New Jersey Devils Blow Lead in Heartbreaking Loss to the Los Angeles Kings, 3-2

The New Jersey Devils had a one goal lead going into the second period, thanks to an impressive shot by Johnny Oduya from the point. The New Jersey Devils made it 2-0 thanks to Travis Zajac finding Jonathan Quick's five-hole to be just too big.  But the Devils went on to concede a late goal in the second period to Michael Handzus; a late equalizer in the third period to Wayne Simmonds' backhand beating Martin Brodeur on a screen; and ultimately lost the game on a Drew Doughty slapshot (he is a beast on defense) that was either tipped in by Ryan Smyth on his screen or went past the Smyth-screened Brodeur. 

Those are the facts.  This is not some kind of a sick joke.  The Devils blew their lead and the game late, turning what could have - what should have - been a win over LA, into an extension of the Kings' winning streak (now at 6).  This actually happened in front of a nearly full crowd (all the tickets sold, though) and from my view in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5, I was shocked, stunned, and frozen in silence.

Here is the recap from NHL.com, complete with all the stats from the game.  Go to Jewels From the Crown later for a recap.  Read on my further anger about the game. No, that's not a typo.  I'm quite angry about this game.

I'm angry that the Devils built up a 2 goal lead largely from the strength of the ZZZ unit (in total - Parise with 5 shots and 2 assists; Zubrus with 4 shots and an assist; and Zajac with 3 shots and a goal and an assist) and lost it.

I'm angry that the Devils lost this lead due to miscues in their own zone.  The one complaint I had all throughout the game was how the Devils struggled to clear the puck or made a poor pass in their own zone.  Often this lead to LA getting the puck and the defense needing to react to make sure it doesn't lead to a shot.  And for the ones that did, the shots were stopped in short order by Martin Brodeur.  But all it did was help keep the Kings in this game.

I'm angry at all of the giveaways that the Devils had tonight.  Not that any necessarily led to the Kings' goals and the "official" counting of giveaways can be sketchy at best, but the Devils coughed up 17 to the Kings' 7.  Ugh.

I'm angry that Rob Niedermayer misplayed the initial feed by Scott Parse, knocking it forward instead of to the side.  I'm angry he was frozen on the second attempt, leaving two Kings to crash the net and get lucky on the loose puck. I'm angry that Handzus beat Bryce Salvador, who had to worry about two Kings upon replay, to the space in front of the net.  I'm angry that some are choosing to blame Mike Mottau when Niedermayer botched it up next to the net.

I'm angry that the power play was actually threatening - yes actually threatening - to LA this evening and only some big stops by Quick prevented the game from becoming 3-1.  The most notable of these came off a rebound, where Dainius Zubrus chose correctly to try and lift it just over Quick, only to be denied by his glove.

I'm angry that the Devils got so many good shots on Quick and could not get that important third goal.  The Devils didn't sit on this lead in the third period.  They went forward, they made Quick and the Kings fans sweat with their 14 shots on net. Many were strong shots, good chances to score, only it wasn't to be tonight for whatever reason (Quick being great, finishing not being great, whatever else).  There was no trap, there was no passive play, the Devils choked it all in a flash; which was why this was so shocking to the fans.

I'm angry that guys like Brian Rolston, Dean McAmmond, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Nicklas Bergfors put in good, hard working efforts and forechecked well enough and their efforts were for naught.

I'm angry that Martin Brodeur made so many big saves, but idiots, morons, and haters will use this game as an example that he lost his edge or he needs to rest or anything of the sort.  As if Brodeur, rested or otherwise, had the magical ability to see through people standing in front of him on shots!  If you feel he should have had either of the last two goals, with all due respect, please remove your head from your alimentary canal and consider actually watching the game instead of being box-score pundits who don't know what they're talking about.

I'm angry that this will be compared to Game 7 against Carolina last season except this game wasn't nearly as important, Brodeur was screened on both the game tying and game winning goal, and the Devils actually played better than the Kings for most of the game.

I'm angry that Ryan Smyth screened Brodeur for both Simmonds' and Doughty's goals.  Seriously! The same player!

I'm angry that the Devils have developed an inability to defend against screens; but also at the fact that I have no real idea on how to do that.  Leaving them alone doesn't work, as Devils fans saw tonight.  Trying to muscle the screen away could lead to a penalty if it isn't subtle; but even if there's no call on it, the screen becomes larger with a defender trying to move the screen.

I'm angry that Andy Greene tripped that King, though it wouldn't at all surprise me if the King, shall I say, drew the penalty.

I'm angry that the Devils who have been so excellent when they go into periods with leads finally lose one and in this fashion.   I'm angry at being reminded by Tom Gulitti that the Devils have only allowed one game tying goal prior to Friday's OT win over the Maple Leafs, another game that should have ended with a win in regulation for New Jersey.  Now they have allowed two in their last two games and one leading to a loss, going into Toronto who has nothing to lose and two new players (Dion Phaneuf, J-S Giguere) who have everything to gain from playing well on Tuesday.

I'm angry from Gulitti's post-game post on the matter that the players recognize the problem.  So fix it! Stop it from happening! It's in your hands, guys! You can do something about it!

I'm angry that Jacques Lemaire is actually right when he says this about tonight's game, as reported by Gulitti.  The Devils did indeed play a good overall game, but they lost due to one botched defensive play and two screens. I can't say the Devils sucked, they just choked.

"We didn’t give them a lot in the third," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "Take the power play out, which is one scoring chance on the goal they had, and they had two scoring chances in the rest of the period, which is not a lot. It’s not that we played really bad. We figured they had maybe six, seven chances the whole game. I thought we played decent defensively."

I'm angry that there is no easy solution for this problem.  As much as you'd like to see (INSERT DEVIL YOU'RE NOT HAPPY WITH HERE) traded, that's not going to fix this problem.  Making trades just after some tough losses is generally ill-advised, especially since there isn't one player that is mainly at fault for what transpired tonight.  You want to have a scapegoat, fine, but I see this as a team problem and one that can only be solved by the team.

I'm angry that I, someone who follows the team regularly, can't even figure this team out. It's the end of January and I have no idea whether this is just a slump, whether this is a problem with the system, whether this is a coaching issue, whether this is just bad luck, or (most important) what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future.  Are these the real Devils? And if not, how can they come back?

I'm thankful for your comments in the GameThread (even the wrongheaded ones) and your readership. Please leave your thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.  Here's the highlights to the game from NHL.com in an embedded video:

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