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Devils Woefully Unprepared and Broken in 2-0 Loss to Stars

The Devils didn’t show a shred of offense for the first two periods.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Dallas Stars
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

First Period: With Blake Coleman’s line on the ice to start the game against the Seguin line, the Devils were pushed back into their own zone before successfully turning play around for a counterattack - but a Nikita Gusev pass was a little too far ahead for Travis Zajac. The Stars took it the other way for a rush, but the Devils were able to defend it.

MacKenzie Blackwood had an early bad goal as Radek Faksa took the puck around the net and went five-hole on the wrap-around, with Will Butcher and Pavel Zacha in the area on the play. It was a quick, good play, but that five hole move has to be stopped. That’s bad goaltending. 1-0, Stars.

Kevin Rooney had a god shift just over five minutes into the period, dipping around a defenseman in the neutral zone to take the puck through the zones to keep possession away from the Stars as much as possible. He wasn’t rewarded for his hard work with enough support to keep possession, however.

Kyle Palmieri just missed on a goal, as the first line was buzzing around Ben Bishop’s net. Off a pass from Hall wrapping around the net and across Bishop, Palmieri’s quick release at a sharp angle was stopped by Bishop’s outstretched blocker. That was just the second shot for the Devils of the game, with around seven minutes played.

Sami Vatanen made a very bad decision with just past nine minutes played. As Andrew Cogliano had just cleared the puck, and Vatanen was back to retrieve it, he decided to attempt a stretch pass to the far blueline, which was intercepted by a rushing Star, who sent a riser past Blackwood as Vatanen was too far back to meet him.

The Devils were hemmed in for a long shift for an entire minute after an icing, with Blake Coleman’s line on the ice. Coleman attempted to backhand the puck out of the zone, but it was stopped by Roman Polak, who kept the puck in long enough for Roope Hintz to get the puck away from Sami Vatanen. His shot was followed by a crashing Joe Pavelski, who made it 2-0. There were several times a Devils stick touched the puck on the sequence, and on some weak clearing attempts the Stars were able to knock the puck back into the zone. The Damon Severson-Sami Vatanen pairing was having a terrible game, though Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman needed to take that into their own hands and get the puck out of the zone.

The Devils got their first good chance in several minutes as Taylor Hall had the puck entering the offensive zone, and his pass to Jack Hughes led to Hughes going wide around the defenseman on Bishop for a short-side rising shot, but the puck missed the net. Hughes was all alone when he let the shot off. Instead, the Devils still had two shots.

A Will Butcher one-timer was blocked by Corey Perry, who was slow to get up. Perry, who is returning from a major knee surgery, was in a lot of discomfort as he skated off when the whistle blew for the puck going into the bench. Shortly after play resumed, Kyle Palmieri took a slashing penalty for making a one-handed slash on Jamie Benn as he drove to the net. On the short penalty kill, the Devils were able to hold off the Stars’ recently-thriving power play, as Blackwood made a stop, and Andy Greene made a clear after blocking two shots while Severson blocked one. The period ended 2-0, Stars, with the shots 16-2 in their favor. Even strength Corsi For percentage (CF%) was slightly kinder to the Devils, with Natural Stat Trick having them at 30.56 after one period, while their expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) was at a pathetic 21.7 (0.28 to 1.02).

Second Period: The Stars power play had trouble getting going, as they were offsides on their first attempted entry 27 seconds into the period. Having killed half the carryover time already, Greene cleared off the draw. However, the Stars still got a shot attempt as Vatanen got walked by Denis Gurianov, who rang it off the pipe.

After the Devils got hemmed in their own zone, Jesper Bratt made a single spin move away from a rushing forechecker on his first touch of his shift, and was able to stop the pressure as he played catch with Pavel Zacha. After Zacha’s wings got off for Wood and Simmonds, Simmonds’ backhand off the boards as the forecheckers rushed him from behind was knocked further into the zone, leading to another minute of pressure for the Stars.

I saw in the quick moment Alain Nasreddine allowed Jesper Bratt to skate with Pavel Zacha two players work together with their complementing styles to keep the puck away from the opposition. To my displeasure, Jesper Bratt took his next shift with Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman. Immediately after, Jesper Boqvist was seen on the fourth line.

