The New Jersey Devils went out onto the ice at the Scotiabank Palace in Kanata, Ontario to face off with the blazing hot Ottawa Senators, winners of their last 6. The Senators ended the night with another win, giving them 7 straight and a nice win over a team ahead of them in the East. A shutout win over the Atlantic Division leaders is a lovely feather to put in one's cap. And it's entirely deserved. The Senators played well and played significantly better than the Devils tonight in their 3-0 win. What really bothers me and likely any Devils fan who watched tonight's game was how they lost.
In the preview for today's game, I said that the goal for the Devils would be to play a full 60 minute game of hockey, since I felt what the Devils did on Long Island wouldn't be enough. Looking back, I would have gladly taken 40 minutes of excellent play from the Devils tonight even if it meant a bad period. It was far superior to the 0 minutes of superior hockey the Devils played tonight.
I'll be ranting further about tonight's game after the jump. For the essentials, here's the recap complete with stats at NHL.com. Check out Silver Seven later on for what should be an ecstatic recap. By no means do I want to take away from the Senators' win. They did their job well tonight. They showed up, whereas most of the Devils skaters really didn't.
The Devils came out, got one glorious chance - a two-on-one helpfully provided by Jason Spezza - that Brian Elliott stopped and that was pretty much it for the Devils offense tonight. They proceeded to play like their skates were dull for 60 minutes. They looked slow, they played sluggish hockey, and the Ottawa Senators were more than happy to hang back and pounce when necessary. This is acceptable if you're the team up by 3. Not so much when on the other end of that scoreline.
More infuriatingly, the Devils were more than willing to help the Ottawa defense with their passing. The Devils missed so many passes, I wonder if they forgot which uniforms they were wearing. If I had a nickel for every time occassions where the Devils are rushing up the ice only to misfire on the pass, I think I would have at least $1.20 tonight. Moving the puck in hockey is vital to an offense and with the kind of passing the Devils were doing in the neutral zone and over the blueline, the offense was literally stalled over and over.
I hate to sound like sour grapes, but I'm pretty sure tonight's shutout was one of the easiest in Brian Elliott's career. The Senators defense played very well as they limited the Devils from maintaining much offensive pressure as well as preventing many inside shots. The Devils did out-shoot the Senators - one of the few areas the Devils were actually better than the Senators at tonight - 24-18. But the Devils' 24 were mostly pedestrian shots. It'd be one thing if the Elliott had to stand on his head, but he could have read a book at some points of tonight's game. No deflections in front, no rebounds, very few from the slot, and none where Elliott had to do something ridiculous. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner had 6 shots, sure, but where any of them really anything more than a nuisance?
On the other hand, the Senators were ruthless when they shot the puck. The first shot of the game for them was Milan Michalek right on the doorstep getting a pass from Daniel Alfredsson. Brodeur had to slide to stop it and basically robbed him. The Senators were blocked quite a bit (13 attempts blocked) and they did miss the net more than New Jersey (14 attempts missed), but that they attempted 45 times is a sign of how much more often the Senators had the puck on offense. Normally, allowing only 18 shots is a good thing, a reason to praise the defense, but it means very little when they are mostly scoring chances.
Moreover, the Senators got one goal from just well positioned play by Alex Kovalev. Kovalev set himself in a position where no one on the defense could really get at him, he took the pass from Nick Foligno, and fired a great shot in. Maybe Brodeur should have had that shot, but I'm not mad about that goal. Oh no. While box-score punditry will lament Brodeur giving up 3 goals on 12 shots, they would be more understanding if they realized the other two goals were deflected in. Both of which wouldn't have happened, in my opinion, if it wasn't for Mike Mottau.
First, Mike Mottau for some reason I have yet to figure out, attempted to clear a puck up the middle. On the ice. Chris Campoli stopped it easily at the point, fired a shot, and Milan Michalek tipped it in. Of course, Brodeur (or Danis or any goalie, really) had no chance at it. Now, Michalek did well to tip it and Campoli's shot was true; but Mottau caused that goal to happen. Why he doesn't have an assist on the boxscore? He basically giftwrapped it for Campoli by committing a grave sin for a defender. Watch that goal closely on the highlight video. If you're a defenseman or a coach, this is exactly what you should not be doing. Never clear it up the middle with players at the point. And if you do, lob the puck!
Then there's the third goal against, the second tip-in. Colin White botches a pass/clearance along the boards and Daniel Alfredsson takes it into the zone. Now, he finds Filip Kuba all alone in the middle of the ice so he rushes in. As the Devils were backchecking, I don't know why he was uncovered but nevermind that. Mottau makes the right decision to cover Jason Spezza, who flew to the net. Kuba just one-touches it in Mottau's direction and instead of closing out Spezza, Spezza is able to put his stick in between Mottau's legs for the deflection at the post on Brodeur's flank. Of course, Brodeur (or Danis, or anyone else) had no shot at making the stop. Full credit to Kuba for putting the puck over there so quickly. You may say that was unlucky for Mottau, but he was turned away from the play and if you do that, you need to make sure the guy you're covering can't reach ahead. Mottau didn't and so he looked real bad by Spezza's slick move.
Needless to say, I did not think Mottau had a good game. In contrast, the Senators' top two lines looked great. I don't see them cooling off anytime soon, but then I doubt their future opponents will be this putrid on the ice as New Jersey was tonight. For those who want to see it, here's the highlights to tonight's game from NHL.com. Great if you're a Senators fan, and the exact opposite of great for Devils fans:
Overall, though, what troubles me the most is the lack of fire in the Devils. We all saw this last Monday on Long Island where the Islanders just blew through the Devils. The Islanders game was worse in every stat, but if you think about it, tonight was a lot like that. The offense was offensively not-threatening, the defense got blown up for goals, Martin Brodeur was pulled for the third period and even then Yann Danis had to make some big saves off of just 6 shots to prevent expansion of the score, and the other team just cruised to a win. Huh. When I put it like that, I guess the only thing the Senators didn't do was put 40+ shots on net and if they were more cohesive in their own zone, then they would have done that too.
I'm left with these questions. Where were the never-say-die Devils that we all saw in December and earlier in the season? Where was the drive to even just get a consolation goal? Why wasn't there even a little lift from the return of Dainius Zubrus, who looked decent but rusty in his 12:14? By the third period, it was like both teams gave up and even then, Ottawa kept getting strong shots to the net.
That's the worst feeling I have about this loss, and now I'm wondering, are the Devils back to slumping? Their last week was a bad loss on Monday to the Islanders, a decent win over Florida on Wednesday, a disappointing loss to the Canadiens, and a solid (for 40 minutes) win against the Islanders on Saturday. Did they even stop slumping? Perhaps I'm being dramatic, but tomorrow's game against very good Buffalo Sabres team could definitively answer the question. If the Devils play anything like this tonight, then I fear they'll be back to square one and short on immediate answers.
Thanks to Steve for making the GameThread, thanks to all who have joined me in the GameThread in the comments, and thanks to all the readers. I'd like to say, "Better luck tomorrow, I hope," but the Devils absolutely need to be awake and get going right from minute one tomorrow night. Please leave all your feelings, concerns (I'm sure you all have some), complaints (these too), and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.