The rationalization for tonight's 6-1 loss to the Boston Bruins is that the New Jersey Devils went up against to the Boston Bruins. As I emphasized in great detail in my preview for this game, Boston is an excellent hockey team. They aren't just riding percentages. They're not leaning on one line. They're not only as good as their goalie will take them. They have serious forward depth, they're very strong when it comes to possession, and they're pretty good on special teams to supplant their even strength success. The Bruins are the elite team in the Eastern Conference. What's more is that they only lost 4 games since the beginning of November. The Bruins had winning streaks where they would tear apart opponents on some nights. If the Devils are going to be blown out by somebody, then the Bruins are going to be among least surprising teams in the NHL to do that. Besides, it's not like the Devils got shutout - it could have been worse.
Again, that's the rationalization. By no means does it excuse or absolve the team for their performance on the ice. As indicated by the score, no Devil really had a good game. There are a few silver linings here and there. We can feel sympathetic for one, maybe two Devils. However, a 6-1 loss means the entire team failed and that's exactly what happened. I do have to say "well done" to Boston. They never let up and they got a fully-deserved big win. They're elite. The Devils clearly aren't and they really need to get their issues sorted out quick with two games coming up very soon. Yes, it's a horrible loss, but the team can't let this one force them to slump in future games. Ideally, this game should be a learning experience. After all, the Devils got schooled in Newark this evening.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's point of view, Sarah Conner has this short one over at Stanley Cup of Chowder.
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: I can't blame you if you don't want to see the highlights of this game from NHL.com, but if you want to have a real reason to be mad at, say, Tim Sestito or Adam Larsson, then this video has evidence:
Your Silver Lining: Truthfully, the first period wasn't so bad. The Devils out-shot the Bruins 16-11. David Clarkson scored a power play goal in an odd circumstance - a 2-on-1 - to open up the game's scoring. Making it strangely successful was that the goal was the Devils' fourth shot on that single power play. OK, Boston came back. An Andrew Ference shot at the point got re-directed by Gregory Campbell's skate and beat Martin Brodeur on his left flank. Minutes later, Milan Lucic and David Krejci just spread the PK out (their sole error, those two shots on that converted Bruins PP were their only ones of the night), which left Nathan Horton open on Brodeur's right flank. Horton popped the shot off the post and just into the net. So it's a 2-1 deficit but the Devils aren't getting creamed at that point in the game. And it came off a bad bounce and the PK making an error. That's not bad against an elite team. It's still a competitive game at that point.
How It All Went Wrong: It was in the second period where the Devils just straight up lost this game. Boston only scored one goal: Patrice Bergeron blocked an Adam Larsson shot at the point in the dying seconds of a Devils power play and rushed up ice on a breakaway. Bergeron pulled off a few nifty stickhandling moves and beat Brodeur to make it 3-1. It technically wasn't a shorthanded goal; but it just continued the tone for how the second period went. Sure, Boston only out-shot the Devils 8-7 but they enjoyed extended possession in New Jersey's end. They pinned back each of the Devils' lines at least once. They forced the Devils to dump-and-change more than dump-and-chase. They got help by the Devils when they would give up open shots at Tim Thomas and pass it to a teammate in a worse spot to shoot from. Even on power plays, the Devils seemingly forgot what they did in the first period, which was an actual good power play, and squandered . Even on odd-man rushes the Devils blew it. The Bruins were stronger in their own end against the Devils' forecheck and they played with more and more poise. By the end of the period, the Devils were down 3-1 and it looked ugly.
The third period saw the blowout come to fruition. Bergeron was left open in the slot so a one-timer at 2:30 into the third made it 4-1. David Krejci got behind the defense as Dennis Seidenberg fired a shot from distance and deflected the puck right past Brodeur at the top of the crease. A review saw that it was a good goal and so it was 5-1. Brodeur will probably wish he had the sixth one back. Shawn Thornton hung back and stayed open to the top right of the left circle and flung one low through the five-hole to make it 6-1. Even if Brodeur stopped that last one the game would still be a blowout. What were the Devils doing in response? Not much. They got 8 shots on Tim Thomas; but they really weren't challenges for him save for maybe two of them. While the B's were able to pick apart the Devils in their own end, the Devils would not be as successful.
