For the second time in this week, the New Jersey Devils suffered a disappointing loss. The first was in Florida when the Devils blew a three-goal lead across two periods. The second was this afternoon at the Rock as the Devils lost to the New York Islanders 3-2.
It's not so much that the Devils blew a lead or collapsed in a heap. No, the Devils gave the game away as not-so-subtlety hinted in the headline. What Devils fans will takeaway from this one was seeing Ilya Kovalchuk go up the center of the ice on a breakout, get stick-checked off the puck by Michael Grabner in the slot, and scoring on a hung-out-to-dry Martin Brodeur. That was not only the Islanders' third goal of the game. That was not only a shorthanded goal. That was not only another goal off a Devils turnover. That would stand as the game winning goal.
But this game featured more than just that giveaway. The team as a whole gave the Islanders a lot this afternoon. They gave pucks away in the offensive zone with forced cross-ice passes or just bad reads both at the point and down low. They gave control away in the neutral zone, with pucks not being played cleanly stunting the Devils offense for much of the game. They gave space away as the Islanders were able to torch the Devils defense with several breakaways and odd-man rushes this afternoon. They gave victories along the boards as the Devils struggled to win pucks - which led to two goals against in this game. When you give that much away, it's hard to win hockey games against anyone regardless of where they are in the standings.
Oh, the Devils made a valiant effort to get a late equalizer. Zach Parise actually did with 5 seconds left in the game, jamming in a Dainius Zubrus pass right at in the crease. The ref on the ice called it a goal, but the lovely, intelligent, and visually-capable people of the "war room" in Toronto ruled it was no goal. They claimed there was a distinct kicking motion; and since it overturned the call on the ice, there must have been indisputable video evidence. Replay of Parise's effort showed no such thing as a clear kicking motion. His skate moved, which is going to happen because he's on ice; but that's all. Either way, I'm sure the NHL will come out with a clear and detailed explanation with video to fully explain why Parise violated Rule 49.2, per their official explanation as Tom Gulitti noted on Twitter. After all, the NHL has been so good about explaining controversial decisions.
Sarcasm aside, that the Devils needed to jam a puck in and hope it trickled over the line just to salvage a point says it all about how they played this afternoon. Feel free to blame one single player as you want, but the reality is that the Devils team was too sloppy on the ice to earn a result. After all, despite being down for much of the game, they still finished -2 in Corsi; evidence that they didn't put up enough offense to really take control of the game. Given the turnovers, the giveaways, or whatever they're called, it's little wonder they didn't.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's take, please check out Dominik's recap at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlights: Do you want to see some highlights from this game? Yes? Then watch this video from NHL.com. Warning, the end will enrage you:
The Andy Greene & Adam Larsson Pairing Was Horrid: While Adam Larsson didn't make two agonizingly-awful turnovers in the third period, I wouldn't say he really had a bounce back day. Sure, he scored the Devils' first goal in the second period off a lovely pass by Ilya Kovalchuk. Yet, Larsson had his share of giveaways at the blueline, he was pinned back more than any single Devils with a -6 in Corsi, and I'm not at all sure what he was trying to do on either of the first two Islanders goals.
Andy Greene was more noticeably bad. He certainly had his minutes cut to 16:42 of total ice time; much less than Larsson's ice time of 20:46. Greene got torched by P-A Parenteau at the point (it didn't help that Zach Parise gave a puck away along the boards to Milan Jurcina first), played off him and into the slot instead of trying to pick up an Isle. That helped Matt Moulson get the space for his one timer that put the Isles up early. In the second period, Greene's biggest error was a soft pass around the boards that turned into, what else, a turnover. David Clarkson didn't get to it first, but David Ullstrom did. Ullstrom won the puck and flung it to Josh Bailey, who scored on a one-timer. Greene's second biggest error was getting torched by Kyle Okposo in the second period for a breakaway that Martin Brodeur bailed him out on. While his Corsi was only -3, what Greene allowed would certainly cost the team had Brodeur not been brilliant.
Kovalchuk the Goat: Kovalchuk got a lot of boos after his turnover that led to Grabner's shorthanded goal. I can understand that. After all, he went right into the middle of the ice with a forechecker lurking. I know the guy has wheels and can control the puck well, but he put himself into an unnecessarily risky spot. He should have skated up the right side to at least get away from the pressure. Instead, he gambled by going up the center, lost that gamble because Grabner made a play, and Grabner finished it off. It was a very bad turnover in a game filled of them by New Jersey.
It also didn't help that he apparently said something nasty to an official after being taken down with a high stick by John Tavares, which wasn't called (not that the power play would have necessarily helped New Jersey). The refs gave him two for unsportsmanlike conduct, which hurt in a game where the Devils were down a score in the third period. While I sympathize with how he must have felt and he's been pretty good about staying out of the box this season, he's got to keep his cool in that situation.
Kovalchuk Wasn't Awful: Ironically, these events happened when Kovalchuk had one of his better games of the season. He led the Devils in shots with 4. He set up Adam Larsson and Adam Henrique on their goals, the latter being a sloppy but hard-working effort in the neutral zone to knock it ahead. His rush up-ice with Mattias Tedenby led to a good shot on goal and Tedenby drawing the first penalty on the Islanders. He finished even in Corsi despite being double shifted with bottom six players who were eating it in that regard. Kovalchuk got his hustle on and was flying throughout the game. Anyone complaining that he looked uncomfortable or slow were disproved this afternoon. Then again, those same people are likely ignoring all of this because of the turnover and likely the penalty.
