The New Jersey Devils were coming off a massive Game 7 win to eliminate Our Hated Rivals on Monday. Tonight, they went to Raleigh and got woken up to the harsh reality that the Carolina Hurricanes are a very different team. The Canes took the game to the Devils from the start. They throttled the Devils’ offense. They flew through the neutral zone. After missing big time on some shots and seeing Martin Necas get robbed by John Marino’s thigh, they found the back of the net and did so multiple times. Carolina went up early and never looked back. The Devils were smacked down in Game 1 of Round 2 with a 1-5 loss.
The nicest way I can describe the first period was that it was awful for the Devils. To quote memorable ex-Red Bulls color commentator Shep Messing, it was absolutely shambolic.
The Devils registered one (1) shot on net. They attempted seven (7) shots towards Frederik Andersen and only one needed to be saved. The Devils got a supremely fake tripping call in their favor for a power play and all it generated was a one-on-one by Sebastian Aho and, later, a trip by Erik Haula. The Devils took more penalties (2) than shots on net in the first period. They also conceded more goals. Specifically, a Brett Pesce blast after a faceoff win by Jordan Staal and a Seth Jarvis 2-on-1 after a Devils faceoff win where the youngster torched Ryan Graves and then torched Akira Schmid for the shot. The Canes took 29 shooting attempts, put up 10 shots, and dominated the Devils for twenty minutes.
Would it get better from there? Kind of? Certainly not at first. The Devils got hosed a few times in the second period by the officials, Wes McCauley (who reffed Game 7 on Monday) and Dan O’Rourke (who did not). They both missed Jordan Martinook ripping off Jonas Siegenthaler’s helmet in the corner. As the play left the corner, Siegenthaler had to go to the bench by rule as he was helmetless. This left Martinook, who came out of the corner behind Siegenthaler, wide open to fire a shot off a Jesper Fast move. Jesperi Kotkaniemi tipped that home at the left post to make it 0-3. This goal also sent Schmid to the bench and Vitek Vanecek to come in relief. Later, during a Martinook high-sticking penalty (who was arguing in the box, talk about someone who should not be complaining to the refs in this game), Jordan Staal high-sticked Jack Hughes in the mouth on a zone entry. Blood was drawn. Not much but enough to be seen on TV. Nothing was called. And there were certainly more that could have been called on the Canes. And perhaps even the Devils.
Yet, the referees were not the one shooting the pucks, getting stuffed by the Hurricanes’ backchecking efforts, failing to do anything against the mighty Carolina penalty kill, or trying to find space. The Devils had some life on the scoreboard when Nathan Bastian caught the Canes unaware and went in alone to roof a puck past Andersen minutes after Kotkanimei’s Goal That Should Not Have Been. It was the Devils’ second shot of the game to make it 1-3. Vanecek did well in the few times he was called upon in the second period. The Devils offense appeared a few more times to at least make Andersen work a bit. A third period comeback would have been a challenge, but it was possible. Especially if the Devils scored the next goal.
Nope. There was an energetic start to the third and some legitimate moments to think that the Devils were finally breaking down the Hurricanes. Dougie Hamilton hit a post. Haula nearly found Jack Hughes back door but the pass was just off. Attempts were being made at crashing the net and rebounds were trying to be pounced on. Jesper Bratt was set up at the right post only to be just a bit wide so he did not finish it. Alas, the last one really hurt. Carolina made an exit, rushed up ice, and Aho found Brady Skjei activating into the zone after the Devils hustled back. Skjei beat Vanecek on a stoppable shot to make it 1-4 with a little less than ten minutes left in the period. Whatever hope of a comeback just went up in smoke. It was a dagger given how the game was going.
And it was. Since that goal, the Devils registered just one (1) shot on net. It was by Dawson Mercer with 7:15 left in the game. The Canes also had one shot on net - until Vanecek was pulled and Jesper Fast pounded in a close ENG to make it a 1-5 loss instead of a 1-4 loss. Skjei’s goal ended what was a great game by the Hurricanes and a really crummy one by the Devils.
