Bad nights just about happen to just about every team in just about every sport. When a team has several bad nights, then that team is just not good. And the 2018-19 New Jersey Devils are not good. Tonight’s latest piece of objective evidence is the 3-8 loss to the St. Louis Blues. According to NHL.com, now for the 17th time in 56 games so far this season, the Devils have allowed five or more goals. Also according to NHL.com, now for the 35th time this season, the Devils have allowed 30 or more shots on net; and now for the 19th time this season, the Devils have allowed 35 or more shots on net. The sad reality is that getting lit up on the shot and goal counters should be surprising nobody at this point. Scratch that. I imagine the fans of the opponents are surprised with how bad the Devils have been this season.
The point is that tonight was indeed a very bad night for the Devils - and it isn’t. It is not uncommon for this season. There have been many games where the Devils were not undercut severely by injuries and they still get rolled. This is not just “regression” from a 2017-18 campaign that found their way to the playoffs. This is not just “a bad run.” This is a Bad Team. This is all on the players who play, the coaches who utilize and instruct these players, and management who supports these coaches (John Hynes was extended) and built this roster (again, only 3 Devils are on the books that Shero did not sign, re-sign, acquire, or draft. The rebuild not only did not end, but it arguably did not succeed and Shero will need to swallow some pride and make some moves instead of hoping it will work out on its own.
Tonight’s game against St. Louis is another reminder of that. The Blues just sliced and diced through the Devils in the neutral zone and in their end of the rink all game long. Even if Sami Vatanen was active and Eric Gryba was banished from hockey rinks, the Devils’ defense would not be that much better for it. Alex Pietrangelo, who was amazing tonight, just found seams for passes to get the puck to his teammates to easily get past defensemen and into space over and over. Damon Severson looked like a pylon on Mackenzie MacEachern’s goal because of it. Ryan O’Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, and Robert Thomas among others just did whatever they wanted. Of course, they all contributed to the blowout win for their team tonight. The Devils certainly helped out the Blues in their offensive causes. Andy Greene committed heinous turnovers that somehow did not become goals against, Ben Lovejoy was a body on the ice and inadvertently re-directed two goals into the net, Eric Gryba took shifts, Will Butcher was anonymous, and Mirco Mueller was only notable because he cleared a puck out of the crease to deny an embarrassing goal against Kinkaid. What about the forwards? What about them; they clearly weren’t helping well enough. (Example: Just enjoy the “effort” from Jesper Bratt on the eighth GA.) The numbers were incredibly hideous. In the first two periods, the Blues out-attempted the Devils 47-20, out-shot them 28-11, and out-high-danger-chanced them 8-2 in 5-on-5 play alone. By the way, the Blues also out-scored them 6-1 in those first two periods. The third period was one giant “whatever” and even there Pietrangelo scored within the first minute of the third period. The defense was abysmal tonight.
Of course, the defense being abysmal does not absolve Keith Kinkaid’s performance. Kinkaid did suffer some bad breaks what with two goals bouncing off Lovejoy and a third bouncing off the skate of Pavel Zacha. But Kinkaid was just not good in the net. He committed yet another terrible giveaway outside of the net. That resulted in Robert Thomas taking the failed feed and Ivan Barbashev stashed it in to make it 0-2 early in the first period. He nearly got beaten off a rebound from the end boards in the first period, but Mueller bailed him out. Kinkaid was beaten straight up by a rookie fourth liner in a one-on-one that made it 1-5. He conceded a super-soft shorthanded goal to Barbashev that made it 2-8. While St. Louis ran away with the shot count, allowing eight goals is never, ever good for a goalie. Kinkaid’s trade value was kneecapped tonight and he bears plenty of the blame for that. Harsh as it seems that he was kept in the net for this game, the Devils have a back-to-back on Thursday and Friday. He received this game to play the whole length of it short of injury. That’s the job. If he feels bothered by it, then he should have bothered to make more saves and not make one killer Hedberg-ian turnover to a Blue outside of his net.
Since the Devils were stuck skating around or looking like statues in their own end of the rink and Kinkaid was being a liability in the crease, the Devils did not generate much offense. They mustered up eleven shots total in the first two periods as St. Louis generated 31. Pavel Zacha scored a sweet looking goal off a pass from Kenny Agostino in the first period. That made it 1-2 at the time and, theoretically, could have made it a game. Much later, the Devils drew two penalties close together: Zacha was slashed by Vince Dunn and Marcus Johansson - yes, he played tonight - was interfered by Robert Bortuzzo. Kyle Palmieri scored in the 5-on-3 situation to make it 2-8, which ended a six-game goalless streak and juiced the team’s PP%. Said PP conceded a goal in the remainder of the Bortuzzo minor, so I do not have a ton of love for that unit. The third goal was a first: Mirco Mueller fired in a long wrist shot for his first ever goal with the Devils. The latter two goals were only for consolation. The Devils’ offense was too little and too late to stem the bulldozing nature of the Blues tonight.
