The Devils reorganized their lineup a little bit in advance of tonight’s game, moving Sharangovitch to center and Gauthier to wing. Sharangovitch hasn’t had much spark yet this season, especially since the loss of Jack Hughes, so the move is part of an effort to get something going from the kid. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. Nothing did.
The Devils get things moving right off the bat after puck drop, immediately bringing the play to the Ducks zone and getting Nico a great quick one-timer opportunity that is fought off by Gibson. The Ducks ice the puck and Dawson Mercer sees a fantastic opportunity off the ensuing faceoff with a loose puck squeaking through Gibson’s 5-hole and laying tantalizingly in the zone but he can’t pull the trigger with a Duck defenseman on his tail. The Ducks try to slow things down a little bit, holding the puck back in their zone and getting changes and finally a slow dump in entry for their first offensive pressure 4 minutes into the game.
Johnsson and Dawson Mercer link up to get Mercer yet another scoring opportunity, this time a slick pass backwards in the slot by Johnsson to Mercer, who drags and tries to beat Gibson but he just manages to get a toe across to make the save. The captain’s line comes out next and makes Gibson work even harder, as Zacha feeds Hischier for a try but Gibson seals off any opportunity for Hischier. He does draw a slashing penalty on his way in though, so we’ll go to the powerplay here halfway through the first.
The Ducks really hold the Devils off well during their powerplay, and unfortunately as the advantage wanes they force a turnover creating a 2 on 0. Dougie Hamilton races back and breaks it up just enough for Bernier to make a toe save, but he takes his own slashing penalty in the process (for what, I’m genuinely not sure), so now we’ll go to the penalty kill.
The Ducks’ powerplay looks a lot better than our unit did at first, setting up in the offensive zone but the Devils quickly break it up and get their own shorthanded run the other way, but can’t get the shot off. Back the other way come the Ducks, who drop it back for Ryan Getzlaf. With Milano screening Bernier, Getzlaf blasts a shot straight through Bernier’s 5-hole, putting the Ducks on the board first 1-0.
The Devils look a bit less dominant than they did in the early half of the period now, struggling to get set up in the zone and scrambling when the play is brought back to their defensive zone. The Devils break up an attempt by the Ducks to get set up in the zone, but Subban takes the opportunity to make an absolutely atrocious pass and forfeits the opportunity of the Devils to turn the play the other way.
The remainder of the first period fades in a mess of unsubstantial offense from either side, and we’ll go to the first intermission down 1-0.
I would like to tell you the Devils cleaned things up for the start of the second, but unfortunately, they did not. We started it off with a faceoff loss from Mercer in the offensive zone, and then an icing from the neutral zone. The Devils get back in the offensive zone, but can’t make their passes connect. The Ducks bring the play back the other way and draw yet another penalty, this time on Tatar who clips a Duck’s face with his stick while falling.
The Ducks waste no time getting set up on their power play, ripping a shot directly off the faceoff win. After a battle along the 50 feet of boards, the Devils do get a clear, and then another one the second the Ducks attempt to re-enter. Chasing the Ducks back into the zone, Nico Hischier accidentally gets his stick stuck in the skate of the puck carrier, which of course sends the Devils down yet another man, for a full minute.
The Ducks set up for their 5 on 3. The Devils do a strangely excellent job of maintaining their positioning, but Ryan Graves blocks a shot that leaves him hobbling. Unfortunately defending a 2 man advantage is just hard even if you do it right and have all 6 feet functioning, and the Ducks find Troy Terry wide open at the back door to rip it past Bernier. 2-0 Ducks, and they still have another minute of powerplay time. Fortunately, Vesey makes a good steal to kill some of the time, and the Devils are able to work off the remainder of the penalty to Hischier.
Worth noting is that Dougie Hamilton did not return to the bench for the 2nd period, and that is definitely showing its effects on the Devils struggles here. Neither team is really getting their feet settled in the zone as this period clicks on.
Siegenthaler attempts to play the puck behind the net but is tripped up by Sam Steel, sending the Devils to their second powerplay of the game.
Any chance this one will be better than the last?
Ty Smith takes Hamilton’s spot on the powerplay. The Devils get a little traction for the first 30 seconds, but Anaheim doesn’t give them much room to get a shot off and eventually get the clear. The Devils re-enter the zone and force Gibson to freeze the puck. They’re able to keep the puck in for a second despite losing the faceoff, but not for long before the Ducks push it out, and finish the kill.
At least we didn’t finish it off with a penalty, am I right?
Oh, nevermind, we did.
Too many men.
Back to the penalty kill we go.
Fortunately, the Devils actually did a good job of killing the first minute of the penalty, and then Drysdale trips up McLeod behind the net so we’ll go to 4 on 4 for a minute before another minute of advantage.
The Devils continue their strange tradition of looking good at 4v4, and it actually boosts them up to a solid minute of 5v4, though they aren’t able to get a shot through to the net. They seem to have gotten a boost from it though, and the last few minutes of the period see a much more active and dynamic Devils offensive presence than the beginning of the period did.
BUT WAIT. We decide to negate that with ANOTHER too many men penalty. Because of course we did.
The penalty kill scrambles at the start but gets a bit more solid as the period wanes, eventually leading to McLeod actually getting a shorthanded shot off (for absolutely 0 danger, but still, it’s not a shot on our net, so I’ll take it). The period comes to a merciful end with the Ducks up 2-0 and 18 seconds of penalty kill time left on the clock to start the third.
The Devils make short work of the remaining seconds of Anaheim’s man advantage. Anaheim continues to pour the pressure on offensively, finding themselves on a 2 on 1 against Ty Smith. Troy Terry picks up his second goal of the night with a quick wrist shot that beats Bernier short side. 3-0 Ducks.
