New Jersey Devils Take a Step Back in 4-2 Loss to New York Islanders

Tonight, the New Jersey Devils lost to the New York Islanders 4-2 and the loss is a bitter one. 

The Devils were undone by a poor second period, poor puck movement, and a poor power play.  While I'm sure some (most?) Devils fans will rightfully complain about the power play, I'm more unhappy with the puck movement absolutely degrading through the end of the first period through the second.  They had a strong start, they got a fortunate goal early, and yet one bad pass by Travis Zajac (who didn't have a shot to really take) led to a 3-on-2 where Freddy Meyer put back a rebound. 

A late equalizer not only led to the Islanders feeling good going into the second period, but signified a start of some awful decisions with the puck by the Devils.   Bad clearances led to sustained Islanders' attacks.  Bad passes through the neutral zone and even going into the neutral zone stunted the Devils' offense whereas the Islanders thrived.  It got to a point to where the Devils would either give the puck up outright, miss their target, or the pass would be complete but the target would instantly have an Islander right on him.

On those attacks either Yann Danis had to make plenty of tough saves or the Devils had to scramble to recover (and block shots, 17 were made by the team in total).   Yet, the momentum was clearly in the Islanders' favor and they made them pay with two in the second period.   Out-shot only 10-7, yet New Jersey was outscored 2-0. The third period was a far better effort despite it's own host of problems (more on that later).

After the last two wins by the New Jersey Devils, given how they won those games in addition to the fact they won, it leaves one to wonder.  Is this just a bad game on the second half of a back to back set?  Just a proverbial bump in the proverbial road? Or is this a sign that the Devils aren't out of their struggles?  Are the Devils going to start slipping again?   Honestly, I don't know.  We shall see on Monday and Wednesday, though.

Check out Lighthouse Hockey for a take from the Islanders' standpoint.  For the official stats, NHL.com has their recap up.  Read on for additional thoughts about tonight's game.

One issue that I don't think is a major issue from tonight's loss was that the Islanders scored their two goals in the second period in under a minute apart.  I know it was a problem in the San Jose and Calgary game.  However, the big difference here is that the Devils conceded a power play to the Islanders shortly after Jon Sim's goal.   In fact, Jon Sim's goal was as much of a break for the Islanders as was Mike Mottau's goal to start the game.  The Devils closed off Richard Park, the puck bounced back to Sim and he just fired it through traffic.   But the power play afterward was terrible.  Ilya Kovalchuk high sticked an Islander along the side-boards unnecessarily; gifting an Islander team a man advantage after generating so much momentum and confidence after going up 2-1 after Sim's goal.

 

Incidentally, of the three penalties the Devils took, that was the second dumb one of the night.  I can forgive the hooking call on Zach Parise as it stopped Matt Moulson from taking a shot in the slot off a loose puck.  David Clarkson's check on Josh Bailey (I think) was away from the play, late, and dumb.  While the Islanders did nothing - as in no shots on net - on the first two, they struck gold after Kovalchuk's high-stick.  The Islanders won the faceoff, Mark Streit went back and forth with Frans Neilsen, Streit fired it, got a fortunate and inadvertent bounce off Mike Mottau and it beats Danis.  That would be the game winner and that one hurt the most in my opinion.  It's not like the Devils broke down or made a major mistake, Streit fired a puck through traffic, got a good bounce, and it beat Danis. The only mistake was giving them the power play to begin with.

At least I can say that Kovalchuk redeemed himself with a goal of his own early in the third period.  A long pass was broken up, but Kovalchuk worked at keeping possession, found Dean McAmmond who dropped it off for him, and Kovalchuk fired a laser past Dwayne Roloson.  With a little over 17 minutes left, and only down by 1 goal, you'd think the Devils would make a strong effort to get an equalizer. 

