I did not expect the New Jersey Devils to win tonight’s game against the New York Islanders. For one reason, the Islanders, who are a playoff team, are a better team than the Devils this season. For another reason, the Islanders still have some stakes to play for even if home-ice is off the table whereas the Devils have nothing to play for. For a bigger reason, tonight was the last ever regular season game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. I figured on a night like this, the Isles would what they could to at least end a long, long, long era in Uniondale with a win before the postseason. For a more immediate reason, the Isles have been slumping and even a close win would give them a boost before the postseason. It is for those reasons, I did not think the Devils were going to leave Nassau with a second straight win.
I did think the Devils could be competitive, though. They did gut out a 2-1 win on Thursday night. That followed a 4-3 OT win over fellow playoff-goers Boston. With so many young players and fringe roster members in the lineup, there are many with incentives to end their 2021 campaign on a high note that could help a little in contract negotiations and/or roster decisions for next season. Jack Hughes and his line has been able to spark offense in a lot of situations, both competitive and otherwise. Pavel Zacha has been hot. Mackenzie Blackwood has been really good. Even defensemen like Ryan Murray and Damon Severson put in strong performances on Thursday night. With the return of Miles Wood, Andreas Johnsson, and Jonas Siegenthaler to the lineup, you could even say the team could have a lift from those returns. A competitive performance was absolutely possible.
It did not happen. The Devils were definitely not that competitive tonight. They were dreadful as the Islanders rolled through them in a 1-5 defeat. Tonight’s game in Nassau Coliseum was like several games from the Devils’ ten-game losing streak from April. The Devils were heavily out-shot and out-attempted until the Isles built up a huge lead. Only this was one of those losses from the losing streak where there would be no comeback attempt, so the final score looked as ugly as how the Devils performed. I do not want to say that this was the worst loss of the season because that would be false. It is not even the worst loss the Devils took this week. It was still pretty bad. Here is a quick summation:
- The offense was bad as the Devils generated a whopping 11 shots and 27 attempts in two periods. That is really poor. Even in the third period when the Isles called off their pressure up-ice, a lot of Devils offensive shifts ended with zero or one attempt on net and loads of turned over and lost pucks from their sticks. Even Jack Hughes’ line created very little as Lindy Ruff mixed up the forward lines for the first time in a while. While Matt Tennyson’s aggressive pinch in led to him finding Andreas Johnsson for a goal in the second period, that would be it in terms of production. At least for the Devils. A bad decision on the puck by Michael McLeod yielded a 2-on-1 to Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle. Barzal kept the puck and sniped a shot top corner, which made it 1-5.
- That 11-shot and 27-attempt counts included a 4-on-3 power play that became a 5-on-4 power play. That generated one actual shot on net and three shooting attempts.
- The neutral zone play was bad as the Devils struggled to maintain pucks. Two plays from the middle zone cost them dearly on what would become two goals against. Ryan Murray coughed up a puck to Anthony Beauvillier in the second period. This led to a shot, a rebound that eluded Kevin Bahl, and Josh Bailey tossed it over to Brock Nelson for an easy put-back and his second goal of the night. In the third period, Oliver Wahlstrom flipped a puck ahead of Matt Tennyson and Kevin Bahl to a charging Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri beat Bahl to the puck and rounded it around Mackenzie Blackwood before falling into him for a score. The Nelson goal made it 1-3 and the Palmieri goal made it 1-4. They essentially sealed the win for the Isles tonight.
- The defensive zone play was bad. Whereas the Devils took 27 attempts, the Isles took 42 in the first two periods. Whereas the Devils took 11 shots on net, the Isles put 23 on net. Blackwood was sharp early in stopping them. But the Devils lost pretty much all of their 5-on-5 match-ups. There were few answers for Mat Barzal’s line, which was a lot better than they were on Thursday and a bit different with Leo Komarov and Eberle flanking Barzal. The Bahl-Tennyson pairing was heavily picked on. Will Butcher misplayed a criss-cross in a 2-on-2 rush that led to an open shot for Eberle to score the Isles’ first goal of the game. While the Devils ran back up the shot and attempt count in the third period, it was largely after the Isles went up by 5 as the Devils faltered.
