After taking a decisive loss against Washington, the New Jersey Devils dusted themselves off, got back up, and took another decisive loss against the Boston Bruins tonight. The Bruins never lost the lead once they took it. The Bruins controlled more and more of the game as time went on. They made their mark such that they scored after icing the game with an empty net goal so the Devils lost 1-5 instead of 1-4 or 1-3, prior to the empty netter.
This is the part where a reader may ask, “Well, what did you honestly expect? The Devils are bad and filled with minor leaguers. Boston is really good.” I expected the loss. As it started, I thought it would not be so bad. Similar to their losses after the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, where they took on superior teams and managed to not get blown out or lose by at least three goals. For example, something like the previous Devils-Boston game.
However, it was not to be. Cory Schneider played quite well but nearly all goalies were not going to stop three of the four that went past him and so he did not. The one goal by Drew Stafford was sweet - and a long time coming for Stafford - but it was not enough. After a first period where shots were even at 7-7 and attempts were only 17-13 in favor of Boston, the B’s out-attempted the Devils 20-10 in the second and 16-9 in the third period. That all happened as increased their lead. While the shot count did not get out of control - Boston led in total shots, 25-21 - the B’s managed to out-chance the Devils 23-13 and match them in high-danger chances whilst leading in the game. In other words, Boston did not let up and the Devils never really forced them to do so.
So, yes, I understand that the mostly-Binghamton Devils were likely going to be rolled by one of the best teams in hockey and they were. That does not mean I like it or should settle for them not giving themselves enough of a fighting chance.
I will say this, though. There was a fighting chance. There was a sense that the Devils could have made the B’s sweat after Stafford’s goal. Schneider was solid in the crease despite the score. The Devils did not hand Boston a bunch of power plays or just let them fire freely at Schneider. Tonight’s game was easier to watch than the recent loss to Washington. That game was also low-offense affair where Washington just out-classed the Devils, but there was never a sense that the Devils could have made it interesting. There was some of that tonight. As a fan of a team that has had nothing to play for since the calendar turned to 2019, I’ll accept a level of competitive hockey and some positives in lieu of winning games against vastly superior teams. There was some of that. Not enough, obviously, but some. Maybe that does not make a whole lot of sense and does not align with some of the stats, but it is how I felt watching the game this evening.
My feelings do not really matter as the result remains the same. The Devils lost, they lost by a significant margin, and it is just one more decisive ‘L’ as this lost season winds down. Maybe they will perform better against Arizona on Saturday, but who knows at this point. And, for some fans, they may be hoping against that. So it goes with the 2018-19 season.
The Opposition Opinion: For a Boston and likely happier take on this game, please check out SkyonAir’s recap at Stanley Cup of Chowder.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here is a Boston-heavy video:
The Debut: Defenseman Josh Jacobs made his NHL debut tonight. He seemed OK. Jacobs mostly played with Egor Yakovlev and entirely played all 14:54 of ice time tonight in even strength situations. While the Devils were out-attempted 8-12 when he took a 5-on-5 shift, the Devils actually out-shot the Bruins 6-5. That matches up with what I saw: Jacobs did not make a lot of errors. OK, he sent the puck around the boards to Noel Accari, who sent a pass that David Backes re-directed into the net in the final minute of the game. That was bad, but by that point, the game was already lost and it was not the worst mistake by a Devils defenseman tonight. Jacobs kept up with the pace of the game and the Bruins did not pick on him. While I’m sure he would have wanted a victory and not have effectively provided the secondary assist on Backes’ goal, I thought he did fine. I would not be opposed to Jacobs playing again. Although, given the state of this season, I’m fine with just about anyone to get a game at this point.
