The New Jersey Devils just underwent one of the more frustrating and confusing games of this season with a 4-1 loss to Toronto. In it, the Devils managed to outshoot Toronto heavily, beat their defense silly along the boards for loose pucks, seemingly have a ton of shots blocked (some by their own players), and yet Toronto has the lethal finishing to put in 4 goals on less than 20 shots. One of which was by Dave Hanson's son Christian. Yes, Dave Hanson of Slap Shot.
I really don't know what I'm supposed to say here other than that the Devils had way more than the 19 shots blocked by Toronto listed on the official scoresheet. I agree with the missed shots though, and I'll take it one step further and say those were the faults that doomed New Jersey. A majority of the offense involved the Devils were getting the puck right to Martin Gerber's chest/glove; they were missing on a great chance; or trying and failing to shoot through people. That they got 48 on Gerber is impressive enough; you can't say the Devils took this game off. But their finishing and their luck was purely awful. Especially on the power play where the Devils did nothing with over 5 consecutive minutes of power play time in the end of the first period carried over into the second. Overall, the Devils mostly wasted their 6 power plays - like they wasted scoring chances all night long.
Jamie Langenbrunner provided the sole exception. Paul Martin made a desperation poke check at the point, knocked it up and free to Langenbrunner, who just hammered it through Gerber's legs. At the time, it was 3-1 and it gave us a highlight. Seriously, the first intermission featured no highlights - giving up 3 goals on 9 shots will result in that. The first period was sans highlights for New Jersey. But any chance at a semblance of hope was dashed when John Mitchell slid one through Brodeur's legs (a soft one) in the third period.
Toronto only had 18 shots on net on the entire game, but they made the absolute most of their chances on Martin Brodeur. I felt Brodeur didn't have a good game; but he was really hung out to dry on a giveaway in the zone followed by a defensive breakdown on Mikael Grabovski's goal, and he was just diving across the crease hoping he could snag Hanson's shot. He didn't. Still, considering Mitchell's shot went through the five hole and he got frozen on Jeff Hamiltons' low shot, it was not a good night for Marty.
But I can't really say the defense was atrocious because, hey, only 18 shots against. That's the second fewest the Devils allowed all season and the fewest within the last 5 weeks. I suppose "unfortunate" would apply here.
It would also apply for the offense goes, well, they did a lot right: battling for pucks on dump-ins, fighting for possession in the neutral and Toronto's zones, drawing calls (though more could have been called, I think), passing the puck, and creating havok in the slot. It's why I think, and most who saw the game would say, the Devils were dictating the game and playing better overall. But it was on the important twosome of shooting and finishing where they fell short. The Devils couldn't put away any rebounds; their shots from the points hit players (I'm looking at you, Shanahan!) and the boards (I'm looking at you, Rolston!) more often than not; and, frankly, most of their shots just weren't dangerous enough. They couldn't truly respond to Toronto's mighty first period result despite the shot totals.
Needless to say, the lads at Pension Plan Puppets are likely high-fiving, fist-pounding, chest-bumping, bro-grabbing and whatever it is elated kids do these days. Their favorite team went into the Rock, didn't play all that great, but pulled the rug out from under the Devils with lethal finishing. They are quite pleased in their recap and they should be pleased. OK, it won't help out in the Tavared Sweepstakes; but spoiling wins are always desirable.
Given that Philadelphia beat Florida tonight, the Devils still need a point to clinch the Atlantic. It will have to be in Ottawa; as risking this for Saturday against an opponent the Devils haven't beaten all season is, well, too risky. I still would like to believe this was just a bad night all around for New Jersey. I hope to be proven correct with a much improved, and more fortunate, performance on Thursday night. Maybe Patrik Elias can return and help the cause. Maybe the Devils can help themselves regardless of Elias.