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It Is What It Is And It Stinks: New Jersey Devils Beaten by Pittsburgh Penguins in 1-4 Loss

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The 2019-20 New Jersey Devils: It is what it is and it stinks. Yet Another Night where a bad third period seals a decisive loss, this time 1-4 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. This recap goes over another poor outing by the Devils.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins
Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh. (By the way, this was really Greene’s fault, not so much Severson’s.)
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For definitely not the first time this season, the New Jersey Devils went into a game against an opponent who played the night before and they did not. The Devils had two days off to practice, prepare, and put the bad 1-5 loss to Boston behind them. In the meantime, the Pittsburgh Penguins were the latest victims of the Islanders Train of Hotness as they lost late in overtime. On paper, the Devils should have had an advantage. In reality, the Devils did what they could to make the least of it as the Penguins rolled on the Devils early, rolled on the Devils for part of the second period, and rolled on the Devils to put the game out of doubt. The Penguins effectively cruised to a win tonight. The Devils lost 1-4.

I am running out of words for these kinds of games. Oh, sure, there were some small differences between this bad loss by New Jersey as opposed to other bad losses by New Jersey. I will summarize them with a list of bullets.

  • Taylor Hall actually scored a goal. It was during a power play that carried over into the second period. A shot was taken, Nico Hischier won the puck in front, Hischier tapped the puck into space for Hall to get onto it, and Hall beat Tristan Jarry to the right post (Jarry’s right) for the score. It was a big relief for Hall, who did not score in the previous nine games. It was a big goal at the time as it tied up the game, 1-1.
  • All three of the Devils’ penalties that led to penalty kills were offensive zone penalties. Two by Miles Wood, which proves his new haircut did not change his style of play; and one by Wayne Simmonds.
  • Jack Hughes made some impressive individual efforts that unfortunately he nor Jesper Boqvist and Simmonds could finish.
  • Mirco Mueller returned to being as awful as he was in the beginning of the season.
  • Mackenzie Blackwood was pulled for Louis Domingue after Blackwood was beaten on a long shot through traffic by John Marino. That goal made it 1-4, less than a minute after Jared McCann blasted a loose puck past Blackwood to make it 1-3. Unless I am mistaken, it was the first time that John Hynes changed goaltenders in a game that was not due to injury.
  • Damon Severson had a shorthanded one-on-one with Jarry. He was stopped.
  • The Devils won the special teams battle.
  • Sami Vatanen shot the puck a lot. He had seven of the team’s 37 shots. That’s something for Sami Vatanen at least.
  • After being out-shot 13-3 in the first period, the Devils actually responded by out-shooting the Pens 14-4 in the first ten minutes of the second period. Sure, Pittsburgh rebounded and dominated the following six or seven minutes while adding another goal, but it was a response. There was no such response in the third period until the deficit was large on the scoreboard.

Those are some nice differences. We can feel good about Hall scoring a goal. We can feel good that The Big Deal put on some moves. We can feel good that Louis Domingue entered a game and did not get immediately blasted. We can also continue to stretch as hard as we can to find positives and focus on them. Let me try. Uh. Um. Hmm. The Devils did not get creamed in the expected goals battle. That is something.

As much as I do not want to be down on the team, I do not have to write like Ken Daneyko’s color commentary to understate anything negative as much as possible. This focus would be ignoring the elephants in the room. One line did great in the run of play in 5-on-5 and the other three got their proverbial heads kicked in. Blackwood faced a lot of rubber and made many stops. He also contributed to some of those shifts where the Devils were pinned back by some absolutely poor play with his stick. And, as I’ve been told in the past, the goalie has to make some tough saves and Blackwood did not make enough of them. While only the Mueller-Vatanen pairing was heavily out-shot and out-attempted, I struggle to praise a defensive effort that allowed 41 shots and this kind of 5-on-5 heat map from Natural Stat Trick:

Devils-Penguins 5-on-5 Heat Map of Shots
Devils-Penguins 5-on-5 Heat Map of Shots
Natural Stat Trick Game Report

Goodness, gracious this is terrible. I thought the Devils’ main defensive strategy was to collapse around the slot. Yet, the Devils still managed to give up a ton right in front of the goalies. How do you even do this?