Taylor Hall found Jack Hughes high in the zone and fed him a pass in open space. Hall skated right in front of Bishop for a screen as Hughes ripped a low slap shot. Hall tried to slam it into the net on the rebound, but he couldn’t beat Bishop’s pad.

With the normal Zajac line back together, the Devils nearly had possession for a breakout, but Severson lost the puck on his backhand. Tyler Seguin was nearby and the Stars threatened to score again, but the Devils recollected eventually and sent the puck out of the zone.

Two Stars players crashed into each other at their offensive blueline, and Travis Zajac had Blake Coleman ahead for a partial breakaway. Coleman turned to slap the puck on his backhand to protect from John Klingberg, and it went high off of Bishop’s shoulder.

The Devils finally got a power play with just under four minutes left in the period. As the Devils and Stars continually got stuck in board puck battles, there was a steady rise in jostling until Jamie Benn chopped down with two hands on P.K. Subban. He got two minutes for slashing. I thought that might’ve been light, as Benn started his slash above his head and ended it at Subban’s leg.

Nikita Gusev had a pass batted out of mid-air by Jason Dickinson on the power play, who sent it for a clear, making the power play start terribly. Play was stopped 56 seconds in as P.K. Subban sent it out of play on a dump-in. The Devils gained and lost the zone before cycling the puck for about 20 seconds in a rather pathetic manner as the power play expired. No shots.

How Rick Kowalsky has a job, I don’t know.

The period ended 2-0, Stars. The shots were 28-9, Stars. Yet, Andy Greene had already blocked six. The Devils as a whole had blocked 23 shots after two periods.

Third Period: P.K. Subban and Jamie Benn got tangled up at the top of the Devils zone as Jamie Benn was holding onto Subban’s stick. Subban threw a punch at Benn and got two minutes for roughing. This was a terrible call, as Benn dropped his own stick to go at Subban. Benn was not playing hockey, and should have been called for interference or roughing himself, while Subban was penalized for the retaliation. Still a worthy call, but still of blind refereeing.

On the penalty kill, Kevin Rooney appeared to hurt his hand diving and blocking a John Klingberg point shot, but he stayed on the ice. Andy Greene was able to knock the puck out of the zone on a bouncing pass deflection to allow a partial change, and Severson followed up with a clear to complete it. Jamie Benn had Joe Pavelski on the rush with Mirco Mueller defending with seconds left in the power play, and Blackwood stuffed the skate redirection with his pad. Coming out of the box, P.K. Subban laid a hit on the boards on Miro Heiskanen, and took another two minute minor for charging.

Blake Coleman got the first shot of the second man-difference situation. Travis Zajac passed across the high slot to him and his shot gave Bishop trouble. Coming the other way, Gurianov walked Vatanen again and was alone on Blackwood, who made a great save. Towards the end of the two minutes, Dallas took an icing that effectively ended the power play.

The Stars took a penalty as Miro Heiskanen interfered with Kyle Palmieri with a shoulder check in space when Palmieri did not have the puck. Nikita Gusev got a quick shot off the draw, before the puck was worked from the boards and cleared. Taylor Hall sped into the zone but was interrupted by Roman Polak. On the second re-entry, Sami Vatanen’s dump-around was deflected out of play by Andrew Cogliano, giving another offensive zone draw with 44 seconds passed in the power play. P.K. Subban’s one-timer from Butcher after some cycling was blocked and cleared.

On the next entry, there was a loose puck around the net that Wayne Simmonds banged away at but couldn’t finish. Jack Hughes had a chance to score from P.K. Subban, but the pass was too far and slow for him to really make use of.

The Devils went to the penalty kill again as Taylor Hall took a tripping penalty shortly after the power play expired. Blake Comeau went down as they battled for the puck in the neutral zone. The Devils penalty kill was very good, with the Devils trying to go for shorthanded chances multiple times but never connecting on a pass. Blackwood made a save on Alexander Radulov as the power play expired.

Shortly after Hall returned to the ice, Blake Comeau took a penalty for hooking Taylor Hall. On the power play, Zacha set Vatanen up for a point one-timer, but there was no screen - and Bishop made a simple glove save. After a second faceoff win, a pass got to Hall for a one-timer, and the puck bounced up in front of Bishop before going to the corner to be played out and cycled again for a point shot that was deflected out of play.