That is the thing that gets me the most. I understand that the Devils are a Bad Team and St. Louis has something to play for. I understand that the Blues have a significant talent advantage, something only made wider given how injured the Devils are at the moment. But much of the game seemed like boys going up against men and the Devils made few, if any, adjustments. The first period ended at 1-3 with O’Reilly’s line storming the Devils. The Devils came out for the second period and seemingly changed nothing. No change in approach or even their attitude. If the Devils are supposed to be “playing for pride,” then they failed at that too tonight. Just like they have done many times this season.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out St. Louis Game Time for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: If you must, here they are from NHL.com:
But They Have Called Up So Many from the AHL...: I understand that the Devils have plenty of called up players at the moment. However, you cannot convince me that these are the best or most appropriate call-ups. If this is a team still looking to develop and identify talent for the future, then why am I seeing Kevin Rooney, Kurtis Gabriel, Nick Lappin and Eric Gryba in games? They’re not young enough to grow as players and they have done very little to show that they actually belong in the NHL on a non-Bad Team. If it’s about performance, then why are they getting minutes but Egor Yakovlev and Ryan Murphy are not? Since Nathan Bastian got a call up, why not give chances to other younger prospects like Michael McLeod (for more than four minutes, Hynes) and Marian Studenic? The team clearly has no issue with Brett Seney just being a guy on the ice most nights, so room can be made for them as needed.
It is things like who is called up to fill in for a game or two or to be an extra player to fill in when someone is suddenly out (tonight, Blake Coleman was that man) that shows the strength of an organization. Calling up AHL/NHL tweeners and/or players with limited-at-best futures makes no sense at this point of this season. Yet, here they are and they are contributing very little that is actually helpful.
I Want to Point Out These Players Played Tonight: Travis Zajac indeed played tonight. The headline photo proves this. Marcus Johansson followed up his two-goal day with doing nothing but being interfered during a power play. Kyle Palmieri had his power play goal - and that was it. This was a line, by the way. They were wrecked the most in the run of play. Their 5-on-5 numbers work out to the Devils being out attempted 6-20 and out-shot 3-11 when they were out there. That’s just bad.
Related: Nico Hischer and Jesper Bratt also played tonight. With Joey Anderson too. They were not beaten nearly as badly as Zajac’s line, but they failed to make a significant impact on the game before the game was out of doubt - and they didn’t do much after then. Hischier assisted on Palmieri’s PPG, so there’s that for his 40th point of the season.
Did You Know He’s from New Jersey?: Between the media, the broadcast, and reactions, it is well established that Kenny Agostino is from New Jersey. So am I. I’m not making a huge deal about it. How was his first game? Well, he assisted on Zacha’s goal and it was a legitimate assist. That’s good. Other than that, Agostino did not do much. When he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils were out-attempted 3-7 and out-shot 2-4. That’s not as bad as it could have been for a line of Agostino, Zacha, and Lappin; although it really is not good either. He’s still from New Jersey.
As a related point, Zacha probably was the best Devil tonight although I struggle to praise any Devils tonight.
St. Louis Rolls: Seriously, Pietrangelo was a stud. Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester were also great at keeping the game going in their direction. Their big names - Tarasenko, O’Reilly - were great and so were some of their smaller names like MacEachern and Barbashev. Their goaltender, Jordan Binnington, was not amazing but he just needed to not be as skilled as a wet paper bag tonight - and he did that that. I understand they’re on a hot streak of sorts, but this could very well be a playoff team in a Western Conference where it is all up for grabs.
The Sherman Abrams Section: Sigh. I guess I’m doing this in my recaps too.
Anyway, Detroit won 3-2 in regulation against Nashville (really) so the Devils are back in 30th. Ottawa is three points behind New Jersey in 31st and they lost to Carolina 1-4 tonight. So the Devils did not make up any ground on dead last. Mr. Abrams says to be patient; performances like this one will pay off in a race to the bottom.
My Fellow Season Ticket Holders: You have until tomorrow, February 13, to manually opt-out of your season ticket plan. It will end the tenure for the membership you have with the team. You do have to go through the renewal page; the link for it is at the very bottom.
If you do renew, you’ll need to customize the membership. The page honestly asks if you want information if the Devils make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Seriously. Clearly the most hopeful people in the world work in the Devils’ sales department.
One Last Thought: Some will say to “burn the tape” and move on. Given how the Devils play with little adjustment to what has happened to them, they do not need to bother with that. By the way, John Hynes was given a two-season contract extension about five weeks ago.
Your Take: The Devils were crushed and made to look like a bunch of scrubs, jabronis, and jamokes against the Blues. It was hard to watch, that’s for sure. What was your take on the loss? Please leave your answer and thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview, Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account during the game, and those who commented through this awful, awful, awful game by the Devils in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.