Those Were the Breaks: New Jersey Devils Lose 3-2 to St. Louis Blues

Tonight's game between the St. Louis Blues and New Jersey Devils showcased how much luck (or breaks, if you hate that four letter word) can decide a game. All five goals had some manner of luck involved. The first shot of the game (seriously) was taken by David Clarkson and was put high on Jaroslav Halak.  He misplays it somehow and it goes up and over him; a break in New Jersey's favor and an early lead.  The Devils also were fortunate when Patrik Elias intercepted a pass on defense and found Mattias Tedenby wide open in the neutral zone. Tedenby takes it and scores a beautiful breakaway goal. 

Alas, the Devils were on the receiving end of more bad breaks.  The first goal against came when the puck was in the middle of a goal mouth scramble. I don't know how Dennis LaRue saw it was free from behind the net (if the ref loses sight of it, he is supposed to blow the whistle), but he never blew the play dead allowing Alex Pietrangelo to jam it in.  The second goal was weirder as Eric Brewer fires a hard slapshot wide, it bounces off the boards at just the right angle to bounce off Mike McKenna's back and go in.  A total fluke. The third was a deflection by Brad Winchester off of Tyson Strachan's floating shot right in front of the net - the kind of shot that usually gets knocked away or blocked, but this time got struck perfectly.  That's how the scoring was tonight and the Devils were ultimately on the wrong end of luck in a 3-2 loss in St. Louis.

I bring up the goals first because I truly believe tonight's game was defined by the breaks.  I explain a little further after the jump, which includes a video of the game highlights from NHL.com. This way, you'll see what I mean about all five goals in this game including Tedenby's beaut and Brewer's fluke.  For a Blues' based recap, please visit St. Louis Game Time.

First, the game highlights video from NHL.com:

It's not like the Devils gave a half-hearted effort tonight.  Per the game summary, they outshot the Blues 37-27 - doing so even with the lead and more impressively even in the second period.  At even strength, the Devils were the dominant team in total shots (35-22) and on the Time on Ice Corsi chart, where only the fourth line and Colin White was negative.

According to the event summary, the guys you probably want to get shots, got shots: Ilya Kovalchuk, Dainius Zubrus, Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, Mattias Tedenby, and David Clarkson all had at least 3 SOG tonight.  I'm not sure why MacLean kept giving that fourth line shifts in the third when down 3-2, as that unit tended to be in their own end more often than you'd want.   That said, the other three forward lines played well and neither was a "weak link," as each generated plenty of shots from all over the place.

There weren't so many critical errors in the defensive end.  I felt  the defense was fine from top to bottom, and none of the goals against was because someone screwed up - which is nice for a change. Colin White was the only defender to finish with a negative Corsi, but that's understandable since he's a defensive defenseman who usually plays against tough competition.  According to the head to head ice time charts at Time on Ice, he was put in that role again facing off with Brad Boyes, Andy McDonald, and David Backes - three of St. Louis' best forwards - at even strength.

While I didn't agree with the decision to start him, Mike McKenna played perfectly fine tonight in his first NHL action since April 2009.  He should not be blamed for either of the three goals allowed, and this isn't out of low expectations.  He made some strong saves and he positioned himself fairly well.  I wouldn't blame Martin Brodeur, Johan Hedberg, Halak, or any goalie if they were in McKenna's position tonight.   That being said, I still want Hedberg to be the main man while Brodeur is injured.

Were I to criticize the effort as a whole, I would say the first part of the third period wasn't good as the Blues dominated in shots and possession. The play at the end of the game wasn't so good as the Devils never really maintained possession and shot themselves in the foot at the very end with a too many men on the ice call (fault Tedenby for that), but it's not like the Devils were going to march on down and score regardless. 

I'm sure some Devils fans will see the loss, see the scoreline, and say, "same old story."  The only thing you can honestly say "same old story" to is the Devils' power play, which was ineffective overall (1 shot on net in 6 minutes) and seemingly nonexistent for the first two advantages.  Other than that, I can assure you that the Devils played a good game of hockey tonight. The Blues worked hard too, but the Devils had more possession, they tested Halak throughout the game, they got chances (though I didn't count them - sorry), and there were few breakdowns on defense both at 5-on-5 and on the PK.  I repeat: The Devils lost this game primarily of some bad breaks - a missed call on the first one, a literal bad bounce on the second, and the third was a point-blank deflection that I'm not sure Winchester could replicate.  Good for St. Louis, but it's not like they were clearly the superior team tonight.

If the Devils had a better record, we'd regard this loss appropriately.  We'd say it was just some bad luck, just not the Devils' night, and move on. 

But because the loss meant the Devils got swept on this three game road trip and puts them at 5-13-2, most will not see the game this way.  The calls for change - be it for captain, coach, or stupid trades - will continue. The frustration will grow into higher peaks for some fans and rant; while others may just throw up their hands and just go do something else instead of watching the Devils.  I sympathize with your feelings since the Devils needed this loss like a brick to the head; but this is how I saw tonight's game and I'm sticking to it short of some convincing evidence.

How did you see tonight's game? Do you agree or disagree with luck/breaks playing such a large role tonight?  What did you like and dislike about the game other than of the final score?  Please give your take on tonight's loss in the comments.  Thanks for reading.

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