Tonight was the final game of the 2021 season for the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers. Outside of odds for the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery, this game had no real meaning beyond it being the 56th and final game of the season for both. To a player, this was a game where they could make one last good impression for their next contract. But the game was otherwise an obligation. Yet, the Devils managed to do what they have done throughout most of the season and disappoint the fans who paid attention to it anyway. The Devils lost their last game of the season 2-4. As usual, it is not so much that they lost that is the issue, but how it happened.
Unlike plenty of games of the last six weeks or so, the Devils had a lead blown up on them. They went up 2-0 on Philadelphia within the first five minutes. A great pass by Nico Hischier set up Pavel Zacha to beat Brian Elliott easily in front of the net for the first goal. A great takeaway by Jack Hughes ultimately led to a Will Butcher shot that was blocked, only for Janne Kuokkanen to bury the loose puck to make it 2-0. The first period went well. It could have been 3-0 a few times. The biggest opportunity - and miss - came from Hischier. Elliott was down, the net was gaping, but Hischier’s one-timer missed the net. About a minute and a bad pinch by Ryan Murray later, Joel Farabee finished a 2-on-1 by beating Scott Wedgewood to make it 2-1. It was a bad run of events, but the first period ended with New Jersey nearly scoring a third goal and Zacha taking a hooking penalty with 2.9 seconds left.
For some teams, the missed shot by Hischier would have been discussed then and then forgotten about. Not so with the Devils. It became the talking point of the game, mostly espoused by Ken Daneyko on the MSG, about how the Devils were so close to making 3-0. And then the opposition scored about a minute later with different personnel on the ice, so clearly the miss led to the goal, and nothing else could have possibly happened to change how the game went. Like in the other two periods wherein Philadelphia most definitely performed better than the Devils.
The Zacha hook was a harbinger of what would come in the second period. The Flyers had plenty of zone time at the start of the period because of it. About five minutes later, the Devils took their 14th bench minor of the season with a too many men on the ice call. The Flyers spent the first 1:47 of a 2:00 power play in the Devils’ end. But the Devils survived it. After a few brief bouts of offense from the Devils, the Flyers went back to work. They received a third power play when Damon Severson decided to cross-check James van Reimsdyk away from the play. It was a bad decision. But the Devils killed that too. Still, it was six minutes of offense for the Flyers wherein they took 10 of the 24 shooting attempts they had in the second period. Good news was that only 3 of those 10 on the man advantage got to Wedgewood and he stopped them. Bad news was that it helped limit the Devils to a mere 9 shooting attempts in the entire period. And Elliott stopped the 8 that actually got to him. The worst news was that the Flyers tied it up at even strength amid the calls. After Jonas Siegenthaler put Ivan Provorov down, Travis Konecny recovered the puck along the right side boards. He tossed a pass to Claude Giroux, who backheeled the puck with his skate. Somehow, it was the perfect kick pass as it went to an uncovered Sean Couturier for a re-direction. Out of the 10 shots and 24 shooting attempts by the Flyers, that was the one that went in.
Still, it was a bad break but not the end of the game for most teams. It was 2-2 after two periods. The Devils escaped a period with three penalty kills with zero PPGAs and only one goal against amid their lackluster play in 5-on-5. They could turn it around in the third period. Some teams would see the game that way and play appropriately. The Devils apparently felt otherwise and played accordingly.
The Flyers took initiative early on in the third period, but the Devils had opportunities due to fouls. Nicolas Aube-Kubel hooked down Hischier after Hischier blocked a shot at the Devils’ blueline and tried to break ahead in the neutral zone. The Devils’ power play proceeded to do a whole lot of nothing for two minutes. About three minutes after that, Scott Laughton whacked Kuokkanen in the arm so he sat for slashing. The first minute of that power play featured the Devils’ set up on offense and took some decent looks on net. After a Will Butcher shot being blocked out of the zone, that would essentially be it as the Devils failed to even break into the zone effectively for the second minute. After that power play ended, Michael McLeod decided on slashing Lauhgton from behind because he was beaten on the play. That was called and that would be the Devils’ undoing in this game.
