I must admit, I was very angry coming out of the Rock for this one. I've calmed down a bit after talking/venting out the problems I had with tonight's game with others on the train platform and elsewhere. Still, I'm not at all happy with the New Jersey Devils' performance against the Boston Bruins tonight. If you're a Devils fan, you shouldn't be either.
Let me get the headline out of the way. When I say that Martin Brodeur earned the Devils a point tonight, I mean it. I am not being glib or snarky. Martin Brodeur was the only Devil who actually showed up on the ice, did his job, and had a fantastic night. He, and he alone, was the reason why Boston was held scoreless on 30 shots in regulation. Martin Brodeur didn't panic when the guys in front of him would make a shallow clearance, leading to yet another Boston attack. Martin Brodeur didn't wilt when Boston would crash the net. Martin Brodeur kept calm and made save after save. He had zero chance on the rebound that Patrice Bergeron scored with 18.3 seconds left in the game. Zero.
I feel absolutely miserable for Brodeur because he gave his team a shutout-worthy performance, and his team gave him absolutely nothing in return.
Full credit to Boston for their win. They clearly deserved to win. Tuukka Rask played very well with what few shots he faced. Zdeno Chara led a blueline who defended very well against the Devils' offense - who played so poorly that to call it a pop-gun attack would be an insult to pop-guns. Rather than get frustrated at not beating Brodeur despite peppering him with pucks, the Bruins' offense kept going with strong play along the point for possession (Chara, who also had 5 shots on net) and actually adjusting on the ice as to what the Devils were doing. They got the break very late in the game to win it in overtime.
Is losing games by way of giving up a goal in the last minute of a game a trend for the Devils? No, not this season. This is only the third time it's happened. But to come after such a frustrating game to watch was just maddening. I get the anger. I felt it. I was there. The real disappointment comes with knowing the following: Even if Patrice Bergeron didn't get that rebound attempt and the game went to a shootout, then what? Should Boston win the shootout and all we'd happy about is that at least Brodeur got a shutout out of the game. Should New Jersey win said shootout, then all that would mean is that the Devils stole an extra point.
Neither situation - what happened and what could have been - justifies how terrible the Devils skaters were tonight. I'll go into details about that after the jump. If you'd like the stats to tonight's game, please go to NHL.com for their recap. For the Boston perspective, please visit Stanley Cup of Chowder for their recap.
Let's cut right to the chase. The Devils' offense was putrid tonight. Outshot 11-6 in the first period, where upon some of those 6 shots weren't bad and the Devils had a few decent shifts. Still, the Bruins made much more happen with their possession and pinned the Devils back in their own end more of a few times. In fact, on some of those shifts, the Devils wouldn't be able to clear the puck - only making the situation harder on themselves. But Brodeur made all the saves, rebounds were generally cleaned up, and so the first ended with no goals.
One would think that the team-talk at intermission would focus on these problems and the coaching staff along with the players' leadership would actually address these problems. One would expect adjustments to be made. During the first period, the puck was noticeably bouncing over sticks. OK, the passing wasn't sharp but that suggests that the ice isn't good. During the first period, Boston got away with a few calls - most notably Tuukka Rask hauling down Dean McAmmond to prevent him from scoring a gift off a botched play by Rask behind the net. It was a Hextall-tastic move by Rask; and it got no whistle. Surely, the players would think that the refs not blowing their whistles would lead to thinking that it would be pointless to try and draw some calls. You would think adjustments would be made, right?
Wrong! The second period came along and the Devils just got worse. It's like they thought about the first period performance and actually did absolutely nothing different as a result of it. The hideous hockey played by the Devils served only to deaden a large crowd at the Rock. It took the home team close to half the period to get a shot on net. The Bruins pinned them back that much early on that if it wasn't for some key defensive plays and Brodeur, the Bruins could have scored a couple goals. Perhaps they should have, they were clearly dominating possession. Helped out, of course, by New Jersey with poor dump-in attempts, passes - both long and short - going awry, and clearances either not getting out of the zone or getting over the blueline and going right to a Boston defender.
Eventually, the Devils managed to get 5 shots on net (Boston put 9 on net, so we're at 20-11 at this point), most of which that didn't really bother Rask all that much. Somehow, the game was at 0-0 and I just felt concerned in the stands. OK, Boston's shot selection was the greatest but at least they were getting shots. The Devils weren't even attempting to get quantity, much less quality on net. Brodeur played very well and he was getting very little offense in response.
