California is done for the New Jersey Devils this season. They will not return there until next season unless the Devils have an awesome run and one of those three team does the same. It did not end with a sweep. There was no dramatic last minute equalizer. The New Jersey Devils got beat by the San Jose Sharks 2-1. They were outplayed in the first period and mostly outplayed in the second period. The Devils did make it interesting in the third period with a power play goal and coming close to equalizing. It would not be enough.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Fear the Fin, Jake Sundstrom has this recap from a Sharks-favoring perspective.
The Game Highlights: This video, as with all of them so far, is from NHL.com.
The First Period: Remember the Los Angeles game? OK, take that kind of performance only the Sharks put up two goals. The first was a blast from distance by Scott Hannan that found the top of the net. The second was a feed by Martin Havlat out to the circle that an uncovered Tyler Kennedy one-timed to the top of the net. Adam Larsson kicking the puck to a Shark to help create the play and, more importantly, Damien Brunner not covering Kennedy helped there. The Sharks out-attempted the Devils 21-10, out-shot them 9-3, and the Devils were held close to ten minutes between their first two shots of the game.
For those that don't remember or didn't see Los Angeles game, the play was dominated by the Sharks. They gained the zone with purpose and control. If they lost the puck deep, they worked hard to win it. Their forecheck was strong and their defensemen were often in the right place to keep pucks in play. Their transition game also stood out. Some of the few Devils' attacks resulted in a puck bouncing out with all three forwards in deep or bunched up, allowing the Sharks to pick it up and go right at it. They didn't generate much on said rushes due to some crucial interceptions by the defense. But it wouldn't be long before the Sharks recovered the puck and went right to work. Martin Brodeur was under siege early and often. I don't think he had a fair chance at either goal; but the way the team is playing, they needed a Schneider-in-LA performance. Brodeur (and I would guess Schneider) wasn't likely at all to do that so it was what it was. It should've been three to nothing, actually. Only Tommy Wingels losing an edge on his skate denied him a glorious chance, actually. Andy Greene hooked Brent Burns down low in another scrum so the high-shooting Sharks power play got a late opportunity. The Devils were able to kill the first period portion of that man advantage so it ended 2-0.
The Second Period: The second period was an improvement in some sense. The Devils actually got some shots on Antti Niemi. Seven, to be specific, though one was just a dump-in on net. They were only out-shot 12-7. They were out-attempted only 18-16. More crucially, the Sharks were held scoreless.
It was not without trying by San Jose. They generated quite a few odd-man rushes that ended with nothing. Logan Couture was left all alone in front only to be robbed by Brodeur. Their power play started the first twenty seconds and got a full two minutes with strong possession. They continued to pin the Devils back on several shifts - especially after that second power play (thank Marek Zidlicky for that; thank him quite a bit for poor play actually, he's been especially bad by my eye) - as their defense denied several zone exit attempts. Brodeur was better in the second, as was the luck. The Sharks still looked superior for the most part. I doubt they'll just sit on this lead. They certainly didn't in the second.
That said, the Devils continued to look out of sorts. Their zone exits have been poor, though the Sharks' defensemen have been excellent in reading them. Their passes through the neutral zone were often off. They didn't establish a forecheck. They did get some good shifts but only one really had some sustained pressure. The Devils' shots often came from distance. I'd normally be irked by that but given that the Devils weren't even doing that in the first period, I'm not so bothered by it. If that wasn't enough, it was reported during the period by the team that they would be shorthanded. Stephen Gionta left the game with an ankle injury, the same one that has kept him out a few games. So down to sixteen skaters and Cam Janssen and down 2-0. At least the bleeding was stopped for twenty minutes.
The Third Period: I don't know what Peter DeBoer said during the second intermission but it clearly worked as the Devils actually played a decent period of hockey. They were even with San Jose in shots, 9-9. The Devils just out-attempted the Sharks 19-18. The Devils in general looked better if only because they actually strung two passes together through the neutral zone. More importantly, they made it a game. But the Sharks did enough to keep the Devils honest. They defended well when they needed to be desperate. Niemi moved very well in net to make important stops. Therefore, they sealed off the win.
I will say the Sharks didn't look nearly as dominant as they did in the first two periods. Maybe it was because New Jersey wasn't conceding possession like it was going out of style. Maybe it was because the Devils actually made successful zone exits. Maybe it was because the Devils actually got some offense going. Maybe it was because they were up 2-0. I think it was a little bit of all of that. The Sharks did have some excellent shifts like the many they had in the first forty minutes. But those were few and far between. A miscommunication for a Devils line change gifted the Sharks a power play and put up no shots. That was weird to see given how much they looked like they were running a power play at even strength so many times tonight. Brodeur kept his team in it for sure, which was important when, say, Wingels got a free one-timer at point-blank range or when Peter Harrold and Eric Gelinas got torched.