Yes, the refs missed some calls that could have changed the game. Especially the Martinook helmet-removal that was missed. Even ESPN’s Ryan Callahan called that out at intermission. However, the Hurricanes were the superior team in all three zones. They attempted 62 shots in all situations. They kept the Devils to 44 even with New Jersey chasing the game. Even if most of Carolina’s shots did not get on net, they forced the Devils back a lot to defend in doing so. And their defense was fully on display as only 19 of those 44 attempts got to Andersen. Plus, Carolina racked up an expected goal count of 4.42 while keeping the Devils to 1.97. So the 1-5 scoreline was actually close to the NST model and provides further evidence that the Devils really stunk in this game.
I have two major hopes from this Game 1 experience.
One, I hope that the Devils got whatever it was out of their system. I think it was a factor that the Devils were coming off an emotional Game 7 win over a hated rival and then had to travel and play a rested and prepared Carolina squad within 48 hours. A little more rest and prep time would have done the Devils good.
Two, and more important than that, is that I hope the Devils take the right lessons out of this game so they can apply them in Game 2. No, burning the tape would not help here. This is the playoffs; the tough lessons have to be learned. Carolina looked fantastic because they played fantastic and to their gameplans. It is up to Lindy Ruff and the coaching staff to identify where in their gameplan they can exploit what the Canes are not so adept at to create opportunities for a Devils team that absolutely did not create enough of them. It is up to the players to execute those adjustments to those gameplans and adjust to how Carolina is performing. Maybe this means slowing the game down and not rushing up so much. Maybe this means attacking more like Carolina such as just firing away more freely - it is not like Andersen is Shesterkin, did you see the Bastian goal?. Maybe this means collapsing more on defense instead of trying to chase down the puck carrier. Maybe this means dumping the puck in on power plays just to get four penalty killers off the line a bit. These are just ideas. It is up to the pros to figure it out. If they can and the players execute, then Game 2 could be a far better experience for New Jersey. If not, then we could see a repeat of this game - which would be bad for the Devils and the People Who Matter.
Carolina is not Our Hated Rivals. They are different and they are better. If nothing else, this 1-5 loss showed that off in full.
The Opposition Opinion: Canes Country will have their take on the game when their recap goes up later this evening.
The Game Highlights: If, for some reason, you want to see the highlights of this game, here they are from NHL.com.
Another Sign of Carolina Being Carolina: The best line for the Devils in 5-on-5 tonight was the line of Tomas Tatar, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt. They out-attempted the Canes 8-6 but only out-shot them 3-0. And no goals were scored with or against them. Even mentioning Bratt’s name in this recap will cause of the People Who Matter to bring up how Bratt’s lack of finish is a problem. I cannot say that is wrong. Bratt had two seemingly big scoring chances at the net and somehow registered no shot on net on either as he missed.
What about the fourth line? ESPN’s broadcasters said they were the best. On the one hand, they did score. More accurately, Bastian broke through the defense and roofed a shot like it was a pregame warmup. Bastian did have three shots on net in total and Michael McLeod had four. On the other hand, the Canes out-attempted the trio - there’s Miles Wood’s a contribution to the game; McLeod took a tripping penalty that nearly made the first period more of a disaster; and the Carolina fourth line of Paul Stastny, Derek Stepan, and Jesse Puljujarvi nearly went shot for shot with them in 5-on-5 play. I would not argue if you want to say the McLeod line was the Devils’ best. I would just point out that the broadcasters were moved more by the one goal and McLeod and Bastian being the two Devils to put up three shots on net.
The larger point here is that even if the Devils’ forward line won the attempt matchup, it did not lead to a whole lot of rubber on net. Which is a real problem when chasing a two or three goal deficit. Andersen did not even need to be all that great tonight; he literally faced just 19 shots on net.
