On a crucial night for the all-important Race to the Bottom of the NHL Standings, the New Jersey Devils took on the Detroit Red Wings. In a season full of terrible road games, the Devils showed the hockey world that they had what it took to fail. The Devils went to the D and left with a big ‘L’ in their hands. The Devils took on a bad Red Wings team and made them look like a million bucks. Not content with merely taking a loss, the Devils were shut out and shut down by a score of 0-4 to Detroit. Ouch.
This is a bit sadder than you may think. You may realize that the Devils are not as injured as they were about two to three weeks ago. Yet, despite Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri (actually healthy), Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, and others returning to make the Devils’ forward lines have more NHL forwards than not, the Devils’ production has dried up. Since dropping a six-spot in Edmonton, the Devils have not scored more than two goals against a goaltender. Tonight’s shutout makes it seven games since the Devils have achieved that. So a healthier team has not yielded healthier results. The expected goals number may be good, but they did not even get one past the goaltenders tonight.
Yes, goaltenders. Jonathan Bernier made some great saves tonight. He robbed Palmieri in the first period. He denied Hischier on a rebound in front. He nearly got caught by a blooper after stopping a Kevin Rooney shot from a make-shift 2-on-1 after a Detroit turnover. He got all of that and everything else for a perfect 21 saves on 21 shot. But he was replaced in the third period by Jimmy Howard. The official word was an upper body injury. The MSG+ broadcast caught the trainers working on Bernier’s left hand during a break in the second period. All the same, with a cold goaltender in net, the Devils put up a mere seven shots on Howard and never really challenged him. Even with nothing to play for and nothing to lose, the Devils would not rise up to the task.
They absolutely did not rise up in the run of play. Detroit dominated 5-on-5 play in the first period and kept things even while maintaining a lead. The Devils had no answer at all for Dylan Larkin, who did almost anything he wanted with the puck. Passes? He find the seams to catch the Devils in bad positions. Shots? Larkin had eight shots on net plus three attempts blocked. Points? He created Danny DeKeyser’s goal in the first period; a re-direction of a pass from the left side that went across The Royal Road. He scored in the second period as he got ahead of his defender to slam in a loose puck in the slot past Mackenzie Blackwood. But the impressive part of his game is seen in the attempts and shots in 5-on-5 play. When Larkin was on the ice, the Red Wings out-attempted the Devils 26-12 and out-shot them 16-6. He really was the proverbial straw that stirred the drink tonight. Just as the Devils had no answer for Larkin, they also had no answers for his linemates: Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi. The trio kept getting into spaces as the Devils skaters chased them about. Blackwood played quite well just to keep these three from lighting things up, nevermind anyone else on Detroit.
And there was plenty of support on that front from Detroit. While it was not across the board, other forwards just tilted the ice against the Devils repeatedly. Cristoffer Ehn was a thorn in the Devils’ side. Veteran energy player Darren Helm looked years younger on the ice as he kept winning pucks and keeping plays going. The Red Wings’ blueline was quite good. They held the Devils to a mere five shots in 5-on-5 play in the first period. While the Devils turned up the shots and scoring chances, they still limited them to 23 shots in 5-on-5 play, they took only one penalty, and helped support Detroit going forward over and over even when they were up by two in the second and third periods. Their D had a good debut from Jake Chelios; DeKeyeser making a great read to activate and get rewarded with a score; and the Madison Bowey-Filip Hronek pairing functioning quite well. There were Red Wings the Devils picked on in the run of play, but it rings somewhat hollow given that the game ended in a four-goal shutout loss. (And Andreas Athanasiou scored a sweet-looking goal that put an exclamation point on the loss.)
More importantly, it rings hollow because this was the perfect result for Sherman Abrams and his followers. You wanted nothing? The Devils delivered. Detroit, who has now won their last four straight, moved ahead of the Devils in the standings by a point last night. The Red Wings went out, showed few signs of fatigue, controlled the first period, and maintained control in the second and third periods for a decisive win. Now the Devils are in 29th with 67 points, three points behind Detroit, and ahead of 30th place Los Angeles who has two fewer points and one fewer game played. After that win over Buffalo, the tanking effort was in full effect and the Devils can enter the final week of the season with a better chance of falling further. St. Louis blew their game so they did not clinch their playoff berth, so tomorrow’s opponents have something to play for. For those who want the Devils to get more lottery balls, you could not have asked for a better night. It is as if the Devils told Detroit at some point tonight: Tank u, next. And proceeded to try and chase down Larkin for the umpteenth time.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Winging it in Motown for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are highlights if you are interested for whatever reason.
