New Jersey Devils Pick Up a Road Point but Fail in the Shootout to Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1

The last time the New Jersey Devils beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, they went on the road the next night to play against Long Island and didn't have a very good game.  They decisively lost 4-2.  Tonight, the Devils went on the road the night after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins and only lost 2-1 through a shootout to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Were I to compare the two losses, far and away the loss to the Leafs was a better loss because the Devils got a point out of it, they didn't fall flat on their faces in the second period, and didn't give up a shorthanded goal to scuttle a chance at any points.

However, that's all of the comparison I'm going to do.  This was a game filled with highs and lows for both teams, ending up to be even overall.  The Devils would look lethargic at times and then have some shifts where they just take it right to the Leafs.  Likewise, while the Leafs would look poor for a stretch of time, they would go and hit back with a couple of shifts where they would nearly score.    I think the only part of the game where the Devils looked really out of sorts was in overtime, where the Leafs generated some opportunities but the Devils didn't respond in kind.

I will say that Yann Danis was excellent tonight, shootout notwithstanding.  He had zero chance on the goal Phil Kessel scored; he made an initial save on Dion Phaneuf's blast, the puck rebounded at a wide angle right to Kessel on Danis' flank.  On the other 24 shots he faced, he came up with some tough saves including an absolute robbery of Mikael Grabovski on the power play with his stick stopping him from cashing in at the front of an otherwise-empty net.   The Leafs' offense challenged Danis and he wasn't fazed.  The only time he looked poor was in the shootout; Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, and John Mitchell made great moves in the shootout, Danis didn't.  But without Danis, there wouldn't even a shootout.      He did as well as anyone could have expected in my opinion.The media at the game recognized that by giving him the third star of the game.

I don't think anyone is pleased with the loss, but it wasn't as if the Devils flopped in Toronto like they did back on February 2.  I'm sure some people are still lamenting Paul Martin's shanked shot at an empty net on the Devils' last power play of the night; but really, the Devils could have done much better tonight and perhaps wouldn't have needed a late chance like that at all.  Just doing better on their three other power plays, that alone could have made the difference.  Alas, "could have" is the equivalent to "did not" in sport. 

For tonight's stats, check out NHL.com for their recap.  Check out Pension Plan Puppets later on for their recap. They are currently praising Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Mitchell, the man who sealed the shootout win for Toronto.  Read on after the jump for my further thoughts.

I can't help but feel that the Devils went with the flow instead of dictating it at times.  They started off slow, then they responded with some good shifts, then the Leafs hit back, and so forth throughout the game.   I know on the road you want to be a bit more careful, but I wonder if the Devils

While they had some fine chances on their own - including one where Jean-Sebastian Giguere absolutely robbed Travis Zajac on an open chance in front with his toe - the Devils only managed to finish an equalizer.  Granted, the equalizer was pretty sweet. Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond pinned the puck on the half-boards, curled around Luke Schenn, and fed David Clarkson in the high slot. Clarkson just beats Giguere with an absolutely sweet goal.  It was the highlight for both players as both the pass and the shot were perfect.  Heck, the 6:33 Leblond played was fine and that he actually contributed something on offense is laudable.  Consider yourself lauded, Mr. Leblond.

Alas, the other shots weren't so perfect.  For both teams really.  The Leafs out-shot the Devils 26-25, but the blocks and the misses.  Oh, talk about missed opportunities for both teams.  The Devils were blocked 22 times tonight (Carl Gunnarsson stopped 5, no idea if it included a Dainius Zubrus wraparound) and missed the net 12 times.  The Leafs were even less efficient; 23 times they were blocked (Kessel and Viktor Stalberg were each blocked 4 times) and 21 times they missed the net.  And some of these misses were dire.  Like re-directing a puck across a crease while Danis was beaten, dire.  Like putting rebounds wide from up front dire.  There were some bad, bad misses by both teams, but the Leafs were consistently missing.  At least the Devils were dominant on faceoffs (61%, all centers did better than 50%); that was clear - unlike the shooting accuracy.

