Loose New Jersey Devils Lose in Overtime to Florida Panthers, 4-3

This is how the night ended at the Rock. With Rostislav Olesz (not pictured) beating Johan Hedberg shortside in OT. Seriously, Moose, hug the post. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

I've thought about the game for about an hour now, after Rostislav Olesz scored the game winning goal in overtime to hand the New Jersey Devils a 4-3 overtime loss.  I'm torn as to what to think about it.

With respect to the result, I want to say I'm disappointed that the Devils had a lead twice in this game and blew it. That the Devils shot themselves in the foot on the final two goals by the Florida Panthers.  On the other hand, I want to say that just getting a point out of tonight's game should be appreciated since they are a near-bottom NHL team and so any points are good points.  Plus, they got it despite how the Devils have played at times in tonight's game, so coming away with something should be welcomed.   Head coach Jacques Lemaire wasn't as indecisive as I am; according to this post game post by Tom Gulitti, he stated bluntly that the Devils deserved to lose. Fair enough.

Regardless of my own indecision and Lemaire's opinion, one word keeps coming to mind with respect to the Devils' performance this evening: loose.  And definitely not the good kind. 

I'll explain further after the jump. Check out Litter Box Cats in a little bit for scoring chance counts and an opinion from the winning side this evening.

First, the stats of the game: the NHL.com game summary; the NHL.com event summary; the Time on Ice 5-on-5 Corsi chart; and the Time on Ice 5-on-5 head to head ice time chart.

Second: here's a video of the game's highlights. I'll say this in advance. Yes: the Devils really did score their goals this evening in this manner.

Now onto the recap.

Normally, being "loose" is a good thing. It means you're not wound up. You're not high-strung.  You're able to adapt to the run of play.  However, the New Jersey Devils were mostly loose in their own end this evening.  That sounds a bit strange since the Devils did only hold Florida to 29 shots on net and 43 attempted shots.  Though, how Florida was getting these shots was an issue for New Jersey. 

Check out the shot locations at ESPN's gamecast of the game for Florida.  They got a good cluster in close - and 3 of their 4 goals - along with plenty on the perimeter.   It was either Florida got into a good spot to shoot in or they bombed away.  Throughout the game, many of those shots came from cross-ice passes to open players.  The flanks were a problem all night long for the Devils' defensive effort.  Fortunately, Johan Hedberg was able to move very well laterally tonight and make several pad stops.  Even more fortunately, they were kicked out away from Panthers players.

What made matters worse was some of the absolute breakdowns the Devils had.  Here are a few examples that stood out from what I saw: 

  • The first goal against was pretty much the fault of Anssi Salmela and Andy Greene. It was a 2-on-2 and Greene gave Chris Higgins too much space to fire it past Hedberg early in the game. 
  • Later in the first period, amid the havoc, a puck goes from the left corner to an open Panther in the slot catching Hedberg totally unaware.  The only reason why they didn't score was because Greene kneeled in the crease and blocked the chance.
  • In the early portions of the second period, the Devils attempted a dump-in to get a line change. Only the puck didn't go in deep enough and the Panthers found a man all alone in the slot. Somehow, Hedberg gets a stop, Florida doesn't convert there.
  • After the Devils scored their third goal of the game in the second period, they give up a big two-on-one requiring an inch-perfect stop from Hedberg.

By no means is that an exhaustive list, yet I think I made my point.  The defensive effort - that's both the defensemen and the backchecking forwards - wasn't up to par.   If nothing else, Jacques Lemaire should be working the men hard on Saturday to get the point that this isn't acceptable.

For whatever reason, the Devils were only torched once on a big mistake: the third goal against, a shorthanded one from Mike Santorelli.  Ilya Kovalchuk duffed a pass at the point on the power play and Santorelli was off to the races (as if Brian Rolston was going to catch him).  Kovalchuk made a big error there.  Hedberg then compounded that error by darting out from his crease and sliding well before he had to.  Santorelli just went around him and scored an easy one.  It was so easy, anyone in the NHL could have scored it. Maybe you too. 