The goal itself was a bit fortunate. It came right at the end of the sole power play for New Jersey - a hooking call against Jason Demers. It started well enough and Zajac had a fantastic look on net for a one-timer. But he couldn't get enough on the puck and it was sent wide. Then the Devils' power play reverted to giving away possession (glare at Brunner for his awful, no-look pass right to a Sharks PKer) and not getting anything set up. Yet right at the end, Patrik Elias retrieved a puck from Greene and fired a shot at the top of the left circle. It gone in the net to the surprise of many. Niemi most of all since he never saw it thanks to Bernier and Justin Braun standing right in front of the goalie. The goal came with one second left on the power play and with plenty of time left in the game for an equalizer.
The Devils made their efforts (e.g. Ryan Carter's hustle showed up and it was cool) but they were denied one way or another. Ryder had a great opportunity in the slot only to be blocked out bravely by Joe Pavelski. Zajac snagged a juicy rebound by Niemi in the slot but Niemi got in front of that. With the extra skater, Peter Harrold had a great look but the keeper got in the way again. Niemi went from having little to do to feeling plenty of pressure, much like the Sharks' defense. Unlike Los Angeles, there would be no dramatic equalizer. The Devils were destined to lose big to an awesome team based on the first period. They instead lost 2-1 and it wasn't as awful/awfully luck as the Los Angeles game. I can't say I'm too unhappy about what happened.
Three Injuries: That said, there were three injuries of note tonight. As noted earlier, Gionta re-injured his ankle and left the game early. In the third period, Adam Larsson had an awkward collision feet first into the left corner chasing down a puck. He got up and finished his shift, which was one of the few heavy-attacking ones by San Jose which not coincidentally also had Ryder and Brunner on the ice. But he went the locker room past the halfway point of the period and did not return. I suspect he's hurt from that collision. Lastly, Brodeur made his last save of the game on Burns and immediately went down. Burns' shot caught him in the back of the helmet, around the neck area. It stunned him as he didn't move lying on the ice. He stayed in the game, which was no big deal as the Devils were going to pull him once they got the puck going forward - which they did. Brodeur said after the game he feels OK but will get his neck checked out to be sure according to this tweet by Tom Gulitti. That would be good news, at least. One doesn't like to see injuries happen. I hope Gionta doesn't try to come back from this ankle injury (is this the third time?) too quickly. I really hope Larsson isn't seriously injured.
Scattered Thoughts: Anyone who seriously thinks the Devils play up to their level of competition needs to seriously watch the first two periods of this game and the Los Angeles game. Yes, the Devils put up a fight in the third period but goodness two of the best possession and high-shooting teams in the league wrecked the Devils. I'm looking forward to games not against top teams in the Pacific for a while.
Anyway, Greene had a lovely interception on a 2-on-1 in the second period. Had the Sharks scored there, I would use the video here with the subtitle "Why We Should Get Mad at Marek Zidlicky Pinching" since it created the play. Speaking of, Zidlicky got owned repeatedly by the Sharks, he took a dumb penalty, his pinches were all over the place, and I have a feeling Ryan's zone exit count will show that #2 didn't have a good night. He can be frustrating at times.
Speaking of the D, I liked what I saw out of Gelinas and the coaches would agree. He got 21 minutes in a close game against a top opponent. I think he's set here for the time being.
Brunner returned to the lineup and he didn't have a good game. His lack of coverage on Kennedy cost the team a goal. He attempted a more difficult pass in an early 2-on-1 when he should've let it rip. He had one shot total. And he didn't do a whole lot in general in his 13 and a half minutes. Come on, man. Even Jaromir Jagr backchecks harder and knows when to just have a go. Jacob Josefson got into the lineup and didn't stand out too much. Then again, he was mostly in his own end trying to defend given that his Corsi differential was -12 (1 for, 13 against). He did save a goal in the first period by sweeping a loose puck away from a nearly empty net. So there's that.
The Zajac, Dainius Zubrus, and Jagr line did plenty of good things late. Alas, they couldn't get the goal. On the flipside of forwards, I don't see the purpose of Janssen in the lineup. Not that his exclusion would have led to a totally different game but Carter looked so much better when he had two NHL players as his linemates.
The Sharks looked like a machine at times. Their D looked fantastic controlling the points. Niemi was solid as one could expect. heir top two lines - that's Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl, & Brent Burns and Couture, Marleau, & Wingels (especially him, he could've scored two tonight) were fierce. Even their fourths came out wildly ahead in possession. They're a superb team and I'm glad the Devils only have to see them one more time this year because I'm sure they are frightening to defend. It didn't turn out as bad as the LA game but being out-shot 26-15 and out-attempted 50-37 in 5-on-5 play still isn't good.
Your Take: The road trip through California is over. It was ugly for a majority of the game but the Devils put out a better effort and lost only 2-1 to a very good Sharks team in their house. There's that. So what did you think of the Devils' performance? Who, if anyone, had a good game for the Devils? Who, among several I'd think, had a bad game? How impressed were you with the Sharks tonight? Are you satisfied with this road trip? Please leave your answers and other comments about this game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who stayed up to follow the game in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.