New Jersey Devils Squeeze Blood Out of a Stone in 1-0 Shootout Loss to Pittsburgh Penguins

Well, that sure was a game.  Three periods, 20 minutes each, all completed.  Oh, and there was even 5 minutes in overtime.  Yep.  A completed game.

Seriously, this was one of the more difficult games to watch this season.  The New Jersey Devils lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 1-0 in a shootout.  Martin Brodeur and Marc-Andre Fleury picked up a shutout for their play, congratulations to both men.   This is the first double-shutout game the Devils have been involved in since January 12, 2010.  That game was awesome.  The Devils and Our Hated Rivals piling shot after shot, chance after chance onto each goaltender - only for each to make a stop every time.  The Devils won in a shootout and it was legitimately epic. This game was the exact opposite.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't like the game was boring.  Just awkward and sloppy. Both the Pittsburgh and New Jersey offenses put in a lot of work to do very little.  The first period featured a whopping total of 4 shots on net.  Two NHL teams, 4 shots on net.    Pittsburgh went on to have more offensive success; but even then, it took them 65 minutes to break 25 shots on goal (they finished with 27 in the game).  I'm honestly surprised that the Devils actually broke 20.  Full credit to both team's defenses and the goaltenders, but offense was all kinds of ugly for both sides.  Let me put it this way: I hate ties, I seriously like the shootout, and yet I felt this game deserved to end at 0-0.   I'm not disappointed that the Devils lost in the shootout, I'm disappointed in how they played in regulation.

I will say that Pittsburgh was the better team tonight, especially in terms of possession. I'll explain that and more about tonight's game after the jump.   For the opposition's take on tonight's game, go check out PensBurgh.

The Stats: The NHL.com game summary; the NHL.com event summary; the Time on Ice Corsi Chart; the Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Chart.

The Game Highlights:  Yeah, there were highlights in this one, almost all saves.  Here's the video from NHL.com:

Ugly Possession:  Corsi was developed by Buffalo goaltending coach Jim Corsi as a way to measure workload for goaltenders. A former goalie himself, he knew that even if the shot missed or get blocked, he'd still have to do work (movement, stance, an attempt at a save) for the shooting attempt.  To get a read on how much a goalie did in a game, he'd count shooting attempts instead of just shots on goal.   This has been used widely beyond goaltenders as a means for approximating possession for players at even strength.  Players usually don't attempt shots unless they're in their opponent's end of the rink; so it's desirable to have a positive Corsi value.

Tonight, the Devils were dominated.  The Penguins out-shot them 27-21, 22-16 at even strength, and (most of all) out-attempted them in all situations 61 - 47.  At evens, the Devils finished at a -15 Corsi.  This game featured a lot of blocks and misses on both sides, and the Penguins led in both as well: 17-15 in attempted blocks, 18-11 for missed shots.  Corsi captures all that; hence, the big negative for NJ.  Pittsburgh struggled to get pucks on Brodeur, but they had control of the puck more often than not.  Therefore, it's clear to say that the Penguins were the better team in spite of the 0-0 finish in 65 minutes.

The only Devils who didn't finish negative were Brian Rolston (0), Anton Volchenkov (0), Adam Mair (+2), Mark Fayne (+5), and Henrik Tallinder (+10).  Yep, the Fayne-Tallinder pairing did well.   In terms of negative players, only two warrant mention: Andy Greene at -20 and Anssi Salmela at -25.  That is not a typo.  I have to go back and see Salmela's -25 is a season-low for a player, but poor Greene-Salmela was pinned back over and over and over tonight.   Though, there's a good reason as to why Greene-Salemla got destroyed.

As If It Couldn't Get Any Worse: The Devils being pounded in possession was exacerbated by two injuries to Devils defensemen.  Colin White left early in the game with a "lower body injury."  He only played 3:10, so the Devils were down to 5 defensemen quickly.  Anton Volchenkov got banged up during the second period and did not return after intermission after 10:51 of action.   That's right, the Devils went 25 minutes with only 4 defensemen. 