Matchups of Note: Jack Hughes’ most frequent match-up in 5-on-5 was against the Jordan Staal line - Necas, Staal, and Jack Drury - with Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce. Again, by attempts, the Devils actually out-attempted the Canes in four of those five matchups; only for the Devils to be out-shot by all five. But the big exception was Staal himself. The attempts were 8-8, shots were 3-6, and the xGF% was 58.32%. More favorable against those other four but not when Staal was there. Get ready for a lot more of that in Game 2 until Hughes beats it or Staal has to be moved to someone else because some other Devils are performing and scoring. Looking at you, Hischier or Bratt or anyone else. (Maybe a returning Timo Meier would help? I think it would!)
That Hischier line, by the way, saw a lot of Jaccob Slavin, Brent Burns, and the third line of Kotkaniemi, Martinook, and Fast. Again, Hischier line had won the attempts battle but the actual shots were few.
What that meant was that a unit of Mercer, Jesper Boqvist, and Yegor Sharangovich got plenty of Seth Jarvis, Sebastian Aho, and Stefan Noesen. That matchup went terribly for New Jersey even if not much was created, and it was a big reason why Ruff mixed up the lines for the third period.
As for defensive pairings, no one pairing got a specific offensive line matchup. Marino and Graves mostly got a mix of the Aho and Necas lines. Hamilton and Siegenthaler got the Kotkaniemi line mostly followed by Aho’s unit. Staal’s line saw the Devils defensemen somewhat evenly.
This is all to note how Brind’Amour is handling his home ice advantage with the last change. Again, Ruff and his staff has to identify how to adjust the plan to get an edge on them as well as the players have to execute better now that they know who they will see.
Of Course...: It would help a lot if the officials would call the really obvious penalties!
No, the referees did not defend the Canes or waste power plays or fail to generate offense. But the missed helmet rip-off by Martinook was especially awful and could have turned the tide of what was then a 0-2 game. The Kotkaniemi goal should not have happened, yet it did thanks to the huge no-call that even ESPN called out as a big miss. Missing a high stick that drew blood was especially awful as well. No wonder Jack Hughes was fuming on the bench as he was being tended to by the refs. A deeper cut and I would be calling for Ruff to repeat Robbie Ftorek’s most infamous moment as Devils head coach.
You and I may hate the prospect of coaches challenging penalties (and I do!), but the officiating work of guys like McCauley and O’Rourke are all but going to guarantee that it will happen. To add insult to the blind, Ray Ferraro made the point on the ESPN broadcast that officials are judged by each game and the best ones move on in the playoffs. So McCauley, who missed a massive high stick on Bratt in Game 7 prior to his tripping penalty, is seen as better than other NHL refs. No, the Devils did not lose this game because of the short-sighted men in stripes. I still want the Devils to get two different officials on Friday night.
The Goalie Question: Schmid got beaten straight up by Jarvis, did not see the Pesce goal, and was left out to dry on the Kotkaniemi Goal That Should Not Have Been. Vanecek did well in relief but the Skjei goal against was a soft one as it seemingly went through the goalie. The concern is that Schmid may have just been cooled off now that he is not facing the likes of Artemi Panarin. So does Ruff go with Vanecek in the hopes of providing a similar spark as Schmid did in the first round? Or does he stick with Schmid and hope for a bounce-back performance just as he did after Game 6? I could go either way. I also think the strategy and performance of the skaters is more crucial to get right for Friday night than figuring out who to start. Hopefully, this decision is made quickly so the focus can be about getting the rest of the squad prepared to hopefully play a far better game than whatever mess they put out this evening.
One Last Thought: There is still a lot of hockey left.
Your Take: The Devils lost Game 1 by a familiar 1-5 score. However, the Carolina Hurricanes are a far better team than the last opponent to beat the Devils in Game 1 by a 1-5 score. You know what I think of the loss. Now I want to know what you think. How much did Carolina get right tonight? How much did the Devils get wrong? The Devils cannot control the officiating, so what can the Devils change for a better performance in Game 2? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.