After pulling out wins in Edmonton and Vancouver, the New Jersey Devils had an opportunity to end a six-game road trip with three straight wins. One afternoon game against the Colorado Avalanche later, and the Devils are returning to Newark with another road loss in a season full of them. The Devils were shut out by the Avalanche, 0-3. Just as important, they were out-classed by the Avs right from the get-go.
Every time the roster is announced for a game or a practice, there are Devils fans that express surprise at how lacking it is. The injury situation has been ongoing for over a month now, I’m not sure why it is a surprise anymore. The forwards are filled with marginal players and Binghamton players. The defense has been lit up through out the season. If there’s a surprise, then it is that the goaltending play has been much better and so the Devils have been able to avoid being wrecked by superior teams. However, that does not need to wins. Goalies do not score goals and the skaters, weakened as they are compared to the healthy NHL roster the Devils could theoretically have, need to perform. They didn’t today and so the Devils ate a decisive shutout loss to a non-playoff bound Colorado team.
This does not come across as a surprise to me. First and foremost, Philipp Grubauer was awesome today. The Devils did not have a lot of great chances, but Grubauer was superb at squaring up to shots and denying the handful of dangerous shots. The most threatening came from Kevin Rooney off a give-and-go with Kenny Agostino and Grubauer dove to knock the shot away with his blocker. Grubauer challenged the shooter well enough to seemingly have Devils shooters, especially Kyle Palmieri, to pull their shots in a direction - which yielded more misses and blocks. Second, the Devils are still a Bad Team. Their previous two wins came after seven straight without any. The shutout loss today is the team’s third since the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline and the Devils have now been shut out five times this season. And the run of play was solidly in Colorado’s favor throughout the game. For example, the Avs out-shot the Devils 13-5 in the first period where upon Cory Schneider weathered a deluge of rubber to keep it 0-0. For another example, the Avs also out-shot the Devils 9-5 in the third period even though the Devils were down at least two goals. There’s more to it but the larger point is that Grubauer was excellent, Colorado controlled the play in general, and they made more successful plays in both ends of the rink to send the Devils back home with a 0-3 loss.
Given where the Devils are in the standings (28th prior to this game) and what they have to play for (not much), it is hard to get upset or even annoyed by a shut out loss like this one. The Devils have been so poor on the road this season that it is foolish to expect them to play particularly well. Not that Colorado is this stupendous team, but they iced the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Ratanen, and Derick Brassard. Their most common match up appeared to be against Rooney, Agostino, and Kyle Palmieri, who were effectively dunked on in the run of play (especially Rooney). The talent difference was known on paper, only it showed on the ice. Maybe Rooney finishes that rush or Palmieri finished a shot or one of the Devils’ four power plays was converted and the game takes a totally different path. But the Devils did not generate a whole lot, Grubauer was locked in anyway, and the Avs kept pushing forward with and without a lead. A loss was likely before puck drop and a loss is what happened. So I’m more or less relieved the six-game road trip is over and the season has less than ten games to go. I am saddened to write this but it is how I feel after witnessing the Devils getting rolled over all afternoon in Denver.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Mile High Hockey for a Colorado-based take on today’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights, which are largely by Colorado. As you would expect in a 0-3 loss:
The Barrie Brace: Tyson Barrie scored both goals against Cory Schneider this afternoon. The first showed the Avalanche just working through an ineffective collapse by the Devils defense. While Damon Severson looks bad for being caught along the shot path, somehow two Avalanche players ended up behind the defense, Colton White was chased out into the slot, and no one was on the left side to engage Barrie or any of the Avs moving off the puck. It was a good shot plus traffic in front for the score. The second was a lucky break. Barrie fired a long shot that hit off Severson’s skate and then Travis Zajac’s skate to ricochet past Schneider. It was the sort of goal that makes coaches and players think they should just fire that 50-60 foot shot just because, hey, you may get a bounce and it may be a goal. It is not advisable but it worked out for Barrie.