The simple summary is that Boston took the game over and just beat on the Devils. Not just physically, but in terms of skill, tactics, and just basic passes. They won a few board battles out-numbered, one of which started the play that led to Krejci's goal come to think of it. They didn't panic when New Jersey was out-shooting them heavily to start the game, they just made adjustments where needed and exploited the Devils' errors. As Boston had some successes, they built them up more and more. By the end of the second, Boston was in control. As the third began, the goals followed. Simple as.
Chicken or the Egg: The Devils were a -9 in Corsi as a team this evening. Given that they were losing for much of the game, that's really not good since score effects usually draw the losing team to attack more. That wasn't the case tonight. While the Devils can claim a 31-27 lead in SOG tonight, Boston did make more attempts. Moreover, the shots at 5-on-5 were only 26-24 NJ and 16 of those 31 shots on net (12 of their 26 in 5-on-5 play) came in the first period. While the Devils didn't lose every match-up in terms of Corsi, it was clearly a net negative.
Part of that has to fall on Peter DeBoer. I know there was a lot of garbage time, but why in the world did the fourth line get at least 9 minutes tonight? Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen did nothing of value, and I think I can smell Tim Sestito's performance from central NJ. With the last change, why did that trio see any of Boston's top three lines? Why did the Adam Henrique line keep running into Boston's best defensive pairing of Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk when goals were needed, when they could have been put out there against a weaker group? The head to head ice time charts will show that DeBoer mixed up the match-ups to stem the damage; but Claude Julien clearly had the better handle on the game.
Of course, that leads to the other, possibly larger part: the players' performance. The Henrique line wasn't terrible in possession, believe it or not. Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk were a +4 and +3 respectively. That doesn't mean they were good. Parise had one shot on net (and one sweet pass to Clarkson) until a garbage-time third period where he got two; Kovalchuk only had three shots on net in total; and Adam Henrique was even in Corsi but just off his game tonight when he had the puck. Ryan Carter wasn't terrible filling in for Travis Zajac and was a +3 Corsi against Boston's bottom six. Again, Carter faltered in other areas (0 SOGs!); at least he wasn't a sieve.
The Elias line, the team's top possession line that has faced tough competition regularly this season, was a sieve. Dainius Zubrus did little tonight and ended up a -8. Petr Sykora made all kinds of stupid decisions, most frustratingly ones where he passed up shots - you know, that part of the game he's still good at - while the team was losing. Sykora was a -7. Patrik Elias really didn't have it together, he coughed up the puck in all areas on the ice, and just wasn't positive. He tied for the team's worst Corsi player with a -9 tonight. When the power line plays as badly as that, as a coach, you have to get them away from the other team's best line. That necessitated changes and sometimes there were no good options.
Who really deserves the blame? Both, really. A 6-1 loss is usually a collaborative effort.
Dumbfense: Then there's the defensive pairings. Goodness, I don't even know if there's anyone I can really praise. Maybe Bryce Salvador for his 21:12 of ice time and another solid PK effort if one ignores his -5 Corsi? Matt Taormina for meeting somewhat low expectations as a call-up? Mark Fayne for not being as bad as he was against Ottawa (he really wasn't)? You know, I'm not going to answer those questions.
Well, I can tell you who can't be praised. Henrik Tallinder took two stupid penalties and got worked over fairly good given his -6 Corsi. Knowing that Tallinder is a part of the PK and with Anton Volchenkov not playing, that makes those penalties even worse. Kurtis Foster had shifts with at least one gaffe - a giveaway, a missed assignment, etc. - in them that somehow didn't lead to a goal against. That's luck and not good defending.
