History Repeats Itself: New Jersey Devils Follow Recent Win with Horrid 3-1 Loss to the Nashville Predators

The New Jersey Devils won their last game 3-0 against the Phoenix Coyotes.  The visitors were sloppy, but the Devils took advantage of them, put up some nice goals, and were plenty good enough to succeed.  The Devils followed up that loss with a uncoordinated, unfocused, and unbelievable 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators

How bad was it?  It took the Devils nearly 50 minutes to put up more than 10 shots on net.  Per the game summary, they ended up with 16 total with a maximum of 7.  Both figures came about mostly because New Jersey got aggressive when down 3-0 in the third.  As is standard procedure for this season, the Devils managed to score no more than one goal in the third period.   Yet again, the sole positive on offense was that the Devils were not shutout.

How bad was it? A quick look at the event summary shows a few shocking disparities. I'll name 3. First, the Predators got 5 shots on net total on the power play, and scored on two; whereas the Devils scored on their sole power play shot on net.  Both teams got over 5 minutes of power play time, so registering only one is disappointing.  Second, the Predators attempted 32 shots and put 20 on net total; whereas the Devils attempted 42 shots and 16 went on net.  If the total number of attempts being blocked and attempts missing the net were nearly as much as the number of shots on net, then you're doing something seriously wrong on offense.  Third, the Predators won 26 out of 42 faceoffs, losing only 4 defensive zone draws.  That may not seem like much, but it just further compounds how the Devils wasted opportunities to get pucks on offense. Even when they get an offensive zone draw, they generally lost it (I think Jason Arnott just lost another one just now, likely to Marcel Goc or Jerred Smithson) and so went possession and any hopes for a shot on net or scoring the rare goal.  Feel free to find your own disparities from the event summary.

How bad was it? Yet again, the Devils won a game in a decisive fashion with a decisive score, and they proceeded to take away nothing from that game.  How can a team get it mostly right on one night and then proceed to nearly get everything wrong two days later?  Consistently all season, the Devils have followed up a solid win with a disappointing loss (and then a few more losses).  Doesn't anyone on this team - coaches or players - learn from their errors? Don't they know that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it?  Yet, they went ahead and repeated it with a miserable effort in front of the home crowd.

Perhaps you have an answer. It's inexplicable to me at this juncture.   That's how bad tonight was in Newark.

In any case, I have a few more thoughts I want to touch on from tonight's game; but I think you get the gist of it.  Feel free to hop on over to On the Forecheck for a recap and to compliment them on how the team they support has some brains and common sense.

Tonight, I didn't sit in my normal seats.  I received free tickets as a gift for being a season ticket holder to sit in the front row tonight.  Ergo, my view of the game wasn't the usual one, but right at ice level.  I can see why those seats are so expensive because you can see so much more from the glass like the players' facial expressions and how they move the puck about.  I prefer to sit up higher, but for tonight, it was a great experience.  I was in the corner behind Martin Brodeur for the first and third, while I saw the Devils attack in the one period they suck at.  Regardless, I felt like I was watching my first hockey game, getting a full understanding on how hard those dumped-in pucks could be and how brutal those checks were.  Unfortunately, after the first Devils goal, said excitement was vanquished by the cynicism brought on by the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils. (Motto: If it can go wrong, it will go wrong - and we'll find a way to do it!)

I can type about how the elbowing call on Anton Volchenkov was harsh (it appeared to be a clean hit on Cal O'Reilly right in front of me) and the tripping call on Rod Pelley was a weak one (it seemed like Alexander Sulzer was falling down first).  I could discuss about how some soft penalty calls hurt the Devils as a few calls did lead to power play goals by Martin Erat.  But I really can't because the most astonishing thing was how bad the Devils were with the puck all night long.  That did them in more than anything than the guys in stripes could have done.

I witnessed the following face-palm inducing plays: straight up giveaways; passes hitting the boards and missing the players; two Devils going after the same puck leaving the eventual winner to have no option to pass it to; other Devils standing around when a player takes it over the blueline himself (usually it was Ilya Kovalchuk, sometimes Mattias Tedenby); passes across the slot with a Nashville forechecker in the way; the man on the sideboards looking for a pass among statue-like teammates on the power play; chasing Predators on the penalty kill; firing off clearances around the boards to no one but a man in a white jersey; few opportunities taken to forecheck; even fewer opportunities taken to try to lead an odd-man rush (was there really just one?). Defensemen - especially Colin White and Henrik Tallinder and forwards contributed plenty to an absolutely awful performance.  To call it sloppy would be an insult to the word sloppy.

