Pictured: the game winning goal. Please note Derek Stepan screening Martin Brodeur. Also note that nobody else in white was anywhere near Stepan. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
After six days of rest, I think it's easy to say this was not at all the kind of performance the New Jersey Devils were hoping to have. Tonight, they kicked off the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers; and it ended with a 3-0 loss.
All three goals came in the third period. The first came within the first minute; the second came on a power play twelve minutes into the period; and the third was an empty net goal that sealed the game off with about minute and a half left. While the Rangers were getting offensive success, the Devils struggled to get pucks to the net. They only had one shot on net in between the first two Rangers goal. It was a great shot by Ilya Kovalchuk, but it was also impressively stopped by a sliding Henrik Lundqvist. One shot in between scores isn't going to cut it. Neither will four shots in the third period isn't going to cut it.
What makes the result so frustrating was that the Devils did do well in the second period. They played about the same with the Rangers in the first period; out-shot by two but even in attempts. The Devils were able to get their forecheck going and take advantage of some tired-looking Ranger defenders. Yet, Lundqvist seemed to be everywhere and got a piece of everything that came his way. And that was cut down by the number of blue-shirted players sliding, kneeling, or standing right in shooting lanes to get a block. The attempts were in New Jersey's favor. They had their chances. But it all ended with nothing on the scoreboard. The Rangers clearly were rejuvenated by the second intermission and the early score definitely lifted their spirits to clamp down on New Jersey.
The final totals in shots are 21-28 in favor of New York. At even strength, it was 14-18 in favor of New York. The Devils finished -4 in Fenwick after being at +5 after the second period. Their Corsi was much higher at +7 (a drop from +12), and I believe we're going to continue to see this disparity. Corsi counts blocks, Fenwick doesn't; and the Devils were out-blocked 21-10 at evens. In total, the Devils were blocked 26 times. Yes, they were blocked by Rangers more often than Lundqvist made saves. It's hard to win that way; and it's down right hard to watch at times. 3-0 losses are usually that way.
That all said, I wouldn't get too upset right away. 3-0 losses to a hated rival never feel good. I get that. However, this was Game 1. A loss here is not that big of a deal, provided that they get a result in Game 2. Ask the Flyers about that if you're not sure. There's a lot of hockey left to be played. There will be adjustments - I hope.
In any case, please visit Blueshirt Banter for the opposition's perspective on this game. I have a few more specific thoughts about this game 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 weren't many positive highlights for the Devils tonight, but if you'd like to see the game's highlights, then check out this video from NHL.com.
Let's Talk Goals: Only three goals were scored tonight, so let's discuss them first. The third goal was an empty net goal off a two-on-one. It was an easy shot for Artem Anisimov the moment Brian Boyle hit him with the pass. It just iced the game; and so it ultimately doesn't matter. The second goal, the lone power play goal of the night, probably should have been stopped by Martin Brodeur. It was a two-on-two situation with Volchenkov focusing more Anisimov than the rushing Chris Kreider. Anisimov saw this and put a well-placed pass ahead of Chris Kreider. Volchenkov was beaten, Kreider had the time and space to settle it and then fire a shot in stride that just beat Brodeur glove-side. It was an open look; so I think it should've been stopped. I also think Anton Volchenkov should have covered his man. But I'm not too mad about it now because that wasn't the killer goal. It's not like the Devils were playing well in the period prior to the goal or anything like that.
One goal was enough for the Rangers to win tonight, and so let's focus attention on that. It began when a puck bounced past Bryce Salvador in the neutral zone. It sucks, but that's luck and bad ice. The puck slowed down in the Devils' zone and Kreider was able to get to it first. With Salvador away, Marek Zidlicky rightfully takes him on and tries to pressure him. As this happens, other Devils and Rangers enter the zone. The Rangers actually made a change on defense, so a fresh Dan Girardi is coming off the bench. So while Derek Stepan goes to the net and David Clarkson curls around; Kreider sees Girardi hustling to the blueline and lays a pass off for him. Girardi hammers the puck with a one-timer slap-shot. As the shot goes, Stepan jumps in front of Brodeur to create a screen; and so the puck gets through and into the net. Nobody picked up Girardi, nobody was in the shooting lane to attempt a block, nobody picked up Stepan, and so nobody who was a Devils fan was pleased. This happened within the first minute of the third period and as we now know, it was enough to win the game.