The third period saw some improvement in that regard. Instead of just 11 shots after 40 minutes, they put up 7 in the last 20. The refs actually caught a Bruin hooking, something Boston was doing plenty of but not getting caught for some reason. The Devils only managed two shots on the ensuing power play, but at least there was some actual offensive penetration, some actual positive possession, and something the Devils could - but didn't - build upon. They were on their way on a second shortly thereafter before Zach Parise was tagged with an interference call that was questionable; but they looked decent on 4-on-4.
Meanwhile, you know how I mentioned that the ice was poor and the refs weren't calling much on the ice? Well, it continued. Short of these calls in the third, the refs were still lettting the players get away with a lot and the ice quality deteroriated. Yet, the Devils still tried to go in deep to get calls. They honestly expected a whistle after Patrik Elias got tripped up before overtime or while Kovalchuk was being hugged by a Bruin in overtime prior to their goal, after whistling very little all game. Nearly every line except for the fourth line still attempted cross-ice and other fancy passes to get forward as if the ice was perfect. It wasn't and it only helped pucks go astray or make it easier a Bruin make a stop throughout the game. I bring up the ice and refs as issues because the root behind those issues was that the Devils did not adjust at all during the game to account for what was going on. That's on the coaches for not picking it up and moreso on the players who are actually out there on the ice and not even picking up on it! Awful! Just awful!
Eventually, Boston figured all of this out and put a stop to it immediately on defense. It felt like in the third period that New Jersey attempted to do the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. Yes, they shot the puck a little more on net. Yes, they weren't pinned back as often in their own end. Yes, David Clarkson hit the crossbar in the third period, but that was an abberation more than anything else. It was still very frustrating hockey to witness. Had they make some adjustments, move a few players around (this Lemaire actually did later in the game, thankfully moving Vladimir Zharkov off of the second line), and played a simpler game with respect to puck movement and shot selection, then perhaps they could have came far closer to scoring.
But they didn't. In overtime, the offense actually showed some vigor but it was literally too little for Rask and Bruins fans to be terribly concerned with. In the long term, I'm not concerned about how Bergeron scored so late in overtime. I'm worried about how this team makes adjustments - it shows a lack of awareness and a lot of lost opportunities. Boston was the better team tonight because they understood what they needed to do and just got frustrated by a great performance by Brodeur right up until the end. Instead, we saw a total of 34 shots for Boston, only 20 for New Jersey, and the Bruins winning with the only break of the night - generated off a strong shot that the defense couldn't recover.
Who among the skaters had a poor night? A far shorter list would include the skaters who did somewhat well: Mike Mottau who earned his 26:57 tonight; Dainius Zubrus, who really should be on the second line instead of Zharkov - he played with some sense tonight; and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, whose checks gave the fans a rare reason to cheer - especially in the second period. Maybe, if you want to stretch your definition of "decent" Ilya Kovalchuk because he actually used his skills to go at the defense, which drew excitement as it wasn't an ineffective dump-in. But I didn't think Kovalchuk did all that much or all that well in what little he did - like the rest of the forwards. Moreover, Mottau, Zubrus, and Leblond didn't make the difference tonight - they just didn't look particularly bad. Per this postgame post by Lemaire, Lemaire only praised
Still, it's far more than I can say for Paul Martin, who just had the puck bounce off him way more often than usual and struggled to get good clearances; Zach Parise who's had a very quiet game for someone who played over 20 minutes; or David Clarkson who's only mark on the game was that shot that hit the cross bar. Those three stuck out as being particularly poor tonight from my seat. Again, I re-state that the only Devil to have had a great night was Martin Brodeur, who was let down.
With six games left remaining in the season, now's the time for the Devils to get it together. This performance by Devils not named Brodeur was, is, and will be inexcusable. Jacques Lemaire will have the team practice tomorrow, per this post game post by Tom Gulitti. After all, they got a day off on Monday after bad game on Sunday, I think this team needs to be worked hard instead of coddled at this point. Messages need to be sent and received fast.
I'd like to reiterate my major point: Don't be mad at the fact that Boston won with less than 20 seconds left; don't be mad that the refs let Boston get away with a lot and made some iffy calls, as stated by the Devils in this post game post by Gulitti. Be mad that the Devils played like garbage, let down their all-world goaltender who gave them a shot to win this game, and that they saw first-hand how the game was developing and the players and coaches did nothing productive in response.
They could have overcame the reffing problems and the ice being bad and at least challenge Rask to be great, among all other things. But they didn't. And those lack of adjustments will doom the Devils far more in the future than an event that has happened in exactly three games so far this season.
Below are the highlights from NHL.com. By highlights, I mean a lot of Brodeur saves and Bergeron's goal. Please leave all your thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.