I'm not someone who goes about complaining about defensive hockey or the quality of the game too much. 99% of the time, I can appreciate what goes on the ice. Sure, when the New Jersey Devils lose I'm not happy, but I can take why it happened.
Tonight's game was an absolute horror show to watch at times. In the preview for this game, I did say the Devils were in "by any means necessary" mode. They got a 2-1 shootout win over the Calgary Flames. That's all well and good, and in the long run, that matters most. They got 2 points. Mission accomplished.
At the same time, I'm still reeling from the stinky performance the Devils left in Newark. The Devils didn't build on all of the lessons of the 5-0 win over Washington - which was my goal of the game for them. The defense was perfectly fine, Johan Hedberg was great, but the offense - especially the puck movement - was pitiful. It happens in the course of the season, but I believe this was a game the Devils won that perhaps they shouldn't have.
Here's the game summary and here's the event summary. It's not a joke. It truly did take overtime for the Devils to crack 20 shots on goal. Only in power plays did it seem like the Devils were able to string a few passes in Calgary's end. There were long stretches of the game where the Devils failed to register a shot on net. There were boneheaded passes on top of the poorly executed passes. The guys in red scrambled on defense, but were out of sync and seemingly didn't communicate with each other on offense. Somehow, Calgary never took advantage, Hedberg and the D kept New Jersey in the game, and they came up big in the shootout.
I'll gladly take the points, but that doesn't mean there should be no criticism. It's definitely warranted tonight. In any case, I have further thoughts after the jump. Please visit Matchsticks and Gasoline for a Calgary take. If you want scoring chances, Kent Wilson has his counts here at Flames Nation.
I honestly feel bad for the Calgary Flames supporters. I wish there was a time of possession stat in the NHL, because I'm pretty confident it would have shown Calgary having been dominant in that category. Henrik Karlsson didn't have much to do in the second and third periods, didn't have a whole lot to do in the first either. He really got challenged in OT, when he faced a 4-on-3 power play (which was good) and made one huge stop on Patrik Elias right at the crease. Protecting a guy in his fourth NHL game ever was a goal for Calgary and I think they accomplished it.
The Flames did an excellent job repeatedly keeping the Devils to the outside, stunting their offense further beyond the Devils shooting themselves in the foot as they were. Speaking of, Brent Sutter clogged the neutral zone right from the start, exploited critical matchups, and basically outcoached John MacLean right out of his suit. I don't believe many booed Sutter during the pregame annoucements, but I have to give the man some credit. He had a gameplan and his team carried it out to a "T." The Devils had no answer tactically for the Flames' traps, and their abysmal execution in passing the puck only worsened the cause. They were, from what I saw, the better team.
Mind you, this does not mean they were good. "Better," in this case, only means they were good relative to their opponent. Just as the Devils' passing game was the equivalent of banging your head against a brick wall for 60 minutes, the Flames' was like just leaning your head against one for 60 minutes. Despite picking up nearly every dump-in the Devils did, despite winning pucks in the neutral zone, despite picking up all of those turnovers in their own end, the Flames only led 17-14 in SOG at 5-on-5 according to the event summary. The Corsi chart from Time On Ice indicates Calgary was better, but they had a few negative players as well. I remain confused as to how Calgary managed to have the puck so much, yet not take full advantage.
Then I see another attempted pass either broken up or miss it's mark. Tonight was truly a dreary and hideous game to witness. Speaking of, here's the game highlights from NHL.com in case you missed this game:
That said, there are a few Devils that deserve some praise. Take a bow, Mr. Johan Hedberg. You absolutely robbed Jarome Iginla twice - including a left pad stop on a re-direction in the second period that still amazes me thinking about it hours after the game. You were only beat on a deflection from Rene Bourque in traffic; a goal that I can't get angry about, as you had no chance on it. You came up big in the shootout as well on the 25 other shots you stopped in the game proper. I don't know why you weren't named the first start tonight, but you deserved it.
