The New Jersey Devils ended their games in October with an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was a total goal-fest. Both teams exploded with six goals each in regulation. As it was an overtime loss, the final score was 6-7. If you believe scoring equals excitement, then Newark had one of the most exciting hockey rinks in the world this evening. As this is All About the Jersey and the focus of this site is the New Jersey Devils, I think the Devils succeeding is quite exciting. And the Devils failed to do that yet again for the eighth time this month. I feel more despair than anything else as a fan.
Under normal circumstances, this is not a game where it should cause that feeling. The fanbases and broadcasters and coaches and players of most other teams would credibly state that there were plenty of positives tonight. They would be able to state how holding Tampa Bay and their terrifying offensive talent to 23 shots on net is great. They would be able to state how putting up 42 shots on backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney and scoring on six of them is great and points to how well the Devils’ offense performed. They would be able to state that leading in expected goals and Corsi in 5-on-5 points to who was the superior team in the run of play. They would be glad that they only took one penalty all game. They would be pleased with having five power plays, scoring on one, and scoring seconds after another one ended. They would be hyped for Kyle Palmieri scoring his first hat trick as a Devil and that the third one tied up the game in dramatic fashion. They would be pumping the tires of one Jesper Bratt who was anything but a lull tonight with two goals (one tipped in by a Bolt, I think) and five shots on net. They would give props to Wayne Simmonds who remained goalless but created three goals: the power play goal by Palmieri, original go-ahead goal in the third period, and the late equalizer by Palmieri. And, hey, while Cory Schneider was terrible, most teams would write the game off as one awful night. They would focus more about getting a point against a team as talented as Tampa Bay. After all, if you told most fans on October 1 that they would get a point against Tampa Bay on October 30, then they would possibly accept it as a result. Under normal circumstances, the positives would be in the forefront despite the loss and whatever went wrong could be worked on and fans would believe that. Under normal circumstances, much of this game could be defended and even praised.
The New Jersey Devils are not under normal circumstances. They went into this game dead last in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. Their last game was another let down at home after a long break. This game came after four days off and against another opponent who not only played the night before but also lost the night before. Plus, Tampa Bay has not had that strong of a start to their season so if there is a time to take a game to them, then this was it. Instead, the Devils once again got up early, lost that lead early, and were down in the score. The Devils flipped the script somewhat by battling back and forth in the second period and ending it up 4-3. And then they added a big go-ahead goal off a brilliant individual move by Sami Vatanen to make it 5-3 early in the third. But, once again, the 2019-20 have to play to their fragile reputation and their mistakes and mishaps saw that lead go up in smoke. At least Palmieri tied it up late to force overtime, but anyone who was expecting another loss had their negativity proven right once again this season. Under normal circumstances, for most teams, a point would have been welcomed. The Devils do not need one point. They needed two. They need wins. They failed yet again to do so. And, as with the recent loss to Arizona, some of the positives one can point out are not so positive under a closer lens.
It is true that the Devils out-attempted Tampa Bay 46-37 and out-shot them 31-18 in 5-on-5 play. However, scoring chances were much closer at 21-19 as were high danger chances at 11-10. The Devils led there too, but it was more even. That suggests that while the defensive effort cut back on quantity, it did not do so much in terms of quality. Not to mention that the Devils’ five power plays to the Lightning’s one helped juice the shot count more in New Jersey’s favor. Plus, limiting the Lightning’s attempts and shots rings somewhat hollow knowing that despite allowing just five shots out of eight attempts in 5-on-5 play in the third, three of those shots ended up as goals.
Further, several of the seven goals against did not cover some skaters in glory. This is not to defend Schneider. He was bad. Make no mistake. He was really bad. However, P.K. Subban managed to screen Schneider at least once and failed to pick up Point on his put-back goal in the second period. Add in his turnovers and John Moore-esque failed pinches and it was not as good of a night as his on-ice CF% of 63.3% (19-11, second to his partner, Damon Severson) would suggest. Taylor Hall had a bad night and his terrible turnover on a failed pass to Subban in the third period not only ended an awesome run of shifts for the Devils, but his lollygagging backchecking got him eventually to a spot where Mathieu Joseph can throw a puck off Hall and have it go in. Jan Rutta’s goal was a long shot through a lot of traffic that found its way hitting off Anthony Cirelli’s stick. It was a 5-on-5 situation, so I do not know why Rutta was left so open with no one in red nearby. And when Tampa Bay did manage to keep possession, the Devils struggled to challenge for possession nevermind win it back. If they did not win on an initial challenge or could not make an exit, then there was plenty of time spent in their own end. Good on them from keeping Tampa Bay from firing away, but until the third period or so, the Lightning got their work in. And you saw it again on the overtime winner, too. A lack of a challenge meant all three Devils were chasing the play, shot, rebound, goal, game over. Yes, Cory Schneider was horrible. I am not arguing otherwise. But it would be too simplistic to just claim that it was all his fault and that’s why they lost. It is because of things like that and what I described, I hesitate to claim that the Devils did well defensively.
