The faces say it all - Steve Bernier's and the fans in the background. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the New Jersey Devils played a very poor game of hockey but managed to stick with the Los Angeles Kings into overtime. The Kings won Game 1 in overtime, 2-1. Tonight, in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Devils played a much better game of hockey. I figured they would, since I felt they hit rock bottom after Game 1. The Devils out-shot the Kings in regulation 30-21 and they finished positive in possession. Yet, they couldn't get a second goal in the third period after a Ryan Carter deflection tied the game up at one. The Devils came close, the most agonizing was seeing Ilya Kovalchuk hit the crossbar on a (possibly deflected?) shot within the final minute. As with Game 1, the game went into overtime.
However, the Kings took over in the fourth period. They out-shot the Devils 11-3, dropped the possession closer to even, had more chances, and ultimately ended it when Jeff Carter fired a shot through traffic from the high slot. A better Devils performance compared to Game 1, an arguably better performance than the Kings in regulation, yet the same result was earned: a 2-1 overtime loss.
I can understand some confusion over why I say this loss is a heartbreaking. After all, the play in overtime wasn't really close. Credit the Kings for pinning the Devils back several times and eventually getting an open lane through traffic to win a one-shot game. It's because of the result and what happened in regulation that I say this game is a heartbreaker. The Devils were able to breakout and get into Kings' end with some regularity, and the result remained the same. The Devils moved the puck much better tonight, and the result remained the same. The Devils out-shot the Kings in the first three periods, and the result remained the same. The Devils clearly out-attempted the Kings over the whole game at 67-53. The Devils played the Kings a lot tougher than they did in Game 1, yet the result remained the same. The Devils actually found a weakpoint in LA's defense and they picked on Willie Mitchell and Salva Voynov, and the result remained the same. The Devils did execute and perform better tonight at evens and as much we focus on performances (especially on this site), this is the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs where results matter more than anything else. Despite the improvement Devils showed in Game 1, they still only got one goal past Jonathan Quick, they still went into OT, and one shift (or one period, in a larger perspective) ended it all for the Kings. To me, it's not frustrating, it's heartbreaking. I want to say the Devils can do better in certain areas of the game; but for all I know, they could do just that and still lose to L.A. 2-1 in overtime.
Such is the harsh reality of all sports, if not life in general. Performances are important - but sport, especially in the playoffs - is a results-oriented business. Usually, the winning team is the better team - but not always. We've seen and celebrated games where the Devils weren't the better team in terms of possession, passing, defense, etc. and still got a positive result from the game. Just look at Games 5 and 6 from the Eastern Conference Finals. The Devils won both, but they weren't as good as they were in other games. Tonight, the Devils were on the other side. They were the better team in regulation, but they straight up got beat in OT, both in terms of performance and production. As I've said in past recaps, deserves doesn't matter - Jeff Carter got it for his team tonight and that's what ultimately matters. I'll highlight and note what the Devils did well, but they're not guarantees that the team will continue it or build upon it for Game 3 and beyond. I'd like to think they will, I hope they do, but right now, it's hard to believe it'll most likely lead to a badly-needed winning result. This game was proof of that.
For a happier take on tonight's game, please visit Jewels from the Crown. As usual, I have more thoughts about this game after the jump.
The Current Situation: Before I delve into further thoughts about tonight's game, let's consider the situation. It's now must-win time. At 0-2, the Devils are currently in a deep hole in this Stanley Cup Final series. History isn't kind to teams that go down 0-2 in the series, especially for home teams as noted in this post-game post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. After witnessing the Kings pull out a second straight 2-1 win in overtime, I must admit there's not a lot to be hopeful about. Even the optimist would say that Game 3 is now an absolute necessity for New Jersey to win to get back into this series. Going down 0-3 would mean the Devils are playing for pride at that point. Should Martin Brodeur have a bad game or Quick remains remarkable or the Kings just steamroll the Devils or something else like any other possibilities mentioned, the Devils go from being in deep trouble to requiring miracles. And even if the Devils do get a win in Game 3, they'll pretty much have to take Game 4 to avoid a just-as-bad 1-3 series deficit. I don't want to get to that point and I'm sure you don't want to either.
Now that's out of the way, I'll get into discussing this game in more detail.
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: As usual, here's a video from NHL.com of the highlights from tonight's 2-1 OT loss:
Much Better...in 60: The Devils got 15 shots in regulation in Game 1. The Devils cracked 15 shots before halfway through the game. I could leave it there, but I won't.
The Devils out-shooting the Kings 30-21 in regulation was really impressive. The Devils actually got shifts where they pinned the Kings back. While I felt they dumped-and-chased quite a bit at times; they were sharper with their passes, their breakouts were more effective, the players were in sync with fewer offside and icing calls, and they penetrated Los Angeles' end more often. There were some times where the skaters looked too hard for a perfect shot and came away with nothing, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it was in Game 1. I think the Devils' big problem on offense was a lack of luck because the effort certainly was there for the first sixty minutes.
Everyone contributed to this offensive effort for New Jersey. The defensemen combined for ten shots, and one by Marek Zidlicky got re-directed by Carter for the Devils' only goal of the night. Only two Devils didn't get a shot on net tonight: Adam Henrique, who at least made three attempts, and Steve Bernier. Zach Parise and Patrik Elias came away with four each. Parise was quiet until he got Ilya Kovalchuk to replace Dainius Zubrus in the third period; Parise actually put up three shots on net and got a punch to the face by Mike Richards - a sign that you're doing something right. Elias had a very good game. Peter DeBoer finally recognized he needed to be up on either of the top two lines; so he switched spots with Alexei Ponikarovsky in the third as well. While he only got one shot on net with Adam Henrique and Zubrus; he remained a positive possession player at +8 Corsi and +6 Fenwick. I hope this means Elias will stay up with them.
Incidentally, Henrique, Ponikarovsky, Clarkson, and Jacob Josefson were also very good in Corsi tonight. Each were a +7 or better. They had mixed match-ups, and it's even more impressive from the likes of Josefson, who saw the Anze Kopitar line at evens more than the others.
Over the whole game, even including overtime, the Devils held an edge in possession at +9 Corsi and +7 Fenwick. That's indicative of the Devils doing more with the puck against the Kings - that indicates that the Devils had the puck more often. That's something a team should want if they want to win a hockey game. Unfortunately for the Devils, Jonathan Quick was really good tonight and the Kings smacked the Devils around in OT.
It's About Time to Discuss This Overtime: As Puck Daddy's Harrison Mooney tweeted before overtime, the Devils were nearly all positive in Corsi except for the fourth line. Once Jeff Carter scored, the numbers weren't as good. Zach Parise and Bryce Salvador dropped to -1 Corsi, Andy Greene slipped to -2 Corsi; Travis Zajac fell to -4 Corsi. Those aren't terrible values; but that these players among others fell that far speaks further to how the Devils got beat in OT.
The Devils were out-shot in overtime 10-3. While the Devils did have some good rushes on those three shots, most of the period was played with the puck a Kings' stick. It was the opposite of what happened in regulation. While Brodeur did what he could - especially with a huge bail-out save after Kovalchuk turned the puck over to Mike Richards - he was eventually beaten. The Kings were able to get pressure on New Jersey early in overtime and on a few shifts later on. Combined with the long change, the Devils got into trouble with gassed defensemen. The struggle to generate offense more consistently ultimately hurt if only for not keeping L.A. honest. That allowed for more possession and pressure to come from the Kings. When that happens, a goal against seems inevitable.
The game winning play had some of that pressure going for them. A potential 3-on-2 fell apart for NJ so the Kings had one of their own. Carter got around Greene for a sharp angle shot and physics demanded a rebound. After an attempted jam by, I think, Dustin Penner, Carter curled around the net to pick up the puck from the fracas in front. That allowed the attack to continue. He went to the high slot, got a step ahead on Bernier, saw Penner screening Brodeur like a brick wall and a lane through some Devils bodies to score. While it wasn't a play that pinned the Devils back for several chances, the Kings were able to get in deep, generate a shot, and then a second effort.
Ultimately, the Devils' performance in overtime wasn't as good as it was in regulation and that killed them. The Kings faithful and certainly their coaches will want to see more in regulation. More shots, more stops in the neutral zone and in their own end, and more possession. However, this is a results-oriented business, so they won't complain too loudly about it. As for the Devils, they needed to be sharper in overtime or, alternatively, luckier in regulation.
What About Chances: Fortunately, Corey S of Shutdown Line has been counting scoring chances for this series at NHL Numbers. He'll have a fuller breakdown later, but he tweeted the Devils were 19-14 at the end of regulation and 21-20 at the end of overtime. This says a lot: the Devils were better in regulation, but very poor in OT (2-6 in chances). The 14 regulation chances for the Kings speaks better of their performance, though they really weren't controlling play most of the time.
He's Not Just Good, He's Really Really Really Really Really Good: While the Kings lost the possession game over the whole game at evens, Drew Doughty finished at a +7 in Corsi and a +8 in Fenwick. He played 27:44 at evens, mostly against the Devils' top two lines, and 32:19. Most of all, he created his own "this is my time" highlight when he went end-to-end, skated through the Devils' fourth line with ease, and fired a shot through Salvador's legs and past Brodeur. The Kings' elite player was elite tonight.
A Kings' Weakpoint on Defense: The Corsi and Fenwick don't like: Willie Mitchell and Slava Voynov struggled a lot tonight. They had to chase a lot of Devils' top two lines around in their own end. Mitchell was a -12 in Corsi, a -13 in Fenwick, and incredibly lucky he didn't get called for a high-stick on David Clarkson in the second period. Voynov was worse at -16 Corsi and -15 Fenwick. Among the lessons in Game 2, the Devils should recognize that this is a pairing that can be exploited.
Is It Time to Drop Harrold?: Peter Harrold wasn't particularly awful and the coaches played him over 18 minutes at evens. However, consider the following. Harrold only got one shot on net and finished at +2 in both Corsi and Fenwick. Anton Volchenkov, who's not an offensive player or much of a play driver, got a +11 in Corsi, a +9 in Fenwick, and two shots out of seven shooting opportunities in only over 15 minutes at evens. While he wasn't as bad as Marek Zidlicky was on some shifts tonight (e.g. his last one in the second period where he had a giveaway and sort of gave up afterward), I'm underwhelmed by his presence. Perhaps it's time for DeBoer to replace him with Adam Larsson or even Henrik Tallinder. If either succeeds, have them swap spots with Zidlicky if he continues to metaphorically slip and slide on the ice.
The Kovalchuk Section: I think it's fair to say that Kovalchuk had a much better Game 2 than a Game 1. We can say that about a lot of Devils tonight. That said, I don't think he had that good of a game. He only had two shots on net (one of them in OT) out of seven attempts. Seven attempts is good from him, but more of them had to hit the net. In terms of possession, he was positive at +3 Corsi and +2 Fenwick. I suspect it was better in regulation as Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk were beaten on in overtime. Some of Kovalchuk's passes were way off and some of them, like his goal-line-to-blue-line bomb to Clarkson on the Devils' third power play was brilliant. I know and understand that since he's got the big contract, there's a tighter focus on him than, say, Clarkson and people want more from him. They want goals. They want plays. They want shots. We can only hope for the first two, but Kovalchuk can will himself to get the third at least. I know he's been hurt but we've seen better. It would be to the Devils' benefit if we can see it very soon.
Quickly, Tell Us About the Goalies: Both Quick and Brodeur were very good in my opinion. Quick had a lot more work to do tonight and he showed why he's considered the top goaltender in the world. There weren't any gaping, wide-open nets for the Devils to miss tonight. He moved well from post to post, and he got a piece of almost everything. It's fitting that the one shot that beat him for a goal was a re-direction he couldn't see.
Brodeur didn't have as many shots against as Quick until OT. While in regulation, Brodeur came up with some important stops, particularly when the skaters faltered. In overtime, Brodeur continued to show that he can tend goal as well as anyone. His glove was magnificent. He read plays well. He moved swiftly and without taking him out of his position too much. It's fitting that the two shots that beat him for goals involved guys in front of him. Brodeur had no way of seeing Carter's shot without some supernatural power like Eagle Vision from Assassin's Creed II, Kyne's Whisper from Skyrim, or X-ray vision from, well, take your pick. Given that Doughty's shot went through Salvador's legs, I'd consider that #24 was used as a screen there.
Even if you want to point the finger at the goalie for both goals against, at least recognize that he's not the problem. The problem is that the Devils have yet to beat Quick more than once in a game. It's incredibly hard for a team to win with only one goal scored; it allows no margin of error for the defense or the goaltender. Usually, two goals allowed isn't bad for a goaltender. If he maintains that rate throughout a season, then we say he's very good. My point is that Brodeur turned in a very good performance and hasn't really been lit up in this series. However, it's all for naught since the Devils' offense has dried up for the time being.
A Message to
Rudy David: You're not going to score from above the faceoff circles, stop attempting shots from distance. You didn't score most of your goals in the regular season there, you're not going to start now. And when you do get below the dots, don't fire a weak backhanded shortside. The only way you're scoring there is if you activated a cheat code or something. Thank you.
Carrying the Load: The Kings did get up to 32 shots thanks to a ten shot effort in overtime. The Devils did a good job keeping Dustin Brown (no shots) and Kopitar (1 shot) quiet. Yet, it was Justin Williams who powered that line. He got five shots on net, which is very good for him. It wasn't enough to be positive in possession, though. Mike Richards got a staggering six shots on net and one on Parise's face after the whistle. As for the latter, you can take the player away from the Flyers, you can't take the Flyer away from the player. As for the former, Richards was well supported by Carter's three shots on net and Penner's one shot on net. The Richards line did the best in possession for Los Angeles tonight as well as generating shots on goal. Of course, they need to be watched more in the future. And even if they do, we could see the Kopitar supplanting them. Yes, the Devils are facing a team with two top lines that work - and it's hard to perform against both of them on a given night.
The Fourths Give & Take Away: The fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, and Steve Bernier has been hot in terms of production. In terms of possession, well, they've been a regular fourth line. The Kings got a few shifts of their top guys against them, and it was almost always bad. Their Corsi was negative prior to regulation and it got worse as they dropped to -6 (Gionta and Bernier) and -7 (Carter). Yes, they scored the one goal the Devils got today: a Carter deflection off a Zidlicky shot. They were also partially torched by Doughty for the first goal against, and they were chasing the play in overtime as Carter scored. I really appreciate the hustle these guys have and I especially appreciate the goals they contributed. However, they are what they are: a fourth line, and Darryl Sutter and his players know they can be beaten on. Tonight, they did more than that, they found a result against them.
Specially Bad Teams: The Devils got four power plays tonight: three full ones and one abbreviated one for over a minute. The first two came in the first period, the third came in the second, and the fourth happened in the third period. Their sum total of shots across all four man-advantage situations: three. Two on their second one and one on their third. Oh, and the Kings' got two shorthanded shots too. That's just terrible. The Devils' second power play was actually decent; they got into the zone and set up good looks on net. The others weren't threatening at all. The Kings got easy clears and forced the Devils to defend their aggressive PK players. It's particularly frustrating because they were opportunities to tie up the game (or lead), and they didn't even get set up on most of them. That's got to be better in the future if the Devils want to get back into this series.
At least Los Angeles' power plays were just as poor. They got two, the latter one getting cut off early due Doughty hooking a Devil. They got one shot on goal and other than that, it was mostly clearance after clearance by New Jersey. Travis Zajac impressively got forward in the second period on the first penalty kill. He got around two defenders, tossed the puck to Parise, and Parise put the shot wide. In a word: ugh. But the Devils still clamped down on the Kings' woeful power play. That's a positive, at least.
The Atmosphere: The crowd at the Rock definitely brought the noise. They were joyful in the beginning. The mood turned to apprehension as the second period went on still at 0-1 Kings. They booed the third power play, which deserved it. They got incredibly loud after Carter's goal and stayed that way throughout the game. Yet, when Carter scored, everything shifted. Some fans were angry; but most of them - including myself - just had this somber look of grief on their faces. The Devils lost Game 2, they lost another overtime game, and they lost another overtime game 2-1. One can still be positive after one loss, like in Game 1. After all, the Devils came from behind 0-1 against Philly and New York. However, that didn't happen. Moreover, losing two games in a row is a completely different story in a best-of-seven series. The Kings now have a big advantage heading into Game 3. They'll have home ice and a real chance to put the Devils on the brink of elimination. They've been here before against Vancouver, St. Louis, and Phoenix and all three teams would tell the Devils that it doesn't end well. That, in addition to the loss itself, was realized by a lot of people at the Rock. It's entirely possible that Game 2 will be the last hockey game played at the Prudential Center until preseason. It's entirely possible we won't be back next Saturday. The Kings have put the Devils in a deep hole; it's not quite six feet deep, but it could be soon. With all that in mind, no wonder most were somewhat sad and quiet leaving the arena as opposed to irate.
That's my take for tonight's 2-1 OT loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Now I want to know yours. What did you make of the Devils performance? They were better than they were in Game 1 and the Kings in regulation, but did you think they were good? What do they need to work on other than their power play? Why do you think the Kings performed so much better in overtime after being beaten in regulation? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.