The boxscore will show that the New Jersey Devils blew another lead in the third period. This is true. The Devils were up 2-0 and regulation ended at 2-2. Adding further fuel to the frustration fire, the equalizer was a shorthanded goal. That's right, the Devils had a power play and turned it into a net negative again. This time it was just 3 seconds before the end of the minor penalty Jason Spezza took. Mark Fayne botched a non-pressured pass to Patrik Elias, which got Filip Kuba to chip it up to Erik Condra, who fired a shot that Martin Brodeur really should have stopped. Of all 12 shorthanded goals against - yes, 12 - that one falls right on the goaltender for not making the stop. The sad thing is, Martin Brodeur played so well just to keep the Senators from running away with the game in the first place.
You see, the Devils were fortunate just to get a 2-0 lead to begin with; the Senators dominated the puck and pinned the Devils back over and over again, particularly at even strength. Sure, the shot count for the game looks fairly even at 32-29 in favor of Ottawa, 26-23 at even strength. The real story lies in the Corsi, the shooting attempts by each team at even strength. The Devils were just flattened with a -25 in Corsi. In other words, the Senators attempted 25 more shots than the Devils. This was not the result of a bad period or bad stretch. It was -12 at the end of the first period, which was a scoreless period. With no score effects, the Senators just kicked the Devils all around right from the get-go. It was -22 at the end of the second period, influenced in part by the score but the Sens were already beating on the Devils so it was just business as usual from them. And it was -27 at the end of regulation, with Ottawa tying the game up.
We've seen this story before from the opposite end this season for New Jersey, namely in the last game against Florida. Similar story: Florida gets up early, but the Devils have been steamrolling the Panthers at evens. They keep it up, they eventually get the opportunities to score, and they tied it up to force regulation. Tonight, the shoe was on the other foot. The lesson from that game should have been that owning the puck, initiating a majority of the attacks can lead to success. That should be the lesson of tonight's game as the Devils were on the receiving end of how it went awry.
So right from the beginning of the game, all the forward lines got beat on in their match-ups. The defense looked porous because they were; I'm pretty sure each of them had at least one or two horrible plays. Martin Brodeur had to be strong early, even when Ottawa would just miss the net off a rush or have a good shot blocked at the last moment by a Devils skater. Ottawa can even claim some misfortune as they hit the post twice, which of course doesn't get counted by the scorers. By the end of tonight's game, the Senators got credited for 32 shots on net, 23 missed shots, and 23 attempts blocked in all situations. That's a total of 78 attempts - far more than the Devils' 47. Whereas the Devils got their shots occassionally, Ottawa came at the Devils over and over and over be it in breakout plays, odd-man rushes, breakaways, or just simple dump-and-chase hockey. I don't know about you, but it's going to take a lot of luck and the goalie standing on his head to be subject to that and come away with a lead at any point, much less a win.
The Devils were good at pounding two loose pucks past Chris Anderson, I have to give them credit for that. I have to fault them for their inability to create more offense in the hopes of getting more situations like that or some other good possibility to score. Basically, the Devils were lucky to get a lead; the Senators were unlucky not to. But the Senators kept playing their game and came away with the goals they needed. The Devils couldn't do anything about it in the first two periods, so why would anyone think they could do it in the third? And they nearly made it 3-2 late, too. They didn't settle for the tie. Brodeur had to make a tough stop with 6 seconds left, a shot through traffic and warded off a loose puck to prevent the rebound. The Sens knew they were better tonight and they imposed their will, inaccurate shooting and all.
What did the Devils do? Nothing effective when it was apparent that Ottawa was playing them off the ice; not in either intermission. Overtime showed a little improvement, but alas, David Clarkson decided it would be a great time to take a really lazy minor penalty. A 4-on-3 PK situation is always difficult and guess what Ottawa maintained possession. Daniel Alfredsson had the space - again, 4-on-3 situation - teed up his shot and beat Brodeur shortside to win. The Devils suffered their first overtime loss this season. But they got wrecked for 64 minutes and really shouldn't have even gotten the point. That's how good Ottawa played and how bad the Devils responded to their play. Possession is everything, Devils.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. Please check out Silver Seven for a recap of their own.
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 Highlight Video: Here's the highlights from tonight's frustrating game where the Devils got out-played by Ottawa throughout the game from NHL.com:
The Only Positive Skater for NJ: Travis Zajac had a far better game than anyone could have expected. He was the only Devil to finish positive in Corsi at +2. Given that the Devils were a -25 by the end of the game, that's rather impressive. Zajac saw Kyle Turris, Nick Foligno, and Alfredsson most of all of his 12:13 of even strength ice time. He got denied by the crossbar and physics in the first period when he took a puck coughed up by Brian Lee and beat Craig Anderson with the shot. The puck just did not cross the goal line, fooling the ref but not the guys in review. Zajac had a second opportunity in front of the net that got through Anderson but David Clarkson pounded it in to ensure it wouldn't just stop at the line. That would be his lone shooting attempt. Plus, the guy just wasn't good at faceoffs tonight as he was 3-for-7. On top of that, he tripped Erik Karlsson (it wasn't much, but it was lazy) at the point during Ottawa's first power play to give them a short 5-on-3 and a continued 5-on-4.