On the Flyers’ fourth power play, they made it look easy to get set up in the Devils’ zone as the Devils’ passive diamond allows for it. Sean Couturier was in the left circle looking for a shot or a pass. He found James van Reimsdyk open on Scott Wedgewood’s right flank at the top of the crease and Ryan Murray not actually covering him. Pass, re-direction, 2-3. It took them four tries, but the Flyers managed to do more damage to the league’s least successful penalty kill in this season. From then on, the Devils’ effort wilted. The Flyers, being at home and figuring why not, showed little mercy. A 3-on-2 in transition found Farabee setting up Wade Allison for a shot, the shot blowing past a kneeling Bahl, the shot being stopped by Wedgewood but creating a rebound that Matt Tennyson was too far from but in a perfect spot for Farabee to collect it and bury it. It was now 2-4. The Devils played out the string like they so often did. The third period ended 0-2 in goals, 6-11 in shots, 18-22 in shot attempts even with special teams, and the 30th loss of the season.
What I just gave was a general summary of what happened in all three periods. To summarize that, the Devils did blow a lead, which is both bad and somewhat uncommon. What was more common to this season was that special teams ended up being a net negative and led to the loss; the Devils’ own errors cost them big time; and the effort was not nearly good enough as the Devils arguably played one good period in a three period game.
We will now have a long offseason where we will go into all kinds of detail, explanation, lamentations, and previews of draft prospects and free agents in the hopes that the 2021-22 Devils will be better than this. A lot of it may already seem familiar to you. Given that we kept seeing a lot of the same issues from the Devils all season, it is clear that not everyone has got the point. And we will continue to go over them without falling into cheap narratives that do not fully explain what went wrong - which is important because it is hard to find the right solutions if you do not define the problems correctly.
This game, despite its lack of meaning and value, turned out to be a great example of that. We did not need it as, again, the Devils lost a lot of games in similar fashion throughout this season. There is no shortage of examples of issues that have to be addressed. But the Devils did it again. Instead of going out with a bang of a win or even something different, we got to see a similar-looking defeat with a similarly disappointing performance. Fittingly, the final play of the season was a Will Butcher slapshot from 60 feet getting blocked. He may have shot it as hard he could have, but it was a whimper as the siren sounded in Philadelphia.
The Opposition Opinion: Eamon Smith at Broad Street Hockey is thankful that the season is over for Philadelphia. The Flyers faithful were about as jazzed about this game as if they had a dental appointment. The victory does not remove much of the disappointment of their own season. Still, they won and winning is nice, so their take is appropriately positive.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Allow Me to Vent, Wherein I Paraphrase Philadelphia’s Favorite Fictional Character and Possibly Regret It: One of the irksome parts of watching this broadcast was hearing from Daneyko about how Hischier missed the net in the first period and how that led to Farabee scoring about a minute later. For the first few times, I got it. It was current. It has to be noted. But he kept bringing it up in the third period, well over 30 in-game minutes where other things happened that led to the 2-4 score at the time of his latest complaint. Since this is the last game of the season, allow me to vent a bit.
It is not that I do not like Ken Daneyko. But his commentary this season was downright grating at times. I get that he is not a critical person and he does not want to be. He is the opposite of Shep Messing, New York Red Bulls color commentator who is best known for the phrase “shambolic defending.” Fine. But there were a lot of games where he stayed on a particular turning point that did not fully line up with how the game went or how the Devils were ending up losing. There was a lot of lipstick being applied to him by some real pigs of performances. Hearing him go back to Hischier missing a net and lamenting how everything could have been different was ever so tiresome. Reading other Devils fans go on about it was enough to make these points:
It is not that it is wrong, but it is not fully correct. Yes, I would have wanted Hischier to score there too. But I also wanted McLeod to not miss an empty net from a sharp angle that would have made it 3-1. I also wanted Jesper Bratt to round Brian Elliott’s right toe in the second period that would have made it 3-2. I also wanted the Devils’ power play to function like one instead of whatever nonsense Mark Recchi has instructed them to do. I also wanted the Devils to not take as many penalties as they did. I wanted the Devils to play with a lot more energy instead of faltering after the van Reimsdyk power play goal. There were a lot more things that the Devils could have done to turn the tide of this game. To focus on one play from the first period - the first period - in the dying minutes of regulation is utterly foolish to me.
Worst of all, it is loser talk. Look, Daneyko has played in 1,458 regular season and playoff games combined for New Jersey. If you’re reading this, then it is likely you have seen hockey games before too. So let me tell you something you and Daneyko already know. This sport is not all sunshine and rainbows. It can be downright cruel and unfair with goals being created off skates and little touches making the difference between a goal and a missed net among other things. I don’t care how tough you are, it will frustrate you to no end and keep you there permanently if you let all of the mistakes and bad bounces get to you. You, me, and everyone is going to get hit and get hit hard in that way in this sport. But it isn’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward to play your way; how much damage you can take and keep moving forward to play your way. That’s how winning is done!