Well, they did.   The Devils crashed the net, bombed shots from the point, the defense jumped up when able, and nearly threw a kitchen sink at Roloson. The passing improved, the swagger was coming back, and things were looking good.  They did put 21 shots on net in that third period alone.  The high shot total was a big reason why Zach Parise and Brian Rolston got 8 shots on net; why Patrik Elias contributed 5 shots; why Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus each put 4 shots on net; and so forth.  40 shots in total.  Roloson rose to the occasion for the Islanders and should be praised as such.

But.  And if you watched the game, this is a big "but," the shots were in spite of 6 minutes of power play time in the third period.  Normally, when you're down by a goal and a player (Dylan Reese) high sticks one of your own (Zach Parise) and draws blood, a 4 minute power play would be seen as a great opportunity.  It should be seen as a great opportunity, especially when your team has been incredibly effective at putting rubber on the opposition earlier.

What the Devils did was horrid.  They struggled to get the puck in over the blueline.  They tried carrying it over so much that the Islanders knew exactly what they were going to do.  They should have dumped it in more, at least it would have given the Devils more time to set-up.  Instead it was a cycle of the Devils going up ice, losing it somewhere before the dots, and then going back to pick up the cleared puck. 

Then a fatal error was made.  Dean McAmmond, who otherwise was having a pretty good game, coughed up the puck on the right sideboards.  Blake Comeau pushed it up ice and moved around a tired, sprawling Ilya Kovalchuk to lead up a 2-on-1.  Bizarrely, Jamie Langenbrunner rushes back and decides to go after the puck-carrier Comeau instead of Sean Bergenheim.  Comeau got the pass to Bergenheim, takes a shot, it pops up on the initial save and it gets knocked in by Danis' own arm.  A shorthanded goal during a 4 minute power play.  And how was this responded with?

Not much!  Blake Comeau got tagged with a hooking call with 50 seconds left on that power play for a short 5-on-3 and an abbreviated 5-on-4 where the Devils looked more threatening and put some shots on Roloson. Still, they did not convert. They did not convert on any of their power plays, only putting up 5 shots total in the game. They did not convert on a power play for the second straight game, a total of 8 opportunities.  I'm sure some of you are frustrated that despite all of this talent, they don't score on these chances.  I'm more upset that they struggled to set anything up, at least threaten to do something on a power play. 

Needless to say, the power play is a matter that must be discussed among the team.

Alas, that shorthanded goal only dealt a serious blow to the comeback effort and Roloson ensured it would never happen.  The true root cause of the loss was how the Devils' performance degraded in the second period; which got the Islanders' goals to take the lead and to play with confidence through the rest of the way. 

There were some positives.  Despite how often they lost the puck to the Islanders in the second period, the team did backcheck hard and the defense came up with a lot of blocks, 17 to be exact.  The Devils were strong on faceoffs, with the team winning 56% of them.  I felt Yann Danis had a pretty good outing.  I can't fault him for the first three goals; on the fourth it looked like he was literally fighting with the shot - and lost.  (Late Night Update: Per this postgame post by Tom Gulitti, the puck apparently hit McAmmond's arm before going in.  OK, then.) The Devils started off the game well enough and outside of the power plays (and the shorthanded goal), the third period effort was good - they didn't just flounder through the game.  I felt the decision to switch up Parise and Langenbrunner after the second period was a good one, as evidenced by the 21 shots on goal generated in the third.

Still, those are small positives in comparison to the big negative that is this loss.  I will credit the Islanders. When they got a chance, they took it, scored that first goal, and realized that if they generated more turnovers perhaps more chances would arrive.  And they did, especially in the second period.  They were fast, Roloson regained his confidence, and they made their power play count.  If you'd like (for some reason), here's the highlights from NHL.com that shows all the goals and top saves from the game:

Thanks for reading (please, do read it if you haven't).  Thanks to Steve for the GameThread as well as to all who commented there.  Please leave your thoughts, feelings, and criticism - I'm sure you'll all have some of that - in the comments.

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