Jack Hughes made a bad pass from the side boards to Will Butcher at the highest point of the zone that was picked off and turned the other way. The Devils took until about 30 seconds were left to reset, and lose the puck again to Miro Heiskanen anyway. So, after one really good power play minute by the first wave, the second wave could not keep up the pressure, as they got pressed into the boards and could not match the Stars’ cooperativeness in play.

With under three minutes to play, MacKenzie Blackwood came off for the sixth attacker. Wayne Simmonds joined the first line and nearly caused an own goal in conjunction with Damon Severson. With under two minutes, Oleksiak tried to clear the puck but it deflected out of play, giving the Devils a stoppage (which they used to call timeout) and an offensive zone faceoff.

Sami Vatanen took a penalty as Pavel Zacha’s pass to him was deflected by Andrew Cogliano. To prevent the empty-net, Vatanen hauled Cogliano down, as he wasn’t capable of keeping up with Cogliano’s speed.

Damon Severson stole a puck on the forecheck on the penalty kill and made a move to the net for a wrist shot, which was saved by Bishop. On the other end, Blake Coleman tried to get a penalty call as Tyler Seguin hit him near the eye and drew blood. The referees did not see it, and the Stars took a couple shots after the faceoff before Miles Wood worked the puck out of the zone to end the game.

The score was 2-0, Stars. The shots were 35-26, Stars.

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

The Opposition Opinion: Defending Big D will have the more joyous recap.

Why Is Kowalsky Still Here?: I would like to begin this section with a Tweet from our Binghamton Devils writer, Jeff Ulmer.

The Devils first power play wasn’t sturctureless. That wasn’t the problem - the problem was that it was totally immobile in the offensive zone. That made it extremely easy for the Stars to converge on puck carriers, and it put Jack Hughes in a bad position as he was knocked from behind along the boards as he tried to keep possession without support.

Immobile structure is arguably less useful than just letting your best players go on the ice and figure it out themselves. Yet it’s what the Devils fans see every night - and I imagine that pro scouts for other teams see it every night too. The Devils don’t rush into the offensive zone, they wait at the blueline for a defenseman and forward to complete a drop pass and carry-through. The problem is - it’s rather easy to cover two possible puck carriers when the other three are standing still around the blueline.

Unless the loss of Brian Boyle has just really taken the oomph out of this Rick Kowalsky power play and is still being felt to this very moment, something is intrinsically wrong with the way the Devils approach the man-advantage situation. The Devils had six returning players who scored 10 or more power play points last season. Ray Shero also brought in Wayne Simmonds (eight with Philadelphia and zero with Nashville) and P.K. Subban (ten), while Sami Vatanen started this season healthy, and KHL MVP Nikita Gusev and first overall pick Jack Hughes were added to the mix of power play options.

So is there an excuse? Can this blame honestly be passed onto the players?

It seems that Rick Kowalsky has no track record within the Devils organization to justify him getting the benefit of the doubt, in my opinion. The Devils’ AHL development has been extremely poor of late, and a lot of that still probably falls on his shoulders. Now, his power play has become inoperable in the NHL because it is too predictable.

The Sad Thing: Is that this game was winnable. The Devils were down two goals for over two periods of play, and they were credited with 16 shots in the third period. But once they were down, the Stars had no reason to give them room for chances. The Stars did not have to hold off an offense that blazes trails of fire wherever it goes - they just had to keep their defense in its structure, and New Jersey’s lack of a breakout was the nail in the Devils’ own coffin.

The Devils now have nine wins in 30 games, and they couldn’t still don’t seem halfway prepared to play system hockey.

Speaking of Structure: Do the Devils even have defensive structure? It seemed at times that the Stars were able to simply fire off as many shots as they could, and the Devils would get hemmed in because they are incapable of handling the puck under pressure - especially around the net. Through just two periods, the Devils had blocked nearly as many shots as they had allowed out of 56 Stars attempts. This is not by way of some sort of skill or a Tortorella-esque attempt to block as many shots as possible. With sparing exceptions, the Devils defensemen laid back, waited for the puck to cross their paths, and ended up many shots as the Stars’ volume shooting made them collapse into defensive chaos.

It was that easy. And they wasted what ended up being a really good night for MacKenzie Blackwood.

Your Thoughts: Did you finish the game? Did you stop watching? Was it unbearable? Who was the least bad? Will you watch next game? Who do you want to see on the ice? Behind the bench? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Whether you followed along in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.