The New Jersey Devils lost to the Northeast Division leading Boston Bruins 4-3 in overtime. In the three previous meetings, the Devils not only lost each game to Boston in regulation but got destroyed in the third period with at least 3 goals allowed in each game: 4-3, 6-1, and 4-1. It is actually an improvement that the Devils only allowed one goal in the third period in this game and at least took it to overtime.
Of course, this is not what you or most Devils fans are thinking. No, it's the Devils' fourth straight game without a win. The Devils not only lost all four games to Boston this season, but they haven't won since last Tuesday in Toronto. They allowed an opposing player, David Krejci, to score a hat trick - the second time that has happened in the last three games. On top of that, the Devils went into the third period up 3-2 and blew the lead. Then they lost it in OT. The team's spinning out of control and who knows what this team is all about. That's all true. I understand the frustration. It's difficult to believe there are positives out of this game. But there were positives in the Devils performance.
One, the Devils weren't dominated in the third period. They out-shot the Bruins 8-4. The action went up and down through the third and the Devils more than held their own. I really can't get worked up about the game tying goal. The equalizer, David Krejci's second goal of the night, came on a weird play that saw a puck fly into the air, get gloved down by Zdeno Chara in the slot, briefly touch the puck with his stick whereupon Milan Lucic floats it to Krejci on Martin Brodeur's right flank, who then has to have the puck go off his thigh and whack at it in mid-air and just get enough of it to knock it in off a diving Brodeur. If you followed that description, then you know by the end of it that a lot had to go right for there to be a shot at all. It was a fluke play and the Devils responded fairly well to it.
Two, the Devils made a stunning comeback after a bad first period. Don't get mad about Boston getting one in the third period, get mad at how the Devils played lackadaisical defense for the first period that allowed the Bruins to go up 2-0 to make it a difficult game. Krejci was trailing on a rush, Petr Sykora was late on him, and he fired a great shot to score. Later, Tyler Seguin was trailing on a rush, Adam Henrique and Zach Parise didn't pay attention, and so Seguin had tons of space and time to fire a low shot that got in - possibly on a deflection. The Bruins could have scored many more goals if it wasn't for Martin Brodeur playing out of his mind. Brodeur kept the Devils in the game when they were getting torched by Boston rushes. The only other positive out of that first period was that the Devils killed a penalty.
Yet, the Devils responded almost perfectly in the second period. They took the first six shots on net. Ilya Kovalchuk took a Boston turnover and fed it beautifully to Zach Parise for a great goal. A great bounce off Dennis Seidenberg's skate gave Patrik Elias a much-needed goal past a surprised Tim Thomas. David Clarkson went in and scored on a wraparound. Yes, there was an actual Clarkaround goal and it was glorious. While the Devils allowed as many shots as they took by the period's end along with a shorthanded chance Brodeur made a great stop on; the defense was sharper. Incoming Bruins were picked up. Clearances were better. Brodeur didn't have to miracle a save every time a Boston player looked to shoot. It was a great period and it's further evidence that this team's more resilient than you may think.
Three, the Devils got a point. The Bruins have made the Devils eat their lunch, especially in the third period, in the other three games against them. After losing three straight games and especially after a bad first period down two scores, getting something out of the game would have been fantastic. The Devils at least did that. Sure, I would have loved it if they held onto the win in the third, got a fourth goal against Thomas, or dragged the game to a shootout and won there. A win is always best. Given the larger circumstances, I'm not really upset with the result. Yeah, I know the Devils lost a third period lead, went 0-3-1 against Boston, and are now winless in four; but that's how I see it. I'm not upset.
As usual, I have more thoughts on tonight's overtime loss after the jump. Please check out Ryan Durling's recap of the game at Stanley Cup of Chowder for a Bruins' perspective. Apparently, Boston hasn't swept the Devils in a season series in 26 years. Huh. I did not know that.
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: Video evidence that David Clarkson scored on a wraparound and more in these highlights from NHL.com. Late edit: Now, I see it's up. Sorry about that. Here's the video.
Just Barely: Just to reiterate, when Chara gloved down that puck in the air, he did put it down and touch it with his stick. Lucic then immediately knocked it in Krejci's direction, who then swung at the puck and knocked it in. In the run of play, I can see how some may think the play should have been blown dead for a hand pass. However, the MSG+ broadcast had a great replay of it that confirmed that Chara just touched the puck after he put it down. That makes it a legal play. It sucks, but better that than a defensive breakdown, right? (Don't ask Adam Henrique about that.)
