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New Jersey Devils Let Frustration Get Better of Them in 5-1 Loss to Anaheim Ducks

Adam Henrique netted his first career hat trick to help hand the Devils one of their worst losses of the season

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at New Jersey Devils Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Anaheim Ducks are one of the worst teams in the National Hockey League. After getting off to a solid 9-6-0 start to their campaign, the Ducks entered into a free fall, losing 13 of their last 14 games entering this evening’s contest. On paper, this was a game that the New Jersey Devils should have easily won. But instead of easily winning tonight, the Devils let their frustrations get the better of them in a 5-1 loss to the Ducks. It was a night of frustration, terrible penalties, insane defensive lapses, and horrible decision-making.

From the jump, the Ducks seemed determined to suck the Devils into playing a very chippy game. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering Anaheim clearly can’t win games with their skill given the roster they currently have. On top of that, they employ former Islanders thug Ross Johnston, as well as one of the dirtiest players in the league in Radko Gudas. And finally, losing 13 of 14 would make any team want to take out their anger on opposing teams. This is something New Jersey should have been prepared for, but instead they allowed themselves to get dragged into a chippy slugfest with a far inferior team, and the Ducks were more than happy to take advantage.

Let’s get this over with...

First Period

With this game being the second half of a back-to-back and Akira Schmid getting the start the previous night, the plan was for Vitek Vanecek to man the net this evening. But before the game, we got this news:

And so, Schmid was pressed into duty for both games of a back-to-back. The last time this happened Schmid had one of the worst games of his season in a horrible loss to the San Jose Sharks. Needless to say, this was less than ideal to have to deal with.

Despite the last minute goaltending shift, the Devils controlled this game through the first six minutes. New Jersey registered the first five shots of the game, overwhelming the Ducks with their speed and skill. But with 14:02 left in the 1st, Kevin Bahl took an offensive zone penalty, a cross checking call on Max Jones who stayed down on the ice for a while then went right down the tunnel (he would return later in the period). Bahl was heated upon getting called (put a pin in that for now). It was a pretty clear and incredibly stupid penalty, completely wiping out all the momentum the Devils had built up. This was the second night in a row the Devils had taken a foolish and totally avoidable offensive zone penalty.

The Devils did manage to kill off the penalty thankfully. But as soon as Bahl was released from the box, he dropped the gloves with Johnston, and both went off for fighting.

After the fight we got our first TV timeout of the evening, and upon returning to the game we saw why Bahl was so angry when he went to the box. Jones leveled Nico Hischier in the neutral zone, which prompted Bahl to take matters into his own hands. So it appears his ire was not directed at the officials, but rather at Jones for the hit.

A couple minutes later, a horrific turnover to Haula right in the slot led to a terrific glove save by Captain Trade Bait himself, John Gibson. For those who might want to see general manager Tom Fitzgerald make a move for Gibson, that save certainly added fuel to the fire.

With 10:43 left in the period, New Jersey got their first power play, a tripping call on Troy Terry. The power play created a couple decent looks, but did not capitalize. After another chunk of time in which the Devils mostly controlled play, Alexander Holtz got interfered with by Alex Killorn with 4:44 left for the Devils’ second power play of the night. It was very similar to the first man advantage, with New Jersey creating some good looks but ultimately not beating Gibson.

In the dying seconds of the period, Jesper Bratt of all people took a cross checking penalty, once again in the offensive zone. It sent the Ducks to the power play with one second left on the clock. They didn’t score in that second, so the Devils entered the middle period with 1:59 left to kill.

Overall it was an utterly dominant first period from New Jersey, with the team playing as if they were determined to shake their reputation for getting off to poor starts. The Devils outshot the Ducks 14-4, and according to Natural Stat Trick, at 5-on-5 the Devils held an Expected Goals For edge of 1.12-0.21 (84.35%). John Gibson was the difference, as the period easily could’ve ended with a multigoal lead for the Devils. If New Jersey didn’t throw Anaheim a couple life preservers in the form of some boneheaded offensive zone penalties, this period really could’ve gotten out of hand in favor of the home team.

