Most good things must come to some end and tonight it was the end of a five game winning streak. The New Jersey Devils suffered their first non-win of the month in a 4-3 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues. All things considered, I can't say I'm upset or really disappointed in how the Devils played or even the final result.
Sure, the Devils were in a position to win and didn't get it. I'm not saying fans shouldn't care about that or that I don't care about that. Rather, the Devils played a really, really, really good Blues team in a fairly even game and took them all the way to a shootout. Outside of the shootout itself, the Devils didn't fall flat on their face or lose their focus entirely when St. Louis scored or had a good shift. The Devils had several opportunities of their own to attack and succeeded with three goals and sending their starting goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, to the bench. It would have been great if they got a fourth goal on the several chances they had to get one; but Brian Elliott played excellent in relief and other chances just didn't get finished for one reason or another. It happens.
Sure, the Devils had a lead in the third period and it got lost in that final third of the game. It's not like the Devils really blew it, though. The goal itself was a floating shot from Roman Polak that Patrik Berglund deflected into the net through traffic and Johan Hedberg. As far as equalizing goals go, that's just a bad break for New Jersey. There was some concern about the height of Berglund's stick, but a video review showed that it wasn't clearly over the crossbar. The goal stood and it became 3-3 until the end of regulation and, eventually, overtime. The Devils didn't sit on the 3-2 lead, they out-shot the Blues 9-6 in the third and that's including a 5 minute penalty kill when Kurtis Foster got a major and a game misconduct for boarding. The Devils played a relatively good third period; an unfortunate deflection just beat them. It happens. All it meant that the Devils went from two points to one point.
Frankly, if the Devils had to end their winning streak, then the one opponent who's in the opposite conference and is actually one of the best teams in the league is a good place as any to see it end. Still, the Devils got a point out of the game and they're still in fifth in the Eastern Conference for now. From a results perspective, it's not bad. From a performance perspective, I don't have too many complaints about how the Devils did against the Blues. The team ended at -1 Corsi and +1 Fenwick in even strength; which reflects how the game really went. The shootout was the only real disappointment from the home team, but I suppose the Devils weren't going to stay elite as the Blues weren't going to stay terrible at it. It happens. Should the Devils pick up some more wins soon, then it's no big deal.
I have more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the opposition's point of view, Brad Lee has this recap at St. Louis Game Time.
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: This game had it all when it came to goals, saves, and even a hit or two. NHL.com has this highlight video of the game that's worth checking out:
The Shootout Flop: I want to start with the one real disappointment from the team tonight: the shootout. When the shootout was the low point of the game, then it really wasn't a bad game. I felt the Devils could have done much better in this portion of the game.
The shooting left a lot to be desired. Ilya Kovalchuk had Brian Elliott moving but he got the puck poke-checked away. I think Kovalchuk made one too many moves in getting in close. Patrik Elias came in wide and actually did get a shot off at Elliott's not-open five-hole. Zach Parise just lost the puck. He came in on Elliott's left and just, well, lost it. It was pretty heinous and I don't think he would have beaten the goaltender even if he had shot it.
Johan Hedberg was better, but he didn't look good on the only goal scored in the shootout. Hedberg got a piece of the shot by T.J. Oshie. Instead of getting most or all of it, it bounced down and slid through his legs for a goal. It wasn't good positioning. Hedberg did much better on following Jamie Langenbrunner and getting a pad stop on him. Alas, the shooters couldn't help him out to keep the shoot out alive.
Perhaps I'm being too picky in the shootout. I mean, the Devils just lost one point out of it and it's to a team they aren't directly competing with in the standings. I don't know, I just thought it was the weakest part of their performance tonight.
Bombing Away: Both teams didn't exactly light up the shot count as the Devils led the Blues only 27-26 in shots on net. What was interesting was that both teams really relied on a few players to get rubber on net. The Blues were led by their top line of David Backes (6 SOG), T.J. Oshie (4 SOG), and David Perron (2 SOG). Seriously, Backes and Oshie are great players and Perron meshes well with the two of them. They got some extra support from Patrik Berglund (3 SOG) and Chris Stewart (3 SOG); but that top line really got things moving. The pairing of Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador saw them quite a lot at even strength and so they were forced to defend quite a bit. That's why they were so low in Corsi: -6 for Volchenkov and -8 for Salvador.
