A Punch to the Gut - New Jersey Devils Give Up 3 Unanswered to Philadelphia Flyers, Lose 3-2

The following recap between the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers is written angrily by a fan who just doesn't understand what could be different.  Clearly, bringing in an ace talent like Ilya Kovalchuk hasn't made the difference. Clearly, playing a rival hasn't changed the results.  Clearly, the team realizing their errors, recognizing that things haven't gone well, and even with some players playing out-and-out well has still led to the same common refrain of losses.  6-10-1.  The Devils are now 6-10-1 since January 8.  This is not a slump, this is depressing.

If you want the recap from NHL.com here it is with links to stats and such.  If you want to read a jubilant outtake from an opponent who is happy to see their team scoring goals with their best players, go read Broad Street Hockey. If you want a long ramble that few will actually read and go on to demand that (insert player here) should be traded and (insert player here) should do something else in the comments, please read on.

This game was supposed to be different.  The New Jersey Devils were supposed to be better.  They started off better.  Heck, they even got a great break on the game's first goal - Zach Parise was down low, attempted a pass across the slot, only for Chris Pronger's skate to knock it into the net.  That was even a power play goal, something the Devils have struggled to score, much less in general.

Sure, it was a physical game. Sure, the Devils took some calls that weren't smart like Dean McAmmond's hook in the neutral zone or Andy Greene tripping a Flyer in his cycle.  The PK looked great.  OK, so the Devils struggled to get the puck out of their zone on the breakout and in getting passes through the neutral zone late, leading to more Flyers pressure.  Philly really didn't take advantage. This was going to be different, the first period ended 1-0, the Devils didn't look too shabby.

But somehow, someway, the Flyers would soon make more of the game than the Devils did and not only shifted momentum but took the game.  Of course, it wouldn't be a one-goal lead conceded, it would have to be a two-goal lead. A second goal scored shorthanded.  I can't even recall the last time the Devils scored shorthanded! Anssi Salmela on the PK (yeah, that's right) pushed up with the puck, drove to the slot, and put a beauty over the shoulder of Michael Leighton before the beast Jeff Carter blindsided him late with his shoulder striking the side of Salmela's head. Salmela was knocked out.  Intent? Probably to jack Salmela in the slot at any cost.  Result? Salmela was stretchered off the ice. 

Thankfully, per this post-game post from Tom Gulitti, he would be up and walking later and can communicate about the hit, where he now has a "headache."  Gulitti suspects a concussion, which would surprise no one who saw the hit; good to see Salmela up and talking, but he's likely out for a few games, I would think and speculate.

Of course, of all the 14 penalties called in the game, that wasn't one of them.  Watch Jeff Carter not get any punishment for the hit, too.

As the second period roamed on, the game was fairly even in play - plenty of physical play, a few penalties here, a few penalties there, a few big saves by Martin Brodeur here, and a few big saves by Leighton there. And then all of the sudden - two quick goals against late in the period.  For the fourth straight game, the Devils gave up multiple goals in the second period. For the fifth straight game, the Devils gave up goals at all in the second period.   The first one, unfortunate for NJ.  James van Reimsdyk squared up his shot and placed it perfectly.  Not much shame there.

The second one, well.  If you're not a fan of Mike Mottau, this goal against is another piece of evidence to justify your discontentment with the player.   On a long shot from the point, Leighton makes the save and throws up a huge rebound. Chris Pronger picks up the puck and fires a perfect - and I mean perfect - pass to Scott Hartnell in the neutral zone.  Colin White, like the 3 forwards, was coming up on the play.  Only Jeff Carter (remember him?) snuck behind and so Hartnell and Carter had a 2-on-1.   Mottau was turned to Hartnell the whole time, he committed his position and vision to Hartnell so he had no idea that Carter was with him.  Yet, Mottau stayed in the middle, leaving Hartnell to thread a good pass for an easy goal for Carter.  2-2. 

Parise's break, gone.  Salmela's heroic effort for his goal, meaningless. All of those scoring chances and power plays prior that the Devils failed to score on, those were ultimately wasted.   Devils fans, gutted.  The Flyers had every reason to feel great going into the third.

From my standpoint, I was more stunned than anything else.  With the Salmela goal, especially, I really thought the Devils were showing signs of turning the corner. They were winning faceoffs (indeed, they won 30 out of 50 total), they were drawing calls, and after most penalty kills, the Devils would find the man coming out of the box forcing Leighton to be great.  And yet, and yet, and yet, almost in a flash, all the good work goes up in smoke and the opposition has the momentum and confidence

For some stupid reason, I tried to be optimistic.  I actually thought that the Devils could turn things around . But as time passed, more and more the numbers of the game and what I saw on the ice made it bleak for New Jersey.  Yes, the Devils had many more power plays - three drawn in the third period by Zach Parise alone, but the Flyers actually had more shots on net (game ended 37-30, Philly).  Yes, the top 6 were looking good, but they were getting a ton of ice time with little to show for it.   More and more, the Flyers were putting pressure offensively, sensing they could break this defense down, only for them to screw it up or Brodeur making an important save.  And of all times, it came on the power play.

After extended pressure in the Devils' zone, the Devils miss a chance to clear it and Kimmo Timonen takes it from the boards.  Mottau, stupidly, thought Gagne was going to shoot so he dived down for a block. Timonen just went behind the net, started going around, drawing Colin White down.  Fine.  White had to do that, respect the move. Timonen swiftly changed directions and looked for an outlet. There was Mike Richards and there was Jay Pandolfo, who was otherwise having a great night on the PK, not in Richards' way.  Since Mottau went down, he couldn't recover, and Pandolfo shifted back for some reason.  In that instant, Timonen had Richards right in front of the net and of course that's the goal.  

