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Devils Defensively No-Show in 6-3 Loss to Flames

The Devils hung Nico Daws out to dry with more questionable defensive play in their own end

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Calgary Flames
Brett Ritchie was among the goalscorers for Calgary that sent Daws to the bench early for a second consecutive night
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

After a rough night last night in Vancouver where the New Jersey Devils got off to a slow start in the front end of a back-to-back, they repeated a lot of the same mistakes in tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames. Bad defense? Check. Bad goaltending, to the point where the starter gets the quick hook? Check. Bad power play? Check. The end result? A second consecutive 6-3 loss in as many nights.

The Devils got things started with the line of Tomas Tatar-Nico Hischier-Dawson Mercer. They got the puck deep with Hischier getting a shot in on Jacob Markstrom that he easily turned aside. Calgary got the puck in the zone with Johnny Gaudreau setting up Elias Lindholm for a shot, but Nico Daws easily got in position to make the stop. Nikita Zadorov hooked Jack Hughes at the 5:22 mark to give the Devils their first chance on the power play. Calgary had little trouble getting a couple early clears to kill the first minute plus of the power play. The Devils eventually got set up with Dougie Hamilton getting a shot on night that Markstrom kicked out. Hamilton found an open Yegor Sharangovich who sailed the shot wide. The Devils second unit got the puck in tight in the closing moments but couldn’t bury it.

The Devils won the draw out of the first TV timeout and pushed the puck to Markstrom for the easy cover and stoppage. They won the next draw as well but lost the offensive zone. Tkachuk and Gaudreau made some nifty no-look passes to set up Lindholm in front, but Hischier was there to block the shot attempt out of play. Jesper Bratt sent a pass to Jack Hughes in the offensive zone that was off the mark enough where Blake Coleman was off to the races the other way, but the shot went into the netting. Calgary got the 4th line on and did a nice job along the boards to keep the play alive and ultimately caught the Devils defenseman up high. Milan Lucic set up in screen in front with Ryan Graves on him and Brett Ritchie fired the puck towards the net and in for the 1-0 Calgary lead.

Calgary won the offensive zone draw after the commercial but Jesper Boqvist poked the puck away and went the other way, setting up a soft Nathan Bastian shot that was easily stopped. Jesper Bratt came back with a centering try off of Markstrom and cleared. Dawson Mercer received a pass near the blue line as the Devils caught the Flames in a partial change and got in alone, but Markstrom denied him with the blocker save. After a Devils icing, Calgary won the offensive zone draw but Tomas Tatar got the clear. Not much happened over the next few minutes aside from Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt dealing with the size of the Flames up close.

Calgary gained the zone with Noah Hanifin setting up Rasmus Andersson, who sailed the shot wide. The Devils came back the other way with Mercer flipping the puck high out of the defensive zone. Nico Hischier did a nice job keeping the play alive at the other end of the ice and Tomas Tatar made a nice pass to Dawson Mercer who went top shelf to tie the game.

Calgary came back the other way with a Matthew Tkachuk shot on goal that was stopped by Daws. The Flames kept at it with Ty Smith blocking a couple shots in front, but ultimately failed to get a clear as a second shot deflected off Smith’s skate to Andrew Mangiapane, who ripped it by Daws for his 30th goal of the season and a 2-1 Flames lead. The Flames were content to run out the clock and go to the room up a goal after 20 minutes of play.

The Devils won the opening draw of the second and got Ryan Graves to set up Tatar for a shot that was deflected away. Johnny Gaudreau came back the other way and sent a shot towards Daws that he covered up. The Devils got the puck in deep and dug it out of the corner to send it over to Jonas Siegenthaler, who sent the long-distance shot towards Markstrom. Bastian got a piece of it to redirect, but Markstrom made the glove save. Jesper Bratt sent a centering try up the middle to no one in particular and the Flames got pressure the other way with a shot off the pipe. Ty Smith got his pocket picked in the offensive zone to set up a Flames chance in transition, but fortunately, Daws made the diving stop. Hughes and Bratt came back the other way to set up Sharangovich in front but he was in too tight to get a good shot. Hischier won the ensuing faceoff back to PK Subban and Subban ripped the shot through Markstrom’s five hole. The puck trickled into the net and the game is tied at 2.

Calgary came right back after blocking a Jack Hughes shot attempt. Noah Hanifin collected the loose puck and shipped it ahead for Matthew Tkachuk, who found Dillon Dube as he beat his man and gained the offensive zone. Dube ripped it past Daws to regain the lead for the Flames.

