Ahead of this season, the New Jersey Devils had an early benefit on their schedule. They would have a six-game home stand from October 14 to November 1. There was at least one day off between each home game, with two having extended breaks before playing opponents who played the night before. The final game of this run was tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Second Rate Rivals. As has been the story of the 2019-20 season for this franchise, the Devils blew a lead at home and sent the Devils fans at the Rock home with something else to be disappointed about. Yes, they earned a point in the 3-4 shootout loss. But given that the Devils entered this homestand at 0-3-2, they needed wins. They did not get one tonight. They end the home stand with 2-2-2 while going winless in their last three games as they head into their first proper road trip of the season. Talk about a ending it with a whimper.
The game ended that way too. The final image at the Prudential Center was Taylor Hall skating down the ice, took a couple of dekes, and sent the puck low into Carter Hart for an easy-looking stop. Hall has never been a particularly successful player in the shootout. But the coaching staff continues to believe that he is despite his lack of success. The shootout itself was 0-1 with Sean Couturier beating Mackenzie Blackwood with the Peter Forsberg-style stretch around his left pad in the third round. The Devils needed a score, but Hynes & Co. banked on Hall in the shootout. They busted.
The Devils were in a way fortunate to get to a shootout at all. The overtime period featured one team that knew how to play 3-on-3 hockey and the Devils, who only showed signs of it. They were correct to track back, let their teammates change, and lead a rush up ice. They were incorrect when the puck carrier would take on defenders, force passes to defended teammates, or force movements that were not there. The Flyers nearly cashed in response to a Jack Hughes turnover that Blackwood somehow kept out of the net - which was confirmed by video review. They nearly prevailed at the end when a Claude Giroux shot bounced out of Blackwood’s glove. Thankfully, Shayne Gostisbehere swept the puck away from the crease instead of towards it as time ticked off. Whereas the Devils had two shots on Hart in the fourth period, they did not really threaten him. The Flyers made the Devils’ skip a heart beat or two with their four shots. At least it was not ended there like it was on Wednesday. Of course, getting there was familiar.
Once again, the Devils blew another lead. It was not a large lead. It was only a one-goal lead. And Philly also blew one as they were up 1-2 in the second period and the Devils came back from it. But the Devils blew two one-goal leads including one shortly after taking it in the third period. Just before the halfway mark, Taylor Hall - who was not having a particularly good night - took the puck off a bounce from a faceoff win from Andy Greene. He skated it out of the zone, skated past Joel Farabee, took on Justin Braun, skated past him, got around a diving Gostisbehere, cut to the middle, took a cross-check from behind from Braun, and guided the puck past Hart. It was a wonderful individual effort. The sight of him holding his glove up to his ear would have been a big moment. He earned and deserved a lot of criticism from Wednesday both during and after the game. At least in this moment, he had the right to answer back. And the Devils were up 3-2. Only for the Flyers to answer back themselves less than two minutes later when an open Farabee put home a loose puck in the slot to make it 3-3. I let out an audible groan at that moment and then realized: Why would I expect anything different from this team? It is not enough that the lead was lost but it happened shortly after the Devils took it. Happy as the building was to see #9 score a goal, many dreaded the worst and, surprise, it happened again. It is not really much solace to write that at least there was not a second third period goal by Philadelphia or that they took the game to overtime. The team needs wins and they did not get one.