So it really wasn't a great night, yet Zajac was the Devils best possession skater tonight. Perhaps that should sum it up for the Devils' skaters.
Who Carried the Offense: The Devils did score two goals. Dainius Zubrus stick-checked Zenon Konopka for a loose puck that gave Petr Sykora an open shot. Anderson kicked out the rebound and Zubrus put it in. The goal was the game's first and Zubrus' 200th of his career. A nice play to be sure. Later on, after the Devils survive what seemed like an Ottawa storm of offense, Clarkson wins a puck behind the net to Mattias Tedenby. Tedenby feeds Zajac, who beats Anderson with the shot and Clarkson ensures the goal.
In terms of who was doing the shooting, you have to give respect to Ilya Kovalchuk and Sykora. Until the third period, Sykora was leading the Devils in shooting attempts with 8: 4 on net, 3 misses, and 1 blocked shot. One of those SOGs did create a goal, so his efforts were not totally in vain. Kovalchuk really tried to turn it up as the game went on, one of the few Devils to play with more intensity on offense. He rang up 6 shots on net (5 at evens), 2 blocked, and 1 miss. Beyond those two, only Zach Parise had more than 3 attempts: 3 SOG and 2 misses.
Of course, I wouldn't praise those guys too much. Sykora was a -7 in Corsi; Parise was a -9; and Kovalchuk was a -16 (I almost want to say Ryan Carter and Eric Boulton dragged him down when double-shifted, but wow is that horrible). Kovalchuk and Parise saw a ton of Erik Karlsson, and quite a bit of the Jason Spezza line. Peter DeBoer tried to get that Spezza line matched with the Elias unit. While successful for the most part, it didn't matter much because the Devils nearly lost every match up they had.
In retrospect, I'm sort of surprised the Devils got 29 shots on net and 2 goals given how much of the game saw Ottawa streak through the neutral zone and generate a shooting opportunity or three.
Come to Think of It...: I almost forgot Mattias Tedenby. He wasn't bad! He was only -1 in Corsi; he attempted two shots, and he got an assist. He wasn't too bad, and more importantly, he was better than Eric Boulton. I want to ask DeBoer, why in the world was he benched late in the game. Sestito, I can sort of understand, a more play-it-safe, do-as-the-coaches-say player than the rookie. But Boulton is objectively bad at hockey. Why is he taking shifts late in the third period instead of Tedenby, who did OK? It wasn't like he was going to cost the Devils the game, especially given how poorly everyone else played when it came to possession.
You Big Dummy: David Clarkson, of all of the good and beautiful in this universe, why would you get your stick that high up on Zenon Konopka? From behind? Right at his gloves? I don't want to hear about how Konopka may have held it. I don't want to hear about how you dropped your stick; as when you did, you couldn't have been more obvious. You might as well have yelled "I DID SOMETHING BAD" to the refs. I want to know why you were trying to get at a player who was already ahead of you? And it's Zenon Konopka at Ottawa's blueline! It's not like he was off to the races or could have scored! That was a lazy and stupid penalty at any point in the game, and it was worse because it was OT. You literally handed Ottawa the game, and Alfredsson, who scored on said power play, should be sending you a Thank You card in the coming days.
Bent, Twisted, and Ultimately Broke: Goodness gracious, the Devils defense did not come out of this game looking good at all. Turnovers, bad positioning, bad puck control, bad passes to Devils teammates, and bad decisions. It would be one thing if the Senators just straight up beats a guy, but the Devils defenders did Ottawa some favors in this one. Amazingly, Brodeur bailed them out on all of them except for the two goals in regulation. That's a whole lot of bending by a defense against an Ottawa team that has been successful at generating shots on net this season.
Kurtis Foster was a doormat as evidenced by his -16 in Corsi. Kovalchuk had the same figure but at least he tried to score goals; Foster wasn't even doing that. Just terrible defending by #2 over and over; his worst moment was giving the puck away to Bobby Butler that led to a breakaway. Brodeur bailed him out of that one. Mark Fayne has been solid for the most part this season, but tonight was a nightmare for him. I cannot justify his reasoning to move away from Jason Spezza, Ottawa's top scorer on a simple breakout play for the Sens. Karlsson hit Spezza with the long pass and because Fayne moved, Spezza had a one-on-one with Brodeur and won. Fayne also made the terrible pass Elias couldn't handle that led to the shorthanded goal. If only Brodeur made that stop, then it wouldn't stick out. But Fayne got beat on repeatedly by Spezza and Milan Michalek. Adam Larsson and Matt Taromina struggled similarly; though they can feel a little better about their plays not resulting in GAs. Bryce Salvador and Henrik Tallinder weren't as miserable in possession with "only" -5 and -4 values, respectively; but they had moments where they got beat by speed and just good passing by Ottawa. And those two were your best defenders.