That's how it goes when you can't score. And it gets worse if you can't generate enough chances to score.
The Blocking is Real, All Too Real: The Devils got 21 pucks on Lundqvist and 26 were blocked by the Rangers. That number may or may not include the number that were turned or deflected way high or wide. Either way, it's never a good sign when the offense gets shut down more by the skaters than the goalie. What was remarkable was that every defenseman not named Michael Del Zotto got at least one block, and four had at least three each. For a team that was thought to be tired and definitely looked that was in the second period, they were more than willing to put themselves in harm's way. I suspect it's going to continue. The Devils need to adjust either by shooting much quicker to allow less time for the Rangers to get in their way, or to move the puck much faster to get away from Rangers pressing on them almost man-to-man.
Ow: Patrik Elias took a puck to the face in the first period and his nose got busted open. What did he do? Go to the bench, get it treated and closed up, and get back on the ice later on. Certainly, he's tough. I'd figure I mention it.
Ilya and Zach: The Devils had exactly two players with more than two shots on net tonight: Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. Kovalchuk had three, including what was likely Lundqvist's biggest stop of the night in the third period. However, I'm struggling to say that Kovalchuk did well when he missed the net six times. Some of it was bad luck, like on a rebound attempt in the second period. Yet, it's hard to have six called-out misses just on bad luck alone. It wouldn't surprise me if he was trying to pull his shots higher and/or wider in the hopes of catching Lundqvist off-guard. It didn't work tonight. At least he, Travis Zajac, and Alexei Ponikarovsky were strong in possession. Kovalchuk led the team in Corsi with +13 and finished just behind Zajac in Fenwick with +7, in fact.
Parise had five shots on net to lead the Devils. Normally, I'm pleased with that - it's a sign that someone was trying to score in this game. It's a strange count because three of them came on the penalty kill. Parise definitely had three good shots shorthanded. Yet, I want more than just two at even strength. I wanted him to reach at that pass Patrik Elias fed him in the second period. I wanted him to breakaway in the first period; not get caught by Ryan McDonagh (he's got more speed than I thought). At least he, like Kovalchuk, wasn't blocked into oblivion with only two attempts blocked. Unlike Kovalchuk, Parise and his linemates (Elias and Clarkson) lost their match-up in terms of possession.
Both Parise and Kovalchuk led the offense on the shot count; but I feel like they should have done more. If those were the leaders, imagine the rest of the team.
A Note for the Defense: Marek Zidlicky got blocked five times. Adam Larsson got blocked four times. Salvador and Volchenkov got blocked two times each. Andy Greene got blocked once. If you all are going to shoot from the point, then please look first. It does nobody on New Jersey any good.
First Line Positives: The Devils held Brad Richards to no shots on net tonight. For a guy who was leading the NHL in postseason shots on net, that's a positive. While he didn't score, Marian Gaborik got four shots on net and all were stopped with aplomb. That line was negative in possession and it was clear as time passed that John Tortorella wanted no part of them going up against the Zajac line. Keeping their top line in check is a good thing. So is having Del Zotto lead them in shots with six and Girardi lead them in attempts with seven. I'd risk that over having a line do particularly well. I wouldn't conclude that Carl Hagelin-Richards-Gaborik will go the way of the Giroux or Weiss lines just yet; but it's a good start.
Faced Off Again: Again, Travis Zajac was the lone Devil who did relatively well at faceoffs by going 11-for-21. Elias and Adam Henrique were beaten badly as each went 5-for-15. I don't think a won or lost faceoff ultimately mattered in this game; but it still needs to be said that the Devils were trounced in this department.
