Welcome to the most difficult part of the schedule on paper. Tonight through March 24, the New Jersey Devils have an eight-game stretch against top teams in both conferences with a six-game road trip bookended by two difficult opponents in Newark. Tonight was the first of these eight games: hosting the Winnipeg Jets, who came into this game with 40 wins and 91 points. they left Newark with 41 wins and 93 points. The Devils lost to the Jets, 2-3. While the score was close, it was still a disappointing loss.
The eventual game winning goal summed up what went wrong for the Devils tonight and, really, most of the 2018 portion of this season for the Devils. Here’s a video of the goal from NHL.com. What follows is a breakdown:
Before the video begins, Damon Severson goes in deep to try and win a puck from Nikolaj Ehlers in the left corner. Severson throws a good hit and the puck is loose. But despite support, the Devils do not get the puck back and Ehlers skates the puck out of the zone.
Once Ehlers gets into the zone, Blake Coleman throws a hit and Ehlers is off-balance and falls down. While on the ground, Ehlers knocks the puck ahead. Severson, who backchecked hard on this play, gets this puck and takes a touch. While pressured by Paul Stastny, he loses control and the puck heads up the Devils’ zone into space.
Ehlers is up and is the first to this loose puck as Coleman is behind him. Ehlers takes this puck and heads to the high slot. Severson goes on one knee for a block, John Moore is looking back as Stastny gets ahead of him. Ehlers waits until Coleman stretches his stick at him before passing it to his left to Dustin Byfuglien.
Byfuglien one-times the puck from the top of the left circle (Cory Schneider’s right). Schneider went low, but the shot rose past him. The puck hit the post hard and goes to the right. Meanwhile, Stastny stopped in the slot, as did Moore. Coleman was gliding towards the left side and Severson was behind the play entirely due to his blocking attempt. Ehlers stayed on the right side.
The puck bounced off the post and right to Ehlers. Ehlers kicks the puck to himself and backhands it into the empty net on Schneider’s left flank. The Devils were then down 1-3.
In summary, the Devils made an offensive turnover when they could have won possession; they made a defensive turnover after getting the puck from the other team; three defending Devils (Moore, Severson, and Coleman) focus entirely on the puck carrier and aren’t looking out for trailers; the goalie gets beat by the open shot - but is bailed out by the post; and the puck bounced to the opposition in the right way for Winnipeg and a very wrong way for New Jersey. That’s five things that went wrong by my count and four of them are in the control of the Devils themselves. We’ve seen many, many examples of these kinds of errors costing New Jersey for the past two months plus now. I think this is the first one in quite sometime where they all culminated on one goal against.
A play like this cannot be solely pointed to one player doing wrong. I would love to be able to say that it’s all Cory Schneider’s fault and if he’s better than everything becomes sunshine and lollipops in New Jersey. I’m sure Schneider himself wishes that was the case because he can do something about that. But that play isn’t all on the goalie. And this portion of the season isn’t solely on any goaltender. On this play, it’s very much on Severson; it’s very much on Coleman; and it’s very much on Moore. In this part of the season, the skaters as a whole have paid for their problems - and they aren’t always able to make up the difference. After all, that this goal happened while the Devils were down only 1-2 in the game speaks to a larger issue of not producing enough or not being able to beat a very, very good Connor Hellebuyck or something else. The point is that this goal can’t be hung on one player, this regulation loss can’t be hung on one player or play, and this struggle since January 1, 2018 can’t be hung on one game or set of players.
Of course, if we want to be honest, we must begrudgingly point out some positive events. The Devils roared back to make it 2-3 thanks to Nico Hischier jamming in a puck and Hellebuyck for putting the puck over the line. The Devils also came out on fire for most of the third period. They out-shot the Jets 18-5 in the third period alone, they actually ran a decent power play on their final opportunity of the game, they were able to do things near the front of the net, and they made Hellebuyck do more than get his massive chest in front of the shot. Yes, the Devils put up 41 shots on net, but the really dangerous ones came mostly in the third period. Earlier this week, the Devils came up lame against Vegas as they entered the third period down one goal. This was worlds better than that. I cannot knock the effort the Devils showed to try to get something out of this one except for the final three minutes or so.
Ultimately, I left this game feeling down on the Devils. While they lost this one, the fact that all of their other recent losses have really caught up to them. And this was the first of a really tough stretch of games. If there was a game to get something out of it, then this was a good one as any. Fresh off a win, at home with a favorable crowd, and being able to give the opposition goaltender plenty of rubber. It ended with nothing. The Devils ended up having three power plays, including a double-minor power play. Those ended with nothing in the net and few dangerous shots on net. The Devils ran up shots but generated few chances in the first and second periods. Only one neutral zone pass by Hischier to spring Kyle Palmieri for a breakaway goal ended with something in the net. The Devils kept dumping-and-chasing and trying to thread cross-ice passes. Those often ended with nothing too. Most of all, in this part of the season where the Devils need results, they got nothing. They are limping into the final road trip of the season with a loss tonight and a 4-6-0 record in their last ten. You can blame your favorite scapegoat as much as you’d like, but this was very much a team loss - just look at the last goal against.
The Opposition Opinion: HappyCaraT has this recap at Arctic Ice Hockey, touting the end of Taylor Hall’s point streak (yep) and noting how Patrik Laine tied Sidney Crosby in goals as a teenager.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Change Your Six on Five Play: Let me get this out of the way first. I appreciate that John Hynes pulled Schneider for the extra skater with other two minutes left in the third. The Devils had offensive possession and they needed to be aggressive. Good. What transpired was absolutely zero shots on net and three missed shots. That’s really bad. The last recorded shot in the game for the Devils was a challenging shorthanded shot by Hischier that forced Hellebuyck to grab as he fell on his butt. That happened with under four minutes left. In a one-shot game where they gave Hellebuyck 43 shots on net, the Devils did not get a shot on net in the final three minutes after killing a penalty. That’s terrible.