The sad thing is, while Florida only got one shorthanded shot on net, Santorelli's breakaway wasn't the first opportunity the Panthers PK units had all evening.  Needless to say, the Devils' power play needs to work on it's possession on top of their shooting - which surprisingly wasn't awful with 4 shots in 5:35 of PP time.

Moving onward with the other GAs, the other two goals weren't the result of defensive gaffes and breakdowns.  Dennis Wideman took a slapshot (one of his five shots on net) that went through a screen (it apparently didn't get deflected by Michael Frolik, I thought it did) on a power play.  The game winner from Olesz was more of an error by Hedberg than a skater not doing their job.  Such as it was.

I could be cute and say the Moose was also loose.  Actually, I'd say he symbolized this game to a 'T' for New Jersey.  He did some good things and came up big and/or lucky at times.  As mentioned earlier, he had to deal with plenty of shots off lateral puck movement by Florida and those aren't easy stops.  Yet, Hedberg was a nightmare whenever he left his crease; I have no idea what he was thinking on Santorelli's or Olesz' goals; and he took a minor for tripping a Panther behind his net.  He had his good moments, but his bad moments were particularly bad.  On a related note: Hedberg, please understand that you're not Martin Brodeur. Stop doing things Marty can do with ease.

Now, up until now, I've mentioned bad things.  There were some good things about the Devils' performance. First, they didn't come out flat. Just because they were suspect in their own end doesn't mean they took the first period or even the first few shifts off.  Second, they cracked 30 shots.  It took overtime to do it, but it was the first time they've done so in a good bit of time.  So, yay for shooting in a close game (it was 25-25 at evens until Olesz scored). Third, the Devils managed to finish the game even in Corsi as a team.  I'd say Florida had a slight edge from what I saw and the Corsi chart showed more Panthers in positive values than the Devils.   Still, despite the lead equalizing, the Devils weren't rolled one way or another even when one would think Florida would have all kinds of momentum.  Fourth, the line of Ilya Kovalchuk (+7, best on either team), Travis Zajac, and Nick Palmieri were all very good at Corsi and were a good attacking unit all night long. Even though they didn't shoot as much as the line of Brian Rolston, Patrik Elias, and Dainius Zubrus (which was pointless and slightly negative in Corsi), they contributed to all three goals by New Jersey.

Most importantly, the Devils had all kinds of breaks tonight. Not just in Hedberg bailing out the Devils or Greene's in-crease block.  The goals by Travis Zajac and Jason Arnott should come with assists from the end boards, as a literal good bounce helped get them in position to beat a surprised Tomas Vokoun.  Mark Fayne fired a floating that Nick Palmieri somehow ducked under in front of Vokoun that went in.  As if the first two goals scored weren't fluky enough.    It's easy to point at either Kovalchuk's turnover and Hedberg's flop on the Santorelli goal or Zajac hitting the post on a 2-on-1 late in the game (at 3-3) and say the Devils had bad luck.  On the contrary, they got three past Vokoun partially because of some very good luck.

Though, makes this loss feel more disappointing that the Devils had those breaks but ultimately shot themselves in the foot. Again, what stuck out to me was that if the Devils weren't so loose in their own end, then the Devils could have came away with a better result.  That's my take on the game.  Perhaps you disagree, and I welcome you to offer your opinion on what hurt the Devils the most in tonight's 4-3 OT loss in the comments. What can't be argued is that the Devils could have done better and hopefully they will on Sunday when they go to Montreal.

What also can't be argued was the atmosphere from the game. The Devils invited the Montgomery Marching Band, who played from time to time, in section 108.  The thunder was brought a lot more often from section 118 where the Devils Supporters Group was rocking and rolling.  Rows 8 through the back were filled with standing, chanting, and enthusiastic Devils fans for all 67 minutes of the game. I was happy to be among them and to yell all game long in support of New Jersey.  Thanks to Joe and Adam for organizing the group, thanks to the Devils organization for allowing the group to come back, and thanks to everyone in the group who showed up. (Apologies to the guy who yelled out my name after the first period. I heard you, but I didn't respond and I should have came over and said "Hi." Sorry about that.)

Of course, thanks to everyone in the Gamethread and thank you for reading.

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