hall will contribute something - and that may be it. As much as I enjoy seeing Hall have a 24-game point streak, I’m willing to have that end if it means the Devils will get some wins. And for those wins to happen, there needs to be more contributions and more consistent contributions from the other forwards. Vatanen and Palmieri put up five shots each - that’s over a third of New Jersey’s total shot count tonight. While they had some changing teammates, Hall played plenty with both - and that’s no accident. If there’s a larger takeaway from this game, then it might as well be that.
Around the Division: This loss hurts in the standings. The Canes are now five points back (and tied with Columbus in points) from the Devils and have new life for their playoff hopes. Thanks in part to losing to Florida on Thursday, the Panthers have to be considered as well. With a win over Buffalo, they’re now six points behind the Devils with three games in hand. The only help the Devils received tonight so far came from the Isles, who lost by three goals to Montreal. Columbus is in Anaheim tonight. If you want the Devils to be safer going into Sunday, then you should cheer for Henrique and the Ducks.
The situation in the standings really adds to the frustration of these back-to-back regulation losses. A win tonight would have given the Devils some breathing room in fourth, Carolina would be further back and behind Florida, and would be tied in points with third-place Pittsburgh (still in fourth due to ROW). That did not happen and now the situation becomes a bit more challenging for the Devils.
One Last Thought: I want a win on Sunday just so the Devils aren’t riding 3-4 game streaks through another month. Related to this, the February Month in Review will be posted on Monday.
Your Take: The Devils lost 1-3 in a frustrating manner where they were out-played. What’s your take on this loss? Please leave your answer 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.