My initial thought at the Rock when the final horn sounded was, "Yeah, the New Jersey Devils deserve these boos." My second thought was, "Didn't I see this last Thursday against Montreal? Only this time the Devils scored a goal, outshot the Red Wings overall, and limited them to only 4?" My third thought was, "I saw a lot of coats given by the fans for the Coat Drive; good on the fans for that. The crowd was fairly vocal despite the team not playing up to par yet again. If only they had a team worthy of their support." My fourth thought was, "Where do I even start with this game?"
The New Jersey Devils got scored on the first two shots against in the game, allowed one more goal in the following two periods, and looked like amateurs against the superior Detroit Red Wings. The Devils came off one of their better team performances in recent memory against Ottawa to play a rather poor one tonight. The Red Wings came off a game where they weathered a storm in the final period against Montreal - and won - and just cruised to a victory.
I made a big point in the preview about how good Detroit is at the puck possession game, and they were that good at even strength. Yes, the Devils out-shot the Red Wings 34-23, leading in every period according to the game summary. Look at the event summary and you'll see that 11 of those 34 shots came on the 5 power plays the Devils enjoyed tonight. The shots at 5-on-5 were 22-21 Detroit. A quick scan of the Corsi chart for tonight's game from Time On Ice shows that Detroit was largely positive with a few exceptions. That's the power of puck possession. Throw in some miscues by the goaltender and defense, and the goals came for Detroit. The majority of hockey games are played at 5-on-5 and if you can win there, you're usually going to win. That's what Detroit focuses on the most, and it was successful yet again. That's where New Jersey continues to falter, now for the fifth straight time. Stage 5b is for acceptance, but that doesn't mean one has to be happy about it.
The New Jersey Devils couldn't have started any worse. Well, OK, maybe they could have if they did something horrific. Instead only the fans at the Rock and those watching on TV were witnessed to some terrible goals allowed early. Real early. Like, first shift of the game early. Pavel Datsyuk beats Martin Brodeur with a long shot, it hits the post, then hits the glove, and goes right in. Perhaps that was fluky, but it was pretty bad. The second goal allowed was even worse. Dan Cleary has space in front of Brodeur, and Marty decides to come out to cut off the angle. This is a smart decision assuming you cut off the angle properly. Brodeur didn't, and instead gave Cleary the exact spot where he needed to shoot. Those were the first two shots of the game and 1:42 into the game, the Devils were down 2.
After the game, Martin Brodeur claimed responsibility as he told Tom Gulitti - as he should. Those were some bad goals to allow. He did better as the game went on, but I can't defend those two allowed. That said, these are the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils and they found ways to leave their goaltender out to dry later on.
Of course, they also found ways to make Chris Osgood look like a goaltender superhero - which they did. I wonder if logos on jerseys get puck marks, because quite a few of New Jersey's shots went right at them.
Tonight was yet another one of those games where one of the few positives was that the Devils didn't get shutout. Though, it was with a power play goal. Funny that while the power play now doesn't need quotes around the word power, the rest of the offense still lags. As mentioned prior to the jump, the PP put up 11 shots on net in 7:28 and Patrik Elias - who know is on a goal scoring streak, if you can believe it - scored with a nice shot through a screen. As nice as that was, it turned 3-0 into 3-1 at the time of the game.
Still, focusing on small steps means that I have to at least credit the PP units for not wasting their time for a change. The Devils looked their best at 5-on-4, which is a big improvement over what we've seen in the last two months. The penalty kill was also good, as they killed 3 opportunities lasting 5:09, allowed only 1 shot on net, and put up two of their own - including a near-lay-up for Brian Rolston who shot it, surprise surprise, right into Osgood's chest.
New Jersey was good on special teams. Yet, at even strength, Detroit was clearly stronger. Once again, we've had stretches of time in all three periods where all the Devils would do is clear the puck from their own end, have it retrieved by a Red Wing, he makes one pass into the neutral zone, there would be a second pass through said zone, and then Detroit's back on the attack. Eventually, a defense gets broken down that way and silly mistakes happen. The pain from that cycle is exacerbated when the clearances don't get beyond that blueline or the initial pass gets picked off. Matthew Corrente stuck out in my opinion for the latter. He may be a rookie, but he should know that the guys wearing the same jersey as him should be the ones he should be aiming for. No wonder he ended the night with a -10 Corsi. Overall, though, the Devils only made it harder for themselves when they dipped back into those cycles since A) they led to very little offense and B) just further showed the thousands and thousands at the Prudential Center that Detroit is clearly superior. An easy conclusion since they had the puck so much.
Going back to an earlier point, silly mistakes do happen, and Mark Fayne made one of the silliest all season. With Henrik Tallinder going into the corner after Henrik Zetterberg, Fayne decides to go and help. No looking to see who's behind him, just goes right to the corner. The problem with that is the puck was moved to the corner on a dump-in attempt. Fayne going after him meant that the slot was wide open. Pavel Datsyuk is one of the smartest hockey players in the NHL, but even Derek Boogard would have figured out what to do: go right to the slot. Zetterberg knocks the puck into the slot, Datsyuk is right there all alone with Brodeur, and of course Brodeur's beaten on. The Devils have given up so many goals off of errors in their own end; yet this decision by Fayne almost makes me want to give it an award for how stupid it was.