The Return: Pavel Zacha returned to the ice for the first time in a while. He was out with a concussion, which is a serious injury with no clear timeline for return. It was Zacha’s time and I was pleased to see him be able to play. I was just as pleased with how he performed tonight. He was arguably New Jersey’s best skater tonight. Some of his passes were just great. Two stood out to me. First, early in the game, Zacha sent a pass that found Eric Tangradi all alone in front of Rask off a 3-on-2 rush in the first period. Second, Zacha looked to shoot but chose to pass it across to an open Drew Stafford in the right circle. Rask bit on Zacha and fell down going to post to post. Stafford had a lot of net to shoot at and he succeeded - which does not happen if it was not for an inch-perfect pass by Zacha. In terms of the run of play, when Zacha was on the ice, the Devils were just out-attempted by the Bruins 9-10 but they notably out-shot the Bruins 7-3. While that may mean Zacha’s unit were bailed out by some misses and blocks, it also points to how he helped provide the team some much-needed offense. I will say that Zacha became more anonymous in the third period, but Zacha earned his primary assist and was a stand-out in a good way tonight. So I remain pleased.
The Wreckage: On defense, the pairing of Andy Greene and Damon Severson has had some good performances in the past few weeks. Tonight, they were trashed. In their defense, they had the “pleasure” of matching up against the unit of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, and Zdeno Chara. This is one of the better five-men units in the NHL and one of the best forward lines in the league. They have made plenty of defensemen look bad. Tonight was no different. When Greene was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 8-20 but only out-shot 5-7. That looks good next to when Severson was out there; the Devils were out-attempted 7-24 and out-shot 4-12 when #28 was out there. In a word: Yuck.
Both defensemen were present for Boston’s first two goals against and Severson was caught out on both of them. MSG Analyst Bryce Salvador correctly pointed how Severson should have went around the other side of the net instead of going to a stickless Greene on the first goal against. He also pointed out how Severson should have tried to box out Pastrnak prior to his goal against Schneider in the second period. I agree with both.
I will add that Stefan Noesen or Blake Coleman could have looked to see if anyone was on the weak side - and Bergeon was - before Pastrnak hooked up Bergeron for a score. As an aside: Bad things tend to happen when Patrice Bergeron is left open. He should never not be accounted for and the Devils paid for that. I will also add that Brad Marchand made an incredibly difficult saucer pass for Pastrnak to one-touch into the net for his goal. Still, those two instances plus getting hemmed in over and over tonight meant it was a real bad night for Severson. Greene was not as exposed but he was not much better either. It was rough.
Up front, the forward line that was beaten up was Travis Zajac’s line. John Hynes put the Texas duo with Zajac and they were often in front of Greene and Severson. This also meant they got a lot of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak, and they were beaten. Coleman only saw two shooting attempts by the Devils in 5-on-5 play tonight. Zajac and Noesen saw three, too. The line was pinned back a lot. Given that the Devils are short on NHL-caliber forwards, I can understand Hynes wanting one line to just take the pain from the Bergeron line. hope it is not too damaging, and have the other three lines succeed more. I think that was the game plan. It faltered. What’s more is that the line provided just as many penalties - Coleman and Zajac each took a minor tonight - as they did have shots on net - Coleman had two. I’m sure it is no surprise that Bergeron’s unit would dominate Coleman-Zajac-Noesen but it did not make it any better for the Devils tonight.
The Unfortunate Bounce: Tonight was arguably one of Steve Santini’s better nights. Unfortunately, he was featured on the play that really ensured Boston’s victory tonight. On the first shift of the third period, Santini shot the puck from the right point. Sean Kuraly blocked the shot with his hand. It hurt him. The puck bounced out of the zone, away from Santini, and in a spot that only Danton Heinen could get to. Heinen blasted ahead. Santini had no chance to catch him. Connor Carrick did not have a good angle. Heinen roofed it past Schneider; the one goal I think Schneider maybe would want back tonight. Less than thirty seconds into the third period, Boston restored their two-goal lead. The B’s went on to control the rest of the game. Poor Santini.
