The Devils only lost 4-3 but they should be fortunate it was that close at all. I don't know whether or not they were tired or banged up or reverting to their previous form (perhaps a little bit), but the Ducks really wanted this one. It showed in their play overall - constantly fighting with aggression, poised puck possession on offense, and shot after shot after shot. Three of the four Anaheim goals were just examples of some strong finishing after a good play or a good pass.
The Devils' three goals were all bizarre: the first was deflected twice, once off of Jay Pandolfo's stick and then off of Bobby Holik's face. The second was David Clarkson just pushing the puck through J-S Giguere after a Brian Rolston slapshot. And the third at the end of the game came from a scrum where it appeared that Travis Moen may have shoved it over the line. Zach Parise got credited the goal, which is lucky for him, as he didn't have a good night at all.
The whole team was off in terms of their passing and because the Ducks were so aggressive, the Devils did more reacting than needed. The disparity shots on goal is telling of the effort: 34 shots by Anaheim, only 21 by New Jersey. This isn't to say the Devils had no scoring chances as the game went on: Jamie Langenbrunner snuck in behind everyone on a penalty kill to go one-on-one wit Giguere, but didn't beat him; Brian Gionta aimed for the top right corner in the third (back when it was 3-2) but he only got iron; and Bryce Salvador came streaking into the high slot only for his stick to break as he tried to unload a big shot.
That all said, the Devils did not look good in the first two periods with only 10 shots on net. The Ducks pinned them back for a good majority of the game. Interestingly, they didn't try to out-muscle the Devils or line them up for hits. They just kept coming in waves and even if the attempt didn't go quite right, the team never gave up and kept setting up shots. I felt Anaheim rolled their lines well; I was especially impressed with the Kunitz-Getzlaf-Perry unit, they just kept rolling along all night long and making Scott Clemmensen and the defense work real hard. Looking at the box score, they combined for 15 shots on net and earned 2 goals - one pretty way to end an attacking rush and one pretty questionable. Every time I saw that replay I didn't see how it was conclusively a goal. The ref said it was a goal first, I only wish we could see what he saw.
Anyway, it doesn't matter as A) it wasn't the deciding goal and B) the Devils got outplayed. The team started looking better in the third period, perhaps heartened by the fact that they withstood a dominating Ducks attack to come out of that period tied at 2-2. The started asserting themselves more often, something they didn't do all game, especially with the power play midway through the period. But they couldn't get a clean shot to beat Giguere, and Kunitz' strike on the rush essentially sealed the deal. If we want to pull a silver lining out of this it's that the Devils kept it close on the scoreboard. Yet, had you saw the game, you would know it wasn't close at all. I repeat, the Ducks wanted to win this one and played hard to get it; the Devils could only react to the Ducks' efforts instead of trying to set the tone themselves - despite scoring first. I think that's why Anaheim had the better of shots on net, had more scoring chances, and just dominated much of the game. It made the biggest difference tonight.
Like the LA win, the Devils don't get a lot of time to dwell on this. It's up to Vancouver for the third game of this six game road trip. Expect quotes from Chere as he's with the team. For liveblogs and reactions, check out 2MA, Gulitti, and, for the victors, Battle of California. Hopefully, the Devils can get back on track and be more assertive on Tuesday.