At least the offense was legitimately awesome tonight. They took a ton of shots, they did create a lot of opportunities, and they scored six goals. Palmieri was a beast out there. He was on the ice for ten shots on net in 5-on-5 play and six of them were by him. Obviously, he had the hat trick. The third came on what I think is the team’s first 6-on-5 goal of the season. Jesper Bratt was legitimately the best forward on the ice in the run of play in regulation and his two goals and five shots answered any question of whether he should be scratched. Bratt, Nico Hischier, and Pavel Zacha were great. Sami Vatanen not only had his great goal but he was impactful in the offensive zone. Simmonds was a creator as was Will Butcher and Andy Greene to a degree. You really cannot ask for much more from an offense. Especially an offense that went into this game with 22 total goals. The Devils scored at least a quarter of their season’s output so far tonight. Goals were definitely there for Cory and the team. Yet, this effort was ultimately squandered due to the back end. As with the Arizona game, the praise-worthy performances are overshadowed by this.
And the best word I can come up for it, as a fan, is despair. I hated this loss. But I also hated a lot of the other losses this season. I was mad. But I was also mad for those losses too. I do not like to negative and I’m making a personal effort to not be so negative. But the Devils have given me and many other fans who have been or become quite negative about the team a lot of justification to be negative. You can only be frustrated or outraged for so long. As it persists, it can morph into other feelings. Despair is where I am at. For the sake of the business (of the team, this site, etc.), others will turn to apathy and will re-connect once the Devils can take leads and hold onto them for wins. I cannot blame you if you feel that way and so I will not. Under normal circumstances, this would not be that much of an issue for the hardcore fan. At 2-5-3 at the end of October and looking ahead to a 15-game November with more road games and fewer days off, the circumstances are anything but normal for the 2019-20 New Jersey Devils.
The Opposition Opinion: The Tampa Bay Lightning are a team under more normal circumstances. Of course, they won the game so they should be pleased and can feel more normal. Check out Raw Charge for their take on the game.
The Game Highlights: There were thirteen goals tonight and the six by the Devils are worth your time. Is it worth the pain of seeing seven by the Lightning? It’s up to you. The highlight video comes from NHL.com:
Coaching Questions: Schneider was abysmal in net tonight. I do not think this is in dispute However, it leads to this question. Why did John Hynes keep Schneider in? Why keep him in the crease for the whole game? It was clearly not his night. Not that it is a huge surprise since he has not played for weeks, but even after the Rutta goal, a change could have been made just to save face. Mackenzie Blackwood may have not been fully healthy from the flu for the Arizona game, but that did not deter the coaches from starting him. Yet, even with a night off tomorrow, he needed to stay on the bench? As much as I can credit Hynes for shortening the bench with the Kevin Rooney Do Little and Like It Fourth Line in the third period (and I do, this is credit, I have given it), that I am asking these kinds of questions that further implicate the coaching staff.
That and given how statistically atrocious both Schneider and Blackwood are this season, one wonders what exactly Roland Melanson is doing. He is a professional. I do not think he is just showing up to practice with a meatball sub and just telling Schneider and Blackwood they look OK in between bites on the bench. But they both need shutouts, plural, to bring their save percentages somewhere in the vicinity average. As much as this season is filled with a lot of things not working, the goaltending is quickly coming to the forefront. I would not be surprised if his name replaces Alain Nasreddine as the assistant to draw the ire of the fans. I think it would be deserved. It may be an easier improvement than trying to ship Schneider away and/or sign another goalie off the market and hope he’s amazing right away. Possibly faster too.
Related to that, as successful as the power play was tonight, when will Rick Kowalsky give the players the go-ahead to make the back-pass more optional on their breakouts? Opposition teams know it is coming. There were points where Vatanen had to slow down after getting to the redline, turn, and throw a cross-ice diagonal pass to Hall that created no space. And after these oh-so-important back passes, the Devils tend to immediately rim the puck around the boards to change the point of attack, which defeats part of the purpose of doing all of that. The Devils’ power play would waste less time and garner less frustration from the fans if they would just take it in themselves sometimes. I’m not saying Kowalsky needs to trash the tactic entirely. I’m saying he should make it a Plan B. Or if it must be Plan A, come up with a proper Plan B.
Hall’s Sad about Booing on the Power Play, Awwwwwwwwwwww: Taylor Hall had this to say after the game about the fans. As tweeted and reported by Corey Masisak:
Here is more context and the full quote from #NJDevils Taylor Hall. First, it was several questions into his interview.— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) October 31, 2019
Second, the question was "Is that the mindset moving forward?" or a follow-up to a previous one.