Two plays stick out in my mind for being so bad I wanted to (but did not) scream expletives and hurl invective from row 1.  The first was during the delayed call on Sulzer. Colin White is bring the puck back in his own zone to set up Kovalchuk to lead a breakout as the extra attacker. White proceeds to carry the puck, cut back towards the slot, and literally a few inches from the empty net before touching it off for Kovalchuk. With a forechecker behind him, one little gaffe and White scores the worst kind of goal.  The second came in the second period where Andy Greene picked up the puck to start a breakout. Only he waits. Mark Fayne hangs out in the corner, Kovalchuk comes all the way down to the goal line, the Predator is just hanging out in front of Martin Brodeur, and Greene puts it off the wall after waiting anyway - only for it to be kept in by Nashville for a little bit.

Neither led to a critical failure like a goal against, but they were just two "What in the world are you thinking?" plays that stood out for it's idiocy among the many the Devils committed tonight.

Not that Nashville was moving the puck up ice with perfect precision and complete calmness. They put their share of ill-advised passes and pucks to the skaters in. After an excruciating first period, it wouldn't surprise me if both coaches gave similar speeches in preparation for the second. The difference was the Predators players got their heads right, the coaches made the appopriate adjusments, and came out flying in the second period to ultimately out-shoot them 12-5 - with a lead the whole time - and put up another goal.  The Devils, well, played without any of that and looked like a rec team facing a pro team.  Sure, Martin Brodeur probably should have held onto that puck that eventually trickled in just before the end of the first; but it was a fairly even game regardless.  Then the Predators just asserted themselves to put the game out of doubt for New Jersey. 

The third period came, the Preds tacked on another goal, the Devils rallied lamely yet again to try "get something going," and so Nashville cruised on to win because the Devils simply do not have the firepower to make any kind of comeback beyond getting a single consolation goal.  Anders Lindback juggled the puck a few times, but he didn't get a lot of work tonight to see whether he could be exposed.

As the game went on, from where I sat, I noticed how the players seemed to react to the struggles. Kovalchuk went into "Well, if I'm not going to get help, I'll have to do it myself. Tedenby, probably the only Devil I would qualify as being pretty good in general tonight, continued his game of speed and strong puck control.  Patrik Elias looked angry, the captain Jamie Langenbrunner looked dumbfounded (especially when he skied a one-timer by angling his stick the wrong way), and Jason Arnott was out of sync and nearly ran Kovalchuk on offense along the boards. Dainius Zubrus looked more awkward than anyone around Patrick Marleau. Brian Rolston looked like a waived player (and he played like he deserves it, mind you) and Travis Zajac was frustrated which held him back further. Colin White seemed to "sigh" after each whistle; Martin Brodeur just had a look of "Well, this isn't new, just keep at it." on his face, and so forth. 

Fitting that the one game I get to see up close and personal is one of the really bad ones in this season.  It's not like I expect the Devils to win every night, but put in an honest effort. Tonight, even the incredibly successful PK looked out of depth and Martin Brodeur got beaten thanks to two screens during two of those PK attempts.  It was truly that bad.

By Corsi alone, that Elias-Zajac-Langenbrunner did a great job of getting the puck forward.  Except a closer look at the chart from Time on Ice shows that most of that Corsi is driven by missed and blocked shots, making the number better than their actual effectiveness.  To the point where the most shots on goal that any Devils forward was on the ice for was a mere 5.  If that  line was going to get chances and continued to miss, then why doesn't John MacLean make a change for a few shifts when it's 2-0 or 3-0?  You knew the awesome pairing of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter was going to be out there where Kovalchuk-Arnott-Zubrus was - and they were at 5-on-5 - but if the second line's going to shoot blanks against the weaker defensemen, why keep it together? Why not give Tedenby a few shifts to spark that Elias line up and maybe turn some of those misses into shots on target? Why not increase the line's minutes in a hope that Weber-Suter sees them, that pairing goes off, and then Kovalchuk's unit can come on?  It's not like what they were doing tonight was working, after all it took nearly 50 minutes before the team put up shot #10 on the boards.  Why weren't there any adjustments that could have at least given Nashville something new to worry about?