- The penalty kill was beaten again. The Devils’ first penalty kill went well. The second lasted 15 seconds with McLeod not getting in the way of a Wahlstrom shot. Blackwood stopped it, but the rebound came out to an uncovered Nelson in front for his first goal. Both Murray and Severson were dumbstruck. So was I as neither defenseman acted quickly enough or were in a position to even tie up the Nelson’s stick. The passive diamond covered no one of value and it cost them a crucial goal at the time. The PPG made it 1-2 at the time and it held up as the eventual game winning goal. By the way, the power play was a result of Butcher tripping Matt Martin on defense.
- Even the broadcast had issues. The first 15 minutes had some frame skipping issues that made the Devils’ sleepy start to the game seem even slower. At least MSG fixed that.
There was very little positive about this game to take away for the Devils. Johnsson scored a goal intentionally. Blackwood did as much as he could. The Devils did not get stupid down by a lot of goals. This was a dreadful game and the 1-5 result was fully earned. I expected a loss to the Islanders because of multiple reasons. I expected the home crowd to be ecstatic in the final regular season game in Uniondale, New York. I expected the Devils to put up more of a fight than whatever we actually got. Two out of three and I still feel bad. This was a loss that makes one thankful that there is only one more game left in this season.
The Opposition Opinion: Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey has this more positive recap from an Islanders perspective of this game. Which makes sense since the Isles won this game by four.
The Game Highlights: I guess if you want to see Johnsson’s goal, there’s that at least. From NHL.com:
Some Mixed Up Lines: The Devils have seen changes to their bottom six due to benchings (Nick Merkley comes to mind), injuries, and changes from the taxi squad. For the most part, the line of Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich, and Janne Kuokkanen has been kept in tact. As has the trio of Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, and Jesper Bratt. But Ruff and the coaching staff surely did not like the not-offense even those units were making. Even in the first period, we saw some switches. Such as Zacha and Jesper Boqvist switching on lines for a few shifts. Later on Kuokkanen was seen next to Hischier and Bratt with Johnsson joining Sharangovich and Hughes. I can understand making some changes to “spark” something. But there was no spark. No spark came. The Isles still collapsed consistently around the slot and won plenty of pucks from a Devils team that struggled to complete passes and maintain possesison all night long.
A Broken Down Car & An Largely Unchanged Blueline: The exception was the line known as the BMW line. A fourth line used like a third line on most nights based on minutes. The group of Miles Wood, Michael McLeod, and Nathan Bastian. Some games, this BMW was driving real well. Tonight, they were out of gas and had transmission issues. Wood was real bad as his offensive highlights was shoveling a puck at Ilya Sorokin on a one-on-one in the first period and stopping well behind a Bastian pass in a 2-on-1 (sort of) rush in the third period. Bastian really did not get much going along the walls or elsewhere. McLeod helped create a goal against and took a high-sticking penalty that was bailed out by Barzal tripping Hischier six seconds into that penalty. As a group in 5-on-5, Natural Stat Trick counted 4 attempts by the Devils and 7 against when they were on the ice, shots at 2-5 against the Devils, and a sub-50% xGF% on top of a goal against. I do not understand why this line remained intact while the other three saw changes. I would get it if they were doing something right, but they really were not this evening.
Likewise, how come there were no changes to the defense? The Bahl-Tennyson pairing saw the Devils out-attempted 4-11, out-shot 2-6, and out-expected goaled 0.23 to 0.46. Tennyson did create the Devils’ lone goal of the night. That was matched by Wahlstrom and Palmieri beating them silly for a goal against. At some point, that pairing needed to be broken up to be salvaged. It is not like Murray and Severson were so impeccable that they could not be given different partners. Ditto for Butcher and Siegenthaler. The Devils were getting out-shot and out-played generally; some defensive switches for a few shifts were more than justified. I do not get it.