Second Period

The period started with the Devils on the kill, and with about 14 seconds left on the power play, Anaheim broke through. Old pal Adam Henrique was left all alone in front of the crease and deflected a shot past Schmid to give the Ducks a 1-0 lead. The lesson here is that the Devils need to stop taking terrible offensive zone penalties, because eventually they will get punished.

The Devils went back to largely controlling play after giving up the goal, but were denied again and again by Gibson. Almost halfway through the game, it looked like New Jersey was in the middle of getting goalie’d.

With 13:21 left in the period, Jack Hughes got roughed up in the neutral zone by Pavel Mintyukov, and Hughes responded by giving Mintyukov a couple cross checks to the body. Hughes was called for the retaliation, sending New Jersey to the penalty kill once again. Yes Mintyukov could have (should have?) been called for roughing or interference, but Hughes has to know better. That’s a penalty borne out of frustration, which cannot happen trailing 1-0.

Thankfully for Hughes, his penalty killers picked him up as the Devils killed off the retaliation call. Hughes’ line buzzed around the zone for a little bit right after the penalty expired, and a couple minutes later, Johnston decided once again tried to make himself relevant by trying to pick a fight with Hughes. A scrum followed, and Sam Carrick and Colin Miller were tagged with coincidental penalties setting up a 4-on-4 situation. In addition, the officials hit Johnston with a 10 minute misconduct penalty as they were apparently tired of him doing his Ross Johnston thing.

During the 4-on-4 that followed, with 8:43 left in the second, Adam Henrique tapped home a loose puck to double the Anaheim lead to 2-0. Another breakdown in front led to the goal, and all of a sudden the Devils were staring a very, very, very bad loss in the face.

And with 5:00 left in the period, Hughes took yet another penalty, this time an interference call on Cam Fowler. Hughes was going for the puck and went right through Fowler. Whereas Hughes’ first penalty was one of pure frustration, this one was of a lack of awareness. But three seconds into the Ducks’ latest power play, Ryan Strome tripped up Hischier to negate the man advantage and send us back to 4-on-4. After almost a full two minutes of 4-on-4 with no goals, we returned to full strength for each side.

And then, in the final minute of the period, a breakthrough.

The fourth line did some good work in the neutral zone to create a zone entry. Michael McLeod and Curtis Lazar played a lightning quick give-and-go in tight which led to a tap-in goal for McLeod to cut the deficit to 2-1.

The period ended shortly thereafter. Despite the frame ending on a high note, it was a very frustrating period. Henrique finding the back of the net twice, all the penalties (most of them really bad penalties to take), the fact that the Ducks outshot the Devils 10-5...yeah it was a bad 20 minutes. The Devils held a 5-on-5 xGF edge of 62.11% in the middle frame, but only 11:14 of the second was played at 5-on-5, and the Devils most decidedly did not outplay Anaheim in any other game state.

New Jersey had 20 minutes to find the equalizer.

Third Period

We began the third period with a shock, as Lukas Dostal came out to start the third period for Anaheim between the pipes. My first reaction was thinking Gibson might have just gotten traded, but the MSG broadcast showed a replay that seemed to show Gibson injure himself.

But then the Ducks tweeted this:

So there you go I guess. Gibson was superb through 40 minutes so this seemed to be a big break for New Jersey.

We also got a little line shuffling to begin the third, with Timo Meier moving down with Erik Haula and Holtz, Bratt moving to the Hischier line, and Dawson Mercer lining up with Hughes and Tyler Toffoli.

Did the line shuffling work? No, it did not. With 15:46 left in the third and the Hughes line out there with the Jonas Siegenthaler-Simon Nemec pairing, Killorn was left completely by himself and took a cross ice pass and slammed it home for one of the easiest goals he will ever score. The Ducks had their two goal lead back.

