Going into the game, the main story was that head coach John MacLean was very unhappy with the team's performance in the 5-1 loss against Montreal on Thursday. So he forced all the players to re-watch that game and presumably, there was an emphasis on coming into this game prepared. Unfortunately, the New Jersey Devils followed up that game with getting dominated by the Philadelphia Flyers in a 5-3 loss.
There were certainly more bright spots in today's performance than there were on Thursday night. The Devils managed to not only score one power play goal on the road, but two. Ilya Kovalchuk had a fine game by scoring that first power play goal and registering 3 good shots on net. Patrik Elias showed up to play with the second PPG among his 6 shots on net. The score of 5-3 was due to a Jeff Carter empty net goal with 2 seconds left to play, so it's a bit of an illusion. The Devils killed all 3 power play situations the Philadelphia Flyers got. These are positives.
Of course, I can't sit here and say it was all good and it was just some bad breaks. Jamie Langenbrunner was caught out in the worst example of what killed the Devils. After a faceoff loss and a shot saved, Jeff Carter fires a shot on one angle, everyone's looking at him, the shot hits the post, and you see the captain just stand around on Claude Giroux's equalizer in the second period. It's not like Langenbrunner was terrible in total, but it's that kind of error that killed the Devils throughout October and again today.
The lack of defensive awareness by Devils in their own zone only happened a few times, but they paid the price when it happened and ultimately led three of the four goals the Flyers got on Johan Hedberg. The first goal against came literally seconds after Kovalchuk's blast from the point. Henrik Tallinder was busy with Mike Richards fighting for a loose puck, and nobody - not Colin White, not Jason Arnott, Elias, or Mattias Tedenby - picked up James van Reimsdyk. Of course, he jammed it home. The fourth goal against, which just about put the game out of doubt, saw Carter have a passing lane to an open Briere, with Andy Greene on the wrong side on him. It'd be one thing if those four goals against Hedberg were like Mike Richards' deflection off a Chris Pronger shot, but two if not all three of those goals against could have been prevented with better awareness and communication.
Moreover, and almost just as important, the Flyers rolled the Devils at even strength. It was no question that they were the superior team on the ice given how well they used their possession. They led in even strength shots, 30-21 (4-0 at 4-on-4 hockey) per the event summary. The 5-on-5 Corsi from Time on Ice shows the Devils nearly all in the negative, some by large amounts. It was the most jarring in the second period. Giroux's goal (and Langenbrunner's gaffe) was early in the second (58 seconds in, per the game summary), and they didn't let up. The only time the Philly offense looked tentative and unsure was when they were on a power play. Sure, they let up a bit in the third period after Daniel Briere's goal, but it was 4-2 at that point and the Devils largely played complacent hockey until the late penalty on Scott Hartnell, which led to the Elias goal. The point is that the Flyers kept attacking so much that eventually a Devil player would make a mistake in coverage or was in the wrong position, and the Flyers reaped the rewards.
I'm sure some Devils fans will be mad at someone - John MacLean, Langenbrunner, some other scapegoat - and I can certainly understand. After picking up 6 out of 8 points last week, they got 0 for 4 this week, and they followed up one of their worst losses in 2010-11 with a not so great (yet better than Montreal) loss in Philly. That's the fact of the matter and that's all I can say for now.
I will be updating this recap with more to say, of course after the jump, later in the day. I've added the NHL.com game highlights video there in the meantime. So please feel free to discuss how you felt about today's game, who you liked, who you didn't, and what the Devils should have differently in the comments. Thanks for reading.
As I said prior to the jump, I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game. This is more random, so I apologize for the lack of flow.
I don't know what to make of the line of Ilya Kovalchuk-Travis Zajac-Jamie Langenbrunner today. They had a good first period. All three combined for 9 shots on goal and were involved in the 3 goals scored by NJ. However, they were pinned back like the rest of the team for most of the second period, and they were caught on the ice for 4 goals against at even strength, including the empty net goal. Granted, the only time the line were really exposed on those goals against was when Giroux scored - as Langenbrunner missed Giroux. I'd like to keep the group together for a few more games, though. They certainly showed something positive on offense, which should be nurtured. The defensive side will get better.