Martin Brodeur Remains the Opposite of Awful: When a goalie stops as many breakaways and odd-man rushes as Brodeur did this afternoon, then it's clear he had a good game. Doubters, watch this video (and wince at Anton Volchenkov getting caught high in the neutral zone):
I believe Brodeur made the save(s) of the season.
Also: I don't think he was at fault on the first goal and definitely not the third goal. Maybe the second, but the video above suggests I shouldn't nitpick now.
How You Get Minutes: Mattias Tedenby's season has been tepid because he hasn't gotten a lot of ice time. That's because he's been quite good at being inconsistent in games and ultimately not doing enough to deserve more ice time. Today, he got 12:26; his first 10+ minute game since November 15. Why? The guy was hustling, he wasn't totally brain dead in his own end of the rink, he attempted 3 shots (got 1 on net), and he drew a call. Tedenby was energetic on the ice and if he can bring that more often, he'll get 10+ minute games more often.
Depth Charged: That said, I don't think the praise for Tedenby should go overboard. He was often in the wrong end of the rink as evidenced with a -4 Corsi. David Clarkson and Ryan Carter also got -4 Corsi values; while Tim Sestito (unsurprisingly) managed worse with -5. I'm not sure how but the Devils' third line and a third of the fourth line got beaten on today. Yes, the Isles with their forward depth, weren't as poor as the Devils. It's indicative how the overall team performance wasn't up to snuff today given that the Devils' top two forward lines finished even or better.
Incidentally, the Devils' forward depth had quite a few shifts against the Frans Nielsen line (a.k.a. the Isles' second line), so despite being on the road, the Isles found some favorable match-ups that might have hurt in the run on play as well. Either that or I'm misreading the head-to-head charts.
Some Other Positives: Yes, there were a few. First, the Devils' discipline was much better today. Bryce Salvador got his one dumb minor out of the way, and the only other power play the Isles got was because Kovalchuk was barking after a horrendous non-call on Tavares. Given that they took three straight minors to start the game on Friday, this is a step forward. Second, the Devils penalty kill remains dominant. Only 2 shots allowed and many clearances on the two penalties they killed today. Third, Adam Henrique continues to have some dazzling moments. The move he put on Al Montoya which was then an equalizng goal was nothing short of high-light worthy. His day at the dot wasn't good (5-for-13), but he played 18:34 in all situations, put up 3 shots, and finished at +2 Corsi.
My Frustration Grows, Mr. Oates: It's more than just the Jimmy's and the Joe's, the X's and O's continue to fail. as the the Devils power play continues to falter. With three power plays, the Devils only got 2 shots on net. Worse: they allowed 4 shots and a goal. Yes, the Isles' PK out-shot and out-scored the Devils' power play units. This is unacceptable; yet, I know it'll persist because that's how it's been going all season long.
While I understand that Adam Oates has no say in whether the Devils give the puck away at the point or turn it over in the slot; the same systemic problems persist with no recourse or adjustment. On what level can anyone say the Devils' power play has been good? It'd be one thing if they were firing shots on net with some regularity and they're just not going in. But the Devils aren't even doing that. Adam Oates is essentially the opposite of Dave Barr when it comes to special teams success this season; and Oates needs to be held accountable sooner rather than later.
Why I Don't Trust the Giveaway Stat on the Event Summary for a Game: So Kovalchuk is marked for 3 giveaways (I'd bet only 1 is real), Larsson with 2, and none for Greene or Salvador, who each made at least two heinous turnovers. Yeah, I don't trust that stat on the Event Summary. What is the scorer looking at? It's like them with hits - they're so inconsistent, who knows whether it's a legit count or not.
Where I Ask A Player Who Isn't Reading This Recap: OK, so Kovalchuk was certainly notable in a positive (and negative) manner today. He got 4 shots on net - all at evens. Henrique certainly showed up with 3 shots at evens and a goal. What about you, Zach Parise?
I see you got an assist on Henrique's goal that I didn't recognize at the game or upon watching the goal again on video. Yes, I think you got jobbed on that overturned call at the end of the game. Had that gone in, we can say you did something more than just 2 shots on net in the second period and give a puck to Jurcina along the boards that eventually turned into the Islanders' first goal. OK, to be fair, you were also a +2 in Corsi, so you weren't being beaten in your match up. Yet, I expect more from you. I expect you to make an impact in a game on a regular basis and outside of the last 5 seconds of the game, you really didn't. Many fans want to split up you with Henrique and Kovalchuk to "get you going." I don't know, maybe that's needed. I'd prefer that you step something else up in your game instead of mixing up the roster to cater to your skills. You could stand to eventually figure out how to play with guys not named Travis Zajac; especially since you're playing for a contract.
Reputation: With two high-sticks in consecutive games that weren't called and took down players, should John Tavares have a reputation? All I'll say is that the Devils may want to watch themselves on March 4, 2012 lest they risk another stick getting wildly swung at them from #91.
What did you think of the Devils performance? What will the Devils have to work on in the next three days before starting a four-game road trip in Colorado on Wednesday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread and @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.