In an effort to try to find something positive in tonight’s game between the New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues, I will list out the following good things about the Devils tonight:
- Louis Domingue
That is it.
Goaltender Louis Domingue put in one of his most impressive performances in St. Louis in what otherwise has been a largely terrible season. Domingue was very quick in the crease to get in front of chances. He was able to get his glove or his pads on some shots that likely would have gone in against most goalies in the NHL. Domingue was the primary reason why the Blues did not convert a power play this evening. He was also the primary reason why the Blues did not score a touchdown’s worth of goals against the Devils tonight. Domingue gave one his best efforts for his team.
His teammates gave him one their collective worst performances of the season. The Blues made the Devils look like total jobbers. No matter the match-up. No matter the lines. The Blues out-shot every single one of the Devils players regardless of who was out there. The expected goals model was below 45% for every single Devil in 5-on-5 play. In other words, every skater with one exception sucked. The one exception was Will Butcher, who played just 1:31 tonight. He left the game very early and it was noted on the MSG broadcast that it was due to a medical issue and not anything trade-related. While having to rotate five defensemen did not help, that does not excuse the abhorrent performance by the twelve forwards.
It truly was abhorrent. In team stats for 5-on-5 play as per Natural Stat Trick, the Blues out-attempted the Devils 50-27, out-shot them 35-12 (yes, twelve), out-chanced them 28-12, and out high-danger chanced them 7-0. Add in one frightening power play in the second period, and Domingue faced 39 shots. No thanks to the guys in front of him, he was beaten three times and had no goals of his own. The Devils were shutout 0-3 by the Blues and it is 100% not the goaltender’s fault. No matter how you feel about Domingue, you cannot convince me he was a reason why this loss was so terrible.
It is very easy to state that this was a game that clearly showed that the Blues are just on a much, much higher level than where the Devils are. It is also true. However, do not fall into the easy narratives of the MSG broadcast crew. The Blues did not dominate because they were a big and physical team. They were better tonight because they maintained puck possession well with their sticks. They were better tonight because plenty of Blues moved off the puck to make themselves options for passes or pick up Devils trying to get anywhere close to a dangerous position on offense. They were better tonight because they kept things simple on defense and won loads of pucks that the Devils tried to force through them in a repeated failed attempts to break into the middle of the zone. They were better tonight because each line and each pairing had a clue as to what they were doing and played like they communicated to each other. The Blues did not grind down the Devils into dust and proceeded to win. After a sluggish first five minutes, the Blues got to work, stuck to their game plan, and kept at it even when Domingue was standing on his head on the first 18 shots. The Blues are not just a more talented team. They are a better coached team and a far more cohesive unit than the Devils have been.
The crucial point in this game was when a Kyle Palmieri turnover led to a favorable bounce off Damon Severson from a shot by Carl Gunnarson that led to Ivan Barbashev slamming the loose puck past Domingue. That was the Blues’ first goal, the first for Barbashev in the evening (Jaden Schwartz got the third in the third), and the only goal that they ended up needing since the Devils generated incredibly little on Jordan Binnington. Tonight was arguably one of the easiest shutouts of his career; 17 saves and none of them were high-danger chances per Natural Stat Trick. Pavel Zacha had two glorious chances that fans rue him missing. But the larger issue is that the Devils were not able to create much more than that. So Zacha missed on a backhander with the top right corner open and hit the post off the left side of the net. The Blues missed open nets in this game too. They kept creating and firing away. The Devils did not. I am more unhappy with the team’s collective failings than an individual failing. I am not happy about the many brainless turnovers instead of just a single one whether it was by Joey Anderson, Severson, Palmieri, or whomever else you can recall.
I will admit that I did not expect a win or anything like that this evening. I did expect some competitive hockey. Even with Andy Greene and Blake Coleman now on better teams after being traded, I expect those still with New Jersey to at least do their best. Only Domingue did that this evening. The skaters, Butcher excepted, certainly did not.
The Game Summary: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Check out St. Louis Game Time for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, watch if you like saves by Domingue and reminders of how bad the Devils have become:
The Count is Seven: The Devils have now been shutout seven times this season.
Shooting Yourself in the Foot Before the Puck Even Dropped: I wrote pretty much all I wanted to really write about the game itself earlier. This was terrible and perhaps even those three words are enough. So I want to talk about something that happened before the game that definitely had a negative impact on this game.
Alain Nasreddine is not a good head coach. He is the interim head coach of the Devils and I believe he should be gone after this season. I have showed in great length how the team has changed since he took over and yet they remain rather bad. Nasreddine made another decision before this game that further shows why he should not be the bench boss beyond 2019-20.
It was announced before tonight’s game that Jesper Bratt would be a healthy scratch and John Hayden would come into the lineup. In addition, Jack Hughes was slotted at wing to play with Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri; Nick Merkley was moved up to play with Wayne Simmonds (I hope no one with Vancouver was closely watching this game.) with Pavel Zacha at center; and so Hayden would re-join Rooney and Anderson on the fourth line. For some reason, after getting steamrolled by Columbus, Miles Wood was kept with Travis Zajac and Nikita Gusev. These lines were collectively wrecked by the Blues. Again, the team was out-attempted 50-27 and out-shot 34-12 in 5-on-5 play in a game that had 47 plus minutes of 5-on-5 play.