As for the other "scoring" line on New Jersey, Elias was the only one who got more than just one shot on net. Even so, they got pounded at evens. Mattias Tedenby didn't do much today. Jason Arnott did pick up a secondary assist on Elias' goal; but other than that, it was a nondescript 15:19 of ice time with only 8-for-18 at faceoffs.
Speaking of faceoffs, I feel some sympathy for Zajac. The plays that led to the second and third Philadelphia goal came when Zajac got beat on a faceoff. Yet, he went 15 for 25 throughout the day, so it's not like he was having a poor day and MacLean just kept giving him draws for no reason.
Speaking of MacLean, I can't fault him for the team not executing simple things like picking up open men. I can even praise him for calling a timeout for the late power play, going with 6 forwards, drawing up a play (while Adam Oates stood by in the background), and having it come to fruition. But I can fault him for overseeing yet another second period where the opposition took over and pounded the Devils over and over. This is going to be a topic for a future post, but this is ridiculous. Whatever it is he tells the players and/or changes to his gameplan after the first period isn't working. Today, it led to Philly equalizing and taking all of the momentum for themselves.
I can also fault him for going with a fourth line of Ilya Kovalchuk-Adam Mair-Rod Pelley. In a word: Arrgh. I know Mair and Pelley played a little over 6 and a half minutes of even strength, and with Stephen Gionta getting only 2:48, I am complaining about 4 minutes of action. I get the logic of trying to have a super-offensive player among the pluggers to surprise the opposition. Some surprise. Who knew that putting Kovalchuk with two players with limited-at-best offensive talents does not lead to any real offensive chances? Today, there was one lone exception was a created-by-himself Kovalchuk breakaway. That's not a reason to continue this practice. If MacLean wants to continue to do this, there needs to be more versatility on that fourth line than just Mair and Pelley. Like Vasyunov or even (guess who) Vladimir Zharkov. Or consider a different forward, like Patrik Elias. Until then, double-shifting Kovalchuk in this way only serves to give Kovalchuk more minutes and nothing more.
Speaking of nothing more, what did Brian Rolston do today? The event summary says he did nothing in terms of evens. Somehow, he made it to 0 Corsi at evens per Time on Ice, but given his 0 SOG, he was just "there" for when the Devils went forward. I know he doesn't make as much as Ilya Kovalchuk does this season, but you'd think there would be a good amount of pressure on the $5 million man contributing little?
Lastly, a quick word on the penalties. Three of the penalties on New Jersey were dumb ones: two stick holds by defensemen (Andy Greene and Anton Volchenkov) that they didn't need to do, and a delay of game for a clearance over the glass (Greene). The other two, I'm not so sure on. I can understand the roughing call on Colin White as the same call was tagged onto Scott Hartnell. They canceled each other out. What I don't understand is the diving call on David Clarkson. That was ridiculous, a stain on an otherwise finely-officiated game. This was also a matching minor situation, as Daniel Briere went off for hooking Clarkson. Which is it refs? Either Clarkson embellished the call to try turn a nothing play by Briere into an infraction, or Briere honestly hooked him down. It can't be both, yet you manage to have your cake and eat it too.
Of course, there was that complete non-call on the high stick Langenbrunner ate at the end of the game. I mean, Langenbrunner got whacked in the face, it drew a significant amount of blood, and there's no reason to believe it was off his own players' stick. The only ones near him were wearing orange. I concede that this may not have changed anything. It was about 15 seconds left and even though the Devils' power play went 2-for-3, I doubt they would have miracled an equalizer even with 6 skaters against 4 in such a short amount of time. It's the principle of the matter, though, and it was an incredibly easy call to make - yet it was missed. Shameful.
But not as shameful of how the Devils got rolled by the Flyers. I will say today's performance was better than it was on Thursday, but "better" is not the same as "good enough."
Again, thank you for reading.