The Move Made for the Sake of It: The latter made me question why John Hynes bothered to pull Schneider for the extra skater at all. The Devils were down two and did not challenge Tuukka Rask all that much in the third period. With the extra skater, the Devils registered one (1) missed shot, one (1) blocked shot, and then Bergeron scored the ENG. I know there is research that supports teams pulling their goalie well before the final two minutes of the game. However, I think it is a situational decision. The Devils were struggling to make Rask work in the third period and there is nothing much to play for. The potential benefit was unlikely. The risk was quite likely - and it happened, Boston scored.
The Tribute Video?: Apparently, John Moore had a tribute video at the Rock tonight. As I am home-bound, I did not see it. I presume it featured his overtime goals and maybe a couple of other plays. A real representation of his time with New Jersey should have been a 30-second clip of him committing hard to pinches and rushing back to try and help on defense when the play went the other way.
More seriously, I’m not sure what Moore really did in three seasons with the Devils to warrant a tribute video. He was signed for three years, he did his time, he did not make a huge mark on a team that has not don much recently, and he signed elsewhere as a free agent. I can see it for someone like Brian Boyle, who has been fighting leukemia as well as doing more than Moore did with the team. But Moore? Really? I don’t get it.
The Special Teams: The penalty kill did a pretty good job. They had three situations. They killed all three while allowing four shots on net, which is not a bad return. Pastrnak blocked out Blake Pietila from chasing a puck and he was caught; so the last penalty kill was shortened. That’s good. The power play is, well, it is what it is. It generated two shots. I’ll take anything from the motley crew that is on New Jersey’s man advantage these days.
The Sherman Abrams Section: While the Devils lost, they did not get help to move on down in the standings. Detroit could have knocked the Devils down a spot with a win; they lost 2-5 to St. Louis. Ottawa has crept up in points; but they are losing 1-3 as of this writing to a Calgary team that’s Actually Good. Los Angeles has a late night game with San Jose. Hope for them to get a win but do not expect it because Los Angeles is terrible.
Arizona, who is New Jersey’s next opponent, lost to Florida so the Cats will remain out of the Race to the Bottom of the league standings. Arizona has something to play for - a wild card spot in the West - so they may be extra motivated to get a win in New Jersey on Saturday. Sherman Abrams is hoping for that.
The Streak-Buster: Drew Stafford’s goal was his first non-shootout goal since January 2 at Dallas. He now has three for this season. If nothing else, congratulations to him.
The Surprises: The run of play was actually favorable when Stafford and Kurtis Gabriel were on the ice tonight. Despite being different players, I thought both players hustled well and they did not do many stupid things that could have cost the team. By no means should either really be with the team next season, but they did relatively well for the Devils this evening. Yes, Stafford did not drown in 5-on-5 play and he scored a goal. That is a big night for him. There is a silver lining in this 1-5 defeat.
There was one other big surprise: Brad Marchand actually behaved on the ice. Marchand, as with Pastrnak and Bergeron, had an excellent performance tonight - and that’s it. No extracurricular activities. No nonsense Unless I missed something, he did not throw a questionable-at-best hit, cheap-shot a Devil, or say anything so egregiously bad such that social media has a field day with it. Marchand did not commit any thuggery tonight. That is refreshing to write about with respect to Marchand.
The New Number: With Jacobs playing tonight, the Devils have now had 41 players suit up for New Jersey this season. I believe this ties a franchise record for most players to have made at least one appearance this season. It is not the highest number in the NHL. I believe Anaheim has had a whopping 48 players put on an Anaheim jersey this season. It is still a very large number for the Devils.
The Last Thought: With plenty of turnovers, whiffs on shots, and generally invisible on most shifts, Blake Pietila is reminding me of Tim Sestito. This is not a complement.
Your Take: The Devils lost 1-5 to Boston tonight. What did you make of the loss? Who looked good and who looked bad in your opinion? Did the Devils do anything particularly well or poor? Can they sustain their gains and reduce the nonsense? What can they learn from this loss that they can apply to their game on Saturday? Does it matter at this point of the season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss to Boston in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview that went up earlier today. Thanks to CJ for manning the @AAtJerseyBlog account on Twitter. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.