Game Respects Game: Martin Brodeur made a number of big stops; including one massive robbery on Marc Staal in the third period. Brodeur dropped his stick and dove across the crease to grab the shot with his glove. It was beautiful. However, plenty of credit has to go to the man with the shutout. The Devils should have put more rubber on him, but they weren't all easy shots and Lundqvist came up big on each one - especially when his defenders looked like pylons for stretches of the second period. I don't think he's invincible, but he's going to be a problem all series long.
Some Areas Where the Devils Must Improve for Game 2: Some of the forwards not named Parise or Kovalchuk need to get more rubber on net. It's hard to attack when Dainius Zubrus only gets two out of his five attempts on target; Petr Sykora gets zero out of his four attempts; Elias goes one-for-two; and Henrique only has one shot on net. It was a great shot, but against a great goaltender and a stout, collapsing defense, the shots have to come from everyone. When only a few players lead, it only makes it easier for the other team to defend.
Salvador and Zidlicky had a very poor game. Zidlicky just seemed off with respect to playing the puck. On offense, he had nine shot attempts only two got on net. If it's not working, then pass it along, man. On defense, he just seemed out of sorts at time in getting a clearance or getting to where he was supposed to be. Salvador wasn't in the right positions at times and his lack of speed caught up to him. The duo was great against Philly. Tonight, it's like it never happened.
Discipline also could stand to be improved. While the Rangers got away with some calls; I'm having a hard time believing the Devils didn't deserve three of the four they got. Yes, Steve Bernier missed his back; but he was still targeting Girardi from behind. That's still boarding. Andy Greene chopped down on Ruslan Fedotenko's stick and it broke; that's an easy one for the refs. Early in the game, Anton Volchenkov fell on the puck and the ref standing right above it all concluded he was just delaying the game - a silly penalty. The only real iffy call was Zubrus hooking McDonagh, namely because the contact seemed minimal and McDonagh just fell to the ice real quickly. Even so, taking calls in a tight game just means more time to not attack. And the fourth call, the one on Bernier, eventually burned them. The Devils were wise to play whistle to whistle, but they could have been smarter in between.
The power play definitely needs to be better in Game 2. Not that the Rangers were doing so hot themselves. They converted on their fourth power play, but the shot count was Rangers power play: 6, Devils penalty kill 5. The Devils managed to one-up the Rangers' power play by giving up shorthanded chances early and not generating much afterwards. The Devils got two shots on net out of four power plays and allowed four shots at the same time. These were opportunities to break open the game's scoring, or in the case of the third one, get back into the game. The Devils simply squandered it. Getting into the zone was difficult, the passes were misfired, and so clearances became more common than shooting attempts. I'm not expecting them to play like Florida did in the first round; but they could have done so much better than what they did tonight.
The team in general has to do a better job playing to the score. OK, so the Rangers got a quick one to start the third. How is there only one shot on net in between that goal and the second one? How come the team leading in the game is getting more shots on net, more attempts, and more time on offense? I was disappointed with the lack of efficiency and intensity for most of the third period. The game was still, well, a game for the next eight minutes or so; but once the second goal happened, the Devils needed a miracle to get back into it because they were so out of it on offense. That has to change.
Most of all, all of the skaters need to account for the Rangers' consistent attempts at going for blocks. Getting blocked more than getting shots on the goaltender is no path for success. They're not going to stop doing what they're doing. Getting a bruise or shaken up on the play won't deter them. It's the Eastern Conference Finals; they'll gladly throw their bodies in the way of a Kovalchuk slapshot if it means getting the desired result. Stepan even demonstrated that tonight in the first period. I think the Devils either need to be quicker at getting shots off or moving the puck so the defenders are forced to move. One or the other (or both) may work. It may not necessarily beat Lundqvist, but getting shots on him is the first step to getting shots past him. The current approach doesn't look to be a successful one going forward.
That's my take on tonight's game. Now, I want to know yours. What area(s) do you think the Devils need to improve for Game 2? Did any Devil stand out in your eyes in a positive or negative way? Were there any other positives to take away from this loss? Are you now more concerned about the Devils' chances in this series; or do you just see this loss as just one game? Based on what you saw tonight, how do you think the Devils should adjust? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this 3-0 loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone in the gamethread for commenting and to those who followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.