The Strange Corsi: This was a weird game in terms of Corsi. The Devils enjoyed the better of attempts but only by +3. The third period featured plenty from Boston but a lot of them just missed the net or were blocked by the Devils. Yet, that the Devils still held positive further indicates that they didn't sit back and let the game come to them.
Anyway, there were quite a few oddities. Take the Henrique line and their defensive match-up. They saw plenty of Chara and Andrew Ference on defense. Against them, Parise was a +4, Henrique was +6, and Kovalchuk was somehow a -7. I guess Kovalchuk hung on for a bunch of shifts where the Devils got pinned back? Perhaps getting double-shifted on the fourth line hurt him some too? But here's the weird thing. Chara finished the game at +2 and Ference was a -13! I'm not even sure how that would happen. I suppose that explains why we some shifts of Chara with the likes of Adam McQuaid at times. It also explains why Claude Julien really wanted Chara matched with Kovalchuk more than anyone else.
Here's another: Petr Sykora skated mostly against Dennis Seidenberg, McQuaid, and Boston's top line of Seguin, Krejci, and Lucic. Sykora ended the night at a mind boggling +10. The Elias line had a good game in possession and it was one of the few Devils units that was uniformly positive with Dainius Zubrus and Elias putting up +6 and +5 respectively. All three of them had 5 attempts on net. It's just amazing considering they went up against the line that scored all of the goals for Boston tonight in regulation.
It wasn't all strange, though. Eric Boulton went -7 in 4:38 of ice time. News flash: Boulton's a waste of a roster spot.
Good Goaltending: In a game where 7 goals were allowed between both goaltenders, I felt Tim Thomas and Martin Brodeur did quite well. Brodeur was the key reason why Boston wasn't winning 5-0 after the first period alone and he made huge stops later in the game be it on a shorthanded breakaway or a loose puck in front. Thomas worked just as hard. He had to make some very tough stops from close range several times on the Devils. In fact, he had to make a pretty good save prior to the offensive rushes Boston scored on in the first period. The only goal either goaltender really wishes he would have had back was Thomas allowing Clarkson to beat him on the right post on the wraparound. That was a soft one. Even so, both netminders did their job to keep their team in it and usually that's all you can reasonably ask for. I thought both played good.
A Fourth Positive: Given how irate I was about the attack against the Rangers on Monday night, let me say it in bold letters: the Devils offense existed tonight - and they were pretty good. Elias had four shots on net and scored his first goal since February 9 against St. Louis. Yes, he was in the right place at the right time; but he needed that goal - just as the Devils needed at the time. Ilya Kovalchuk got more of his attempts on net; four out of his eight were on net, three were blocked. That's an improvement. Zach Parise finished off a lovely 2-on-1, one of his three shots on net out of five attempts. Battling against Chara, it wasn't easy, but Parise played a tough game out there. The D provided some help as Mark Fayne got four on net out of seven attempts. Andy Greene got three on net out of four attempts. That's a big improvement over Monday's game.
Overall, the Devils had 31 shots on Tim Thomas out of 53 attempts. After the horrid 13-shot performance against the Rangers, I was really glad to see the Devils attack as they did. They made Thomas sweat, they made the Bruins defense react, they drew two penalties on offense (and on Chara), and they scored three goals on a top goaltender in the NHL. That's a big improvement from the dreck that the Devils put out there on this past Monday.
Some PP Help Would Have Been Nice: In retrospect, the Devils really could have had more help from their power play. The Devils got three power plays and converted on none of them. They got four shots on net, but they allowed three shorthanded chances to Boston - two got on net, and one hit the post. While the Devils were able to set up on the power play a few times, I felt they just misfired on their final passes and/or settled for some poor shots that either got blocked or missed entirely. As much as I liked the Devils attacking against Boston at evens, the 5-on-4 play left a lot to be desired in my opinion. Especially on the latter two since Boston's stud defender was sitting in the box for both. That said, the PP not doing so well really shouldn't surprise Devils fans at this juncture. At least the PK was successful. (Also not a surprise to Devils fans.)