The Flames fourth line continued to apply pressure on the Devils in their zone. Erik Gudbranson retrieved the puck in the defensive zone as the Flames caught the Devils in a line change. He connected with Matthew Tkachuk on the long pass and Tkachuk beat Daws far side to go up 4-2 and run him from the game for the second consecutive night. Jon Gillies came on and got beat almost immediately as PK Subban failed to clear the puck from the defensive zone. Rasmus Andersson collected the puck and worked it in front for the deflection off of Milan Lucic’s stick for the 5-2 Flames lead. The fact that Gillies was horribly out of position didn’t exactly help matters either.

The Devils nearly got scored on again as Mangiapane found Sean Monahan alone in front, but Gillies surprisingly made the stop. Their third line generated a couple shots on net as Subban and Boqvist forced Markstrom to make the stop, but nearly gave it up the other way again as Lucic gained the zone and the Flames got another chance. The teams went back and forth over the final few minutes of the second without much going until the Flames got called for a bench minor for too many men with 32.5 seconds left. The Devils won the draw, but a pass from Bratt to Severson was off the mark leading to a chance the other way. Gillies had control of the puck and kept the play alive but nearly dropped it into his own net in the process, and the period came to an end with Calgary up 5-2 after two periods.

The Devils started the third with 1:33 of carry over power play time, but wasted most of that with a neutral zone turnover and an early Flames clear by Lindholm. Hughes sent a pass down low to Hischier, who got fought off the puck by Gudbranson. Calgary killed off the rest of the penalty with ease. The Devils pulled within two as Severson worked the puck ahead to Bratt. Bratt kept the puck alive along the boards with Hughes digging it out. The three Devils forward played tic-tac-toe with the puck to set up Sharangovich, who got some space in front and ripped the shot past Markstrom for his 15th of the season.

The Devils came back the other way with Hughes setting up Sharangovich in close but Markstrom made the stop. Calgary made a push the other way but Gillies stood strong. The Flames kept the pressure on as a puck got past Siegenthaler and Tkachuk found Lindholm in front, who couldn’t beat Gillies five hole.

Ritchie caught Colton White up high with a high stick and drew blood for the double minor. Like clockwork, the Devils immediately gave up a short-handed opportunity as Sharangovich’s pass was intercepted by Backlund and he was off to the races the other way, but Gillies made the pad save. The Devils couldn’t generate much on the first half of the power play, but eventually got set up with the second unit. Blake Coleman got a short handed chance the other way but Gillies deflected the backhander away. The Devils got the first unit back on but continued to work the puck along the perimeter and couldn’t get a good look. Calgary got one final clear as Ty Smith’s shot attempt was blocked away and the Devils wasted a four minute power play for the second night in a row. Mason Geertsen got into a minor shoving match with Matthew Thachuk with 5:02 left in regulation.

The Devils didn’t get much going after the commercial break aside from a setup in front for Jimmy Vesey that he couldn’t connect on. Gillies gobbled up a Hanifin shot for a stoppage with 3:26 to go. The Devils pulled Gillies with 3:01 left to get the extra attacker on. It did not go well, as the Flames broke out and Johnny Gaudreau fired it into the empty net from center ice to make it 6-3 Flames. The Devils more or less packed it in at that point sans a sharp angle shot with 30 seconds left that Markstrom stopped and Calgary came away with the 6-3 win.

Lowlights

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 Opposition Opinion: Visit Matchsticks & Gasoline if you want to read the Flames perspective on tonight’s game.

More Bad Defense. Big Shocker, I Know....

I hate to continue harping on these themes, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t bring up how poor defense by the Devils continues to just kill this team. To recap, the Devils had too many players up high on the Ritchie goal and the Mangiapane goal, as they were trying to catch the Flames in transition before they actually possessed the puck. Dube easily beat Siegenthaler to gain the zone on the third goal, the Flames caught the Devils in a line change on the fourth goal, and a failed Subban clear combined with lousy goaltending led to the fifth.

Use whatever metric you want. Calgary outshot the Devils 40-33, had more scoring chances, had more HDCF chances (10-6), out-possessed the Devils, and nearly had twice as many expected goals (2.7 to 1.53). Despite Calgary leading essentially the entire second half of the game, they got stronger as the game went on.

Tonight was another reminder that there is little reason to believe this team will ever figure things out defensively in their own end under this coaching staff. Lindy Ruff’s teams haven’t exactly been heralded for stout defensive play, and Alain Nasreddine continues to oversee a defense that has been poor for years despite personnel changes and, arguably, personnel upgrades. I would hope that with 20 games remaining this season, these are the final 20 games under this coaching staff, as I have little desire to watch another 82 games of whatever this system is that consistently gets beat and leaves their goaltenders in an impossible situation.

