When it rains, it pours.
The story of the Devils 2021-22 season has been poor goaltending and their lack of finish. And in their first game back from the All-Star Break, those same issues that have plagued them all season continued to plague them as they fell 4-1 to the Ottawa Senators.
The Devils and Senators felt each other out over the first 1:29 before Ty Smith iced the puck. The Devils took control off of the defensive zone draw and Jesper Boqvist got a wide-angled shot in on Matt Murray. The Mercer line did a decent job pinning the Sens deep as the rookie center fed the puck in front but nobody was there. Dylan Gambrell carried the puck into the zone and ripped it off the side of the net for Ottawa. Pavel Zacha, who had shifted over from winger to center fired a shot on Murray that he easily gloved for the stoppage. Ottawa gained control as Alex Formenton and Connor Brown got shots in on Nico Daws, who moved around nicely in the crease and turned them aside. PK Subban, who skated in his 800th NHL game this evening, fired one off of the goalpost on the ensuing possession.
The Boqvist-Zacha-Vesey line got the puck in deep and generated a couple scoring chances but to no avail. The teams went back and forth for a little bit before the McLeod line made some noise, which ended with Matt Murray covering up a loose puck in the crease for the TV timeout.
Jimmy Vesey took a shot that was deflected out of play after the commercial break. Nikita Zaitsev got caught boarding Jesper Boqvist to give the Devils their first power play. The Devils won the ensuing faceoff, Pavel Zacha punched the loose puck back to Damon Severson, who fed Jesper Bratt. Bratt sent it towards the net, Nico Hischier redirected it past Murray, and the Devils got a quick power play goal for the 1-0 lead.
The Senators tied the game up moments later as they dumped puck in. Alex Formenton corralled it and sent it back to Connor Brown who was in the Martyzoid behind Nico Daws. Brown found Nicholas Paul in the high slot and Paul fired it by Mercer and Daws to even the score at 1 as the Devils were caught puck watching yet again. The first period came to an end as Tomas Tatar kicked the puck out of the defensive zone. Overall, it was a solid first period for the Devils as they mostly controlled the pace of play and had the better scoring chances, but alas, we’re tied after 1.
The Devils applied some pressure to start the second period with Murray turning aside a pair of Nathan Bastian shots after Nico Hischier fed him in front. Jimmy Vesey tried a wraparound goal that sailed wide on him. Ottawa settled down and got a couple scoring chances on their own as Tyler Ennis made a power move and a Jonas Siegenthaler defensive zone turnover kept the sequence alive, but Daws held firm. Formenton got in behind the Devils defense for a breakaway opportunity but Colton White made a nice play to deny him a clean look.
Ottawa punished the Devils with a pair of goals nine seconds apart. The Sens got the puck in deep and cycled around to Nick Holden, who fired towards the net. The puck trickled past Nico Daws for a 2-1 lead, and even though there was some contact in front as Mark Kastelic was in Daws’s grill, I guess there wasn’t enough for Lindy Ruff to consider a challenge. Ottawa won the ensuing draw and Adam Gaudette slipped the puck between Daws and the right post for the 3-1 advantage.
The Hischier line had a decent shift as Nico was denied on a power move and Murray stopped Bratt off of a feed from the captain moments later. They didn’t generate much of else of anything until the final minute as Bratt found Yegor Sharangovich alone but Murray made the pad stop. Murray also turned aside Bastian on a power move in the closing seconds as the Sens went to the dressing room up 3-1.
Daws (and Ryan Graves) fought off a Dylan Gambrell shot early in the third. After an icing, Daws made a couple pad stops on Gambrell and Watson before the Devils got a clear. Ty Smith found Sharangovich the other way but Murray turned him aside. Jesper Bratt got his knee checked out by a trainer during a stoppage in play but returned to play.
The Devils didn’t really make a serious push though before Ottawa stuck the dagger in with 8:02 to go as Connor Brown punched one past Daws to go up 4-1. Not a whole lot happened over the final minutes as the Sens did a nice job keeping the Devils from doing a whole lot, and the Sens easily won 4-1.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Silver Seven Sens if you want to read the Senators perspective on tonight’s game.
No, the Devils Don’t Deserve Better
One recurring theme I saw on social media during and after the game was that the Devils “Deserved a Better Result”. I’m here to tell you, that no, they did not.
For starters, the Devils continue to not bury their chances. This is an issue that has plagued the team all season. Credit Matt Murray for playing well in net, but it’s the same thing we’ve seen all year. You’re not going to win if you only score one goal, and none at 5v5. I don’t care how good the fancy stats look or what the expected goals are when the Devils do nothing but fire empty calorie shots from long distance that get blocked. The wingers have not been good enough this season, PERIOD. And if we’re being honest, the Devils more or less packed it in after giving up two goals back-to-back in the second period. They lost the game right then and there. There wasn’t much in the third period in terms of dangerous opportunities and its tough to draw any conclusions from what this team did on the ice otherwise. Until the Devils make significant improvements to their Top Six by bringing in better wingers, expected goals and Corsi For are just numbers on a spreadsheet that don’t mean a damn thing. Not with this team, this system, or this coach. Not when the Devils continue to get outworked on the boards. Not when they botch routine defensive assignments.
This brings us to the goaltending, where Nico Daws was the latest to come on down and try his luck in net. The results weren’t great, giving up 4 goals on 24 shots. And I get it, its demoralizing when the team goes out there night after night after night and gets bad goaltending regardless of who is in net and they have no chance to win. You could nitpick and say this goal or that goal wasn’t his fault but the results are what they are. Let’s just say I’m not surprised when I hear PK Subban or Ty Smith were out of position on a goal against. You don’t say?
Tom Fitzgerald said the answers were in the room roughly six weeks ago. We’ve seen nothing since then to suggest that any answers actually are in the room. This continues to look like a hapless, overmatched team that gives up at the first sign of trouble, which is a direct reflection of Lindy Ruff and Tom Fitzgerald and the leadership they’ve provided. We know the Devils are undermanned. We know that injuries are a thing, that COVID continues to be a thing. Next sentence, Jack Hughes being in COVID protocol didn’t all of a sudden make the Devils more competitive or more likely to win tonight. But you knew that already. You know that not having our best players isn’t helping matters. Just like how not having an NHL goaltender or Dougie Hamilton for significant stretches this season hasn’t helped matters.
The Devils seem to be content to play out the string and not make any significant changes to a group that clearly isn’t working. So no. They don’t deserve better. In fact, they’re getting exactly what they deserve.
What did you think of the latest loss tonight? Please feel free to vent in the comments section below, and thank you for reading.