New Jersey Devils Not Out of Struggles Just Yet, Lose to Calgary Flames 5-3

On Tuesday, the New Jersey Devils put up the first four goals of the game on the San Jose Sharks and then proceeded to concede 3 quick goals in the third period.  The Devils didn't lose the lead and went on to win, and I felt there was plenty to be positive. I agree with Steve's recap that A) the opponent was the San Jose Sharks, an elite team in the West, in their building, and one of the top offensive teams in the league; and B) the Devils didn't blow the lead, they just came close to it and then they sorted it out and shut down the Sharks to win 4-3.

Surely, one would think the Devils would be able to build on that.  Maybe they did in the first period, where they handled the physical battles with Calgary, Zach Parise got the game's first goal, nearly got a second from Patrik Elias, and looked sharp by period's end. Dainius Zubrus and Brian Rolston were looking good. The defense was solid.  Then it all went awry in the second period.

If you're a pessimist about the Devils' fortunes, then this game proved you right.  After that first period, it was like February all over again.  Bad breaks, the defense giving the puck up too much, the opposition getting quality chances and scoring on them, the Devils not able to respond, and Martin Brodeur not playing out of his mind to bail out every possible mistake.   The Flames went on to put up 3 goals in the second and tacked 2 more on in the third period.

A late scoring flurry - a rebound on a power play by Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk's shot being hard enough to get through Miikka Kiprusoff - made the score look respectable at 5-3; but not really indicative of how the game went.  A miracle late-game comeback was not to be and, sad to say, the Devils definitely didn't earn it.    For the Calgary fans, well, they have to be thrilled. They won a game, they did it by scoring 5 goals, and they did it by taking advantage of opportunities presented to them. They played very well. The fellows at Matchsticks and Gasoline have to feel a little better about Calgary's chances going forward - something they needed given their position in the Western Conference.  I apologize to the Flames fans if the following recap doesn't seem like I'm praising you.  This is more of a series of criticisms about the Devils' performance.  I assure you, Calgary played better for most of the game and earned their win; especially all of the second period.

If you want to check out the official stats, NHL.com has them along with their official recap.  Read on further if you want to read more about this bad game by the Devils.

 

For the second night in a row, goals were given up by New Jersey in short bursts. Tonight, all of the goals against came in two small windows of time: the three second period goals by Calgary were all scored within 3:58 of each other. The two in the third period came 33 second apart.   I'm sure that, in conjunction with the Flames scoring 5 goals off of 25 shots, will lead many to think that Martin Brodeur - and only Martin Brodeur - was the big problem tonight.  Well, watch these goals in this highlight video from NHL.com and try and tell me that after seeing the goals themselves.

No, Brodeur didn't have a good game.  He really should have stopped Daymond Langkow's turnaround backhand shot.  The defense didn't do anything wrong there - Brodeur needed to have his stick down or his legs closed on that shot.  

But goodness gracious, look what he had to deal with on the other four!

1. Ilya Kovalchuk coughs it up at the point on the power play - a position he's more than just "familiar" with - and Curtis Glencross does his best Alex Ovechkin impersonation on the shorthanded breakaway. 

2. Andy Greene runs out of space and just coughs up the puck in the corner to Eric Nystrom who gets past a slow-to-react Bryce Salvador, picks up his own loose puck, and stretches Brodeur for the third goal against in the third period.

3. The Flames have their first real offensive shift of the third period and Rene Bourque takes a shot that's stopped by Brodeur. The shot was hard so the rebound arced up and out.  The puck fell in a space in front of Bryce Salvador (facing the blueline) and Matt Stajan (facing the goal).  Guess who got there first for the rebound in the slot? Stajan, and he uses Salvador's position as a partial screen to beat Brodeur.

4. 33 seconds after all of that, the Flames get the puck in deep and Mike Mottau can't clear it out. Eventually, the puck is wheeled around to Nicklas Hagman to take a strong shot in the slot. Brodeur stops it and the puck goes to his right on the rebound.  Mike Mottau is unfortunately behind David Moss, who was set up on Brodeur's right to tap home the rebound.

I'm sure someone will call me some kind of an apologist or claim that I'm making excuses. Again, watch the video and if you still think I'm wrong, point it out.   Because those four goals could have been stopped with proper defending (and I'm including protecting the puck on a

Correct me if I'm wrong, but a key job of the defense is to get to loose pucks and rebounds because goaltenders are usually at the mercy of the shooter on those second chances.  When they cough up the puck in deep or are slow to react or don't get to a loose puck or are on the wrong position on someone when one happens, then the goalie is usually going to be in a bad spot.    On paper, the Flames put up 25 shots on net and normally a defense that only allows 25 is considered a good thing.  Not when they get blown up on chances like the ones the Flames had tonight.