I wanted to scream, but I was too busy being nervous on Rink Side Radio.  Though given my performance, it would have made it more memorable and human. 

After all the penalty kills, after the previous big saves by Martin Brodeur later on, after Bryce Salvador playing like he was 5 years younger and more aware in his own zone, after being the more disciplined team giving up only four power plays, it all became for naught.

The Devils scrambled to get chances in response.  The passing wasn't as good as they needed to be, the Philly D stepped up and at least disrupted the Devils movements on offense.  This isn't to say that Devils didn't get pucks on net. This isn't to say the Devils didn't play with fire or didn't hustle or didn't make an effort. But what they did was not enough and you weren't sure if they adjusted accordingly.    But as the Devils kept feeding Kovalchuk for slapshots in the last power play of the game, one that saw the game's time run out, you knew that they were hoping for a break, a miracle.  They didn't mix it up, they didn't get it together, not scoring in six straight power plays.

All I'm left now with are questions.

Why in the world did the top 6 play ever so much? Yes, they got plenty of power play time tonight and some are on special teams, but doesn't playing Kovalchuk, Parise, Travis Zajac (25:21!!!), and Jamie Langenbrunner (23:30) upwards of 22 minutes tire them out?

Yes, Kovalchuk at the point and feeding him for his hard slapshot is an otherwise sensible tactic on the power play.  But why was that seemingly the only tactic on the man advantage, especially on that last power play?  Did Lemaire not notice the Flyers backing off and letting him fire at will knowing the puck has to go miraculously through at least 3 people plus the goalie to go in?   On an angle, no less?

Speaking of, offense, how in the world did Kovalchuk and Langenbrunner end up with half of the team's shot totals? Kovalchuk had 9 (blocked 3 times, missed 3 times, yes he attempted 15 shots -) and Langenbrunner had 6.  Not that Parise, Elias, Zajac, or Zubrus were invisible, but how about mixing up the shots?  I mean, Zajac and Zubrus had great nights on faceoffs, they looked decent on the ice, but how do they end up with 0 shots on net - especially considering Zajac played 25 minutes? 

I'm not asking why Kovalchuk hasn't scored yet.  Why his teammates think he should be the primary shooter in all situations? Why are they forcing the puck to him when they could have shot it themselves - which would have at least forced the Flyers' D to respect them and create some additional options.

Of course, let's go back to killing the power play.  Yes, Devils, you got one on a fluke. Yet, despite an advantage in both time (12:01) and quantity (SEVEN POWER PLAYS), the Flyers not only managed to out-shoot the Devils across all power plays (12-8) but get the most important goal of the game - which wasn't a fluke.  How can this be? How come the Devils didn't take full advantage of these chances, knowing full well it's been holding back their offense - and entire games - recently?

Why does Mike Mottau have this innate ability to be decent for the most part of the game, yet have 2 or 3 shifts where he looks like a third pairing AHL defenseman and plays a part in a goal against?

Big question for the coach, why in the world did you ice Leblond and Peters and then proceed to give 3:03 of ice time and give exactly 42 seconds to Peters?  If you're not going to send them out there to beat a dude, why are you shortening your bench to 10 usable forwards right from the get-go?

After Salmela being taken out of the game, how come the Devils didn't press as hard on the PK to go forward? Did he not just prove that the Flyers are shaky on the point?   Moreover, why didn't the Devils just keep going to the net, over and over and over?

In fact, how come Salmela going in to score that kind of a goal and getting pounded as a result didn't fire up the team to new heights?  It was a shorthanded goal!  By a defenseman! By a teammate who paid the price!  Who made the game 2-0 and Flyers fans throughout the arena entirely quiet for a few minutes!    I'm not saying the Devils had no emotion, heart, or desire out there; but there should have been some feeling of "We're going to take this game over, we're going to pour it on, we're going to avenge Salmela."   Forget a fight, I wanted the Devils to pour on the misery - instead, only Devils and their fans feel miserable.  And angry. And despondent.  And some bizarre combination of the three.

Lastly, and worst of all, what now?  I honestly have no real answers to fix the problems with this team.  If I did, I'd probably be on a coaching staff somewhere instead of typing on my computer in a mix of anger and sadness.  I want to be hopeful, I want to look at the big picture and say things will be OK, but with scores like this, games that go like the one we just saw, games where leads are given up - and to a rival - it's hard. 

With a record of 6-10-1 since January 8, it's becoming harder.  I don't even want to think about Wednesday night, a.k.a. the potential-snowstorm-killing-attendence-at-the-Rock-game.   I'll be grateful for a win of any kind at this point - even an incredibly ugly one.  So should the team, really.

Apologies for the ramble.  I'm sure there's some analysis in there.  I'm sorry that this isn't my best work, but it's what I feel and think about the coughed-up lead that we saw/heard/read about tonight.  I do want to thank you all for reading and commenting, you have been the most consistent part of the Devils for the last month.  And, unfortunately, it could get worse.   Please place your comments about tonight's game into this post and not elsewhere. Try to refrain from writing an angry FanPost unless you have something of substance to contribute.  And if you want highlights to relive how this game went and something to feel bad about, here you are.

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