The two goals were the obvious stand out parts to his game, but Barrie was playing well throughout the game. His defense was solid. He attempted eight shots. Barrie was close to scoring a natural hat trick in the second period off a rush shortly after his second goal. While Today’s Attending Media understandably gave Grubauer the first star of the game, Barrie was deserving of honors today - and he got it as the second star of the game.
The Kerfoot Game: In the same summer that the Devils signed former Colorado draft pick Will Butcher, the Avalanche signed Alexander Kerfoot, whom the Devils originally drafted, out of college. Not that this was an actual storyline or narrative for the game, but Kerfoot was definitely the better of the two. In fact, Kerfoot has one of the best games on the ice by a skater. When he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Avalanche out-attempted the Devils 19-4 and out-shot them 10-3. While Kerfoot did not register a shot on goal and only had three attempts, he was excellent at keeping the puck on Colorado’s sticks and distributing it to his teammates. His most common teammate was Tyson Jost and the duo were dynamic at making the Devils stick to defense. Especially Steve Santini and White. As per Natural Stat Trick, Kerfoot saw those two for over seven minutes in 5-on-5 hockey today and the on-ice attempts were 13-4 and 12-4 against Santini and White, respectively. He did not get a point today, but Kerfoot was very impressive.
MacKinnon Threatened: Nathan MacKinnon sealed the game with an empty net goal. He took a giveaway, turned on the jets, blazed past Severson, and calmly skated the puck to the open net. That ENG was his sixth shot of the game. He was slowed down by the pairing of Andy Greene and Severson, but MacKinnon and his line tore up his shifts against Rooney, Palmieri, Connor Carrick, White, Santini, and Butcher. While this season has not gone the way he wanted, it is clear that his Hart campaign last season was not a fluke. He was great today.
Hey, This is a Devils Site so...Devils Who Did Well?: Schneider was great. The two goals against him were not bad goals and he bailed out a Devils team that looked lost in their own end several times today. If the main takeaway from these last few weeks of the season is that Schneider-Blackwood is a viable goaltending tandem, then that is a beneficial one for next season. So far, so good, even with the losing result. As for the skaters, Greene-Severson were the best of a blueline that suffered today. Severson and Palmieri were willing and able to bomb away today as they each put up five and four shots on net, respectively. Some of their shots could have been better, but I respect those who try than those who were not able to create space or an opportunity to shoot.
Devils Who Didn’t?: I can understand wanting to give players deep on the depth chart a chance to play, but Colton White was really out of his depth today. Santini was also ineffective. Carrick was also picked on a lot, contributed little to offense, and took a high-sticking penalty that did not help the cause. I think I’d like to see Egor Yakovlev back in soon.
Up front, I was more disappointed with Blake Coleman if only because he took two minor penalties. He is one of the few NHL caliber forwards on the team and he is a key part of the Devils’ successful penalty kill. He cannot be that part when he is the one in the box. Coleman has been taking a lot of penalties; it is something to look into. That said, I will say I liked his one shorthanded breakaway attempt - even if he missed on it. I could point out how others like Blake Pietila, Joey Anderson, Drew Stafford, Nick Lappin (in for Kurtis Gabriel, who was not missed today), and Eric Tangradi did not contribute much. However, did anyone really expect them to? The hope is that they do not get rolled over by the opposition and there were multiple shifts today where they were just guys out there. But is it a surprising thing? Sadly, not really?
The Sherman Abrams Reaction: Sherman Abrams would like me to let you all know that he was pleased with how the Devils played today. Or as he so eloquently put it, “Stink on, Devils!”
One Last Thought: The Devils only have three more road games this season and one more game against a Western Conference opponent (March 30 at home to St. Louis). We are truly near the end of this lost season.
Your Take: The Devils lost 0-3 to the Avalanche today. It was a decisive loss where Grubauer was great, Colorado skaters out-classed the Devils, and it is yet one more road loss in a season full of them. The Devils will return to the Rock on Tuesday. What’s your take on today’s loss? Other than Schneider, did any Devil play well in your view and why? What should the Devils learn from this loss? Can they apply it before their next game on Tuesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview. Thanks to CJ for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account on Twitter during the game. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.