So much for revenge. The New Jersey Devils followed up their 2-5 loss in Calgary with a clunker of a 0-4 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night. The run of play was good to start but as the Oilers increased the score, the Devils faded into accepting another big loss in a season filled with plenty of losses. Both games in the province of Alberta were frustrating to watch and sapped any positive vibes a fan may have had about the Devils.
Those vibes absolutely existed. The Devils went into this back-to-back set coming off two consecutive wins, a 4-1-2 record in their last seven games, and posts like CJ’s claiming that the Devils may be #ActuallyFine in place of #ActuallyGood - which is still improvement over a horrid start. The was a good argument, I agreed with much of it, and I hoped he would be proven right. I want this team to turn a corner. They turned and walked into a wall in the last two games. The last two games demonstrated that the Devils may just be #ActuallyBad. The current 4-7-4 record that has the Devils stuck in last place in the division supports that. The score alone against Edmonton alone supports it. But this is a recap of the loss, so we must go deeper.
First, the Devils played one (1) good period of hockey tonight. The first period. In the run of play, the Devils took more attempts, more shots, and more chances. Taylor Hall hit the post on a breakaway. Nico Hischier was denied a goal on a puck that the ref lost sight of. The Devils kept the Connor McDavid experience in check even after Sami Vatanen left the game after he took an elbow to the head by Alex Chiasson. The Devils came out of the period with nothing - ending it with a do-nothing power play. This was perfectly fine in the bigger picture as the score was 0-0.
The second period started off innocently enough. Then the Oilers got a break. Leon Draisaitl was cheating way out of his zone and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made a long pass to spring him for a breakaway after the Oilers won the puck back on defense. Draisaitl was in all alone and beat Cory Schneider. The Devils were down a score. Surprisingly, they responded like a team that was down a score for the next few minutes. They pushed more on offense. They had some strong possession shifts. P.K. Subban was putting his many shot attempts on target. Problem was that either goaltender Mikko Koskinen swallowed up the shot or the generated rebounds would just elude the Devils - but not the Oilers. Still, the run of play settled and an even period was being played.
Then came the second goal against. The Devils could not clear the zone. Whereas Schneider would make a stop or some other play would happen, the Devils were not punished by it. They would be on this shift. It led to a long shot from Matt Benning that hit off Gaetan Haas’ skate in the high slot. The deflection trickled past Schneider and it was 0-2. About a minute later, the Devils faltered again on defense. Joel Persson took a long shot that hit off Chiasson and was saved by Schneider. James Neal was open at the crease to find the rebound and slam it back into the net. Damon Severson was by Neal but his stick was up in the air instead of being anywhere to tie up or even foul Neal. So Neal had a free rebound - something the Devils did not generate themselves - and scored. 0-3 and few Devils have any hope at this point.
The Devils themselves played with no hope in the third period. Similar to their loss in Calgary, they put in a second-rate performance seemingly to just get through the game and be done with it. Power plays? Nope. Offensive shifts? Koskinen stopped unscreen plays and positioned himself well to be in front of everything. Did the Devils at least win the run of play? They were out-attempted 16-9 and out-shot 9-5 in 5-on-5 play with an expected goals of 0.37 for NJ to 0.71 for Edmonton. That would be no. And the Oilers tacked on a fourth goal on a power play. Again: Devils fail to win a puck after an attempt by the Oilers, McDavid sends the puck to Nugent-Hopkins in the right circle, and his shot is tipped by the stick blade of an open Chiasson to make it 0-4. It was so much an insurance goal, it could have been sponsored by Liberty Mutual.
These are all things you would expect from an Actually Bad team and it was on display in Edmonton.
Unfortunately, you cannot put a claim on the time lost for watching this game. Nor can you put a claim on the hopes harmed and dreams dashed by this regulation loss. The Devils could still make the trip successful overall. However, their back-to-back set in Alberta was a cruel reminder that there is a lot of issues with the Devils - and time is running shorter than you may think to address them.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at The Copper & Blue, flarwick has this positive recap of the Oilers win.
Let’s Discuss Narratives: A number of these have come up during the game either on the broadcast, the comments at All About the Jersey, or both.
There was a lot of griping about how Hischier’s goal did not count. This was not the same as the last Devils-Oilers game where a ref lost sight of the puck, blew his whistle, and then counted McDavid’s goal. This was not the same as in Carolina, where the ref was in a position to see that a puck was loose behind the goalie and did not blow a whistle when Jack Hughes put it home. The ref tonight was not in a position to see if anything was behind Koskinen and a whistle clearly blew before Hischier put it home. Not calling it a goal was the right call, even if it did not benefit New Jersey. Had the refs allowed it, perhaps this game would have turned out differently. By the same token, that the Devils could have only put a puck past Koskinen is if a puck got through and the goalie was unaware is a condemnation of the offensive attack tonight.
There was a lot of griping about how the refs gave the Devils a raw deal. This was mostly frustration about Chiasson’s elbow on Vatanen not being called. It should have been. Even if a colission with no apparent intent, Chiasson is responsible for his arms. Vatanen’s departure from the game absolutely hurt the Devils’ cause if only for having to rotate five defensemen for the rest of the game. That stated, even if the Devils did get a call for it, it is not a guarantee they would have done anything with it. The Devils received four power plays including one for Oscar Klefbom closing his hand on the puck - a really obvious and avoidable penalty. They did nothing with those power plays. Four total 5-on-4 shots and many more inefficient breakouts and players like Taylor Hall losing the puck when taking on the aggressive penalty killers of Edmonton. The refs did not cause the Devils to lose this game.