Poor Blackwood: The record for tonight will show Mackenzie Blackwood with a loss and three goals allowed. The actual performance was very good. Blackwood had to make a lot of tough saves early on and often. Even when Detroit was not as dominant on their forecheck and in the neutral zone in the second and third periods, he had to face and deny scoring chances and shots alike. The two goals against in the first two periods were not soft ones at all; I do not blame him for those goals being scored. The Athanasiou goal at the end is whatever; the game was already lost at that point. But despite Blackwood putting in the work to keep his teammates in the game, said teammates could not even give him a goal to work with, much less two to tie or three to lead.
Were Any Devils Effective on the Attack?: Stefan Noesen had the team’s best CF%. He also notably shanked a one-timer wide in the first period after Blake Coleman set him up with a wide open shot in the slot. It was the second-worst miss in the game by a Devil, following Kevin Rooney fighting to win a shorthanded breakaway and then putting the wrist shot wide in the third period. Even with the run of play being more favorable when Noesen, and the Texas-Zajac unit by extension, was on the, they were still out-shot in 5-on-5 play. Will Butcher actually did help push the play forward.
Despite some abysmal coverage by the defense in general, Butcher was not at all bad tonight. So there’s that. Butcher’s three shots on net tied him with Zajac and Palmieri for the second most. While Palmieri had that one great scoring chance in the first period and drew his team’s only power play, Butcher was more consistent in trying to turn the tide.
Zacha had some good looking moves and created two of the team’s five shots in 5-on-5 play in the first period, but he faded as time went on. I thought the same of Miles Wood, who finished the night with four shots on net, but really only used his speed - his best tool - in the first period in small bursts. Wood’s only contribution to a goal was when his attempted pass to Damon Severson at the point hit off the boards to Bertuzzi, who skated up, out of the zone, and fired in an empty net goal. Ouch.
I’m not sure there is much else at this point.
Picked On: Connor Carrick was steamrolled in the run of play and in his own end tonight. When he was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 13-28 and out-shot 7-15 in 5-on-5 play. That’s terrible. He took New Jersey’s only penalty tonight. He was torched by Athanasiou for his goal. He saw a lot of Larkin and Mantha tonight and they feasted on him (and Mirco Mueller). Carrick has had some good games but this was not one of them.
Tonight was also an ineffective night for Hischier and Kenny Agostino. While Hischier and Palmieri each had a dangerous scoring chance, it was few (only that one?) and far between. The Red Wings kept them pinned back and kept them from getting a whole lot going in the run of play. People will have bad nights and this was one of them for this line. Hischier was almost invisible, Agostino actually was invisible, and Palmieri could not press things forward or make himself available as an option as much as he should to fire away at Bernier and Howard. This line was beaten up. One would expect the fourth line to have more struggles, but this unit was the worst in my opinion.
No: I kept thinking this every time I saw Michael McLeod out there. As Mike pointed out earlier today, things are not looking so hot for the 2016 first round selection. These games are all opportunities to show what he can do. To put it lightly, he has not taken advantage.
Feel Old: Jake Chelios made his NHL debut tonight. He is the 28-year old son of NHL legend Chris Chelios. I do not know what was more surprising to me. That Jake Chelios was making his debut or that he was not playing with his dad in that debut. Chris played forever in this league. So much so that the MSG+ broadcast accidentally listed his career length as 1894-2010. Anyway, this is yet another example of hockey players making me feel older - along with Tyler Bertuzzi.
One Last Thought: Tomorrow is Fan Appreciation Night. Given that St. Louis blew last night’s game, they need a win to secure their playoff spot, and the Devils have nothing to play for, I fear I will not be able to appreciate this one even if I am at the Rock.
Your Take: The Devils played a game of hockey against the Detroit Red Wings and they were mauled in a 0-4 shutout loss. Tanks, ahoy. What did you think of this one? What did you notice in tonight’s game? What could have the Devils done differently on the ice to perform better or possibly score a goal against Bernier/Howard? What can the Devils do to prepare for St. Louis? Do we want them to? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments.
Thanks to CJ for maintaining the @AAtJerseyBlog account on Twitter in Mike’s absence. For the unaware, Mike is now a dad, bringing the AAtJ staff parenthood count up to two. Not only was today his return to writing, but he also took back the @AAtJerseyBlog for the game. Thanks to Mike for his return and congratulations to the Strombergs for their recent arrival. Thanks to everyone who suffered through this loss and discussed it in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.