A Tale of Two Teams Using Net-Front Men on Their Power Plays: During the Devils’ 4-on-3 and 5-on-4 power plays, someone on New Jersey stood in front of Sorokin. This ended up being useless as the Devils failed to get the puck on net enough times or in a position for that net-front presence to mean anything. The Islanders denied the Devils a real chance to supply the puck to that area. And given how the Devils handle the puck on power plays and have lost a lot of pucks under pressure all season, putting someone in front of the goalie effectively makes their man advantage goes away. The opposition can deny the supply.
During the Islanders’ power play, Brock Nelson scored from right in front. Again, McLeod could have come out to get in the way of the shot. Again, one of Murray or Severson could have accounted for him. But the supply was not denied. And since no one accounted for that net-front presence, which Nelson played off of Blackwood enough such that a shot could get through, the rebound falling to Nelson yielded a quick score.
The Islanders’ power play may not be a dominant unit this season, but it was an area where you can see the difference between a team that has a clue and can execute a play and the Devils.
Simple As: The Devils’ puck control was a lot better on Thursday than it was tonight and it contributed heavily to the final score of this somber performance by the Devils. This is a basic point but it cannot and should not be ignored in favor whatever narrative will come out of this loss.
The Sherman Abrams Section: Salutations! I see your team found the right path tonight!
You are in a good mood. I get it. The Devils lost big and I’m sure you’re going to crow about how they are a loss away from securing a top five pick.
I am in a good mood and I am going to crow about how the Devils already secured it tonight.
Oh? How so?
Well, it just so happened that Columbus and Detroit played each other at the same time the Devils were jobbing to the Islanders.
Look, this isn’t pro wrestling. I know the Devils’ performance was bad but it was not like they were laying down for them on purpose.
Whatever, jobbing, getting wrecked, it is all a loss to me regardless. Anyway. Columbus and Detroit happened to go to overtime where Columbus won. As annoying as I find that for my own dealings with them, it benefitted New Jersey big time in conjunction with this loss. Now Columbus and Detroit have 48 points to end their season. The Devils have 45 points with one game left. The Devils fell behind both.
OK, so the Devils are behind two other bad teams in the NHL. So, is that why are you grinning?
Look at the rest of the league. The Devils are now also behind a Calgary team with 47 points and five games remaining. Calgary has four more regulation wins than the Devils so they will win any tiebreaker and finish ahead of them. So they fell behind three teams with this loss and fell behind them for good. New Jersey is also ahead of a Vancouver team with 43 points and six games remaining. As bad as Vancouver is, going six games without any points earned is super-hard to do. Even if they win on Monday, the Devils can still slip down to 29th. At worst, they will be 28th. That will secure a top-seventh pick with seventh being the lowest possible option. Tom Fitzgerald succeeded after all. The tank won out again. I love to see it. I know you do too.
I’ll take that scowl and silence as a “yes.” Look forward to seeing you next season!
I hope you leave and never come back.
That’s what you always say. Yet, I am always here. Josh and David do not mind me and my ways. Maybe you should just accept the losing and wait for the Next One.
One Last Thought: I am very glad the Devils will play a bad hockey team on Monday to end this season. That team is Philadelphia, whom the Devils beat 3 out of 4 times two weeks ago and just botched a 1-0 lead to Washington in the final 40 seconds and lost in overtime, much to the chagrin of Boston fans.
Your Take: I felt this game was dismal to watch and summarize. What is your take on this loss? What can the Devils do differently from tonight’s game so they can end their season on a better note on Monday? Who do you want to see in this final game for New Jersey? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview. Thanks to Mike for taking care of @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter during the game. Thanks to everyone who commented and followed along in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.