Now, if the Devils want to be a better team, then they need to go out and get after being a better team. But they have to be willing to take the bad breaks and mistakes, and not get stuck in them or point fingers saying they are not a good team because of this mistake, or that one mistake or that one player, or one unit, or whatever. Cowards do that and that is not what I want the Devils to be. They can be better than that. I’m always gonna love the Devils and respect Daneyko’s service to the team and the People Who Matter who read this site, no matter what. No matter what happens. But until all involved* start realizing that the butterfly effect is not why the Devils are 19-30-7 this season, then not much is going to change.
*I worry if Daneyko’s mindset in his commentary reflects management, although I think it’s just him. But if it does, then that is a cause for concern...
Right, So...Did Any Devil Have a Good Game?: Given the uneven performance (a charitable adjective, I know), it is hard to say who really did well throughout all 60 minutes. In terms of the run of play in 5-on-5, the McLeod line came out the best by way of CF%, SF%, and xGF%. However, McLeod’s penalty was costly and being the best in CF% and SF% meant that the Devils only out-attempted and out-shot the Flyers by 3 with that line on the ice. In terms of the best impact, the unit of Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, and Jesper Bratt created a goal, created the highest expected goal value as a line at 0.62, and did not get beaten on one.
The Devils only allowed 23 shots on net in 5-on-5 play, which was welcomed after giving up a whole heap of shots last week. The pairing of Butcher and Siegenthaler were the best among the bunch as the pairing was positive in terms of shooting attempts and allowed only 6 and 8 shots in 5-on-5, respectively. The only time they were beaten in 5-on-5 for a goal was on that Couturier goal created by a fluke kick-pass from Giroux. I would say that pairing did well. Which is good as Siegenthaler is up for a contract as a RFA and Will Butcher may end up being Seattle bait. Leaving a good last impression can only help their respective causes.
On the Other Hand, Who Had a Poor Game?: The Jack Hughes line typified how the game went for the Devils. They were good in the first period. They were less and less effective by the end of the game. They ended up being out-shot and out-attempted by the end of regulation. The unit of Jesper Boqvist, Nolan Foote, and Andreas Johnsson also did little outside of some slick moves by Boqvist in the first period. Johnsson was trying to be more physical, which paid off very little. Foote can do much better if he works on his skating. But the unit was not expected to carry the offense like the Hughes line, so it was less disappointing.
On defense, Murray was not picked on a lot but his bad pinch led to Farabee’s goal and his lack of covering anyone on the PK led to the go-ahead goal by van Reimsdyk. That was not good. It may be his last memory as a Devil given he is a pending unrestricted free agent this Summer. The pairing of Matt Tennyson and Kevin Bahl was picked on a lot in the run of play. They made a meal of it off the rush in what became Farabee’s second goal of the night. Bahl clearly has a future in this league, but he needs some refinement and should probably join Foote in whatever is to be done to help them skate a bit faster. Tennyson is Tennyson. With these three performances, I missed P.K Subban, Ty Smith, Dmitry Kulikov, and even Sami Vatanen at times watching this one.
What of the Goaltender?: On the surface, Scott Wedgewood giving up four goals on 31 shots in all situations is not good. In the game, I guess you wish he did better on Farabee’s goals. The first was effectively a one-on-one that Farabee won. The second did come from him giving up a juicy rebound. He got no help on it, but it was huge rebound. Faulting him for being too far to his left on the van Reimsdyk goal is a bit nitpicky. The Couturier goal was created on a fluke. Maybe if Blackwood was in net, then the Devils would have given up one fewer goal. I would have preferred if the Devils’ offense tried to be more effective in the third period instead. Six shots total with two power plays was not it.
I think this was Scott Wedgewood’s and Aaron Dell’s (he was the backup tonight) last game with New Jersey. Wedgewood started off hot but he returned back to reality as the season went on. I do not think it he did well enough for him to be a #2 goalie for a whole 82-game season. I certainly do not think Dell did either, if only because Wedgewood started ahead of him. This should not be too much of a surprise. But the high points were great and I think Boston fans are still wondering how he shut them out that one time in Boston.
