The New Jersey Devils were beaten by the Chicago Blackhawks in a big way tonight at the United Center. The Devils lost their third straight on New Year's Eve, their first game on the second half of a back-to-back, and lost in a very bad way.
If you don't feel like reading my whole recap, let me sum it up this way. Andrew Peters played for the Devils tonight and he wasn't the worst skater on the Devils tonight. In fact, I'd go as far as to say he had a relatively good night. He kept pace with his linemates Rod Pelley and Vladimir Zharkov, for 9:39 of ice time. He made some successful passes. He even threw a hit. Yeah, it was that bad for the Devils and that's all you really need to know.
Conversely, the Chicago Blackhawks looked brilliant in all aspects of the game. SamFels' description of the team from my preview was impeccably correct. Their speed and committment to backchecking were apparent and the Devils had no real answer for them. Not on defense, not on offense, and definitely not in the neutral zone. Their special teams were wildly successful. Cristobal Huet played very well and the one goal against wasn't his fault.
This wasn't like the 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last Saturday, in my opinion. This was worse. The Blackhawks just dismantled and demoralized the Devils tonight. An ugly way to end what has otherwise been a fantastic 2009 calender year to this 2009-10 season for New Jersey. Read on further for my thoughts or go visit Second City Hockey for what should be an ecstatic recap from a Blackhawk fans' perspective.
I apologize if this seems shorter than usual, but there's not a lot of praise for the Devils here. You could say that the best Devil on the ice was Rod Pelley. Actually that's not entirely correct, he was the best Devil on the ice tonight. In 10:14 of ice time, he had 3 shots, won 6 out of 8 faceoffs, and was skating hard even late in the third period when the Devils were down 5-0 and looked completed defeated. Sure, Jamie Langenbrunner's excellent forecheck on Duncan Keith won the puck (the only mistake Keith made all night), got a shot on Huet, and put back his own rebound gave the Devils a consoltation goal. Good work on that shift, but that was his only major contribution to the game - he only got 13:27 for a reason tonight.
As far as the rest, the ZZ Bergfors unit attempted to get things going but couldn't sustain significant offensive pressure all game long. I do credit the Blackhawks' defense and their backchecking forwards for their hard work in stopping the Devils. But the first line couldn't get many chances, the second line was absolutely invisible, and what did the other two lines do on offense? Zach Parise was sprung for a breakaway in the second period, but when he was stopped, it only cemented that it would be a poor night for New Jersey. The Devils only put 27 shots on Huet; the power play got repeatedly owned by Chicago's PK units - only 3 shots on 6 minutes of PP time; and very few shots that truly challenged Huet. From this game alone, I can see why Canada Hockey chose both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook for their Olympic team; they are an excellent pairing (and Brian Campbell had a great night too).
Speaking of cement, let's talk about the defense. The only positive I can think of for the defense is that Mike Mottau had 7 blocks tonight. The Andy Greene and Johnny Oduya pairing was repeatedly abused by a combination of hungry Chicago players fearlessly forechecking and terrible passing. Each had "highlights" of looking real dumb in their own end that led to goals. Greene left Ben Eager uncovered in the slot, making it easy for him to score Chicago's second goal. Oduya was severely burned right after Chicago easily killed a Jonathan Toews penalty by, who else, Toews. Towes feinted, Oduya coughed up the puck, and buries a laser to make it 4-0 New Jersey.
The both collectively failed en route to Chicago's third goal scored on a rebound by Andrew Ladd. You know what, here's the highlights to the game via NHL.com and you can see it for yourself. In fact, you can also see Troy Brouwer's power play goal that was Chicago's first goal and John Madden's goal wherein the Colin White and Mike Mottau pairing got beaten by a solid forecheck by Dustin Byfuglien and Madden's shot that used Mottau as a screen:
Mind you, from these highlights you can see some saves from Brodeur. Martin Brodeur's night wasn't a good one, certainly. But it's not like the defense helped him out all that much either. He played out of his mind against Pittsburgh, but it wasn't to be tonight, unfortunately.
Overall, the Blackhawks outshot the Devils 36-27, outdrew the Devils on faceoffs (52%-48%), outplayed the Devils for at least 50 minutes (the first 10 minutes were even), and - obviously - outscored the Devils 5-1. I don't believe the Devils were tired; but they were just beaten. After the quickfire double by Chicago, they just charged ahead on the Devils, who were more than happy to help them out. All over the place, there were poor stickchecks, ridiculously dumb sweeping stick checks, passes that went off skates, poor dumps on offense, and everything else you could name. Chicago, with their speed and their hunger, just kept getting the puck and kept going forward. They pounced on the lackadasical efforts on defense, and so tonight was easy for them.
I wish the Devils gave a better effort against a top team like Chicago. What was seen tonight by the Devils' faithful was garbage, really. The game on Saturday will have to be another one to bounce back from.