Did they play well enough? Unlike the Tampa Bay game, it is questionable. The 5-on-5 play was in Philadelphia’s favor as the Devils were out-attempted 32-37, out-shot 18-22, and the only positive period from those two standpoints was in the third period. The same one that yielded one goal and a goal against minutes later. Scoring chances were much more in favor of New Jersey: 17-14 and 6-1 for high-danger chances in 5-on-5 play alone. While the Devils did show some real quality at times, this was much different from Wednesday’s game. The Devils were freely getting after the Lightning through the neutral zone and extending shifts in their end of the rink while going up against a bad goalie. Carter Hart is better than Curtis McElhinney; the Flyers’ defense was much more stingy and aggressive at winning pucks; and the Devils’ play in the neutral zone and on zone entries was conservative to a fault. There were a lot of dump-ins and hopeful passes from their own end to not-really-open Devils. Even if the Devils did keep the puck, being kept to the perimeter or throwing the puck back to the point for a shot was not exactly threatening. That all written, the Devils’ power play did function well at getting a pair of goals and the penalty kill did not yield anything so at least the Devils’ special teams succeeded. Blackwood was decent overall with some very solid saves at times. But the 5-on-5 play was much sloppier and not really in the Devils’ favor overall tonight. To that end, it is hard to think that the Devils were truly better no matter what the expected goals model thinks. (By the way, is that data still unreliable, or is it now good because it makes the Devils look better?)
The Devils are at a point where being good enough to win or playing better than they did in their first six games is not enough at all. This is a results oriented business and they failed to get one again. They did earn a point but they also handed an extra one to a team they are chasing in the standings. They made no real gains for themselves. And it always stings to lose to the Second Rate Rivals. Now they get to go to Carolina, one of the best 5-on-5 teams in the NHL, tomorrow in their building after playing 65+ for a shootout loss. The home stand ended like this night did for the Devils: with a whimper.
The Opposition Opinion: Mike Dusak at Broad Street Hockey has this recap, should you choose to read what the other side of this rivalry thought of this game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
The Positives: I would love to write solely about the positives or highlight the positives over the negatives. When the team is 2-5-4 and has been blowing leads in all of their home games except for those two wins, it does not seem appropriate to be so positive. I do want to highlight these facts from the game:
- Power play was a plus tonight. While the first power play unit had some real issues on its breakout - again, shelve the back/diagonal pass in the neutral zone for a bit, please - they converted. Hischier did break a Flyer’s ankles to set up Sami Vatanen for a sweet long-shot goal. In the first period, Wayne Simmonds beat Carter Hart straight up on a second-chance play for a PPG. Simmonds scored his first as a Devil and after many nights where he did everything but score. It was great to see. The second unit continued to use P.K. Subban as a winger and while their time was more limited, they did demonstrate better possession than the first unit at times. The Devils’ power play streak continues on which is a far cry better from the run of futility three weeks back.
- The line of Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Pavel Zacha did very well in the run of play. While they did not generate a goal, they did generate ten attempts, six scoring chances, and five shots in 5-on-5 play. Their most common match up was against Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and James van Reimsdyk. Not an easy match up on paper but the Hischier delivered. Even to a point where I forgot Voracek was playing tonight.
- Kyle Palmieri himself had a strong night in the run of play. Hall missed him when he was serving a five-minute fighting major and a ten-minute misconduct for fighting Matt Niskanen after he shoved Hughes into the boards, which knocked Hughes’ helmet off. When Palmieri was with Hughes and Hall, they out-performed Philly in 5-on-5 play. Without Palmieri, they did not even if it was for a few shifts.
- Hall did put up two points. His backchecking left something to be desired at times and his breakouts on the power play were surprisingly sluggish and forced. But his individual move was excellent for a goal, he picked up a secondary, and the Devils did out-attempt the Flyers when he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play so there was that. His play in overtime and his shootout attempt soured things a bit; but Hall was not a bad player as I thought he seemed tonight.
- It is sometimes an adventure but P.K. Subban and Damon Severson did not commit a killer error or take a penalty or do a whole lot of bad things tonight that hurt the team. That’s good since Severson is playing on his off-hand and both players are similarly aggressive to a fault at times.
- The PK, which only sometimes had Subban, was effective again. They kept the Flyers to only four shots on net out of three opportunities. The Devils even took two shots themselves. Kevin Rooney, Zacha, and Blake Coleman in particular were good at keeping the puck away.