Special Teams Finished Badly: The 0-for-2 with Not Much Going for It power plays by the Devils brought the team down to a success rate of 14.4%, the 28th best rate in the league. The 3-for-4 Penalty Kill that Consistently Gave Up Goals Except in March secured a success rate of 70.8%, the worst in the league. Incidentally, Philly had the second worst penalty kill success rate. Unlike those two games in The Week of Pity, the resistible force of the Devils’ power play could not move the movable object that was the Philadelphia penalty kill.
When a team finishes 19-30-7 and just about locks up a top-five pick a season after picking 7th overall, one would expect some accountability. I would love to be a fly on the wall over the next few days in the conversations management may have with Alain Nasreddine and Mark Recchi. No amount of continuity from past seasons or claims of being good at development can justify these abysmal success rates that contributed to a lot of losses this season.
A Stat I Wish I Put Together: During the broadcast, Bryce Salvador brought up a stat that I was planning on looking into in the offseason. He noted that while the Devils took the 7th most shot attempts (now 9th after tonight’s games) in the NHL, only 50.2% were on net - the lowest such percentage in the league. His point was that as much as the Devils did improve in creating offense to take as many attempts as they did, they need to take the next step to figure out how to make more of those attempts count. He is right and I fully agree. This game was another good example of that. Despite putting nearly all of their 5-on-5 attempts on net in the second period, the Devils had 11 shots out of 23 attempts in the first period and 4 out of 11 in the third period. We should all want the Devils to score more goals, but the first step is to turn more of those attempts into actual shots instead of blocked or missed shots.
I also want to point out that Salvador continued to be great all season on the MSG broadcasts. I hope he does not get so popular that he moves on to bigger and better things; I want him with New Jersey for as long as possible.
Elsewhere: The only other game in the East Division was Boston hosting the Islanders. The Isles needed to win in regulation to keep hope alive to finish third to play Washington instead of Pittsburgh in the first round. The game went to overtime - the Isles even pulled the goalie while shorthanded late in the third, so they knew the stakes - and Taylor Hall won it for Boston. Oh well. Either way, you would want the Isles to go no further than the second round if you want their first round pick to be in the 21st overall range. Anything later and the pick moves back a lot.
For the Sherman Abrams supporting/sympathizing fans (no, he’s not going to have a section), the Devils loss means they finish the season at 45 points. Vancouver would need three points in their next seven games to pass the Devils. Tonight, they got two of them as they beat Winnipeg 3-1. If Vancouver gets just one point in their next six games, the Devils will finish 29th. If Vancouver gets zero points, then the Devils will be 28th. That’s all that is left up in the air.
What’s Next: For the Devils, the players and coaches will have exit interviews, make plans for the offseason, and clean out their lockers for the offseason. I am sure some tidbits of information will come out as they usually do. A few Devils may end up going to the World Championships. Timo Meier revealed that Nico Hischier will play for Switzerland, so at least one Devil will be in the annual IIHF tournament. General manager Tom Fitzgerlad will certainly be busy between contract negotiations, personnel decisions, and preparing for the major events of the offseason.
For us and the People Who Matter, the site will keep going as usual. Tomorrow, I will reveal who we, the writers, selected for team awards for the 2021 season. Some selections will be met with controversy. Others with an agreeing nod. We will continue to analyze and speculate the season. We will have open posts for the postseason and World Championships. Around the draft lottery, you should see our annual transition to prospect profiles. We’ll try to mix in free agent options too to break things up. Either way, hockey never stops at All About the Jersey. We hope you stick around, but we understand if you do not as the New Jersey Devils are done for a while.
Thank You & Your Take: For this game, I want to thank Jenna for the game preview, Mike for taking care of @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter during the game, all of the people who commented and followed along in the Gamethread, and you for reading this recap.
For the season, I want to thank all of the writers for their contributions this shortened and crammed season: Brian, CJ, Gerard, Mike, Alex, Nate, Dan, Devin, Chris, Jenna, and Jeff. I want to thank all of the readers who have read, complained, teased, complimented, lamented, and shared our work all season long. Some sites chase audiences that are not all that interested in the team or the sport for whatever reason. I try my best to stay focused on what the Devils fans would be interested in from analysis to rivalries to rants to arguments to reactions and everything else. Ditto with the other writers. I know the posts may not to be to everyone’s liking; I especially know mine are longer than most. But I know it is by Devils fans for Devils fans and that is, I think, appreciated. I call you all the People Who Matter because you absolutely do to me and everyone here at All About the Jersey. Thank you for reading us all season long and, again, I hope you continue to do so throughout this offseason.