I know this is Fayne's first season of pro hockey, but I'm pretty sure leaving the slot wide open isn't taught at Providence College. I'm pretty sure the players in Hockey East burn those who do such a thing. It was not a "rookie mistake," it was a fundamental mistake. Quite frankly, I've felt Fayne was all right in his first few games. But like Olivier Magnan-Grenier, I think he's now hit a wall. Tonight, he was all over the place, his passing out of the zone was suspect, and he should be thankful the Red Wings missed on a number of chances that could have been easy goals because he got torched. Combined with that error I almost want to think he should be back in Albany. Maybe he will be soon?
I don't mean to pick on specifically Corrente, Fayne, or Brodeur for tonight's loss - though each are responsible in their own way. Most of the team seemed overwhelmed even if the shot count doesn't indicate that. Call it confirmation bias, but once again I witnessed Ilya Kovalchuk get the puck into the zone and then forced to dump it or make an ill-advised pass because no one's near him for safety valve. Once again, I witnessed the defense trying to go for that long pass into the neutral zone, Detroit picked up on it and had players along the boards waiting for it, and they kept doing it. Once again, I saw Mattias Tedenby play with a lot of energy, but he can do only so much and so the boxscore really didn't indicate how he did tonight.
Then there's the coaching. Mike Babcock wiped the floor with John MacLean tactically and in terms of match-ups. The Devils kept repeating the same acts, hoping for different results, yet Detroit ended up with the puck on their stick more often than not at even strength. Even though the Devils had the last change, MacLean lost the plot in the flow of the game a few times. In those few times, MacLean would put out the fourth line or a rookie defenseman and Babcock threw out a scoring line (e.g. Datsyuk-Holmstrom-Zetterberg, or Bertuzzi-Filppula-Franzen) and they'd succeed. The last two Detroit goals were a result of that matchup, a very bad one for New Jersey. It was rare, but it worked. Again, the Devils were down for most of the game, yet the shooting was just in favor of Detroit at evens. You tell me who the better coach was tonight.
Surprising no one, there were two lineup moves by MacLean that left me with a mouth full of "What?". MacLean decided to put Brian Rolston at center for the first time in a while. He went 3-for-7, which isn't too bad for a player who hasn't done it in a while. His wingers were Tedenby and David Clarkson. I think I may know why Tedenby felt he had to do too much tonight. Then there was the second line, which was Kovalchuk, Jason Arnott, and Dainius Zubrus. I can sort of see the logic: Arnott's the only veteran forward shooting like he has been all career and Zubrus has been a good possession player this season. The problem is that Kovalchuk is swifter than both, and while all three combined for 9 shots on goal (and had relatively good Corsi), I got a sense it didn't mesh. If anything, you'd want a speedier winger opposite Kovalchuk to keep up if/when he rushes forward. Someone like, oh, Tedenby. This way Zubrus could have been at center like he has been more often than Rolston has been in the last 3 seasons. Does John MacLean think about who could complement with each other when he comes up with a roster, or does he just throw darts at a piece of paper to "get guys going?"
Anyway, all of this criticism aside, the major lesson is this: Detroit is very, very good at even strength (and overall) and New Jersey is not good at all. It's not so much that Detroit won, but how miserable the Devils looked in doing it. I think the Mites on Ice in the first intermission put up a more coherent attack than the Devils. But they don't need my snark or invective. In reading this post-game post by Tom Gulitti, the general sentiment is that no one's happy. Fine. No one should be during a 5-game losing streak on a team still sitting at 8 wins for 2 week - be they a player, a coach, a reporter, or a fan. Even those in Stage 5b; acceptance only means understanding that this is a bad hockey team playing bad hockey and is therefore getting bad results.
This is the time where something has to be done. Even if the season is completely lost, and it likely is at this juncture, there has to be some kind of change. I was talking with Timo Seppa of Puck Prospectus during the second intermission and he remains mystified that the Devils are playing this bad regularly, regardless of how good Detroit it. In discussing what could be done, I feel he phrased it the best. Yes, changing the coach or the captain or making a trade alone will not solve all of these problems. But if they aren't going to be part of the solution - emphasis on the solution - then they need to be jettisoned. Be it MacLean, his staff, Jamie Langenbrunner, whoever. A move now would not be out of panic, but in determining what could be done going forward to salvage part of this season and getting ready for next season.
I happen to agree with Mr. Seppa and I hope Lou will realize that while he may be in a no-win situation regarding what he can do, current inaction has led the Devils to get, well, no wins.
Anyway, thank you for reading this long-form venting in the form of a recap of tonight's game. Please leave your thoughts, questions, concerns, and other feelings about tonight's loss in the comments.