The New Jersey Devils suffered a 4-0 loss to the Florida Panthers earlier this week. That was bad. Back in January, they were absolutely terrible in losing to the Atlanta Thrashers 4-0. Tonight, the Devils lost to the Islanders 4-0. Where does that rank in terms of terrible games by New Jersey? In my opinion, the Devils managed to fit in a performance that was worse than that Florida loss and only slightly better than that Atlanta loss tonight.
The only way and the only positive thing about tonight's game by the Devils is that they saw the shot and shot often. They put 40 on Yann Danis. They tried to do something, which was lacking in that Atlanta loss. That was heartening. That's where the praise ends for the Devils. Even the 40 shots on net wasn't all that great of an achievement. A majority of those shots were low on Danis and he had no problem making those saves.
The Islanders were excellent beyond Danis. The Islanders committed to the backcheck and collapsing down low; something the Devils haven't handled all that well this season. They made sure the Devils would not only not get any rebounds; but they made sure they got first to the puck to turn up ice. This was your basic shift from New Jersey tonight:
- A Devil forward moves the puck up ice and has a chance to shoot.
- 70% of the time, they shoot it low on Danis. 30% of the time, they make an ill-advised pass, broken up by a backchecking Islander.
- The Islanders take the puck and start counter attacking, forcing the Devils to play catch-up.
The Devils just could not get sustained pressure on Danis outside of a few shifts here and there. That they had 40 shots on net is a testament to the Islanders' leakiness in the neutral zone. But that they Devils weren't all that dangerous was proof how well the Islanders did. Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, and so on - they were held in check and they couldn't beat the Islanders defense. Brent Sutter shook up the lines to little effect. Needless to say, the offense was a no-go tonight.
And the defense. Could the absence of Paul Martin really be that important? In a way yes, as Martin plays the most minutes and has been excellent in his own zone all season. But surely, the other five regular defensemen couldn't have forgotten how to remain in passing and shooting lines, have they? Surely, they haven't forgotten to step up on the play? Sean Bergenheim was trailing uncovered for the Islanders first goal. A bad pass by Bobby Holik, mishandled by Mike Rupp, and a defense caught looking for an uncovered Jon Sim to make the Devils pay for that error. The last two were power play goals, scored by uncovered Kyle Okposo down low off a feed by an uncovered Blake Comeau; and a Bill Guerin shot that beat Scott Clemmensen in the 5-hole - the goalie being bothered by an uncovered Brendan Witt (I am not making this up, I swear it was Witt!) in the slot.
Don't get me wrong. The Islanders were the better team tonight. Their rush was effective and they built around Danis and the team's overall defensive performance, which was excellent. That being said: all four goals came from open Islanders. Yes, the offense not being able to keep the play in the Islanders end and the constant counter attacks wore out the Devils defensively. That does not excuse that many opposing players being open in prime spaces on the ice. OK, I can see the Bergenheim goal not being a player's fault. Still, the defense was as poor as the offense was tonight.
And bad habits apparently beget more bad habits; as evidenced by the last three penalties by the Devils. Anssi Salmela's cross check was just dumb. David Clarkson's high stick was irresponsible as Radek Martinek was just dumping the puck. Brian Gionta had no reason to use his stick on that hooking call. Had all three of those guys thought better of their sticks; maybe the Devils only lose this game 2-0 or 3-1 or something - definitely not 4-0.
Consider that the Devils have given up early goals in each of the last three games; that they conceeded 10 goals in their last 3 games; and that they allowed 79 shots in their last two games, it's clear the Devils need to practice real hard on defense. Remember that the Devils have scored 2 goals on their past 80 shots; it's clear that the Devils need to work on their shooting and their play in the offensive zone. And discipline, considering those last 3 penalties.
My point is that this is a team that needs to wake up and get things together during this upcoming break in the schedule. Chico made a good point during the telecast that the some practices would do the team some good. I'll say! This team clearly needs some hard practices over the next 4 days. They need to practice playing like the Devils! Because they did not look anything like a 38-18-3 team tonight.