Tonight, the New Jersey Devils lost to the New York Rangers 2-0. This was not the worst loss of the season as some fans may have you believe. Tonight was nothing like the 6-1 loss to Colorado or the 6-1 loss to Boston. This wasn't as deflating as seeing the Devils flop in the home opener to the Flyers 3-0. Tonight didn't include the worst period of the season where the Devils got torched by Calgary for four goals which led to a 6-3 loss. There was no absolute meltdown at MSG like the Devils seeing a 3-0 lead in Florida after the first end in a 4-3 regulation loss. No, tonight was not the worst game of the season. It was the most frustrating game of the season.
One number says it all: 13. That's how many shots on net the Devils had tonight. 13 shots on net. It doesn't matter if you've been watching hockey all your life or you just decided to start today. 13 shots is not enough to win a hockey game. And, no, they weren't the 13 greatest shots in the world either. 13 shots on net in a 60 minute game is simply pathetic.
Context is key as it will highlight how frustrating that number is. The Devils allowed a goal at 16:59 in the first period. Carl Hagelin got space away from Mark Fayne and Martin Brodeur didn't completely cover the left post. Hagelin had a small window to pot the puck in and he did. That got the Rangers on the board. They could have done better; but it was nothing to worry about. Goals against happen. The Devils had 3:01 remaining in the first and another two periods to get a goal. Normally, a team will attack more to get there.
It didn't happen. The Devils finished the first period with a mere 4 shots on net. Knowing they were down a score, they really opened things up with 6 on net. In the final period, knowing it's a one-shot game, the Devils took nearly 10 minutes to get their first shot on net of the third. They finished with just three. That's right, down a goal across two periods, and with all of their TV timeouts, their talks on the bench, their staff, their two intermissions to talk it out, and their own eyes, the Devils muster 3 shots on net. That is abysmal and unacceptable.
What makes matters worse is that the Rangers didn't dominate the Devils. No! The boys in blue only got 14 shots on Brodeur, their empty net goal made it 15. Holding a team to 15 shots on net is a sign that the Devils were doing something right. It also is a sign that the team was just sloppy with the puck. Passes went astray, bounces assumed weren't there, and defensive plays made the difference. The problem was that since the Rangers scored, the onus was on the Devils to step it up. This wasn't the first time the Devils played the Rangers. Peter DeBoer has coached against John Tortorella before. The Devils have been in these situations before this season. They have done it before but tonight, they just failed miserably.
Oh, sure, the Devils were the better team by Corsi. Indeed, they finished at +17. However, that was driven by blocks. Their Fenwick sat at a more modest, and really low for a team down a score for over 40 minutes, +3. When the Devils tried to attempt a pass or a shot, they stupidly thought they could do it through Rangers players. Given that the other team is full of sentient beings that are made of bone, flesh, muscle, and blood, I don't know why the Devils tried to force pucks through them. I don't know why some seemingly put more effort into trying to hit guys and spit verbals instead of playing hockey. I don't know why the Devils attempted passes - key word is attempt, they didn't make most of them - instead of firing some pucks when they had a shooting lane. So what if Henrik Lundqvist would see it, the Devils were down a goal for most of this game! They needed shots, they need to attack, they needed to make the Rangers pay for clamming up and trying to clamp down on a 1-0 lead. They failed in almost every possible way.
The Devils just handed Lundqvist his easiest shutout of his season if not his career; they now lost three in a row; and this all had to happen at MSG, the home of Our Hated Rivals. It's not the worst loss of the season; but it's definitely the most frustrating and likely the most infuriating. 13 shots on net. That's excremental.
If you want to see the opposition's perspective, please visit Blueshirt Banter. If you want more invective from my perspective, then please continue on after the jump.
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 Game Highlights: There were highlights apparently, NHL.com has them which includes what appears to be a majority of the saves made by both goaltenders:
Scoring Chances: George Ays records scoring chances for the Rangers. Here's how he called them based on his comment in the Gamethread:
For those interested, I had chances 11-9 Devils tonight, though Devils missed the net on 6 of them, and 2 of the 5 that were on net were during the early PP w/in a second of each other.
And yes, this game set back hockey about 10 years. Glad I didn’t have to track chances in 2000.
I highlight this for two reasons. The first to avoid a sentiment of sour grapes when I say this game was horrid. Both teams were very sloppy once they got into their opponent's end of the rink. It's more frustrating for the Devils since they didn't score first, they didn't play like they were down a goal like they did against Vancouver, and they lost. But it really was a grind of a game. Offense was like squeezing blood out of a stone for both sides. If you love hits, non-calls on interference, hooking, obstruction, and all of that OLD TIME HOCKEY stuff, then this was the game for you. For those of us who actually like seeing some offense, it was a drag.