Adam Larsson was the clearly the worst tonight. He struggled against Boston's players all night long. Then there was his role for four goals against. Not presence - role. He forced a shot he had no chance getting through that led to Bergeron scoring his first goal; he got torched by Brad Marchand which helped set up Bergeron's second goal; he knocks down Lucic and still loses a board battle for the puck with him which started the play that led to Krejci's goal; and he somehow missed a puck and got deked out of his skates by Dan Paille as he set up Shawn Thorton's goal. That's just the four goals against. That doesn't include the bad positioning, the hooking call he took because he got beat off the rush, or any of on-puck decisions he made. He played dumbfense. I know he's a rookie, but of all the defenders, he's got the most to learn from this experience.
Your Energy Sucks: Eric Boulton, Cam Janssen, and/or Tim Sestito are on this team. Again, they got minutes in garbage time; but this fourth line was terrible. I know they weren't the key reason why the Devils lost this game, but they proven yet again that they bring nothing to the table. Nothing. Janssen skating hards into dudes way away from the play is just risking a minor, it's not energy. Sestito not knowing where he is and reacting too slow - which was a big reason why Bergeron scored his second goal - does not add energy. Boulton is just slow and has no real skill, much less providing any energy. On a night like this, the Devils certainly could have used some energy. Too bad, Peter DeBoer, Lou, and hockey people all around the NHL and possibly the world think guys like these three provide energy. They don't.
Sympathy: Martin Brodeur's going to suffer the most from this game. 6 goals on 27 shots is on his permanent record. When Larsson or Sestito or some other skater messes up, we note it in a recap like this, we gripe about it, and we move on. It's not counted like GAs, where it stays on the stat sheet.
Honestly, Brodeur should have stopped Thornton's goal. He did give up one soft goal, an inconsequential one in the context of the game. If you really want to be picky, you could argue that Brodeur could have done better on Bergeron's breakaway - the second breakaway the Devils allowed in that period. OK, let's be picky. So that's two out of six, the Devils still lose the game decisively. What was Brodeur supposed to do about the two deflections, one by skate the other by stick, right in front of him? How can we expect Brodeur to have stopped Horton's power play goal on his flank or Bergeron one-timing it in the slot? If he did on either of them, then we would have been marveled by the sheer unlikeliness of it all. So, yeah, I'm sympathetic towards Brodeur's plight from this game. I'm not saying he was fantastic or even good. But he was victimized more than anything else tonight. Yet, it goes against his record, it drives it down further, and Johan Hedberg, who would have performed similarly tonight if he was in net, looks better for it.
Where I Split Hairs: In this postgame post by Tom Gulitti, Ilya Kovalchuk said this was "the worst game we played all year." Actually, I'd argue the Colorado game was worse because Boston's a far better team than the Avs and the Bruins have mauled several other opponents (e.g. Philadelphia, Florida) this season. But I'm not going to disagree too loudly with Kovalchuk's sentiment. Especially if it leads to a better game from him and everyone else on the team.
One More Thing: Boston played not just a fantastic game. What astounds me was how balanced it all was. Nearly every Bruin had a shot on net; only Tyler Seguin and Benoit Pouliot didn't register one. Their lowest Corsi player was only at -2, which is shared by Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. Boston's depth really shined tonight as their fourth line got success, their third pairing didn't get beat up on, and their top lines played like, well, top lines. They're an elite team right now and their 6-1 thrashing is just one more example of their quality of depth as well as their overall quality.
That's my take on tonight's blowout loss. I'd like to know your thoughts on this one game in January. Who do you think stunk up the place the worst? Will the Devils learn something out this one and apply it in their future games? Were there any other silver linings in tonight's game that I may have missed? How much are you looking forward to January 19 when the Devils get to play them again? Please leave your answers and other thoughts for this game in the comments. Thank you to everyone in the Gamethread who read and commented within the rules; thank you to those who followed @InLouWeTrust for occasional tweets; and thank you for reading.