From the really bad first period to that awful stretch in the second period to the costly start to the third period, I and Devils fans around the world witnessed Yet Another night where the Devils looked and played like a team that was not prepared to play. Yet Another Night where the opposition, who should be fatigued between being down multiple players and losing in 64ish minutes to the Isles last night, looked fresh as they took care of the business of beating the Devils decisively. It is astonishing how this keeps happening with the 2019-20 Devils. Likewise, it is astonishing that there have not been any major moves to address this since Tom Fitzgerald became an assistant coach on top of being an assistant GM.

The Penguins played a very good game. Do not mistake me here. Pittsburgh’s top line of Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel gave the Devils fits all night long. Their defensemen were keeping the Devils from overwhelming them for most of the game - the first ten minutes of the second period aside - and they did it without sitting around their slot or chasing the puck from behind. John Marino was especially good and not just because his goal sent Blackwood to the bench. That all said, it was still a winnable game for most of the 40 minutes the Devils played, even if the Devils really only had control of about 10 of those minutes. Then Pittsburgh stormed the Devils early, scored two, and it was consolation hockey for the rest of the third period that made the shot count look a little nicer, the xGF count a little nicer, and the Corsi count a little nicer. No goals, of course, since Tristan Jarry also played very well as he denied the Devils chances to finish.

I enjoyed the first ten minutes of the second period because the Devils proved otherwise. They played exactly like a team down a goal should do. They tied it up and sought out more. Even when down 1-2 after the end of the second period, those ten minutes gave me hope the Devils could do something. It was Yet Another Night where the Devils would crush those hopes. That’s seemingly what the 2019-20 Devils can do consistently this season: crush the hopes of their fans. Do I enjoy writing that? No! But it is the truth. It is what it is.

And it stinks. Yet again.

The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

The Opposition Opinion: Hooks Orpik supports Pittsburgh. Fittingly, he has a positive recap up at PensBurgh as his team played well and earned the win. Check that out if you want to know what

The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:

John, Please Run Down this Performance - No, Not Literally: Gladly.

The Devils’ top line of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri did generate a goal on a power play. And it was scored by Hall, so watch that trade value rise (I’m only sort of kidding). That was good. What was not good was most of their night. They were crushed in the run of play over and over and over in 5-on-5 hockey. The Devils were out-attempted 7-20, out-shot 5-13, and out-done in expected goals 0.18 to 1.04 when they were on the ice. This is not a line with Kevin Rooney or John Hayden. This is a line of Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri. This is a line that should be pushing the play forward. Instead, they were steamrolled by Malkin’s line; steamrolled by the “mighty” trio of Zach Aston-Reese, Sam Lafferty, and Teddy Blueger; and lost every match up with every one of Pittsburgh’s defensemen in 5-on-5. They failed in power-for-power and in what should have been a more favorable matchup based on talent alone. It is somewhat impressive that the line was not on the ice for a goal against but this kind of performance hurts the team’s cause in games. This hurt a lot.

For some reason, fans saw Amanda Stein listing Miles Wood, Jesper Bratt, and Pavel Zacha second on her note pad and assumed it was a second line. They were the fourth line by ice time tonight. Wood’s two offensive zone penalties surely did not help the cause. Neither did much else. When they were on the ice in 5-on-5 play, they were out-attempted 4-10 and out-shot 2-7. They also witnessed Dominic Kahun’s goal, which came from losing the puck along the boards, Vatanen getting caught from the lost battle, Mueller diving to nowhere, and Kahun skating to the slot and torching Blackwood on a backhand. They also saw Marino’s seeing-eye shot go in, which was created off a bounce that sent the puck to an open Marino on the open weak side of the Devils’ defense at the time. The lesson: Do not trust Stein’s order of listing lines. And that haircuts do not make for better games. And that this trio did not work well at all.