The second is to note that if there were shots on net, they were rather close. I almost want to say this was deliberate. I also want to say that was also stupid. Just getting into the slot or in between the dots with the puck was really difficult tonight for both sides. The Rangers often had their skaters below the faceoff dots; and the Devils did well one-on-one with the attacking Ranger.
A Reminder: Yes, the Devils lost three in a row. No, they're not in danger of being knocked out of the playoffs. Yes, the Devils were terrible on offense. No, the Rangers didn't dominate them. Yes, the sun will come up tomorrow.
That all said, it's time to rant on as many Devils players until I grow tired of it. They deserve it.
Clarkson, You Big Dummy: David Clarkson was horrific out there. He played like he was Cam Janssen. He was spitting fire at Brandon Dubinsky all night long and had to be physically separated by officials. After some time, Clarkson got smacked with a 10 minute misconduct because he refused to listen to the officials' warnings and, in Pierre McGuire's words, they didn't want to babysit him anymore. Not long after this, he gets tagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for beefing with Mike Rupp during a faceoff. After he gets out of the box again, Clarkson jumped into Dubinsky on a hit - a dangerous and reckless move - and proceeded to fight him. It was all very stupid and so Clarkson took 19 PIM. Yes, a 20+ goal scorer playing on a second line took 19 PIM in a 1-0 game against a hated rival. Clarkson, you moron.
The sad thing is that the rest of his night was just ineffective by #23. He didn't slice and dice through Rangers players. He didn't create space down low. He got exactly one shot on net and attempted one other shot. Befitting the team's passing woes, Clarkson made some really stupid ones that just allowed the Rangers to clear it out. Yes, Clarkson tried to pass the puck more than shooting it. Yes, David Clarkson, a forward who tends to hog the puck and fire away from wherever he gets space, decided to defer. This is the second game in a row where he's done this and it's maddening. C'mon son, get it together.
Dang It, Patty!: Patrik Elias easily made the worst decision of the night. He stole a puck right in the slot from a Ranger defender. Elias was all alone with Lundqvist - and he didn't shoot the puck. I'm serious. He attempted some blind, drop off pass that went to no one in particular. It was at that moment I wished so badly that someone - a fan, a coach, a teammate - would just tell him that it's OK to shoot the puck. Elias' passes were off tonight again, and again they were in lieu of what would have been decent shots to take. Elias doesn't have that bad of shot. Elias doesn't always have to be the playmaker, he can be a little selfish. I wish someone can get that through his skull.
Earth to Petr: Much of the same applies to Petr Sykora. I really am baffled at what his role is at times. Last I checked, his shooting abilities were still pretty good. He can rip a shot if given space. So why did he keep trying to play like he's Elias? What's he trying to do on offense? Because it looked like he was trying to see how many times a Ranger can re-take possession due to his own poor decisions.
Oh, Captain: I can ask the same of Zach Parise. He made one of the few cross-ice passes in the Rangers' end early on in the game that led to Henrique firing a great shot that beat Lundqvist but hit the post. That would be the biggest contribution Parise would make on offense. He had one shot on net and two that missed the net. The Devils really needed a bigger game from him - or anyone else. Adam Henrique had the same number of shots and attempts. At least came really close by hittting the post, what can we say for Parise?
The Mortal Kovalchuk: In a game where bad passes marred the Devils' offense, it was a bit refreshing to see Ilya Kovalchuk try to take on guys directly. Some of it failed and some of it wasn't as big of a failure. It's not the first time a frustrated Kovalchuk tried to do too much. Yet, given that the team did so little on offense, I'm hesitant to be too unhappy about it. It would have been nice if he had some support. That said, Kovalchuk's decisions to shoot were really dumb tonight. While he had 10 attempts on net, only 2 got to Lundqvist. The second was impressive as it forced a flashy glove save; but 4 blocked and 4 missed shots don't really drive me to thinking he was real effective. Kovalchuk had to do better tonight, but he was closer to doing better than many other forwards.
Third Line Mehness: The size of Dainius Zubrus, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Steve Bernier were somewhat important in a game filled with a lot of physical play. However, this big trio wasn't really pounding the Rangers along the boards. They did get a few attempts here and there. Ponikarovsky was one of three Devils who had more than one shot on net (Kovalchuk and Jacob Josefson were the other two); and Bernier got blocked 3 times, leading me to further question the decision making by all of the forwards. Overall, I wasn't really impressed with how they did. I can't get too upset because they're not really expected to carry things on offense and both Ponikarovsky and Bernier won their match-ups better than the other Devils. In a game where the team put up so little, I have to point the finger at the top 9 for the 13 shots.