What bothers me the most? That there were dump-ins in a 6-on-5 situation. That’s plural - dump-ins. The Jets and their rather large group of skaters were not fazed by the dump-and-chase throughout the night. Why in the world the Devils seem to think throwing it in deep at the red line is a good idea when they have an extra skater? It’s stupid and largely ineffective on power plays. It’s stupid and largely ineffective in 6-on-5 situations where the Devils need to keep the puck to create shots.
Kyle, Nico, and Wait, Hall Only Had Two Shots?: From a shooting and skating standpoint, Kyle Palmieri and Nico Hischier were standouts. More than their contributions to the scoresheet, they kept up the attack. Palmieri had seven shots on net out of thirteen total shooting attempts. His breakaway goal was very good and most of his other shots actually made Hellebuyck work tonight. Hischier drew a hook in the first period and had four shots on net out of five attempts - which is more than usual for him and very good to see. Hischier was fortunate for his goal; again, the goalie made the final touch to put it in. Still, they made their mark.
Taylor Hall, well, this was a night where a point streak would end. And so it did. As the game went on, his puck control betrayed him and his entries weren’t so hot. By the end, during 6-on-5, he was losing pucks. It was a poor end to a night where Hall had only two shots on net, six attempts blocked, and one attempt miss the net. Hall’s passing was a bit more effective. While the Devils were attacking more when he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play (this was true for everyone except Zajac, Maroon, and Moore), Hall saw a lot of Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien and that duo did a good job containing him. Chalk it up to a not so good night; they tend to happen at least once within a 27 game run.
Other Forwards Who Did Less Than You May Have Thought: The fans have noticed that Michael Grabner has done next to nothing since becoming a Devil. With one shot on net tonight, he has continued to do next to nothing. I thought he had a strong game against Montreal but he failed to follow it up.
What you may have also not noticed was Miles Wood. Oh, sure, he was chasing down pucks. Even when he won the race, he rarely turned it into anything. His only shot on net came in the third period, an open shot at an angle that was easily stopped - and the play ended as the Jets had six skaters on the ice. Wood played less than eleven minutes and I can’t say he deserved more ice time.
Patrick Maroon ends up as the only Devil without a shot on net. Despite power play shifts and playing 17:40, he ends up with zero on target as the Devils put up 43 on the goalie. Maroon was the Devils’ worst CF% player and he was a net-negative on the boxscore too. With about five minutes left in the third, he recklessly checked Josh Morrisey into the boards from behind. A classic “hit to the numbers.” It was an easy boarding call. The time to throw a hit like that is never. It is even worse to throw it while on offense and down a goal late in the third period. When the Devils pulled Schneider for the extra skater, I was stunned to see Maroon out there. I figured he’d be stapled to the bench for that penalty.
Stefan Noesen, who CJ wrote about recently, was in this game and that was the extent of his performance. At least Brian Gibbons created one of the few good shots on net in the first period - a pass to a trailing John Moore for a one-timer that forced Hellebuyck to move for the stop.
Injury: In the second period, Travis Zajac was rocked on a check by Andrew Copp. Zajac was really feeling the effects of the hit. As the Jets were on offense, he couldn’t get off the ice. So Zajac was on an island, so to speak, for about thirty-five seconds.
It wasn’t until the Devils made a clear down the ice, right to the goalie. This led to Winnipeg’s second goal. As the Devils were changing, Hellebuyck collected the puck for Ben Chiarot. He threw a puck up ice to Joel Armia. Armia utilized Ben Lovejoy as a screen and fired a wrister through the defender’s legs and past Schneider’s glove. It’s arguable that Schneider should’ve stopped it (writing it out, I’m less bothered by it, but what do I know?). Still, the Jets caught the Devils - adding a goal against to an injury.
Zajac would not return after coming off the ice after that hit. The Devils were down to eleven forwards. In retrospect, that makes their offensive surge in the third period more impressive as they were shorthanded. Yet, this is a big loss should Zajac be out for sometime. The Devils are going to go to Nashville, Vegas, the three California teams, and Pittsburgh with Hischier, Boyle, and Blake Coleman as their main centers. Until Pavel Zacha returns, I would guess Brian Gibbons will take draws too. Still, that’s not a great group down the middle. It’s another reason to be worried about this coming run.
Around the Division: A bigger reason would be that the Devils received next to no help tonight. Philly lost in regulation to Boston. That’s it. Columbus won in OT and are now a point behind the Devils. Florida smashed Montreal, they’re now three points behind the Devils with three games in hand. Carolina came from behind to beat Chicago; they’re now five points back. Even a fringe team on the playoff picture, the Islanders, lost in a shootout so they get a point. The Devils are not just suffering the lack of wins, but the lack of post-regulation losses. It’d be one thing if instead of 4-6-0 in their last ten, they were 4-3-3. Say what you want about them, but any points are big at this point. And the Devils would do well to know that for the next seven games.
One Final Thought: Does Cory Schneider need to be better than he has been? Yes. Do the Devils need to be able to score more than two goals per game? Yes. Both are not mutually exclusive. Both point to issues with the team. But if you’re going to tell me that Schneider is past it and he’s no good and so forth; then you really should be more mad about the lack of goalscoring than Schneider not being who you claim he is not.
Your Take: The Devils lost 2-3 as they enter a killer six-game road trip. I’m not happy about the loss. You’re probably not happy about it either. What’s your take on this loss? What went wrong? What do the Devils need to do to make it better in Nashville on Saturday? Please leave your answers 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.