Ultimately, Greene played 27:47, Tallinder played 26:00, Fayne played 24:37, and Salmela played 22:34.  A quick peek at the Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time chart shows that Dan Bylsma took whatever a chance to double shift the Jordan Staal line - or at least Staal and Chris Kunitz, both attempted to make their mark on the game - against both pairings.   One pairing did quite well, where as one had to scramble around in their own end.   If you ever wanted to get an idea of what a game would be like without White-Volchenkov, this one gave you a clue: it's not desirable.  Both #5 and #28 were sorely missed in my opinion. And they will be, as Tom Gulitti tweeted after the game that Lemaire thinks both will be out for tomorrow night.  Great, just great.

That Said, Props to the Defense: They played a majority of the game down a man, down two later on, and had very little offensive support.  Yet, they held a team that averages 31 shots per game to only 27 in 65 minutes and either forced a lot of bad shots or stopped quite a few themselves.   That's very good and the Devils do deserve credit for that.

While they were pinned back quite a bit, the Greene-Salmela pairing didn't get broken down too much. They could have been caught out against the Staal line or someone else, but they were rarely out of position.  The Tallinder-Fayne pairing was even calmer as they prevented the Penguins from shooting quite a bit.  Given that they were forced The defensive effort was often boosted by the forwards, who backchecked well all game long. 

Of course, the Penguins defense deserves even more kudos if only for holding the Devils to fewer shooting attempts overall.   Paul Martin (27:43), Zybnek Michalek (26:40), and Kris Letang (26:03) were used often and were consistently effective all game long.  All this after a big game against Philadelphia, too.  Letang was strong in both ends of the rink, as he put 3 on net, had one blocked, and missed 3 times while finishing a +11 in Corsi.  He showed why he's one of the best defensemen in the league tonight against the Zajac line.   I think the only really bad mistake between the three of them was Letang taking a hooking minor on Travis Zajac in the second period. 

Quite a bit of the game's listless offense on both sides was because the defense held true on both ends.  There was no one "bad" defender who just made errors all night long.  Sure, the Penguins caught the Devils a few times on some long passes. And the Devils had a couple times of opportunity.  For the most part, though, the defense was on point for both the Devils and Penguins - and so an offense that struggled to move the puck at times.

No Props for Devils Forwards:  Well, three forwards drew three penalties for Pittsburgh.  And the Devils were excellent on faceoffs as a team, winning 24 out of 39 total draws. Oh, and as noted in the last section, the  There's that.

Yet, overall, I'm not happy with the offensive effort tonight.  Two of the Devils best chances weren't even shots at all.  Adam Mair intercepts a lazy Penguins clear and dishes it to Vladimir Zharkov all alone in front of the net.  Poor Zharkov tries to deke out Fleury, only to lose the puck entirely.   Then later, on a power play, Patrik Elias manages to get a pass across to Ilya Kovalchuk all alone, yet the puck bounced over Kovalchuk's stick.  A whiff instead of a rocket directed for the net or Fleury's head.   When I'm describing non-shots as some of the Devils' best chances, you know it's bad.

Again, credit the Penguins' defensive effort, they collapsed rather well tonight.  And the Devils made it look easy with poor passing through the neutral zone, even worse puck control to maintain possession once they get it in, and some horrid shot selection.  I can understand most of the misses, but 15 attempts blocked, Devils?  You thought you were just going to fire the puck through the guys on the other team?  It's so frustrating to watch at times.

The Devils have certainly had trouble scoring goals, and a good chunk of that is out of their hands.  What the Devils can control is getting shots on net, attempting shots, and moving the puck up ice.  They have done a very good job in terms of possession this season, but they were terrible at evens tonight. That's the fault of pretty much all the forwards up and down the roster from Ilya Kovalchuk to Patrik Elias to Mattias Tedenby to Zharkov.  (Remember, only two forwards finished at zero or better in Corsi: Rolston and Adam Mair.) You all essentially sucked going forward tonight.  It was like squeezing blood out of a stone tonight. Coming away with just a point is a feat in of itself.

