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Devils lose 3rd in a row as they blow lead to Islanders, fall 3-2

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NHL: New York Islanders at New Jersey Devils Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

Another game, yet another loss.

After showing promising play in the 3rd period of their previous game to the Islanders, the Devils regressed to the means as they played a solid two periods, before getting dominated while ahead in the 3rd period.

A lack of physicality and defensive awareness was the Devils’ downfall yet again. Sami Vatanen was particularly awful today, as his lack of awareness led to a Kiefer Bellows drive to the net which really should have been handled better. This isn’t to say he was the only Devils defender reluctant to play aggressively, but he was the defender exposed on the game-winning goal. Furthermore, his consistently poor play throughout the season has made him an easy target for the critics.

Again, this isn’t necessarily the Devils choking the game, or throwing the game away. This Devils team is bad, and were simply outplayed by a hockey team that is actually contending. What is frustrating, however, was allowing the Islanders forwards to drive at will, without any physicality from the Devils’ defenders. Bellows, in his game winning goal, should have been layed out while driving by Vatanen once he saw that Bastian was cleanly beaten. Instead, Vatanen did his best moving statue impression as he allowed Bellows to establish space and beat Blackwood for the goal.

Even with all of these complaints, the most frustrating may be the lack of accountability on this team. The veterans, particularly on the defense, are still not producing. Zajac has looked much better in the previous two games, while Palmieri has shown flashes of producing while also helping out with an assist today, so I’ll leave them out of my complaints. However, Vatanen, Murray and Kulikov - additions who were supposed to make this team better, have largely looked invisible whilst also making mistakes which hurt the team. Is this a player issue, or a gameplan issue? The answer still likely isn’t completely clear, but they haven’t impressed at all.

The first period of this game was a typical Islanders game. Heavy pressure play, with a stingy defensive effort. However, unlike previous games, the Devils were the first to score. The Zacha line were able to drive the offensive zone, with Jack Hughes on his flank. Zacha, the Devils point leader, absolutely ripped a shot low to beat Varlamov blocker side. It was a beautiful shot, showing his continued growth.

After this goal, the Islanders were called for a hooking penalty, which the Devils did nothing with yet again. The specialty issues have been well-known at this point for all Devils fans. The play has look uninspired at its best, and unwatchable at its worst, leading to yet another uncalled plead from me that changes need to be made.

The penalty kill, on the other hand, did look better today. Yes, there were still chances given up, which is expected from the NHL’s worst penalty kill. On the bright side, the Devils actually successfully cleared the puck on multiple instances whilst simultaneously preventing any goals on the night. This was clear in Jesper Bratt’s penalty, which was killed late in the first. What was not stopped, however, was an Islanders counterattack that the Devils’ defenders had no idea what to do with. Old enemy Oliver Wahlstrom, in a moment of deju vu, yet again found himself in space on a three-on-two. Just as he did in a previous game, he blasted a shot to the top-corner past Blackwood, who seemed surprised by the shot. Just like that, the score was 1-1 due to the result of another Devils’ breakdown, and a beautiful shot by the young Islander.

The Devils were able to escape the rest of the period unscathed and holding a 1-1 tie.

The second period was more promising in terms of gameplay for the Devils. They fell to the Islanders style yet again, but that is expected from one of the best teams in the NHL. What the Devils did do well in this period was not make too many mistakes or careless judgment errors. They played patiently, searching for chances when available and striking when possible.

Just a minute into the second, Sharangovich showed his amazing wrist shot, as an awkward angle shot surprised Varlamov and rang off the post. An effort which yet again convinced me that the kids should be playing more saw Janne Kuokkanen dive at the loose puck, which he deposited to give him yet another point. Kuokkanen has been quietly good with Sharangovich and Zajac, which has helped redeem Zajac in recent games.

In terms of the game, the second period was a stalemate for the rest of it. The Islanders yet again played at their grinding level, limiting any chances for both teams. When the Islanders were given chances, Blackwood performed at a high level to stop them. PK Subban was called for a ridiculous penalty, which the Devils killed, before the Devils were called for yet another men-on-the-ice call, which the Devils yet again killed. A late power play in the 2nd period was more promising in that the Devils were more willing to shoot, but nothing came out of it as well as the score was 2-1 heading into the 3rd.

This marked the beginning of the end for the Devils. This 3rd period was awful for the defense, as they were exposed by the Islanders forwards on multiple stoppable plays. Giving up two goals to Matthew Barzal is one thing, but giving up two goals to KIEFER BELLOWS is a more unforgiveable sin, especially considering how stoppable they were.

Speaking of painful defense, did you know you could buy a Damon Severson statue? Neither did I, but the product placement was excellent on the first Kiefer Bellows goal! The inactivity, the lack of awareness - all of it was fitting for what a statue should be!

In seriousness though, yes Ty Smith wasn’t doing particularly well on Barzal. However, why in the world would you choose to leave Bellows open, while Barzal is still in a position where he would need to work to get a good chance on Blackwood? Did Severson just momentarily forget about other forwards? It was a ridiculous play overall, particularly since Severson was playing well to start the season prior to the COVID cases.

What made the night feel worse was the Bellows decided to punish the Devils again. This time, Sami Vatanen, a damn disaster for the Devils this season, was the culprit yet again. I don’t know what the man is getting paid for, but he yet again was a moving statue as he let Bellows drive the net without incurring any punishment. I understand the excitement around this new age of defenders, but none of the Devils’ defenders seem to be willing to throw the body at all, which has completely hurt the team this year.

And with that, the game was over. The Islanders resorted to their style of play where they chose to crowd all shooting and passing lanes, and the Devils could do nothing about it. This Islanders team doesn’t make many mistakes, and they seemingly made none for the rest of the game - a sign of a good team. And with that, the Devils lost their 3rd in a row as they fell 3-2.

The Game Stats: 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 Game Highlights:

Quick Thoughts: What more do I need to say? It was the same tale yet again, with the same mistakes and weaknesses as always. As is the case with every Devils loss, defensive mistakes killed the Devils yet again.

The veterans were bad again today, thought the complaints aren’t with the usual suspects. I thought Zajac was good today, while Palmieri was alright. The defense, however, was suspect as usual. Vatanen was the worst player on the ice tonight, as has been the case in multiple games this season. Murray also didn’t have a good game, while McLeod and Maltsev were largely invisible in limited time.

The penalty kill is the only area of the game that looked improved, though the Devils still gave up some chances. They were able to actively clear the puck from the defensive zone and held the Islanders scoreless. It was an excellent showing compared to the normal. The power play, on the other hand, was awful yet again. A lot of inactivity and the ability to score. A lot of slow decision-making and giveaways. I don’t know what the Devils need to change, but that also isn’t my job. Recchi needs to make some changes to his system, or the Devils will continue to fail.

Blackwood looked better today. Despite his stats not looking good from a numbers perspective, all three of the goals lie more on the defensemen as opposed to the goaltending. The Devils defensemen need to apologize to him for their weak performances throughout the year, with today being one of the more egregious.

Anyway, this season sucks. The youth is playing well. The veterans are playing old. You can likely repeat this line over the next couple of games as well, and you get the idea of what the season looks like. What do I want to see? Playing more of the kids. Starting the trades. Same stuff as the previous Devils seasons, but this time the kids are looking much more promising.

Your Thoughts:

Let me know what you thought of the game in the comments below. Which Devils played well? Which Devils played poorly? How do I get over my sadness with this season?

The Devils play the Islanders tomorrow at 5PM. Let’s hope for a similar showing, minus the 3rd period, and we’re all dandy. Take care, and have a good night.