I'd also like to collectively thank the defense, too. Based on the head to head ice time charts at Time on Ice, Colin White and Henrik Tallinder went up against Iginla, Olli Jokinen, and Alex Tanguay - Calgary's top line at evens. While the line put up a combined 10 SOG; White managed to end up with a +1 Corsi and Tallinder was better at +4. That means when they were out there, they were up against tough competition who got their chances, but the Devils with them managed to get some rare offense. That's good. As a whole, the effort was very much like Monday's in that they didn't allow too many shots in the slot, they cleaned up rebounds, and everyone was mostly in position. My only complaint was some of their breakout passes were, well, garbage.
Ultimately, the putrid puck movement is why I can't really praise the offense tonight nor can I say this was a well earned win in a close game. It was as if the team collectively had a bad day when it came passes. You could have categorized them: Passes that were misfired, passes that just missed, passes that went straight to a Calgary stick or skate; passes that went for icing; passes that were fired too high; passes to no one; and even one pass that went to a player going onto the bench (which of course Calgary took). This is how a team ends up with only 15 shots on net at the end of regulation.
Yes, Mattias Tedenby created New Jersey's lone goal off a rebound - which hit David Clarkson's skate so he got credit for the goal (and took Tedenby's lone shot away). But I really can't praise the forwards. Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus took the brunt of the damage at evens with -13 Corsi values each. However, the Elias-Arnott-Tedenby line was muted. Travis Zajac was totally off his game except on faceoffs. The fourth line continued to do not much but hustle - which isn't much at all. This may sound overly negative, but I truly can't emphasize enough how bad the passing was tonight. When the passes are off, there won't be many shots, possession keeps going to the other team, and that was on display before thousands of disgusted fans tonight.
At least the power play wasn't eye-pokingly bad when it came to passes.
Then there's the coaching. A lot of the puck movement problems fall on the players and the players alone. MacLean and Larry Robinson aren't on the ice dishing out pucks. However, MacLean had little answer for what Sutter was doing. Sutter set up a trap and the Devils did little about it. MacLean tried mixing up the lines to try and mess with Sutter's matchups, but to no avail. MacLean at least reverted to the original lines later on from what I saw.
Still, there was little tactical adjustments that I saw. The Devils spent most of their effort getting a stop on D, and proceeding to lose the puck on an errant pass or clear in the neutral zone or on offense. The team did work hard, but it was only effective at one of end of the rink. Above all, I felt the dump-ins were the most indicative of this inaction. When the Calgary defense kept dropping back for the eventual dump in - and getting it - after a few shifts, it's time to try something else. Yet, the Devils didn't try to do anything else. No different approaches to force Calgary to do much else. They were just giving pucks away even when they weren't making a line change. By the end of the game, no wonder it was as if the Devils were playing for the tie. They weren't trying to snap the 1-1 deadlock in the third period, not with just 3 SOG!
The performance was uneven to say the least and while I really liked how Hedberg played and how the defense did, their inability to put Calgary on their heels outside of overtime was horrid. On other nights against other teams, they will either get some breaks or just straight-up impose their will onto the Devils' in their own end with that lack of offense. Hockey is a flowing game and it's difficult to get a win when things are going so poorly in one direction. That's on both the players and the coaches.
Of course, the Devils did manage to get a win via the shootout. Kovalchuk can at least feel good about scoring a goal and Hedberg can feel even better for stopping three shots. The Devils now have won two games in a row for the first time all season. An optimist may point out that this game, while not a good one by NJ, should be viewed as a blessing in disguise. That they would have lost this game earlier in the year, but managed to get lucky, get a "W" in a close game, and the players (and coaches) can try to improve without feeling additional pressure that comes with a loss. Fine, I can dig that. But the last part is crucial. This game proved that this team still has a long way to go. Let us hope tonight's offensive performance was an anomaly.
Thanks for everyone who commented in the Gamethread; and thank you for reading. I hope you all have a happy holiday. (Unless you don't celebrate Thanksgiving - then go enjoy Thursday). What do you think about tonight's game? Perhaps I was too negative, but I was disgusted from watching this game in the stands to be honest. Do you have a different take? Please share your thoughts and feelings about tonight's game in the comments.