I know the Devils were without Anton Volchenkov, but the Devils blueline were just paper tigers against Ottawa. I don't think Volchenkov would have helped much. Let's hope it's just a one-time thing and not the start
That All Said: What I can't figure out is how a Devils team that was so bad at 5-on-5 defended so well at 4-on-5. The Devils allowed 1 shot on net among 5:37 of power play time in regulation. Subtracting out the 18 misses they had at evens, their power play missed the net 5 times. Oh, and the Devils got a shorthanded shot on net. Given that Ottawa's power plays in regulation came consecutively (Kovalchuk for slashing followed by Zajac's trip), the Devils would be in a real spot of difficulty. Spezza very nearly scored during the second one, but he hit the post and somehow the Sens didn't put the rebound in.
As for the 3-on-4 at the end of the game, there's not a whole lot that could be done. I liked Elias eating some seconds with his stickhandling. I'm sure some fans will get on Tallinder's case for not controlling the puck behind the net; but with Spezza in the corner, it wasn't like keeping it was necessarily going to lead to a clearance.
For the most part, the Devils did their best to quell Ottawa's attack when Ottawa had a man advantage. I don't understand it, but it is what it is.
I Hate the Power Play Part Whatever I Lost Count: An early power play in the first period and one in the third period with the Devils up 2-1. Either of them would have been a great time to establish pressure on Ottawa and possibly get a goal. The end result? One shot on each of them, one goal against - the 12th shorthanded goal against this season. I can't type how I feel about this because I have no words.
Poor Marty?: I have to emphasize how many important stops Brodeur made in the first two periods. Brodeur was a big reason why the Devils looked like they had a chance in a game they were being outplayed in from the beginning. There's not much shame in getting beaten on a breakaway by Ottawa's top scorer. He even made more of them in the third period. Brodeur really had to be on form because Ottawa was just bombing away with shots and they weren't cheap ones. Even the misses and blocks forced the goalie to react.
But Brodeur really, really, really should have stopped Condra's shorthanded shot. He wasn't in a good position; if he got it with his arm, then he should have stopped it with his chest or glove. Yes, Fayne botched the pass, Elias mishandled it, and the puck went off a linesman. A lot went wrong prior to the shot. It was still an awful goal to allow. Alfredsson's goal wasn't all that great to allow as it was short-side and went off Brodeur's stick. At the same time, it wasn't a good situation for the Devils as it was a 4-on-3 PP and the shooter was Daniel Alfredsson, a man who has scored 400 goals in his career and so is a very good shooter in his own right. I want to be sympathetic but I can't defend the Condra GA and I've got mixed feelings about the game winner. I suppose my sympathy really lies with the notion that Brodeur's going to be fingered for a loss that the Devils really had earned by getting destroyed in the possession game.
Karlsson is a Beast: 6 SOG, two primary assists, 32:39 in total ice time (!!), and a mind-bogglingly marvelous +22 in Corsi. I knew he was great before this game, but tonight proved to me that he really drives the bus on Ottawa. Not to take away from Spezza, Alfredsson, Bobby Butler, or Kuba; but Karlsson was brilliant tonight. I have to note that, he just crushed the Devils from the blueline and orchestrated the offense well. Even when he turned the puck over to Kovalchuk, he somehow raced back and pressured him from behind. Kovalchuk got a shot off and Anderson did stop it; but the play really stuck out to me as an Karlsson of being constantly aware and in motion to make plays all night long.
It's Not All Doom, Gloom, and Anger: Truth be told, I'm not really happy about this performance or the result. I think the writing makes that clear. I'm not going to pump sunshine where it's not warranted. That said, it's only the first game of the year. Bad games happen and as we saw last month, even a few of them at the start doesn't mean the rest of the month is going to be horrible. It is just one game. And while I don't think they deserved it, they did get a point so they don't totally sink in the standings. Of course, the Devils need to learn their lessons when it comes to possession very quickly. Boston's coming to the Rock and they would have blown the Devils right off the ice with a performance like this.
That's my take on tonight's game; now I want to know yours. Who do you think was the worst defenseman on the ice for the Devils tonight? Why were they better on the PK than at evens? Why do you think Mattias Tedenby was benched? Do you agree that the possession numbers tell the story of the game? Were there other positives to the Devils performance that I may have missed? Can the Devils turn it around for the rest of this week and quickly? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread and on Twitter via @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.