The OT Winner: David Krejci scored his third goal of the game and won it in overtime for Boston on a simple rebound. What happened prior is what killed the Devils. First, Krejci lays off the puck in the corner and gets away from Marek Zidlicky. Chara jumps up on the play and goes into the corner and Zubrus follows him. He beats Zubrus to the puck easily since Zubrus loses his stick on the play. The puck goes behind the net where Mark Fayne and Patrice Bergeron battle for it. Chara heads back to the left post and Bergeron feeds him the puck. Brodeur goes low to block Chara's attempt at a jam play. Zidlicky goes after Chara which was ineffective since Chara looks like a dinosaur next to the wee Zidlicky. Brodeur keeps it out but Chara hit the puck so hard, it bounced out a good distance. Krejci swoops in and knows he's got the high part of the net open. Kovalchuk just stretches out his stick in the hopes of stopping it but he's just too late and Krejci's shot was perfect.
Given Krejci's original position after laying it off, he was sort of in a no man's land. Kovalchuk had to hang low on the other side to prevent the right flank; Krejci certainly wasn't his responsibility. Zidlicky had to come back and help on Chara to little avail. Fayne had to challenge Bergeron lest he allow Bergeron to do as he pleased. Ultimately, I keep looking to when Zubrus lost his stick. If he had kept it, then he could have knocked the puck away or trap it along the boards. In response, Zubrus could have stuck with Chara instead of going to get his stick. It was a bang bang play and all the credit goes to Krejci for poaching a game winner. Like Elias' goal, the puck was placed into the perfect space for Krejci to come in and hammer it in. My point is that it wasn't the horrid defensive breakdown it may have looked live.
Krejci Killed: Three goals, four shots on net, and the one he got stopped on was a very surprising right pad stop - Krejci could have easily scored. As the game went on, he faded. He got beaten in possession as evidenced by his -7 Corsi. When he had the puck, though, he was dangerous and he got into spaces where the Devils weren't. He made the most of his opportunities and he fully deserves the accolades that come with a game winning hat trick.
Defensive Praise: Well, after the first period, I liked Andy Greene's game. He was a +8 in Corsi and good things tended to happen when he was on the ice. He had 3 shots on net of his own. Given that he got to see the Seguin line most of all, I find that to be somewhat impressive. While his Corsi wasn't so good at -3, I also liked the heads-up plays Bryce Salvador made in his own end. He cleaned up loose pucks, he put out some good stickchecks, he had a few important interceptions, and he was pretty good along the boards. His assignments weren't so easy either.
Defensive Criticism: The first period. That goes for all of the skaters, not just the defensemen.
On an individual level, I started to notice Adam Larsson struggling a bit tonight. He was a -2 and he played mostly against Boston's depth forwards at evens. He seemed a bit tentative. I don't know if this is just the effect of trying to come back from an injury that kept him out for most of a month, that Larsson is just having some rookie struggles, whether it's just a not-so-good game or something else. I don't think he was a pylon, but he did have shifts where he got pushed around like one.
I also was not really impressed with Marek Zidlicky. That he played 21:52 tonight tells me the coaches think more of him than Kurtis Foster, which I agree with. Yet, no attempts on net despite 3:58 of power play time? A blueline turnover that led to a shorthanded chance? Some careless plays in the Devils' end? It's only three games and I know he's getting acclimated to a new team, but this isn't very good. I just hope he settles in soon so he can contribute at both ends of the rink. Maybe we're a bit spoiled at how quickly Alexei Ponikarovsky (another nice night from him) and Steve Bernier (not terrible) settled in and did some positive things with New Jersey.
One Last Thought: If they get a win tomorrow, the Devils not only snap the streak, they would claim 3 out of 4 points in a back-to-back and things start looking better. I know it's tempting to hit the panic button with 4 winless games in a row to kick off March. It's still way too soon. Also: there's no such thing as a panic button at this point.
Now that you've read my take, I want to know yours. What did you think of the Devils overtime loss to Boston? Are you more unhappy with the winless streak, content that the Devils got something out of Boston this season, or are you feeling something else entirely? What did you think about the Devils offense getting 31 shots and three goals on Tim Thomas? What did you think of the Devils' defense, both during and after the first period? What would you like the Devils to do differently against Washington other than not give up two goals in the first ten minutes? Will the Devils build on this OT loss? Is there anything to build on? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you to everyone who read and commented in the gamethread as well as those who followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.