Bad Roster Construction Also Leads To Bad Results

If you’re a regular reader of this website or if you have eyes and a functioning brain, it doesn’t take much to see that Mason Geertsen isn’t particularly good at the game of hockey. Yet, for whatever reason, Tom Fitzgerald and Lindy Ruff have deemed him an indispensable part of this team since he arrived on waivers in the preseason. Not ideal.

To make matters worse, the Devils over the last few weeks have essentially carried 13 forwards and 8 defensemen, or 12 forwards and 9 defensemen, depending how you feel on whether or not Geertsen should be listed as a forward or a defenseman. Some might argue that you want a player with that kind of flexibility to do both. I would argue he’s not good at either so its a waste. Again, none of this ideal.

The problem here is with that particular roster construction, you run into issues when just one forward is missing from the lineup, as you’re now forced to play a player who has done nothing in the 7:05 of ice time he’s averaging this season. This wasn’t ideal last week when Nico Hischier missed several games with a foot injury that has been bothering him. It sure isn’t ideal in situations like tonight when the Devils are on the other side of the continent, are playing their second game in two nights, can’t easily get a replacement on site, and are missing two forwards due to injuries suffered in the previous night’s game. This was the case this evening as Pavel Zacha and Andreas Johnsson were both out and Geertsen and Colton White drew in.

I keep saying it’s “not ideal” to hammer home a specific point. It’s not ideal. It’s not ideal that the Devils are playing two (bad) defensemen in roles they shouldn’t be asked to. It’s not ideal the other 10 forwards are leaned on hard to pick up the slack for the injured players out of the lineup and the ineffective players in it. It’s especially not ideal when one of those 10 forwards literally just missed three games last week with a nagging injury. It’s not ideal this is how Tom Fitzgerald and Lindy Ruff assembled this roster, nor the fact they went on a Western Canada road trip with 12 NHL-caliber forwards. Lastly, it’s not ideal the Devils lost Scott Wedgewood and Marian Studenic on waivers this season because heaven forbid you risk losing Mason Geertsen, who brought nothing to the table tonight aside from a minor shoving match with Matt Tkachuk with the game already out of reach.

Nobody asked for injuries, let alone two in one day, but these are the risks you run with poor roster construction and a bunch of hockey games in a short timeframe. This is peak bad decision making, and unlike other teams, its not like the Devils are up against the salary cap ceiling where their hand was forced to carry the roster they carry. These are self-inflicted wounds that could and should be easily avoided, and if the Devils actually had beat writers who covered the team, these are the types of questions management should be asked and held accountable for. Instead, that task falls to guys like me on the internet to rant on about.

(And if you think this is bad, I have thoughts on the roster itself. But it’s late on the East Coast and I’ll save that rant for another time).

Who Else Was Bad? The Power Play, of course....

The Devils were 0-4 on the power play. They consistently made poor passes and poor decisions. They were too stationary and didn’t do enough to move their feet to get to open spots. Once again, the opposition generated more dangerous scoring chances short-handed than the Devils did with the man advantage. Fortunately, they didn’t get scored on this time, but it doesn’t mean things went well. It would’ve been nice had they scored even once on the double minor power play to pull within one and give the Devils a slimmer of hope that they could come back, but that apparently was too much to ask.

It’s just another example why Mark Recchi should also be relieved of his duties along with Lindy Ruff and Alain Nasreddine after Game 82. We’ve sat through nearly two seasons of an inept power play under Recchi. I have little interest in sitting through a third.

Who Wasn’t Bad Tonight?

Nico Hischier wasn’t bad tonight, picking up a pair of assists. He made a nice play to keep the puck in the offensive zone on the eventual Mercer goal and picked up a primary helper on the Subban seeing-eye goal. But his line also got eaten alive at 5v5, so I’d hesitate to say he was particularly good. Same goes for the Sharangovich-Hughes-Bratt trio, who didn’t generate a ton offensively until the game was already out of reach. Bratt and Hughes each picked up a point to keep their PPG seasons on pace, but again, I’d hesitate to say they were good.

Final Thoughts

The Devils made too many mistakes in their own end against one of the best teams in the Western Conference. The result was a deserved 6-3 loss, and the Devils get one final chance to salvage a win on this road trip with a Saturday afternoon matinee in Edmonton.

What did you think of the loss tonight? Are you as frustrated with the defensive structure, or lack thereof, as I am? Did anything stand out positively for you, or just negatively? Is it time Fitz accepts some blame for bad roster construction? Please feel free to make your voice heard in the comments section below, and thank you for reading.