Spoiler alert: they do not do that at first.
Just over two minutes into the game, the Panthers mess up a change badly and decided to grace the ice with about 7 players— to be fair, this kind of thing will happen when you’re playing 8 defensemen. Despite the excuse, this is frowned upon, so the Devils quickly get to go on the power play.
Lately the Devils power play game plan has been strike hard and fast, and its been working well for them. They enter the zone and stay there, they’re moving their feet and making crisp, deliberate passes. Wayne Simmonds feeds a pass up to Damon Severson, who sends it over to Jack Hughes. Hughes walks in down the side and decides to use that shot we all know and love— sniped, perfect placement, Jack Hughes is back on the scoresheet and the Devils are on the board 1-0.
The fourth line comes on and makes things interesting. Will Butcher rips a hard shot from the point at the same moment Kevin Rooney, who had just a few seconds before hip checked Mackenzie Weeger, takes a cross check from behind from him and draws the Devils second power play of the night.
Florida does a much better to stem the strong flow of the Devils power play this time around. They manage to turn a brief shorthanded chance though without actually hitting the net, but the damage is done to the Devils brief time on the man advantage.
The strong penalty kill works to spark the Panthers a bit, and once the penalty ends they set up and find their way into the Devils zone. Brett Connolly skates in utterly unchallenged, knits a sweater in the time he has without any pressure, and lets a wrist shot fly that finds its way through the 5 hole of Louis Domingue.
The first line nearly gets the lead back when Mueller feeds a wide open Jack Hughes in front of a wide open net across the crease, except Hughes somehow completely missed the pass as it vaulted over his blade at the worst possible moment, so no goal there.
With just under a minute remaining, the Devils struggle to get the puck out for far too long. The Panthers fourth line, with two defensemen playing as forwards due to injury, takes advantage of the Devils failed attempts to clear the puck and put a lazy loose puck into the back of the net. 2-1 Panthers lead going into the second period.
We start off the second period exchanging zone times with each team. The Panthers controlled the first minute. The Devils controlled the second. Back come the Panthers for the next. The first sign that this shift is not going to go well is Zacha losing the faceoff to a defensemen. Next comes Matheson sending a centering pass from behind the net to Pysyk, who shovels it past Domingue.
The Devils makeshift fourth line refuses to be outdone by the Panthers makeshift fourth line. Coming right back after the Florida goal, Hayden shoulders off a defensemen in the corner, carries the puck towards the middle and taps it to Kevin Rooney who buries it to get the Devils back within 1.
Buuuuut not for long.
Right back the other way come the Panthers. Severson somehow loses his stick, Frank Vattrano walks in and beats Domingue to regain the 2 goal lead for Florida.
The Devils are starting to scramble and its clearly visible to the Panthers. Immediately they walk right back into the Devils zone, play some passing tic tac toe around a frantic Devils defense, and Noel Acciari finds the puck and makes it 5-2.
Not many good things going on here, but Coleman walks in and sits down Dadanov to maintain the zone, so that was cool.
The Devils desperately need a goal soon if they’re going to turn things around at all, and Kyle Palmieri answers the call. A stretch pass from Butcher finds Palmieri breaking into the zone. He ignores the pressure of the defensemen that’s right with him and throws a wrist shot at Montembeault that beats him 5-hole.
5-3, Devils still down by 2.
With some fire back under them, the first line keeps going and tries to cut the lead down to one. Jack Hughes walks himself in, dangles around absolutely everyone including some guy named Aaron Ekblad, has Montembeault nearly beat but is just barely stopped by the flailing leg pad.
Mirco Mueller decides to make things a bit more interesting by clearing the puck directly out of the Devils defensive zone and clear over the glass, so he’ll sit for delay of game.
Blake Coleman, as usual, immediately turns the penalty into a shorthanded shot attempt, but nothing else materializes for either side from the 5 on 4. The remaining minute of the period comes and goes after the penalty without much excitement, and the Devils will go into the intermission down 2 goals this time.
The third period starts with some leisurely back and forth hockey before who else but Blake Coleman makes things interesting. Gusev finds Coleman at the line and springs him on what would have been a breakaway except Coleman is facing the wrong direction, skating backwards towards Montembeault to receive the pass. He dances like he’s auditioning for an old Western with someone shooting at his feet to get the puck out from between them and on his stick. He manages to get the shot off, then pick up the rebound and get that too. He doesn’t get the puck past Montembeault but he does trip up a Florida defensemen, so he’ll go to the box.
With one of our top two penalty killers in the box, Zajac lines up with Pavel Zacha for the first wave of the kill. Zacha remains on while Zajac jumps off for Kevin Rooney for th second half. Rooney and Zacha finally jump off with just 30 seconds left for Zajac again and Joey Anderson this time who finish the remaining seconds of the Coleman penalty. The Panthers got the occasional shot off but nothing overly exciting.
Hughes gets a good opportunity on a wraparound try but his backhand just bounces off the Florida backup goalie.
The Devils second line starts buzzing in the second half of the third period. It starts with Jack Hughes picking up Coleman as he comes onto the ice for a blast from the point. Hughes changes and the Goose-Zajac-Coleman line sets up, picking up a couple shot attempts and a rolling puck clear across the edge of the goal line, but it ends with a decisive glove save to freeze the puck and end the brief rally.
The ‘we need to score’ line comes out in the final three minutes and consists of an interesting combination of Hughes, Palmieri, and Coleman. With Domingue running to he bench, Simmonds comes on to join those three along with Gusev and Severson. The Panthers are aggressive against the Devils setting up any kind of zone pressure, and it works. The Devils failed to maintain really any extended zone time despite the man advantage and a time-out to regroup before the final minute. The final minute is changed up to see Subban and Zajac in for Gusev and Coleman.
Severson fights off what could’ve been an empty net goal for Vattrano, but the needed goals don’t come for the Devils and they fall to the injury-plagued Panthers 5-3.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The first line produced two goals, the fourth line produced a goal, the third line made some chances that just didn’t connect, the second line threatened to score at any time during the game, as usual. I miss Nico Hischier and Zacha needs to stop trying to launch passes at Wood rather than just taking the shot in the 2 on 1, but other than that I think there’s very little room to complain about the Devils offensive productivity tonight.
And not just defensemen— our defensive play as a whole was pathetic. We’ve seen that collapsing routine before. In front of Keith Kinkaid. In front of Cory Schneider. In front of any goalie any time it seems they’re not playing their best, the Devils start to scramble and try to do too much, take away too many lanes and end up screening the goaltender, chasing players and pucks rather than playing their proper positions, making stupid buddy passes in the slot rather than just clearing the zone. Its been a problem over this entire season and even before that and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
Domingue was beaten clean on way too many shots. The defense was giving up chances left and right and Domingue did not manage to hold down the fort— he barely managed to make a save. The saves he did make looked sloppy and poorly controlled— half a dozen posts, flailing glove saves on easy shots, rebounds bobbled that just barely missed rolling into the net on their own. It was not a good night for Louis Domingue.
The Devils need stronger defense, and a reliable backup goaltender. You can claw your way through a season lacking one or the other, but you cannot step out onto the ice without either and expect the game to go well. Defense failed, goaltending failed, and the Devils fell apart— they got back together a bit but not enough to mount a comeback.
What happened? Why did it happen? What’s the fix?
Who do you think deserves the majority of the responsibility for this loss, if any?
Leave your thoughts and general sadness in the comments and thanks for reading.