How About the D: I also have to point my finger at the defense somewhat. To be fair, they did clean up well around the slot and they didn't get caught too many times. The defensive effort was very good as they only allowed 14 shots on Brodeur. Their sole error was costly as it led to Carl Hagelin's goal. Make Fayne got in the wrong position but the goal's also on Brodeur for not fully covering the right post.
Still, the defense can't just rest on their laurels for 14 shots against a goalie any more can a team expect their goaltender to be perfect to keep them in the game because the attack absolutely sucked. No, the Devils blueline really should have contributed a lot more offensively. Given that the Rangers' idea of defense is collapsing all of their skaters in the lower half of their end, there was a lot of space at the points for shots. The defensemen struggled to keep pucks in, though that's also on the forwards for making some really bad passes. Their pinching left a lot to be desired either way. In my view, this should have been a game where Marek Zidlicky, Adam Larsson, Andy Greene, and Fayne could have made a real impact. They didn't have to be great shots, they just had to be shots to get the puck into the traffic. Each were blocked a few times, but they also passed up open shots as well (and in Zidlicky's case, a close one too). Larsson led them with attempts and he only had 4 despite the pointmen being open at even strength almost all game long. Chalk it up as another "what could have been" in a frustrating effort by the Devils.
The Funny Part: The Devils' power play wasn't too bad. They only got the one; a really obvious interference call on Hagelin. While they only had one shot on net, they seemingly had as many attempts in that two minute time period as they did in the rest of the first period. Had the Devils drawn more calls, the power play could have been a way to get on the board. Yes, I'm lamenting the fact that the Devils' power play didn't get enough chances.
Of course, that would also require the refs to blow their whistles. Stephen Walkom and Brad Watson let a lot go tonight. Both teams hooked, hit guys early, hit guys late, hit guys away from the puck, tripped, held, and slashed, and these two just let it all happen. Short of an injury or something really obvious, the Devils weren't going to get a power play. By letting a lot go, they lost control of the game in the second period. The Rangers did get two power plays thanks to Clarkson and Zubrus; and the Devils killed them off, though Anton Volchenkov saved a goal on the first one. Again, those were for some obvious calls.
This is not to say the refs hurt the Devils' cause. No, a team cannot really rely on the refs to get chances. In a game like this, the team needed to battle at 5-on-5. The Devils played stupid hockey on offense and they lost it. I get that. I'm just saying that on a night like this, the Devils PP could have been a real asset.
Coaches, Where You At: I can't say I'm pleased with the coaches. The Devils won their match-ups based on Corsi and even on Fenwick they ended positive, though only slightly. The vaunted trap by the Rangers didn't really work all that well since New York made all of their stops deep in their end; not really in the neutral zone or on the forecheck. Normally, I'm fine with that. This is not a normal situation. When the team puts up only 13 shots on net, then what's the point of match-ups? The gameplan should have been modified to say: "Get pucks on net at any cost." Peter DeBoer should have been preaching that to the players about taking more shots in either intermission and even on the bench. They should at least have Lundqvist earn his shutout. Instead, we got to see the Devils take nearly half of the third before getting a shot on net, a real low point in a game where the Devils got 13 shots on net.
Here's the enraging part. Tom Gulitti tweeted this after the game:
DeBoer: "It’s a hard-fought game. At ice level it was a real battle out there and I was happy with how we played."
DeBoer's must be peeing on our legs and telling us it's raining. Just a nice quote to the media before he gives his players a well-deserved verbal whats-for behind the closed doors in the locker room. If he truly believes this, then I have to call into question what he finds as an acceptable team performance. I may not be a former hockey player or an accredited coach, but I know there is nothing about a performance that 13 shots against a hated rival in a one-goal and entirely winnable game that would cause me to be happy.
I couldn't care any less about banging bodies or fights or that garbage. That doesn't matter, it doesn't lead to a result on the scoreboard. You know, the one area that counts. This is the crunch time of the season. All points matter and the Devils just dropped a third in a row. I'm not saying DeBoer needs to be spitting fire and throwing garbage cans around; but what about the Devils' performance could lead a non-Ranger fan, player, or coach to be happy by it?
A Reminder of the Reminder: Yes, the Devils lost three in a row. No, they're not in danger of being knocked out of the playoffs. Yes, the Devils were terrible on offense. No, the Rangers didn't dominate them. Yes, the sun will come up tomorrow. And the Devils will have another back-to-back later this week.
One Final Thought: This game justified any fan who would scream "SHOOT THE PUCK" whenever the Devils would have it for a second. Even I was doing it during the third period. Shoot the puck, Devils. 13 shots on net just doesn't cut it.
That's my take on this frustrating and terrible loss. What was up with the Devils? What would you do to get them to get more shots on net in the next few games? Why did I put more effort into this recap than the Devils put on offense? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented and read along in the gamethread, as well as those who followed the tweets from @InLouWeTrust. Thank you all for reading.