As for the Devils, their offense was led by their top line as well. Ilya Kovalchuk was playing out of his mind with 4 shots on net out of 12 attempts. He was just getting by Blues skaters and getting into space to make tonight feel like a long night for Halak and Elliott. Moreover, the prolific Kovalchuk didn't take chances away from Zach Parise (5 SOG) or Patrik Elias (3 SOG). That line was just cooking and it forced Ken Hitchcock to mix up his match-up defensively; they saw an even mix of Alex Pietrangelo, Barrett Jackman, and Carlo Colaiacovo. Joining that line in terms of the shot parade were David Clarkson (5 SOG) and Adam Henrique (5 SOG), who each got plenty of looks on separate lines. Like the Blues, after this group of 5, the shots were just scattered among other players.
Poor Ilya: Just to reiterate, Ilya Kovalchuk was on fire tonight. He had 12 attempts on net but unfortunately, he just didn't have good luck with most of them. Two were blocked and he missed the net six times. He agonizingly missed the upper part of the net in the second period due to a bouncing puck. He strangely took a turnover from Alex Pietrangelo and attempted a slapshot that went wide. He attempted to pick corners but just pulled his shots a bit too much. I feel bad for Kovalchuk because there were shifts where he'd stay on and still make Blues look second-rate with his moves. He did everything right but the shot just wasn't there.
When I mean everything, that does include his passing. Kovalchuk created two goals tonight. He made the killer cross-ice pass on the Devils' first power play that Zach Parise buried at an angle. He hooked up with Elias on a give and go that Elias finished with aplomb, put the Devils up 3-2, and sent Halak to the bench to be replaced by Elliott. Kovalchuk played an incredible 29:07, 24:02 at even strength, and came out ahead in Corsi at +3. He was excellent - except for the goal. Poor Ilya. He'll get it (and maybe more) next time. As far as the misses, I wouldn't worry too much. A bunch of rolling pucks exacerbated that. Besides, he is fifth in the NHL in shots on net with 195, I think he'll be fine.
Keep the Fire Burning: Elias and Parise extended their point streaks to seven games with a goal from each of them tonight. They don't get anything extra for the goals being pretty sweet; but they were pretty sweet goals.
The Number 14 Looks Fairly Suave: Adam Henrique really had a strong game tonight on offense. He put up 5 shots on net and scored a very sweet goal to tie up the game not long after Perron's goal. The shot came from the right circle and either it hit something along the way or it was perfectly placed to go far post past Halak. Of his four other shots on net, I was most impressed with Henrique's one in overtime. With just under a minute left, he very nearly finished the game in overtime when he broke through a defender and forced Elliott to make a tough stop. Henrique saw the Backes line most often and he came out ahead with a +4 in Corsi; so he definitely wasn't causing any issues in his own end of the rink. Tonight, Henrique looked his best since his injury and I hope it's a sign of things to come.
Your "Huh" Stat of the Night: The Devils' leader in Corsi tonight was Matt Taormina at +8. How, you ask? Easy: he was protected very well by Peter DeBoer. When he was on the ice at even strength, he usually was behind the Elias line with Mark Fayne. Taormina started the night off with Kurtis Foster but DeBoer split that up to pair the weakest defenders with two not-so-weak defenders (Fayne-Taormina, Andy Greene-Foster). In terms of opposition, he didn't face one single line so much more often than anyone else. The most common opponent were Evgeny Grachev, who did nothing; Patrick Berglund, who was somewhat dangerous; and Jamie Langenbrunner, who did nothing tonight either. So Taormina was behind the Devils' most productive line and got some weak competition tonight. He succeeded, which means it worked.
C'mon Son - Foster Edition: Kurtis Foster would probably like a do-over for tonight's game. Foster looked silly as he (and Taormina) couldn't clear a puck in the slot and got beaten by Chris Stewart, who put it past the Moose. Foster was drowning early on due to his own errors and lack of speed. He needed to be rescued by a veteran, which DeBoer obliged by putting him with Andy Greene from the second period onward. It worked out well as Foster stopped acting as a pylon and got up to +3 in Corsi. In the third period, disaster struck. Foster hit Chris Porter from behind into the boards and not only got a major penalty but a game misconduct for the hit. I was at the other end of the rink, so I couldn't tell you whether it was a fair call and I couldn't argue against the penalty either. It definitely could have been costly. Not that Foster was playing really well, but it put the Devils down to five defenders and in a precarious situation with a long power play.
Foster could have had a better night. At least he got the secondary assist on Parise's goal. That's one positive at least.