- Blackwood was not a sieve tonight. It helped that he is fully recovered from the flu. For those who correctly identify that the Devils need decent goaltending to start making right their wrongs, then this should be seen as a step in that direction.
So that being said, let us move on to the negatives that were not previously discussed in this recap.
The Negatives: And there were quite a few things that did not go well tonight at all for the Devils.
- Once again, Sean Couturier’s line was a big problem. The unit of Oscar Lindblom, Travis Konecny, and Couturier out-attempted the Devils 11-4, out-shot them 8-3, and out-scored them 2-0 in 5-on-5 play tonight. Lindblom beat Blackwood high shortside on a rush play where no one in red was on Lindblom’s side. (And adding insult to that, the Devils gave up a 2-on-1 on the next shift.) In the second period, they punished Will Butcher’s turnovers big time in a sequence that saw Blackwood apparently initiated contact with a Flyer (or a Devil pushed a Flyer into him), which led to the puck getting in. The goal was credited to Couturier. Live, I thought it was interference, but starting the contact yourself or having a teammate force it makes it good. Those who recall the last Devils-Flyers game should recall that Couturier and his line ate up the Hischier line. Tonight, they feasted on the Travis Zajac line and snacked divinely on a couple of minutes against the fourth line. Good on Hynes & Co. to keep Hischier and Hall (on separate lines) away from them. But the replacements fared poorly as well.
- Related to that, the Zajac, Coleman, and Simmonds trio was not so effective in 5-on-5 play. Sure, they saw plenty of Couturier. But they also saw a couple of shifts against Michael Raffl and Farabee and that did not go so well either. Overall, the Devils were out-attempted 4-7 when the Zajac line took a shift. Shots were even at 4, but that is also not something to cheer as you’d want the group to generate more than just a mere four shots. It is a bit surprising because for most of this season so far, they have been the Devils’ best line in 5-on-5 play in terms of attempt and shot differential. It was not the case tonight.
- Those who do not like seeing the group of Miles Wood, Rooney, and John Hayden were justified tonight. Whenever they were out there, the Flyers were often on offense. The line may have not seen a goal against, but they were out-attempted 3-10 and out-shot 2-7. Its lone positive was one (1) shot by Hayden and a drawn penalty by Wood. At least the penalty led to Simmonds converting the power play. Other than that, they were just three guys being out played for the most part. Somehow, they played more 5-on-5 ice time than the Zajac line and the Hughes line. Perhaps the special teams led to that as those two lines do get used quite a bit on the power play and/or penalty kill. And Palmieri’s penalties plus Hughes going to the locker room in the first period did take a couple of shifts away there. Still, the Rooney line in 5-on-5 played about nine and half minutes and were steamrolled. If only there were two fresh forwards on the active roster who could give them a different dimension, even if it is offense-only. If only.
- Defensively, Matt Tennyson was a standout. In a bad way. He got easily beaten off the rush by Raffl that led to Farabee’s goal. He took an ill-advised cross-checking penalty when he shoved van Reimsdyk into the net after the Flyer forward was alone in front. Even if he sold it a bit, it was still stupid of Tennyson to do that. In the run of play, he was beaten the most and more than any of the other five defensemen on the team. When he was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 5-10 and out-shot 2-8. He really did not do anything much except for one rush up ice for an early second period shot to justify this kind of performance. I would not be surprised if Mirco Mueller draws in for him tomorrow night, which could lead to Severson going back to his natural position. We’ll see.
- There were way too many instances of the Devils needing to take three or four passes in their own zone before heading up for a breakout. There were a few too many times where a defender, usually Severson, would skate the puck in front of his own net with Flyers aorund him. There were too many times where the Devils forward would hang out in the neutral zone instead of being open and away from the Flyers to give the breakout a real passing option. While Philly did not turn this into domination, it did give them extra shifts of offense that I think most other teams would have avoided. This was an issue in preseason and zone exits remains an issue eleven games into the season. There were too many adventures in their own third of the rink and it contributed to plenty of sloppy neutral zone play. Not that Philadelphia was super-sharp either, but if you’re wondering why the Devils went from 40+_shots against Tampa Bay to not even getting 25 in regulation tonight, then this was a root cause.