I can continue with a few more questions for MacLean and the Devils as a whole. Why settle on a power play where most of the players are standing about, which flies in the face of what we've seen recently on the PP? Why did MacLean keep giving a third line minutes when they're pinned back more often than not at even strength for a second straight night? I noticed David Clarkson's got a total of 12:25, yet I felt he deserved much less tonight.  In recent games, he has made Kovalchuk look like an Selke-caliber defensive forward, he hasn't been throwing his body around so there goes his physical game, and he has failed more and more to get in position for shots (0 tonight) and to make anything resembling a decent pass going forward.  Why do I have this sick feeling we're going to see Tedenby-Rolston-Clarkson anyway tomorrow?  Moving on to D, I guess there's a reason why Anssi Salmela had more even strength ice time than all other defensemen except for Henrik Tallinder?  If anyone deserved more minutes, it was Mark Fayne as evidenced by Corsi (+6 is good for a defender).   How can Brodeur make big saves to bail out a team that won't support him with goals? Even without the softie in the first period, Erat's goals were enough to win - yet do the Devils even go out to attack when down 1-0 or 2-0? Not tonight! Again, it took them nearly 50 minutes of game time to get 10 shots on net.

Here's two big ones for the coaching staff: Why did the Devils get away from forechecking or setting up in a 1-2-2 when it worked so well against Phoenix? Why call a timeout when about to kill a penalty down by 2 goals late in the third as opposed to, say, after the second goal allowed?  Most of all, why can't this team play two straight good games of hockey?

Anyway, that's my take on the game. Before I leave you with the game highlights I went to the game with my brother. He's a casual Devils fan and I asked him for his take.  Keep in mind that he's not a die-hard like I am, but even he knew it was an abysmal performance.  Some of the points, I've raised earlier; but I feel they do need to be repeated because the Devils certainly aren't getting it at 9-20-2.  Plus, he's more concise than I am (but who isn't):

  • Should have known it was going to be ugly when discovered that the fresh batteries I put in my camera turned out to be duds and thus it didn't work, and then when the first hit of the game by Volchenkov was deemed to be elbowing despite a lack of elbow directed anywhere towards the Predator. I guess the ref figured that since the elbow is connected to the shoulder that the clean check must have obviously have been an elbow. I'm not trying to be biased, but given that John and I most likely had just as good of a view, if not better, as the ref since the hit was directly in front of us. I thought that was a blown call (same as the "trip" later on when the guy simply lost his edge and surprisingly the laws of physics didn't change there and he fell down). Though I suppose that maybe in super slow motion there may have been something, in theory. In the end those two calls did not decide the game, the putrid play of the team in red did that just fine.
  • What do these guys do in the time between games? Do they practice at all or do they go their separate ways and just show up on game day? I know that there are going to be bad passes and such from time to time since no one is perfect but tonight the ratio of passes hitting the recipient's skates and recipient's stick had to be relatively high, and this was even evident on seemingly simple passes that they must have made millions of times before.
  • This may be a bit flippant/facetious but it seemed like there was a complete lack of knowledge as to what any player knows of their linemate's preferred spots or tendencies. Again, they're human and mis-communications happen, but almost every time the guy zigged when the other thought he'd zag on a play. I would kind of expect this from a team hastily cobbled together, but this is a veteran heavy team that most of whom have been around for a good amount of time, especially when they're nearing the midway point of the season.
  • The Devils do realize they're able to move while on the power play, right? I see the idea in being methodical and prudent with the passing and seeing the lanes, but if you're not moving then the defense can readily predict and defend. If not physically moving around, then at least swing the puck around the zone to create some open looks, catch the defense out of position and maybe just maybe get a solid shot off.
  • This was even prevalent at even strength, they kinda just stand around waiting for someone else to do something as if Elias or Kovalchuk is going to pull something out of their butt every time and make something happen. Several times you saw the other 4 guys hanging out, not moving around to give the puckhandler a viable option. Not trying to discredit the defense, but I can't imagine the total ineptitude of the offense was due to the Nashville D alone.
  • I'm no expert and I'm not trying to pretend otherwise but if something isn't working, shouldn't you try to do something different? Whether it's different tactics or line combos, you can't expect different results from doing the same thing over and over.  Or at least that's what I've been told, maybe the coaching staff knows something no one else does about that concept.

The final point leads to a definition of insanity. Where I split with my brother is that given the context of their previous game, the Devils seemingly refused to learn the lessons of their past.  So history repeats and so we witnessed another bad loss.  The supporters in Section 209 showed up and brought the noise (if I can hear them through the glass, then I know they were bringing it - good job), the fans wanted to have something to cheer for, and by the end, the team was deservedly booed off the ice for yet another bad game.  I feel bad for those in Section 209, they came with a purpose and the team let them down as much as anyone else.  I hope they come back. Here are the highlights of the game, at least Tedenby had a sweet goal:

Thanks for reading. Nashville is a fine team and please visit On the Forecheck for a Predators-focused recap.  Please leave your thoughts and feelings about tonight's game in the comments.

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