On the very next shift, two Ducks were left all alone right in front of Akira Schmid on a broken play, though they didn’t score. Just completely inexcusable lack of attention to detail, and it seemed like the line shuffling had the exact opposite effect that Lindy Ruff intended. The lines were working perfectly fine at 5-on-5 so I really don’t know why Ruff felt it necessary to switch up the combos. The Devils needed a lesson in discipline, not new linemates. And they paid the price for this error with a killer of a goal against.

With 11:22 left in regulation, Johnston tripped up Ondrej Palat to send the Devils to a crucial power play. But then, of course, 10 seconds into the power play, Toffoli slashed Ilya Lyubushkin’s stick out of his hands to end the power play. It was the third offensive zone penalty of the evening for New Jersey. And shortly thereafter during the ensuing 4-on-4, Terry gained the zone and ripped a shot shortside over the glove of Schmid and in, extending Anaheim’s lead to 4-1 and effectively ending the game.

With 7:39 left, Nate Bastian and Frank Vatrano took penalties, with Vatrano getting an extra two, so the Devils went back to the power play. Ruff decided to pull Schmid at this point in a desperate attempt to get his team back into the game. After close to two minutes of fruitlessly trying to find a goal, Henrique cleared the puck, collected it in the neutral zone, and potted an empty netter for the very first hat trick of his career. As if there needed to be any more salt rubbed into the wound. 5-1, Ducks.

The Devils played out the string with not much life or effort, and they whimpered their way to a terrible, terrible loss to one of the worst teams in the league.

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: If you’re in the mood for more pain tonight, here you go.

Officially a Problem

With tonight’s loss, New Jersey fell to 1-5-1 in the second half of back-to-backs this season. That’s already bad news, but it gets worse when you realize the Devils have a league-leading 16 back-to-backs this season.

16 games is just about 20% of an 82-game season. Or put another way, it represents 32 possible points. Thus far, the Devils have collected three of a possible 14 points in the second game of back-to-back sets.

The Devils have already put themselves behind the 8-ball with a slow start to their season, so they really can’t afford to just throw away 32 points. Yes back-to-backs are tough for any team, but Lindy Ruff needs to figure out how to get his team prepared to play in these situations immediately. Otherwise the points the Devils are leaving on the table in back-to-back situations will cost them a playoff spot.

Poor Schmid

The final stat line looked very ugly for Akira Schmid, as he stopped 22 of 26 shots for a paltry .846 SV%. In isolation, none of the goals scored on him were awful goals to allow. The first Henrique goal was a deflection with Henrique left completely unmarked right in front of the net. The second Henrique goal was a tap in with the defense failing to cover him up in time. The Killorn goal was a near-unstoppable slam dunk thanks to an embarrassing defensive breakdown. The Terry goal was a wicked wrist shot, but was probably the most stoppable of the night for Schmid.

Those are four goals that are very difficult to save, but at the same time this is the NHL. Goalies at this level need to make saves they aren’t expected to make every once in a while. It’s hard to get on Schmid too much considering how difficult his defense made life for him tonight, plus the fact that he once again got the start in both ends of a back-to-back. It’s just frustrating to see yet another performance like this.

The Streak Lives On

Near the very end of last night’s game, Dawson Mercer took a nasty shot block and limped off the ice. His iron man streak was in jeopardy with puck drop of the next game coming less than 24 hours later, but Mercer was good to go for tonight’s contest. On a very, very frustrating night, that’s a tiny sliver of a silver lining I suppose.

Next Time Out

The Devils next hit the ice on Tuesday when they play host to the Philadelphia Flyers in a big Metropolitan Division tilt. New Jersey really needs to get over this terrible loss and put their best foot forward against a team they are chasing in the standings on Tuesday. We can only hope they maintain their composure much better by then.

Your Take

How frustrated were you with this game? Was there anyone on the Devils who actually impressed you? Are you expecting any lineups changes for Tuesday’s game? As always, thanks for reading!