- The Devils have been in three other overtime periods already and have many players who have played in 3-on-3 overtime before. I find it worrisome when those players are trying to force plays or carry it in and take on defenders themselves. It is one thing to do that in 5-on-5 or 5-on-4 situations. In 3-on-3, possession is even more important and I thought the Devils were too irresponsible with the puck on offense. I wonder that if they were more cooperative and patient when heading up ice, then maybe the Devils would have had the play or the open shot to beat Hart. It is sad that other teams like Philadelphia can demonstrate it but the Devils seemingly do not.
- The referees were not on their A-game tonight. A goal by Hischier out of a netmouth scramble was wiped away. Live, I thought it was intent to blow. After the game, it may have been for a handpass. I heard no whistle live but it was a hectic scene. There were some poor icing calls, including one against the Devils when Wood was clearly in front of his man and was going to be the first to the puck. #44 Furman South also called a “hold” on Andy Greene from center ice when all Greene did was push on a forward - which is super common in hockey games. The Devils did not get super-hosed on calls as the fans at the arena may have thought; but the men in stripes were not in amazing form. At least they correctly waved off the overtime goal and confirmed it by review.
- Blackwood may have been more decent but in retrospect, I wish he covered the right post better on Lindblom and maybe pulled off a stop on Farabee. Yes, these were not necessarily tissue-paper soft goals but the Devils need saves badly.
Check This Graphic Out: On Twitter, the @DevilsInsiders caught this graphic from the MSG+2 broadcast during tonight’s game:
This was justified tonight for sure. The myriad of dump-ins and the team philosophy of “gotta get it in deep” has not led to a lot offense. That they can generate more of the rush seems in line with the talent they have. Yet, they do not press for counter-attacking as much as they could. They tend to work out of the corners and from behind the net for a longer shot or play that is less likely to succeed, much less get the puck into the slot. Yes, the Devils generated more chances tonight but if you were left with something to be desired from the Devils’ attacking shifts, then this may justify your thoughts.
It also speaks to the very real issues with the Devils’ system in this season. If only there were some men in suits in the organization at games who could do something about that. If only.
A Trade: Just before tonight’s game started, the Devils traded a conditional seventh round draft pick in 2021 to Tampa Bay for goaltender Louis Domingue. As per the team’s announcement, Domingue is reporting to Binghamton. I would not expect him to replace anyone in New Jersey at the moment. He’s definitely a #3 goalie. After all, he was in the AHL behind McElhinney in Tampa Bay and he cost next to nothing - a seventh rounder in two years with conditions - to acquire. It’s depth for the system.
Site Note: The October Month in Review will be up on Monday. I think you will be surprised in a not-good way about the overall numbers from October.
One Final Thought: The team is 2-5-4. The confidence of the worldwide Devils fanbase is mostly dried up. There is no real reason to believe they can hang onto a lead or secure a win recently. They may have positive signs in terms of xGF or winning a period in terms of shots and attempts; but the team needs results to go with those signs. Surely, something has to change soon. The last thing I want to see is that the Devils make a big change - a new coach, new assistants, whatever - and we come to learn that it should have been made right about now (or earlier!) instead of when they may do it. To echo Mike’s post from Friday, come ON.
Your Take: Some would say it is comical at this point. Yet, I am not laughing or finding any joy in this. Some would say this is becoming numbing. I think that is more accurate. Can it get worse? As they said on Mythbusters, “Failure is always an option” - so yes, it can. Is it disappointing? Absolutely. What are your feelings about this loss? What, if anything, should the Devils do before their next game against Carolina?
Thanks to Chris for the very good preview for tonight’s game. Thanks to Mike for handling @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter during tonight’s game. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter. Thank you for reading.