Schneider was in net and so I expect plenty of complaints about his performance and about how goalies need to make the “tough save” and he didn’t. First, he did make some tough saves. Just because they were saves does not mean point-blank reactions after a failed zone exit (e.g. Travis Zajac’s exit attempt near the end of Edmonton’s second period power play getting blocked) cease being tough. Second, the goals against were a breakaway goal by the second most dangerous Oiler, two deflections, and a rebound put home because Severson around the net wants to make the team’s good HDCA/60 seem meaningless. (Aside: Given that Severson has received criticism for not being physical or aware around the net, then the Neal goal against should be saved by those who give that criticism out.) These were not soft goals and I do not care about past games or seasons or anything. They were not soft goals tonight. Third, most of all, it is moot because even if Schnedier was standing on his head and utterly amazing, then the Devils still would have lost since they put nothing past Koskinen. Whereas the Oilers were able to freely get in and out around the net against the Devils, the Devils were often deep but rarely in a spot to do anything about rebounds much less get deflections on the goalie. P.K. Subban put seven shots on net tonight - and Koskinen saw just about every one of them. I am not writing that Schneider was astoundingly good or anything like that. I know he needs to be much better than he has been and I think he knows that too. But he was not a sieve or the sole cause of the loss to Edmonton for giving up one fewer goal than Blackwood did against Calgary (who also was not so much bad but shelled and let down).
Yes, the lines deserved to be changed and even shuffled as the Edmonton game went on. The Devils were down as much as four goals, who cares if the lines get shuffled? As far as the ones that started the game, well, they clearly did not work. Jesper Bratt returned to the lineup this evening, which forced Kevin Rooney to sit. This news pleased many fans along with the news that Bratt would start with Jesper Boqvist and Jack Hughes. Then the puck dropped and this line was wrecked. In 5-on-5 play, it was out-attempted 2-7, out-shot 1-5, and it took a long, long time for those two shot attempts to take place. Bratt was really bad. No shots, no attempts of his own, and a hideous 3-13 attempt differential when he was on the ice. Boqvist was anonymous. Hughes was out of sorts. The line only played 5:46 in 5-on-5 play and even that felt like an eternity at times. Nikita Gusev, Pavel Zacha, and Blake Coleman were not so hot either but they looked like aces compared to Two Jespers and a Jack. I can understand the decision to change up lines and try things out, especially after a loss. But this did not work and so it deserved to be changed.
Lastly, this was not a terrible game from Taylor Hall. Frustrating? Absolutely. He gets a clear-cut breakaway and he hits iron. Kyle Palmieri forces a turnover in the second period on a forecheck and Hall forces a pass across that is blocked instead of taking a shot. Hall constantly lost the puck on the power play. Hall attempted to play hero hockey and take Oilers on - only to often lose. Yet, Hall finished the game with three shots on net, six attempts of his own, the Devils’ out-attempting Edmonton 18-7 and out-shooting them 9-5 in 5-on-5 play, and putting up an xGF% of 76.8% while his linemates broke the 80% mark. There is legitimate reason to think that they were unlucky to not get something past Koskinen. There is legitimate reason to think that Hall put in a better effort than what a moment or two may make it seem. Instead of reading his body language, we must be willing to accept that the player who has been so poor in 5-on-5 play in October actually does quite well in it in a game - shutout loss or otherwise. No, it alone will not get him paid a ton of cash, but it does make him valuable.
This is not to say the narratives or storylines are totally false. I am just pointing out there is a little more to that based on what happened in the game.
This is a Hockey Blog so Of Course I Have a Leg to Stand on to Discuss Fashion: The Devils lost an ugly game. They were at least better looking than the Oilers. Edmonton put on their alternates, which is a dark navy blue uniform with orange lettering and a logo. It is like an inverse Philadelphia uniform but somehow still as hideous. Both Steve Cangialosi and Ken Daneyko struggled with names and I had trouble making out some of the numbers in the run of play with these new uniforms. As Cangialosi put it, “Whether it is good for us does not matter. There is new merch to sell.” Indeed.
Silver Lining: Mirco Mueller came into the lineup in place of Matt Tennyson. This was a deserved change as Tennyson was really bad in his last two games. Mueller played OK enough. His inclusion forced other changes on defense, such as Will Butcher with P.K. Subban and Severson joining Mueller but on his natural right side. This did not last long as Vatanen’s injury forced many changes.
Get Well Soon: I hope Vatanen is OK.
One Final Thought: As disheartening as the losses were to Calgary and Edmonton were, the Devils have a chance to make their five-game road trip positive. If they win in Vancouver, then it’s a 3-2 road trip and the Devils will have six out of their nine remaining games in November at home. That would be a good thing to bring back to Newark. Of course, if they lose in Vancouver, then the deep hurting will continue as the Devils remain mired in the sandstorm of losing.
Your Take: The Devils were shut out for the third time this season (0-4 to Philly on 10/9, 0-3 to Boston on 10/12). The Devils leave Alberta with zero points earned. The performance was, well, Actually Bad. And the team might be at this moment. What did you make of this loss? What would you change before the team’s next game against Vancouver? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Jenna for the game preview. Thanks to Mike for taking care of @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter during the game. Thanks to everyone who commented and followed along in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.