One more thing: Zach Parise returning isn't going to prevent this from happening again, either. It's a team effort; just like the lack of meaningful offense was a team effort tonight.

Someone Turn On The Switch, Please:  So in a 0-0 game where one team's controlling the play at even strength, a power play can make a big difference.  It can give the other team momentum on offense. It may even get a goal. Well, the Devils decided to just lull through that as well.  At least the defensemen got a rest as the five-forward unit was utilized over and over regardless of how good it wasn't this evening.

First and foremost, I am aware that Pittsburgh has one of the most successful penalty killing units in the league.  I am also aware that Fleury has been quite good this season and was quite good tonight.  A power play against Pittsburgh is a tall order.   Yet, the Devils really needed to do a lot more. The Devils drew 4 minors and wasted most of the 8 minutes from them. They got a total of 5 shots on net, the most impressive of which was Dainius Zubrus just plowing through guys and forcing Fleury to split his legs on the ensuing shot.   Too bad that was the last time Zubrus did much of anything on the power play tonight.

The Devils power play needs something different. The two-big-shots-at-the-point plan isn't working. Kovalchuk got set up for two one-timers, his stick broke impressively on the first and the puck bounced over his stick on the second.  When Elias is struggling with passes like tonight, it shows when he can't set people up along the sideboards.  It was not even clear who should be bringing the puck up the ice when Pittsburgh did clear it down the rink.   The Devils muddled through four power plays, two in the third period, and yet end up with 5 shots in 8 minutes. I can't help but feel disgusted about it.  It's a man advantage that the Devils just didn't take tonight and really don't take often all season long.. 

Again, I know Pittsburgh's excellent on the PK.  It's still frustrating to watch, and I'm sure the players and coaches themselves must feel it too.  This frustration would be more constructive if it led to some adjustments.   Adam Oates, Jacques Lemaire, a player, somebody come up with something new when the current scheme doesn't work. 

Goalies Were Great:  Now there's an obvious statement.  They earned their shutouts.  Brodeur had more to do, but both were excellent in rebound control and in reaction to what was going around them.   The shutout is Brodeur's 116th career shutout, while it's the 20th for Fleury.

The Devils Shut Down This Man: Tyler Kennedy had a power play goal and 7 shots on net against Philadelphia on Thursday night.  Tonight: no shots on net, 1 attempt blocked, and 3 misses.   Good work, defense.  Granted, Jordan Staal (3 SOG, 1 blocked, 1 miss, +11 Corsi) and Chris Kunitz (3 SOG, 1 blocked, 2 misses, +11 Corsi) were driving that line. In fact, they were Pittsburgh's best forwards tonight.  But at least Kennedy didn't build on Thursday's game.

Why Yes, They Played Quite A Bit:  Two rookies got some more significant minutes tonight than usual: Jacob Josefson played 17:01 and Mattias Tedenby played 17:37.  This is the most ice time Josefson has received in a NHL game this season, while it's the third highest for Tedenby this season.    They each played about 4 minutes on the "power" play, but even then 13 minutes of even strength time is a step up for them.  While their defensive work is questionable in my opinion, it's a sign that Lemaire appreciates what they've been doing as of late to give them those minutes.

A Gesture I Would Use to Describe the Devils Losing in the Shootout: Shrug.

A Little More About the Result:  At this point, it's clear that while the Penguins had their struggles, they were better than New Jersey tonight. That the game was dragged into overtime and then shootout is a testament to the defense and the goaltenders.  The Devils should be happy with a point because they certainly didn't deserve a win.  Anyway, the time to move on from the game is now, with the road trip ending in Buffalo tomorrow. The Devils need to sharpen up on offense quickly  - at least at even strength.

What did you think of the Devils performance tonight? What do you think they can do to get their offense going in terms of shots? What about the power play?  Do you think the Devils will struggle in Buffalo?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. The Buffalo-Devils preview will be up tomorrow morning closer to noon, so look for that then.  Thanks to all of the commenters in the gamethread, and thank you for reading.

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