And to see it from Andy Greene and Bryce Salvador - a normally reliable pairing - is just awful.  Greene made some costly errors against San Jose, and once again he made a few tonight. Salvador's errors were more due to just reacting slowly. He just let Nystrom cut across then tried to hold him back.  For the rebound that Stajan scored on, Salvador was beaten. Not at all a good night for them.

The second period was a black hole for the Devils offensively, which is definitely not good considering they went into it up 1-0 and ending the first on a high note.  After Kovalchuk got stripped on that power play, the offense just struggled to put much together. Sure, they put up 8 shots on net, but they weren't difficult for Kiprusoff.  Their best chance wasn't even a chance, when Ilya Kovalchuk rushed forward dropped it back for Jamie Langenbrunner who had the shot but decided to try and pass it to Kovalchuk - leaving the puck to astray.  They struggled to make good passes in Calgary's zone and on defense, more than a few clearances weren't good enough, allowing Calgary to continue attacking instead of forcing them out.  A bad second period defensively and offensively. That it came after a good first period is just mind-boggling.  Dainius Zubrus and Brian Rolston, both who looked good early, just sort of faded into the background as the game went on.

They started off the third period looking much better on offense, getting some decent pressure on Calgary, and then halfway through the period it became all for naught.  When those two goals happened, the Flames really put the game out of doubt.

I will say that I do appreciate that the Devils didn't go through the motions after Moss' goal.  They could have given up on the game, but they didn't.  I know, not much positives in a loss like this, but that's a clear one.   When they got a power play thanks to Mark Giordano's holding of a player, Jamie Langenbrunner took a hard enough shot to force Kiprusoff to leave a rebound and Parise was all alone to stash it home.  Ilya Kovalchuk's hard shot shortly thereafter trickled through for a goal (that flatters Kovalchuk as he didn't have a great game otherwise, namely because he played a major role in giving up a shorthanded breakaway goal).  The Devils started pushing ahead and at least made it look like a competitive game at the end.  Of course, it was too little, too late.  

And that's the frustrating thing.  Many Devils fans are very unhappy about the loss because it was reminded them of some of the losses from January and February.  The second period was bad. The third period that followed sealed it up.  The defense made mistakes that led to goals. The offense didn't respond until it was too late. The power play didn't do well enough (well, they got one, but the others, whatever).  Martin Brodeur didn't make miraculous saves.  The players are being outworked at times along the boards.  An early lead given up yet again.  Is Jacques Lemaire on a hot seat now? Does someone need to be benched? Wasn't this supposed to go away after the Olympics?  Why is this happening again?  Something has to be changed, right?  Right?

I can't say that I blame them.  I also can't say that there's some magical solution for the Devils to follow.  I don't know, most fans don't know, and so the frustration ferments.  If you're not a Devils fan, you may look at the record and say, "Come now, you're going to the playoffs, you're a good team, etc." Well, they didn't play like it tonight, they haven't in many games before the Olympics, and now who knows what we'll see going forward. 

OK, one place to start will be playing after the other team scores goals.  I don't know if that's a mental issue or a tactical issue, but the team has to tighten up after a goal is scored.   The answer isn't "Hope Martin Brodeur can stop whatever will be coming at him."  It's forcing the opposition to either lose the puck or keep them from getting a great chance.  If they had done that tonight, perhaps the result is different.  If they don't fix it, it's going to continue to be a major issue defensively.  

Come to think of it, the same could be said about their defending in the slot and around the crease.  It was fine in the first period, but not so much in the second and third period.  It's an area where quick decisions must be made and some risks may have be taken.  The third and fourth goals against were great examples where a defenseman reacting too slowly can hurt a team.    So that's two areas - perhaps among many others that I'm sure some of you will bring up in the comments - where the Devils need to sharpen up and fast.

At least Zach Parise became the first ever New Jersey Devil to score at least 30 goals in four straight seasons, with 2 goals tonight.  Though we can all agree that we'd rather have a win instead.

All I know is that Sunday better bring a positive result for the Devils.  Because the month doesn't get any easier after playing the worst team in the NHL. Thanks to Steve for the GameThread; and, of course, thank you all who read and comment on the site.  Please leave all your thoughts and complaints in the comments below.

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