Long title but it was a pretty nasty game for the Devils. The 7 game road winning streak? Gone. The overall 4 game winning streak? Gone. The streak of not being shutout in their last 17 games? Gone. The Devils lost in emphatic fashion to the Florida Panthers, 4-0. IPB did a liveblog of the game, concluding that the game was wretched. Indeed. I jumped into the comments at Litter Box Cats, where Donny would likely disagree and likely say it was a fantastic win. It certainly was for Florida!
The Panthers really did do a good job tonight. They played tight-checking, aggressive forechecking, up-tempo hockey right from minute one and throughout the game. (That seems a bit familiar. Anyway...) They were playing like you'd want a playoff team to - constantly fighting for the puck and constantly not quitting on a play. They were great tonight. They weren't dominating, though. Yes, there were some shifts were the Devils really pinned Florida back. Namely, the first 10 minutes of the second period, where the Panthers were held to 0 shots. Yes, zero. None. Yet, the Devils couldn't score any of their own, so it means little in the end. The Panthers goaltender, Tomas Vokoun, earned his first star of the game honors with a 36 save shutout performance.
Oh, the Devils had chances to score. With the way Zach Parise and Patrik Elias were hustling out there with the puck, you'd figure one of them would score or make the play that would led to the goal. But Vokoun really shut the Devils down. He really kept Florida in the game and New Jersey out of it. You could almost say that the Devils were Vokouwned. And while the Panthers' defense was, well, leaky in terms of shots; they made it difficult enough for the Devils to get quality shots and to get to those rebounds. With respect to the second chance shots, Vokoun was especially remarkable in getting in front of and controlling them.
That's the big difference that led to the big 4-0 score. The Panthers got those rebounds and quality shots in the slot and made New Jersey pay for it. In the preview, I said it could come from anyone and tonight it did. Stephen Weiss picks up the rebound off a Bryan McCabe shot that Scott Clemmensen should have held onto, and scores in the first. Richard Zednik is all alone right on the crease, a rebound from a David Booth shot comes right to him and scores it easily. Nathan Horton gets a loose puck (another rebound off a David Booth shot? My, Booth is a fine player in traffic.) away from the traffic in the slot just enough to make it a screen and put it in. Cory Stillman isn't covered well by Bryce Salvador in the slot, receives a gift of a pass from Weiss, and he made it four.
Clemmensen had no real chance on the other three. OK, Zednik's goal was on a power play so the Devils didn't have the numbers to cover everyone. Still, if the Devils were more aware on defense and in picking up stray Panthers, maybe these goals don't happen. It's not like they were brilliant shots that required precise aiming. The goal/hole was wide open! Of course they were going to score! You could have scored 2 or 3 of the goals the Panthers had. My point is that while they were outshot 36-28, the Panthers had far better, juicier even, chances on rebounds.
Alas, the Devils couldn't generate the opportunties to get those same chances. Not even with 5 power plays. OK, some of them were cut short by penalties; but they couldn't use the man advantage to take advantage in the offensive zone for the most part. This after the power play came up big against San Jose. Such was the impact of Vokoun holding it down in net and stopping the barrages of shots in each period. This allowing the Panthers to hit back and, well, clearly finish their scoring chances.
Like momentum can breed momentum; failure can definitely breed failure. Did the defense lose confidence because they couldn't score to help them out? Did the offense lose confidence because the defense wasn't so strong at times? Is it the chicken, or the egg? Ultimately, in the results-oriented world that is hockey, those questions don't matter. The Devils lost either way and they'll have to be stronger in both ends to succeed in their next game. That's why I think this loss was a team loss, moreso than any one player's or line's or unit's fault.
So the streaks are dead. The Devils didn't play all that well. Unfortunately, that happens. Fortunately, the Devils still have a strong lead over the rest of the Atlantic. Also, they should be able to get on the right side of the scoreboard in their next two games on this road trip: Tampa Bay and the Islanders.