Here is his full answer ... pic.twitter.com/E1n1zeMvXV
Hall did not have a good game today. He was not as dominant on the puck as he has been in past games. He has not been as quick as he has seemed earlier this season. Hall’s scoring contributions were a secondary assist on Palmieri’s PPG, which was mostly all from Simmonds and Palmieri; and making the turnover and being a bumper for Joseph to get his then-game-tying and then-emotionally-crushing equalizer. In 5-on-5 play, when Hall was on the ice, the Devils did out-shoot the Lightning 10-7 but were out-attempted 11-14. And Hall’s defensive effort left something to be desired. While the power play scored a goal, led to a second goal after it expired (which was by the second unit that Hall is not on), and created nine shots, the power play definitely had its ups and downs with the primary unit. And the backpasses to Hall, the lost pucks by Hall, the poor passes by Hall, and so forth wear on a fanbase that is looking at a then-2-5-2 team that, at the time, was losing to a team that looked way fresher than a team that played last night expected to look like.
So to Hall, I write: Shut up. You’re not playing like an all-star and tonight’s game further justified the essay I wrote on Monday about your poor start to this season. It is not my fault or anyone else’s fault in the stands that is the case. I want you to play like the Superstar you are. Superstars do not rock on-ice CF% values worse than John Hayden (and that was the case in the game tonight too). Superstars do not treat 5-on-4 situations like they are perilous situations that only you can handle with the puck. Please recall that people cheer for Palmieri’s goal and Bratt’s post-PPG goal. Please recall that after regulation ended, the fans remaining at the Rock cheered you and your teammates off the ice. The fans will cheer something if they are given something to cheer for. On multiple power play rushes up ice, it was more nonsense in a game where you could ill-afford it in a season fill with load of nonsense.
Since the Devils sales staff and other members of the organization read All About the Jersey, I would like to make this point yet again about the fans. Yes, they’re mad - for now. If this continues, a lot of them will just stop caring. Mostly temporarily, some longer. As a whole, a majority of them feel ripped off from this past month of games after an offseason with legitimate reason to believe this team would be good or at least competitve. Again, the Devils are dead last with ground to make up to get out of last. Hall, your performances are a contributing factor as to why they are where they are - both on the power play that yielded nothing in the team’s first six games and in 5-on-5 play where you’re getting run over despite being Taylor Hall. The fans can, will, have, and most of all should boo you all for this. Tonight is another blown lead at home amid a season full of them. For the amount of money it costs to go to a game (tickets, parking, maybe food if you want it), you and your teammates are not really holding up your end of the deal. The only benefit from a quote like this is that more fans will recognize that you’re not playing well enough to be kept for a big contract and so life will move on when you regrettably sign a massive contract with Montreal or something in July.
Coat Drive Friday: If you are planning to go to the game against the Second Rate Rivals on Friday, then I hope the team miracles a win as to not witness another loss to the East Pennsylvania Pylons. More seriously, if you do go, then please bring at least two new or gently used winter coats to the game. The Devils are collecting them and anyone who brings in at least two coats gets a voucher for two tickets to a future game. They were collecting them today but with the short notice, I am mentioning it here for you, the reader and potential attender of games.
One Last Thought: Jesper Bratt killed any notion of being in a lull with his performance tonight. Again, he was fantastic in regulation with a 19-6 on-ice Corsi to go with five shots and two goals. This does not necessarily follow that Nikita Gusev will have an amazing game in his next appearance. If the idea was for him to watch the game at a distance to understand where he should be without the puck and how he should backcheck, then for his sake I hope he was watching Zacha, Bratt, Hischier, Simmonds, and Blake Coleman tonight. If he was following Hall, then I fear he will have learned little.
Your Take: The Devils lost in a goal-fest and blew another lead in the process of snatching another defeat. Yes, they earned a point but they really need Ws and not OTLs. Alas. What is your take about this loss? Is the loss overshadowing the good things in this game in your mind? What was the most crushing part of this game? Who was the best among the Devils? Other than praying that one of the Devils’ goaltenders can be good for Friday and beyond, what would you want the Devils to do differently before their next game? Most of all, where are you as a fan? Are you mad? Frustrated? In despair? Ready to check out and come back when it is not saw awful to watch this team find ways to fail? Please leave your answers and other thoughts, complaints, and criticisms about the Devils in the comments.
Thanks to Jenna for the game preview, which was a good one. Thanks to Mike for taking care of @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter during the game. Thanks to everyone who followed along and/or commented in the Gamethread as well as those who follow the site on Twitter. Thank you for reading.