No Positives for the Fourth: Cam Janssen played 4:08 and was a -4 in Corsi. Eric Boulton played 6:01 and was a -4 in Corsi. Jacob Josefson played 6:08 and was a -5 in Corsi. None of them had a shot on net. None of them were on the ice for a shot on net at even strength. Josefson was the only one of the three to attempt a shot and he missed the net. The fourth line continues to be a vacuum. Now that the third line has been productive and Alexei Ponikarovsky and Steve Bernier continue to do well on the boards, I hope the Devils turn their attention to this waste of a forward line. They don't have to be great, but they shouldn't be useless either.
Super Power Kill: The Blues have had an ineffective power play all season long and the Devils really made it look bad tonight. St. Louis got one power play - the major on Foster - and they only generated 3 shots on net in 3:55. The Devils penalty killers held them to the perimeter, won races for loose pucks, and got in the way of shots from distance. What's more is that the PK got three shots of their own. That's right, the Devils were killing a major penalty and they got two rushes on net and another shot from an angle. Lastly, their pressure led to a St. Louis penalty, Perron tripped Parise, which wiped out the final 1:05. It was a great performance in a tough position. Good job to David Barr and the PK units.
Loose Moose: I had a feeling this wasn't going to be Hedberg's best night when I saw him struggle a bit with his positioning. He didn't get set too often and he looked a bit too jumpy, as if he was fighting the shot somewhat. Outside of the crease, Hedberg remained as inconsistent as ever but thankfully didn't give the puck away too much. In the crease, I felt he could have done better on Stewart's shot even though Foster and/or Taormina should have cleaned up the mess in the first place. He looked pretty bad on Perron's goal in the second period. I know he got a piece of it with his blocker, but if he could have gotten some of it, then he should have gotten more. Some of his saves were just moves seemingly out of desperation when St. Louis stormed the net. I'm glad he made them; but on another night, maybe he doesn't get it or inadvertently puts the puck in a worse spot. The third goal against definitely was not his fault as it was a deflection; but I felt Hedberg was a bit too loose and could have done better.
The Deflection: Was Berglund's stick above the crossbar? I don't know for sure. I wasn't sure seeing it live, albeit from a distance. The video replay at the Rock really wasn't all that clear. I can see DeBoer's argument, as given in this post game post by Tom Gulitti, but I don't think it's anything to get too worked up over. If the video was inconclusive, then it's not possible to overturn it. The Devils could have scored a fourth goal before or after that event, so it's not like the Devils lost the game because of the call. As I said prior to the jump, it happens.
Brisk: Early on, the game seemed choppy. Not in an ugly way, but in that both teams skated hard and put in an effort with very little result. The game was fairly brisk. The Blues are a fast team and they do have some good size. It's good to see that the Devils hung with them, repelling much of what the Blues tried to set up. As it turned out, the game became a defensive affair with each team held to under 30 shots on net and defending players coming up big to prevent a juicy rebound or a killer pass from becoming a killer shot. The game's pace was brisk, the action was even (again: Devils were -1 in Corsi, +1 in Fenwick by the end of regulation), and the match-up was entertaining. The Devils hung with a top possession team and got something out of it. That's good. The power play wasn't too bad and converted, the PK came up big in a major penalty situation, and the top forwards.
On Backes: David Backes is a really good player. I cannot say enough how impressed I was with how he did. Elliott played great in relief; and Oshie was quite good too. I wasn't too impressed from their top defenseman Pietrangelo. But Backes was big, he played big, he played physical, he played fast, he was winning quite a few faceoffs (13-for-20), he owned in possession (+8 Corsi), and he created many shooting opportunities for himself and his linemates. I felt like he could do it all. I'm admittedly not familiar with the Blues to know whether this was just one great game; but I suspect he does this regularly. I, for one, was impressed all the same.
One Final Thought: While the Devils did allow an equalizer, they played a fairly good third period. They matched the Blues power play shot for shot during Foster's major; they drew two power plays and got two shots on net (should have been three, but the scorer didn't count Parise's jam attempt on the third PP); they out-shot the Blues 9-6; and they didn't end up too deep in negative Corsi. That's the sort of performance I want to see more often from the Devils when they have lead. I wanted the Devils to not sell out the offense in the third and I got that. In the future, it'll yield more positive results - especially if they make a habit of this.
That's my take on tonight's shootout loss. What was yours? How did you react with the shootout loss? Would you say the Devils deserved to get at least a point out of this game? Do you now have a better opinion of the Devils' quality given how they played against a strong St. Louis team? Who on the Devils impressed you the most? Who on the Devils disappointed you the most? What do you think the Devils need to do to bounce back against Florida on Saturday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's shootout loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone in the Gamethread and those who followed @InLouWeTrust at points during the game; and thank you for reading.