One of the big lowlights of last night's game for the New Jersey Devils is that they conceded three goals in a few minutes in the second period to the New York Rangers. For the third straight game, the New Jersey Devils have given up more than one goal in the second period and ultimately hurt the Devils' effort in some way or form. In fact, with the last week of four games, the Devils were outscored in the second period 9-1, with that 1 coming from last Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Kings.
I noticed from the post-game coverage on MSG+, that the second period was a talking point for the loss. Along with the losses in general, it certainly is a concern for the Devils. But how bad has it really been? Is this a more recent phenomenon? Is there a common trait across some of these second period performances?
So what I did is that I took a look at the last 30 days of games. Since January 8, the New Jersey Devils have played 16 games. Their record in those games is poor: 6-9-1. The last time they strung two wins together was just after the loss to Tampa Bay: January 9 in Montreal and the shootout win on January 12 at MSG. To me, that's clear evidence that the Devils have really been in an extended slump for a while. In this range of games, I felt that the Devils have "achieved" a diverse set of losses, but I wanted to see whether or not the second period has been a particular problem prior to last week.
To that end, I've recorded the goals for, goals against, shots on goal for, shots on goal against from second periods of those 16 games. I also recorded if the game winning goal was given up in the second, as well as my own notes on the goals against that come in the second period to see where the blame may lie.
Apologies for the big chart and the smallish text on the notes (you can click on it to enlarge the chart), but I really do think it speaks for itself. As a quick conclusion to the big question, it appears that it has been a more recent problem than anything else. Only three eventual game winning goals out of the 10 losses were given up in the second period. In several of these losses, including all three shutout losses, the eventual winner was conceded in the first period. This suggests that the Devils were put into a hole to deep to climb themselves out of, for a variety of reasons. Any goals conceded basically added to the Devils woes would ensure losses more than cause them.
Here are some other quick tidbits I found out while looking all this up:
The Devils actually outshot their opponents in the second period 8 times in these last 16 games. Their record? 2-5-1. So it doesn't necessarily mean that outshooting the opponent leads to positive results in the second period.
- Two of these six wins were shutout wins by Martin Brodeur. Well played by Marty.
- Also: In my notes, I only noted three times out of 19 where the goalie should have either made the save. So spare me the criticism that Danis needs to play more/Brodeur needs to play less. The second period performances at least don't bear that out that conclusion.
- What definitely is a concern consistent throughout the last 30 days is that the Devils were outscored a total of 8 to 19 in the second period. Granted, the last four games have inflated that, but even if you do take out last week, it's still 7-10 which isn't all that good either.
- But I'm not surprised and neither should you; I think this is consistent with the lack of scoring has "helped" the Devils stay in their slump. If the offense has trouble scoring and putting up good pressure going forward, then it makes the game harder on the defense unless they are perfect. And, no, they definitely were not. While Henrik Lundqvist was nearly a mobile wall in net, the last game against the Rangers as well as the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk gives me some hope that the Devils' offense will be fine going forward.
From the notes I took, based on what I wrote in my recaps and saw of the goals themselves, a lot of these goals against could have been prevented by proper defending by the skaters in front of Martin Brodeur and Yann Danis. 10 of these goals by my count. The most frequent names that came up were Colin White and Mike Mottau, but it's not all on them. I think this is an important point along with the lack of offense. Defensive lapses, be it by a defenseman or a backchecking forward, are always dangerous and they are down right lethal if the offense isn't able to respond with goals. These last 16 games are proof of that.
I dinged White for botching a play in the TB game in his own zone along with Mottau that led Tampa's third goal, his major penalty in the second Islanders game for two power play goals against, standing around after the initial save on the two-on-one on Danis that Phil Kessel pounced on, and the misplay by him and Langenbrunner for Toronto's third goal on this past Friday's win.
Mottau's lethal errors included botching that play along with White to gift Steve Stamkos and Martin St. Louis a two-on-zero from that TB game, getting made to look bad by Jason Spezza as Spezza tipped a shot with his stick through Mottau's legs, and Mottau's botched clearance last night that Ryan Callahan took and put back into the net.
- Other items of note? 3 goals came off tip-ins and 2 off of players being wide open on the goalie's flank at the crease, and one off a partial screen.
So I wouldn't suggest that the Devils need to especially focused in the second period. It's not where they have lost most of these games. Until this past week, it hasn't been that noticeable of a problem. If anything, it's only a part of their slump. Over the last 16 games, the losses truly have come in many different ways from giving up too much early (e.g. the 3-1 loss to Colorado), not coming out to play well at all (all three shutout losses), and making bad mistakes in the third period (e.g. the 4-3 loss to Phoenix, the 3-2 loss to LA). It isn't the second period that has been dooming them throughout this slump, but lapses on defense in other periods and struggles in just scoring goals in general are more directly related to most, if not all of these losses. The second period performances does, in my opinion, compound the problem - New Jersey's not scoring much in them and they've allowed too many to ensure losses than to lose the game entirely in them.
Again, the old cliche appears to apply again: it's a 60 minute game and a less than 60 minute effort will cost a team the game. The Devils need to improve not just in how they play in the second period, but also in their general performances by each individual player. Lemaire and the assistants can strategize as much as they want, but they aren't on the ice - the players themselves need to make it happen on the ice. Only then, can they really put this slump to bed. They have four games left for this month, let's hope the players and coaches can sort it out by tomorrow.