New Jersey Devils Beaten in Second Straight, Lose to Colorado Avalanche 3-1

This is a particularly strange feeling.  Only two other times earlier this season have the Devils lost consecutive games: the first two games of the season (5-2 to Philadelphia, 4-2 to the Rangers), and three straight road games in the middle of November (4-2 to Philadelphia, 3-2 to Nashville in a shootout, 5-2 to Dallas).   For Devils fans, this result will come across as frustrating, which is unfortunately appropriate for what the Devils did on the ice today.

The most frightening part of the game came early in the second period. Patrik Elias was hit by Ryan Wilson and went right down.   The hit by Wilson wasn't at all dirty, just a hard shoulder check in open ice to Elias' chest.  Elias didn't hit the boards, his head didn't hit the ice, and he didn't fall on any particular part of the body. Elias was just stunned. He was stretchered off the ice.  According to Lou Lamoriello, as reported by Tom Gulitti, Elias is OK.   CT scans and X-rays came back negative, and he'll be flying back with the team; but he did not return to play. That's excellent news.

In retrospect, the Devils really could have used Elias.  His loss really shook up the team, especially from a lineup standpoint.  Whereas my main complaint surrounding the recent losses to Tampa Bay and Phoenix has to do defensive breakdowns leading to the other team scoring, I can't pin point the loss solely on that.  Ultimately, there were multiple contributions to this loss. In the big picture, this just another loss to another good Western Conference team where their goaltender played big.  This may not mean much in, say, March.  However, it makes Monday's matinee against the Islanders more important lest the Devils want to have a genuine losing streak on their hands.

Check out Mile High Hockey later on for an Avalanche perspective on today's game, where I'm sure they were pleased with today's result.  For stats and a boxscore, NHL.com has their recap up. Read on further for some thoughts about this game.

Let's start with what I saw that we've seen on Thursday (and in other games):
  • Once again, the power play was not at all powerful even with 4 chances (one wiped out prematurely due to a Rob Niedermayer goaltender interference minor in the first period). I'll concede that I thought the Devils did well on their last one, as they moved the puck around and actually got clear shots on Craig Anderson and crashed the net when possible. But none of them converted and now it's 5 games since their last PPG.  This warrants further review.
  • Once again, the Devils went down 2 goals in the first period. The first was the result of the Avalanche taking advantage of a defensive miscue.  Paul Stastny beat his man and was driving to the net and Colin White moved on to try and take him.  Now, White was covering Chris Stewart right on Brodeur's left flank at the crease.  Because White moved, this left Stewart opened and wouldn't you know it, Stastny read that perfectly, put the puck where it needed to be and Stewart had an easy goal.  The second, I would think Brodeur would want that one back.  T.J. Galiardi fired a shot from the circle that went off Brodeur's shoulder and in.  While Brodeur cut off the angle, his stance was narrow and the shot exposed that.
  • Once again, the Devils went down 2 goals before they realized they needed to play much better.  To the team's credit, they improved in the second period and were far better in the third period.  Again, Anderson snuffed most of the chances
  • Once again, the Devils suffered from having more shots but not necessarily great shots.  The Avalanche held the Devils to many outside shots in the second period and very few rebounds. It wasn't until the third period where the Devils got some great scoring chances and even got one (Rob Niedermayer splitting the defense! Colin White and Jay Pandolfo setting it up! Enjoy it, because that's not a combination that makes goals happen).  Even then, Craig Anderson rose to the occasion, notably robbing Travis Zajac more than once.
  • Once again, the Devils attempted more shots but their efficency betrayed them.  Yes, they got 38 shots on Anderson, but they were also blocked 15 times by the Avs and missed the net entirely 17 times.  It's never a good sign if every time you shoot, you have a 54% chance of actually getting the puck on net. 

So that's what I take out of this game.  There were positives by the Devils, as much as you may not want to really want to hear given the result.  The defense didn't give up too many giant scoring chances after the first goal.  Vladimir Zharkov was placed above the fourth line and looked very good: he was hustling hard for the 13 minutes that he got, showed good vision with his passes, and got 3 on net.  Without Elias, the guys you want to see firing the puck were doing just that: Parise had 6 shots on net, Zajac had 6 shots on net, Rolston had 7 shots on net, and Langenbrunner had 4 shots on net.   Andy Greene can't be all that hurt as he played 27:56 today; and Mark Fraser had a much quieter night (and only 8:50) on defense - an improvement over what was seen on Thursday.  The Devils' penalty kill was excellent today.  You can't say the team didn't make the effort for a comeback being down 2 on the road.   That they didn't slump after the first period is still good to see as opposed to the Devils folding things up.

However, the one thing I noticed that definitely was a negative was Jacques Lemaire's coaching decisions.  Why did Andrew Peters play tonight? Was David Koci being on the Avs that necessary to take out Ilkka Pikkarainen?  After Elias went down, seeing the lines jumbled up to spark the team and fill in Elias' minutes, some of the combinations were questionable.  Double-shifting Parise, sure.  But switching Niedermayer and Zajac?  Starting Niclas Bergfors on the fourth line and then just not sliding him (or maybe Zharkov) into Elias' normal position after he left?   After the first power play, fans got to see Colin White and Andrew Peters set themselves up in front of the net for a little bit.  I give him credit for the creative thinking, but it didn't do much.  All that tells me is that Lemaire sorely misses David Clarkson and/or Dainius Zubrus on the power play.

I'm not going to say the loss was all on Lemaire's decisions.  His timeout after the first goal was a good idea, the breakout eventually got used to Colorado's forechecking, and he kept the team motivated despite the score.  But some of them really make my head scratch upon reflection.

What didn't surprise me was how the Colorado Avalanche played today.  While I wouldn't say they played great, they played well enough. I really felt their first line of Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart, and Wojtek Wolski was very effective.  They collectively put up 13 shots, the first goal of the game (Stewart), and the empty net goal at the end (Wolski).  The threesome looked poised and cycled well early. Their defense conceded a lot of shots but mostly from the outside.  The Avalanche played an up-tempo style of hockey and their forecheck caused some problems in the first period.

However, I felt they took their foot off the pedal in the next 40 minutes and perhaps on another night, they'd lose it all entirely.  The Avs put up 14 shots in the first period, and then proceeded to put up 14 shots over the next two.  That threesome of Stastny, Wolski, and Stewart didn't make too much noise in the third outside of the empty net goal.  As the third period came about, the Devils got more and more forwards to the net, got closer shots on Anderson, and essentially hoped he'd come up with the big save.  The penalties they took were entirely avoidable and they should be so lucky the Devils' power play has been in a slump. Had they have more desire to attack more often, they could have won more decisively.  Instead, they decided to play with fire - they didn't burn.

Incidentally, David Driscoll-Carignan of Mile High Hockey called most of this out when I asked him about the Avalanche prior to this game.  Full credit to him for being proven exactly right today. Once again, it pays to read the preview.

Now the reality must have set in. The Devils lost their last two and road games against the West continue to be an issue for this team.  As usual, the team cannot dwell on this loss.  The main goal should be to worry about the next game, an afternoon game on Long Island against the Islanders.   The one aspect I would like to emphasize is that the Devils haven't fallen completely on their face in these recent losses.  That's something that should be kept in mind before raging about the recent defeat.   Again, the Devils are in the position to prevent this from becoming a losing streak.  

That said, thanks to Steve for the GameThread, thanks to all the commenters, and thanks to all the readers.  Please leave your thoughts, feelings, concerns, questions, and complaints in the comments.  As a final note, here's an embedded video of the highlights from today's game:

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