Technically, by ice time, the top line was really Travis Zajac, Nikita Gusev, and Blake Coleman. They also were smacked around in 5-on-5 play tonight. Coleman may have a grievance as it seemed like he took a high stick as he lost the puck in his own zone - which led to Jared McCann taking it and beating Blackwood on a shot to make it 1-3. Alas, to quote Genius Head Coach John Hynes, it is what it is. There was no such event when they saw Malkin spring Guentzel on a breakaway where Guentzel went around Blackwood’s left pad to stash in the puck. To be fair, the fault for that goal was on Andy Greene for being caught up the boards. Guentzel charged ahead and Severson was in no man’s land on the rush against. Still, this line did not create any goals and were not likely to do so. The Zajac line led to the Devils being out-attempted 9-12 and out-shot 7-10. It was not as bad as the other two lines but it was not positive and it definitely did not reflect a team that was losing for much of the game.

The only line that can claim a really positive night in 5-on-5 play was the Hughes line. Those three finished the night with an expected goals for percentage above 90% and Corsi and shots for percentages above 80%. Those are fantastic numbers. The shame is that none of the great plays were finished. Boqvist was robbed at the net after Hughes dashed around multiple Penguins near the end of the second period. Simmonds was found right in front as well and Hughes hooked him up, but Simmonds tried to go forehand with the puck and ultimately lost it. And as great as the percentages were, the counts were not so high. The Devils only out-attempted the Pens 10-3 and out-shot them 4-1 with the Hughes line. That’s positive but it was not going to be anywhere close to enough given how the other three lines did in 5-on-5 play. At least the Hughes line received over nine minutes of 5-on-5 time.

As for the defensemen, Vatanen and Mueller were ripped apart when they took a shift in 5-on-5 play. We’re talking CF%s below 35% for each, which is really low. Mueller added a lowlight to a reel of them for this season with his dive before Kahun walked in and scored. Vatanen may have had a lot of shots but he was not successful at preventing the Penguins from taking them. The other two pairings were at least positive in shot and attempt differential, even though Greene was caught up ice which led to Malkin springing Guentzel for a score. This pairing was really, really bad. And go back to that 5-on-5 heat map. The Devils as a whole gave up way too much in close on their goalies tonight. I do not know what the right switch would be, but you surely cannot run it back with the same six in this set up again, right? Right?

Lastly, the goaltenders. Domingue was perfectly fine. Not that he had a lot to do or was expected to do much, but he got some minutes. Blackwood was not fine. Yes, the goals against were not necessarily soft ones. But the Devils need these big saves and Blackwood did not provide them. I feel sympathy for the Devils’ goalies in general since the team’s performances make it such that they need to be great to amazing for the Devils to have a shot at winning. That said, Blackwood does have much to work on - such as handling the puck. A couple of times, Blackwood created attacking shifts for Pittsburgh just by putting the puck into space or right to a Penguin. Is Roland Melanson not showing these goalies how to play it with their stick?

History Does Not Always Repeat but It Can Rhyme: Thanks to NJD1017 from the Gamethread, Steve Cangialosi tweeted this after the game:

I lived and blogged through MacLean. I am living and blogging through his heir apparent.

Related to Cangialosi, can I have Shep Messing on color for a road game this season? I know Daneyko does not want to be overly negative (or has been told not to be by the MSG producers), but I am long past his constant understatements. At least Shep will teach the Devils fans the meaning of the phrase “shambolic defending.”

One Last Thought: Speaking of MacLean, one of the hallmarks of that dark season of 2010-11 was how the Devils players would make passes, plays, and reads that seemed like they were not even communicating with each other. This was the case tonight, especially in Yet Another Night with a terrible third period. Despite being teammates for years, the puck movement and off the puck support was that much off the mark. But it became better when MacLean was replaced with the legendary Jacques Lemaire. Maybe that is where the new coach needs to start fixing things. Instead of worrying about what system may be installed or whether the coach will wear out their welcome in season #3, communication may be a bigger priority. Unfortunately, Lemaire is not likely coming through that door.

Your Take: The Devils came into Pittsburgh and left with nothing but a loss and more discontent from the fanbase. I do not want to think about what the reaction would be if they lose to Detroit tomorrow. Anyway. This game was a disappointing slog in a season full of them by the Devils. What’s your take on this loss? Can the Devils do anything to turn it around for Detroit tomorrow night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.

Thank you to Jenna for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog and in the Gamethread on this site. Thank you for reading.