Michal Handzus seriously batted the rebound from Jarret Stoll's shot in the air under Martin Brodeur's left armpit. Not really sure what else could be done? (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
That the New Jersey Devils lost tonight isn't all that surprising. That they got some bad breaks along with some less than good defensive zone play in the goals allowed isn't all that surprising. That the Devils got a lot of shots on net but didn't have the finish for whatever reason you choose to believe isn't all that surprising. That the New Jersey power play continues to be a joke of special teams isn't all that surprising. That the other team exercised the gameplan of getting up by two goals, allowing NJ chase the game in the third period, and hoping the goaltender makes all the stops - and succeeded isn't all that surprising. That the Devils, coming off a win on Friday night, didn't really build much off of the good things they did in that win isn't surprising.
What is surprising is that this keeps happening again and again and again and again.
I know I've stressed not panicking. I know I've argued looking at the root issues of the team. I know full well that making a trade or firing the coach or changing the captain won't necessarily make this team play to the caliber of hockey we know they are capable of playing. But time's really not on New Jersey's side. The first month of the season is over and the hole the team has dug itself in - now deeper at 3-8-1 thanks to this one - will definitely haunt the team in future months. But we cannot worry about future months since they aren't getting the job done now. It's one thing to have a slow start but 12 games in, the Devils are no longer at the "start" of the season. Something's got to give.
If the players want to keep the roster and coaching staff as-is, then they need to sort it out quickly. The days of generating a significant portion of your offense in the third period down in the game has to end. Wasting power plays is no longer acceptable. Turnovers in the neutral zone that lead to odd man rushes, which aided the goal scored by Justin Williams, must be limited. Stupid actions like Andy Greene tangling up with the Martin Brodeur, which helped make Justin Stoll's goal much easier, must end. Will it? I have no idea. Does some of this or all of this sound familiar? It should, it's the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils.
Truthfully, the game wasn't as bad as some of the recent losses. Here are some positives:
The Devils did manage 40 shots on goal, Jonathon Quick was forced to be great - and he was. Quick was excellent in limiting his rebounds and quickly reacted to a number of heads up plays.
Travis Zajac had a fine night statistically: 8 shots on goal, 15 for 23 on faceoffs in 21:11 of work. He hasn't scored a goal since opening night, but (like the rest of the team) he's due.
David Clarkson showed some more signs of coming out of the Useless Woods. He had 5 shots and even an assist on Matt Taormina's goal.
Taormina scored the team's lone goal, capping off another fine 20+ minute effort. It was a fine long shot that found it's way through traffic. I tend to frown on those kind of shots because far more often than not, they don't get to the net. They either get blocked, deflected away, or are just put too wide (a.k.a. Andy Greene's shot this year).
While no one will stand up and say Ilya Kovalchuk had great numbers, he did a lot of creating and continued to mesh well with Patrik Elias and Alexander Vasyunov. The Kings, per Jarret Stoll's postgame comments to Rich Hammond, made a point of it to always have bodies near or on him. Hence the lack of shots from Kovalchuk. Still, given that the Devils' lines haven't been kept together, that the unit as a whole hasn't been pounded is a positive. (Aside: Not sure why Kovalchuk was booed by the LA fans so much. It's not Kovalchuk's fault LA wouldn't come close to what NJ offered. And he never was a King to begin with. These stories of Kovalchuk's "return" are asinine to say the least.)
- Brad Mills played in his first NHL game and even got some PK time. Though he over-committed on Jack Johnson's pass to Jarret Stoll (which led to the Kings' power play goal), Mills wasn't really terrible tonight. I felt he put in a decent fourth line performance, which is fine since that is his role.
The Devils didn't really "sag" in the second period. They weren't heavily outshot by the Kings, only 10-9. What made it seem worse than what it was how they scored on a power play (Michal Handzus putting in a rebound in mid-air) and how quickly they scored after Taormina's goal (Jarret Stoll cleaning up a big mess in New Jersey's end).
Of course, the negatives will outweigh the positives by virtue of the final score. It's one thing if the game was just a matter of the Kings being the better team and that's that. But given the situation New Jersey was in and their performance a times, it makes the game that much worse in my tired eyes. Not just tired from the lateness of this game (Aside: After Monday, the games are played at more reasonable times for the east coast, thankfully), but from just seeing the same thing over and over with only slight variations. What was tonight's variation? That it was a chippy game, but both teams kept their respective cool while the refs let the players play.
I'd give the edge to the Kings being better in the first two periods by virtue of coming up with better scoring chances along with scoring some goals. Their aggression paid off, aided by their defense breaking up New Jersey's attack much more quickly than the Devils could do to LA. Good job to Terry Murray for getting his players prepared, just as he wanted them to be on Friday, per Rich Hammond. The third period was mostly NJ driving the play, but without goals, it was ultimately meaningless. The Kings avoided the "trap game" whilst the Devils remain in the prison of sorrow.
Did the Devils build on last night's win? Not really at first glance and during the game; but perhaps in retrospect it might. Should John MacLean be concerned about his job security? Not now. The Anaheim win buys him a little more time; and if any coach deserves to be called out, then it should be Adam Oates because the power play strategies are definitely not working (1 shot on goal from 2 power plays - seriously).
There is one more concern coming out of tonight's game: the health of Zach Parise. He got hit awkwardly in the latter stages of the second period, he favored his right leg going to the bench, and he didn't play a single shift in the third period. Worse yet, he's going back to New Jersey for further evaluation as reported by Tom Gulitti. He's almost definitely not going to play in Vancouver on Monday. Let us hope he's healthy because losing him long-term would be a big blow to this team. New Jersey has an already long injury list and an offense that's punchless as-is; I really don't want to see Parise on the shelf for a long time.
Anyway, I'm sure I missed quite a bit. Was there other positives? Were there other negatives? Please feel free to note what you saw in tonight's game, what you did and didn't like in the comments. Thank you to everyone who commented in the Gamethread, and thank you for reading. Here are the highlights from NHL.com: