Going into this season, it was understood that scoring was going to be an issue for the New Jersey Devils. It could have been predicted that there would be games where the Devils generate some good chances but for one reason or another can't put the puck over the goal line. We saw it last season; and honestly, every team has a night like that. But whereas other teams aren't suffering from low shooting percentages, they can move on. Tonight was one of those games. It doesn't make feel any less disheartening.
Tonight's opponent were the Los Angeles Kings and they've been ruling the realm of possession in recent seasons, including this one. The Devils actually got off to a great start against them and dominated the first ten minutes or so. The Kings "found their legs" and/or "realized they were in a game that counts" and fought back later on, but the game turned into a common sight for the Devils: a low-event hockey game with several scoring chances and many more stops by the defense from difficulty moving the puck through the neutral zone. Given how the Kings have been one of the best in the league at taking shots and making attempts, that would favor New Jersey in that they're not getting rolled. By the numbers, the Devils led in attempts 44-40 in all situations, 38-35 in five-on-five play.
However, I must stress that it was more or less an even game after the initial flurry by the Devils. The Kings got some chances and didn't score due in part to some desperate defending, puck luck, and Cory Schneider. The Devils got some chances and didn't score due to the same, only with Ben Scrivens in net. Yet, the Devils simply faded as time went on. Sure, the Kings are too good of a team to get run over for the early part of the game and not adjust for it. It is true that the Devils led in shots 26-21 and put up a few more in the third than they did in the second. But the clean zone entries didn't occur as often as time went on. The pucks won from botched clearances turned into fewer and fewer shots. This proved fatal when the Kings did get a goal: a deflection by Dwight King on a Jake Muzzin shot right in front of the net. The Devils response was a mere three shots on net. They were essentially a dump-in on net by Peter Harrold with six minutes left to play, a slapshot from distance by Harrold with 5:44 left, and a slap shot by Jaromir Jagr at 4:51 left. That was it. No wonder there was no equalizer.
Making the feeling worse was that Mike Richards gift wrapped a power play for the Devils with less than three minutes left to play. He moved the puck off a face off with his hand and the refs caught him; it was clear as day to anyone sitting at the Kings' end of the rink. The Devils not only proceeded to do nothing on the power play, but they spent nearly as much time in their own half of the rink than in Los Angeles' . Even after Peter DeBoer pulled Schneider, the Devils could not figure out how to move the puck forward. That's right, in a 6-on-4 situation, the Devils couldn't move ahead. Damien Brunner saw it fit to just go laterally with the puck and then get his stick caught in the legs of Trevor Lewis, a forechecker he couldn't shake off, to take a penalty and kill the advantage. Again, in a two man advantage, the puck carrier elected to not pass the puck. There were many boos from the fans at that power play and they were deserved. It was an utterly wasted opportunity. It would be one thing if Scrivens busted out some great saves or the puck just didn't bounce their way off of one of Scrivens' many rebounds. The Devils didn't even get that far.
So even though the Devils were actually able to limit the Kings far better than most other teams in the league, they found a way to lose because they couldn't score. It's not as if they weren't trying at all but the opportunities were there. The chances were there. The puck was in dangerous locales. A little more urgency, a little difference in the shooting motion, and even a little difference in just straight up luck could have made the difference tonight. The Devils played a decent game but they simply couldn't finish. And when given a real great chance to have one last go, they do nothing, Brunner takes a minor, and Anze Kopitar iced with a power play empty netter. These sorts of nights can happen, but they don't feel any less disheartening after witnessing them.
The Opposition Opinion: Well, it's not so much an opinion but Robert P has this post up full of reactions at Jewels from the Crown that will suffice for the moment. Surprisingly, there's no paeans to Linden Vey for getting his first shot on net this season (he had none in his last four)
The Game Highlights: Watch (when it's up) and sigh to yourself, "What could have been."
Errors: One could pick out some very noticeable errors from this game by the Devils. For example, Harrold skating over a puck and losing control at what could have been an early goal for the Kings. Harrold actually rushed back to clean up the rebound that was left just off Schneider's pad. For another example, Marek Zidlicky getting a pass blocked right at the blueline that sent Vey off on a shorthanded breakaway in the second period. Schneider denied him. For a third example, and this one made me cringe, Andy Greene swung his stick in the air to try and bat down a puck in the air. He managed to re-direct it right on net, forcing a very quick pad stop by Schneider. I was afraid that was going to be the sole goal of the game and seeing it on replay was horrid.
Of course, Schneider bailed them out there and I'm sure there are others one could bring up (if I recall correctly, Eric Gelinas had a pretty brutal turnover in the second). The one error on King's goal was a lack of coverage. You can see Dainius Zubrus gesturing with his stick that King was right in front of the net. He was caught in the slot, Travis Zajac was watching Greene battling with Justin Williams, and so King snuck in and was in the right spot when Muzzin fired his shot. Watching it again now, I just feel more sympathy for Schneider.
Stats of Coincidence: Tonight's game makes it the fifth time the Devils were shutout this season and the fourth with Schneider in net. It's not that the Devils aren't trying to score goals when he's in net. That wasn't the case early on tonight and especially not the case in Toronto last Friday. They just, well, don't happen. I don't think Martin Brodeur somehow makes the team shoot better; if that was the case, then we would have seen much more scoring in the past few seasons. Expect to see this brought up in future games anyhow.
Pounding the Weak: From a possession standpoint, it was pretty even in terms of all shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play. But the Devils often pinned back L.A.'s bottom six (poor, poor Tanner Pearson and he had such an awful giveaway in the third, he should be thanking all religious doctrines that it didn't result in a goal) and the pairing of Robyn Regher and Slava Voynov. That pairing really got beaten on, they were out there for 18 shooting attempts and 11 that got on net. While the Devils didn't win, they may have given oppositions a general blueprint of sort. This is what teams playing against L.A. really need to do. Survive what they can from their top six - Mike Richards wasn't a factor - and wreck their currently weakened depth lines. Figure out which defensive pairing that Drew Doughty isn't on seems vulnerable don't let up. Hope the goalie's not making some very good stops - and Scrivens made some legitimately good ones tonight, just ask Andrei Loktionov among others - and finish your chances. The Devils didn't do the latter, so this makes the result frustrating. The Devils didn't play that bad of a game. Even against a strong possession team like this one is something I'l take. But they just didn't get the goals needed to make this work or any possible result work. And that makes fans like me either get sad or mad because there's little that can really be done about that beyond get more opportunities, which isn't a guarantee for more or any goals.
The Returned Devils: Not exactly big nights from Patrik Elias, Stephen Gionta, and Mark Fayne. Elias didn't register an attempt on net and only played 15:22. He looked good as he was skating so it doesn't appear he's still hurting from his back spasms. Mark Fayne had some nice moments and threw one impressive check on Dustin Brown. However, he was pinned back more than any other Devil tonight so it wasn't like he was getting stops and getting the puck ahead. Gionta, well, he played on a low event fourth line (nine total, 4-5 if you must know) so I guess he was doing his job as expected. I think going forward, Elias will definitely make an impact, Fayne will be OK, and Gionta won't be a waste.
The Power Play is Awful: Jaromir Jagr had a free shot in the slot and didn't make the most of it. The rest was mostly garbage, including Zidlicky's brainless passing attempt right in front of Vey. Part of it is definitely coaching. How can there not be new breakout designs by now? The current approaches haven't worked. Part of it is execution, as witnessed by the Devils skaters electing to not move the puck forward in a late, must-attack 5-on-4-that-became-6-on-4 situation or move themselves to help the puck carrier out. I have little to say anymore about that.
Anger: Many Devils fans became incensed with two Kings tonight. Dustin Brown showed he can be a real nasty player and not the good kind of nasty that suggests he's difficult to deal with. No, it's the sort of nasty where he'll embellish on fouls or hits (I swear he was leaning into Fayne's in the hope of making it look worse than it was, good no call there) while committing others elsewhere. The refs let plenty go tonight so his gambit didn't work. Daniel Carcillo wasn't in the lineup, but Brown showed the Rock that he too can act - possibly better than anyone in the league. Speaking of no calls, Jordan Nolan managed to get away with a hit on Adam Henrique after a whistle for offside and going high on a hit on Peter Harrold well after he passed the puck away. Harrold turned out to be OK but I was shocked that Nolan got away with both.
Also, how did Cam Janssen not get a penalty in the second period? He came onto the ice and after the whistle was blown for a freeze (and a net being dislodged), he went right after Nolan, a scrum ensured, and his gloves were off. Janssen actually went to the box, sat in it, and then the refs told him there was no penalty. When I saw him go to the bench, I figured they just gave him a misconduct. Nope. Paul Devorski and Graham Skilliter were generous tonight.
Any Devils Not Named Schneider Looked Good?: I will say I really liked what I saw out of Adam Henrique tonight. He asserted himself well on the puck, he helped make the Richards line do relatively little on offense, and he took initiative with four shots on net out of seven. I would say Jaromir Jagr had a similar impact with four shots on net, but I was disappointed at what he didn't get done in the slot in the second period plus several blind, backhand passes on offense that went right to Kings to kill the attack. Greene was good, batted puck moment aside, and the third pairing of Larsson and Gelinas did OK on defense despite not doing much on offense (pro tip for Gelinas and possibly the team, when you have a clear lane, shoot).
Winners Aside from the Visitors: There were a lot of food donations tonight. The Community Food Bank of New Jersey won. And possibly the attendance numbers for the Wednesday, November 27 game against Carolina. Anyone who donated five or more items got a voucher for up to four free tickets to that game.
One Last Thing: We get to see these two play against each other next week, with the Devils coming off a game the night before.
Your Take: What's your take on tonight's game? Who on the Devils did you think had a good game? (Schneider, obviously) Who on the Devils did you not think did so well? Do you have an answer for the lack of finishing? Because I don't. What effect do you think this will have on tomorrow's game against Pittsburgh? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's loss. Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.