On the Leafs, the most dangerous forward, Phil Kessel, was all over the place. He had 6 shots on net, was blocked 4 times, and missed the net 5 times.  Not exactly efficient, but attempting 15 shots in a game is excellent.   I don't think the defense handled him well at all.  But like most of the game, the defense had it's good moments - Paul Martin forcing Tyler Bozak to hit the outside of the net when he had the puck down low - as well as it's poor moments - John Mitchell burning Martin with an individual move that drew a weak hooking call, and then firing a puck (what else) that missed the net.   If you're looking for a positive, why not Mike Mottau? No costly giveaways, 5 blocked shots, 3 hits, and generally steady play.

The Devils didn't really have that one skater that stuck out in a game where both teams played off each other's momentum swings. Sure, Clarkson had that goal and 3 shots on net; he was good but did he perform at a high level like Kessel tonight?  No.  Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk both had 5 shots each but  they tended to drift in and out of the game.  Parise created some excellent chances for Zajac only to be denied by Giguere.  In fact, according to  this post-game post by Gulitti, Lemaire said he didn't like how Kovalchuk played tonight.  I don't agree, I thought he was fine; he did create both of those rebounds for Martin and Parise on that fateful fourth power play.  I felt he contributed moreso than, say, Jamie Langenbrunner who had 0 shots, 3 blocked, and took a dumb, dumb, dumb call within the last two minutes of regulation.

Once again, the penalty kill was fine if bailed out by Danis more than a few times.  The Maple Leafs put up 7 shots  on 3 power plays, and as mentioned earlier, Danis absolutely robbed Grabovski of a goal.   The Devils' power play stats of 6 shots on 4 power plays are a bit misleading. The fourth one was as good as you could have wanted - they stormed Giguere with shots, Paul Martin had a wide open net to score early on, and it ended with Kovalchuk driving to the net and Parise attempting to put the rebound home (he missed). Disappointed with the misses, but I was pleased with the effort on that.

The first three power plays for New Jersey, on the other hand, were bad. The pressure on Toronto was not nearly enough as it needed to be. The first one didn't even have any shots on net, and the second and third one combined for only three.  Yes, the last one featured 3 shots on goal and an actual scoring chance. I mean, I was highlighting simple shots on net as small steps in the GameThread. That's where the Devils are with their power play - needing to praise even little things they should be doing.  If you want to talk about opportunity lost, don't forget about the first three PPs whilst lamenting Martin's miss.   As an attempt at solace, Lemaire's not happy with the power play, as reported by Gulitti:

"We don’t build any confidence with our power play," Lemaire said. "The first two power plays, I think we had one shot on net."

The Devils have a lot of talented forwards. Why can’t they score on the power play?

"They don’t play together on the power play," Lemaire said. "One guy will try it. The other guy will try it. When it’s time to skate, we don’t skate. We shoot the puck in and nobody goes in to get the puck or one guy goes and they have two. If they have two, we’ve got to be three. If they have three, it’s got to be four. And they can’t be five. So, that’s how you get the puck back."

At least he's being candid about it.  But I have to take a step back and say that it's not just the power play not converting, but just the general flow of the game that hurt the Devils' performance.  Despite all of these faults, they managed to get a point by virtue of playing at Toronto's level.  Granted, Toronto played well at home, Giguere had a good night and their main scorer remains hot.  But the Devils never really took that step up to make this game their own. Not after Clarkson's goal. Not after some of the odd man rushes the Devils got.  Not even after they killed Langenbrunner penalty in overtime.  Had they done any of that, perhaps this game ends with a win in regulation.

Again, "had they" is also the equivalent to "did not" in sport.  They didn't fall flat, they didn't look miserable for a period, but the result ends up the same on the road: not a win. So the Devils remain with only one road win in March (over San Jose, of all teams), they dropped their fifth straight second-half of a back-to-back (0-3-2), and have to retool for Saturday's game against St. Louis.  That's a concern since the next two road games will be in a back-to-back set in Montreal and in Philadelphia.  Of course, the next three home games are of more immediate concern.

In either case, thanks for reading and commenting in the GameThread.  Please leave your thoughts, corrections, complements, concerns, and criticisms in the comments.  And now, a video of the highlights from tonight's game by NHL.com in case you want to see Clarkson's sweet goal and Danis' saves in regulation:

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