With Graves rushing back to play the pass on the second Ducks player who was slightly behind the pass as well, I think Smith could have played that better. He committed to the pass that really wasn’t as much of a threat with Graves and the Duck’s positioning. However, it takes two mistakes to make a goal, and Bernier really should have had that shot.
Zegras decided to wrap Graves in a bear hug moments after the goal, sending the Devils to a kind but really not necessary powerplay yet again. Nothing much happens, although it looks slightly better than the earlier ones. As it winds off, Tatar takes a shot that sits wide open at the side of the net after the save, but no Devils can get to it before it's cleared, and the powerplay ends. Seconds after, Kevin Shattenkirk clears the puck over the glass, sending us right back to another powerplay.
Given our atrocious efforts on special teams so far this season and especially tonight, I can’t help but wonder if they’re doing this on purpose.
Nico Hischier starts off the powerplay with a fantastic move to get the puck in front of the net, but Gibson makes the save. The Ducks come back the other way. Zacha trips on absolutely nothing attempting to take the puck away at the boards, allowing Lettieri plenty of room to make a pass to Lundestrom in the slot. Lundestrom makes a beautiful spin move and backhands the puck past Bernier, who was on the other side of the crease looking at I don’t know what, to put the Ducks up 4-0 with a shorthanded goal.
Yeah, they are definitely doing this on purpose at this point.
The Devils have had the better of 5 on 5 play this game, but it’s obvious that there is no more wind in their sails at this point of the night. I can’t blame them. It’s not for lack of effort by the players that this game has gone so poorly.
Another penalty, this time Ty Smith for slashing. The Devils killed it without too much excitement. Or, if there was excitement, I have grown numb and didn’t notice.
Some hockey happened that didn’t look very good, and then Pavel Zacha sits for roughing.
The remaining few minutes are of no event we want to discuss. The Devils fall 4-0 to the Anaheim Ducks in the first game of this West coast road trip.
Highlights: or something like that-
Or, honestly, complaints:
This game was a great example of everything the Devils have been doing wrong. The Devils had a whopping SEVEN giveaways in the first period alone, the leader of which was Bratt with two. One of his giveaways lead to the 2 on 0 that forced Hamilton to take the penalty that led to Anaheim’s first goal. By contrast, we had exactly 0 takeaways in that span. We were also a whopping 1 for 6 in the faceoff circle, which is just not ideal if you want to get anything done offensively. Surprisingly, the sole win belonged to Frederick Gauthier.
Now, at 5 on 5, the first period actually didn’t look that bad. xGF was 84.91% us, we had 100% of the HDCF, and led in shot attempts. The rest of the game trended similarly until the goals really added up and killed the Devils energy. We gave up that advantage with sloppy mistakes like turnovers and faceoff losses and compounded it with the next problem: penalties and poor special teams.
Too Many Men:
New Jersey Devils, I have an important announcement for you:
You aren’t good at all on the man advantage when you get it legally. Please stop trying to get one illegally and then drawing penalties for it. Which you also aren’t good at.
The Devils were scrambling, the lines were mixed up with the loss of Dougie Hamilton, and the constant penalties from both teams left the lines even further jumbled and without a sense of rhythm in their changes. It’s understandable that things got mixed up. Understandable, not excusable. One is a costly mistake. Two? Two is a problem. Two cannot happen, especially twice in one period. Whatever the failure was, be it communication or an abdication of leadership, this is something that needs to be fixed fast.
Special Teams: WHY
Honestly, what do we have to do to get a pair of special teams that don’t suck? We have the roster. The lack of Jack Hughes is no excuse. Getting a power play should NOT kill our offensive momentum when we were already walking around them at 5 on 5. We have a dynamic and talented offensive roster including one of the best veteran offensive defensemen in the game, and one of the best rookie offensive defensemen in the game. We should be able to organize, not scramble and deflate immediately.
Drawing a penalty should NOT be an automatic goal. We have two of the best defensive centers in the game in Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha, and excellent defensemen in Hamilton (who, for all the attention on his offensive skills, is a good defender in his own right) and Ryan Graves who is known to be a strong defensive defenseman.
Our special teams aren’t made up of a mix’n’match of rookies anymore. There is no excuse for this roster to still be this sloppy when up or down a man.
I am generally the last person to graduate to placing the blame solely on a coach and calling for someone’s job over the performance of 23 other people. That being said, someone hand me my cap and gown, because I have graduated. We have now had two seasons in a row of atrocious special teams despite a huge boost in talent (and more if you consider the terrible power play we’ve had for years, and the penalty kill that was really only good because of Andy Greene and Kevin Rooney). It’s time to change the common denominator. This cannot continue, and we’ve already patched all the other gaps. It is time to bring in new special teams coaching.
Dougie left the ice at the end of the first period and did not return for the rest of the game. He was confirmed to have suffered a lower body injury. It did not appear to be anything serious i.e. he left the ice under his own power and only looked like something was bothering him more than impeding him, so hopefully it will just be a small setback and he will be okay to come back quickly.
Let's talk about one good thing:
Zacha - Hischier - Tatar
The top line continues to look good, despite Nico not appearing to produce much so far this season. The first period, the xGF% for that line was 95.80%, with the Ducks racking up just 0.01xGF against them. Things evened up more in the second and third, not unexpected with the special teams struggles, but the trio still finished the game with well more than their fair share of the xGF, with only Severson and Siegenthaler looking better in that regard.
What do the Devils need to do to get things back on track for the rest of this road trip, and this season? Who, if anyone, did you think played well despite the onslaught tonight? Leave your thoughts and miseries in the comments, and I’m sorry you had to read this.