The reunion of Hayden with Rooney and Anderson was particularly putrid as the trio was on the ice for one (1) Devils shot each. Rooney saw 4 shots against, the other two saw 8. Their CF%s were 20% or below and their expected goals for percentage were each below 5.03%. I did not forget a digit.
However, Nasreddine’s new lines are only part of the latest beef fans understandably have with the coaching decisions for this team. Let us be real, the team was clobbered by Columbus so sticking with the exact same lineup is not exactly the worst idea in theory. What Nasreddine came up ended up being about as terrible and weirdly did not try to shift things around at forward despite seeing lots of shifts of these lines getting beat with five rotating defensemen completely lost behind them.
The decision to scratch Bratt alone was a dubious one. The official reasoning Nasreddine provided made it even worse. Per Matt Loughlin, Nasreddine said it was because Bratt needs to be more “consistent.”
Bratt has put up eight points in the last ten games, he helped set up Palmieri’s sweet goal against Columbus on Sunday as well as scored the shootout-deciding goal to make that game a win, and he has been hustling his pants off for most of the last two months. Was every game by Bratt amazing? No. But no one on this team is consistently good. Even Blake Coleman had some off nights. Even Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri does too (like tonight in St. Louis). If Bratt’s play has not been consistent, then how in the world does Miles Wood not only stay in the lineup night-in, night-out but he is kept with two forwards who looked about as cohesive as someone on a buzz wearing two left shoes on ice? It makes no sense at all.
I really question if this is really about “consistency.” It could be coach-speak for something else. It still does not make any sense. This is a team clearly now re-building and in the first game after two big trades, the decision to take out one of those young wingers who could actually contribute some offense really makes me question if Nasreddine is on the same page with management. If it was all for just getting John Hayden in the lineup, then that is even worse. There is no future for Hayden in New Jersey. And perhaps the NHL. Tonight’s game proved that; he was bossed around no matter how much his “physical play” gets talked up by Ken Daneyko. Hayden’s hockey absolutely sucked.
Look, I am not so naive as to believe that the Devils would have won in St. Louis if Bratt played and Hayden does not. I think a lot of the game goes about the way it did because a lot of what wrecked the Devils tonight is a lot of what we have witness throughout this season, which has intensified under Nasreddine. Too much watching, not enough acting and helping on defense. Too much perimeter play and looking for cycles for a Devils team not really built for it on offense. Too much forcing the issue instead of trying to create spaces. However, Bratt would have at least meant the Devils were putting their twelve best forwards on the ice. Regardless of St. Louis’ recent struggles, you need to come as prepared as possible when you visit the defending Stanley Cup Champions that is currently first in their conference. Domingue playing out of his mind justified Nasreddine’s call to start him. Scratching Bratt and giving a bad and possibly false reason as to why was not justifiable before the game and definitely not now.
Sherman Abrams’ Section: Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh. I guess we’re doing this again.
I forgive you.
I still wish you were not here.
I will never go away at this rate. Tell me I’m wrong.
Just get on with it.
Congratulations, New Jersey Devils! You rebounded from that terrible shootout win against Columbus with a performance so trashy, it reminded me to take out my garbage cans for tomorrow. The big 0-3 loss to St. Louis came on a good night as Ottawa won big against Buffalo, 7-4. This means the 28th-place Devils are just one point ahead of 29th-place Ottawa. The Devils have a game in hand and they have to be careful about winning since they are within striking distance of San Jose (26th) and Anaheim (27th). But the gap is closing on going down, which is good as Los Angeles seems to be entrenched in 30th at seven points behind New Jersey. So don’t go and do a stupid thing like win on Thursday and go and meet expectations against the tough schedule you have coming up.
What about 31st?
No one is catching Detroit. No one. I do not even care that they won tonight. It does not matter. No one is catching them. They could finish with fewer than 50 points; their season has brought me so much joy. Why couldn’t Ray Shero do that?
The plan was not to be this bad.
Plans, schmans. Tanks are huge, sturdy vehicles of destruction. They do not go away easily. I should know. So should you.
I hate this segment.
One Last Thought: The Devils need to learn to help their goaltenders. Back-check. Tie up a stick. Cover someone who does not have the puck. Talk to each other on defense. Do not lose pucks easily in the neutral zone. Do not lose the puck on offense with two to four players below the dots. Try to score a goal. With the recent way the Devils have played, their games lean heavily on the goaltenders. And tonight was an example how a goalie playing great still may not be enough. Help. Your. Goaltenders. Devils.
Your Take: This Devils-Blues game was terrible. They lost 0-3 despite Domingue being great in the net. This was not fun to watch. This was not fun to write up. This was only fun for St. Louis, Sherman Abrams, and the haters and losers of the Devils, of which there are sadly many. What is your take on tonight’s game? Will the Devils play anywhere close to competent hockey against San Jose on Thursday? If you think so, then how? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s shutout loss in the comments.
Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to Mike for taking care of the @AAtJerseyBlog account on Twitter. Thanks to everyone who commented and followed along in the Gamethread and/or the site’s account on Twitter. Thank you for reading. I am sorry if you had to watch this game.