Tonight's game was between two of the lowest scoring teams in the league. Tonight's game was between two teams in the Metropolitan Division that really could have used to win to get ahead of each other in the standings. Tonight's game was the first of a home-and-home series. Tonight's game mattered something to both teams. So it was disappointing to see the New Jersey Devils go down 4-1 in two periods. (And surprising that one of these teams knew how to get three or more goals) They attempted a comeback in the third period and came within a goal. But the hole Carolina dug for them was too deep and time was too short so the Devils lost their third in a row 4-3.
Prior to the comeback effort, spirits were understandably running low. The Devils weren't playing to the score until the third period. They didn't control the neutral zone as Carolina continued to gain the zone with ease for the first two periods. The Devils conceded four goals on nineteen shots whilst putting up thirteen of their own. While the Devils upped their own shot count in the third, there was a general feeling of "This ain't happening." Like when Travis Zajac beat Cam Ward down low in the first period only for the puck to sail across the crease and wide (the Devils had 0 shots but definitely had attempts). Like when the Devils hit two posts in the second period. Like when Dainius Zubrus missed on a great chance created by Travis Zajac in the second. Like when Zajac whiffed on an open one-timer right at the top of the crease in the third period. Like when Adam Henrique got absolutely robbed on a rebound during a late scramble to get back in the game. And those were just the offensive examples. The goals allowed definitely didn't inspire confidence.
Yet, the Devils, to their credit, got some goals. They only scored three in regulation in their last three games. They got three tonight. Zajac did finish a one-on-one with Ward in the second period. In the third period, Andy Greene took one of the many shots from the point only this one was on target and past Ward thanks to a screen by Steve Bernier. With the extra skater, Jaromir Jagr got on Ward's right flank and tapped in a feed to make the final 107 seconds feel real interesting. If there's one positive to take out of tonight's game, then it's the fact that they reminded themselves what multiple goals scored in a game felt like. The second would be proving that Ward can be beaten even when he makes several tough saves as he did tonight, which may matter for Friday's road game.
However, they needed four to tie and they wouldn't have needed to try for two in the final ten minutes had they put up better efforts in the first forty minutes. They didn't play to the score until the third period and that undercut them. It wasn't so much one big area of failure as it was several components. Some of which are familiar to Devils fans this season and others being out of the ordinary. All the same, it led to a loss that the Devils really didn't need. Sure, there were some silver linings but that doesn't mean anything in the standings.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights of this game:
The Fire is Out: Martin Brodeur was given the start to tonight's game, which led to some uproar and confusion among fans. I didn't think it was a big deal. Brodeur had been playing well enough; I'll show that off in a post on Saturday. Moreover, the team only scored three goals in regulation, four total, in their last three games. Goaltending wasn't a concern in my opinion. As it turned out, Cory Schneider should have started this game in hindsight.
It's not that Brodeur didn't make any big saves. He did. It's not that all four goals against were his fault. They weren't. He had no chance on the second or third goals against. It's that he gave up two bad goals. The first one was the first of the game. A simple wrist shot from Justin Faulk from the point beat him short-side. He glided too far to his right, guessing wrong on the shot itself. Simply, it was a soft one. It gave the Canes an early lead on their fourth shot of the game, which emboldened the visitors to put more rubber on net.
The fourth and eventual game winner was the second bad goal allowed. The root cause of the play was the Devils' power play doing something stupid. A dump-in was retrieved by Carolina and the puck was flung hard around the boards. Andy Greene was at the point and tried to stop it. But the puck bounced past him and it gave Patrick Dwyer the perfect opportunity to rush up on a breakaway. While I wouldn't normally hang a breakaway goal against on the goalie alone, Dwyer just slid a simple backhander through Brodeur's legs. Seriously, Brodeur got caught with his five hole open. Even his standard, over-aggressive poke check would've been a better decision and perhaps throw off a man with only three goals this season going into this game. Alas, Brodeur giving that one up - the team's first shorty, if you can believe it - really hurt.
I don't think Schneider gives up this or the other soft goal. I can't disagree if you were to tell me that the Devils possibly win this game with Schneider in net. While I can respect the decision made, it turned out wrong on the ice. Alas, Brodeur's definitely not hot now and so this happened. After the game, Brodeur himself told Tom Gulitti that he doesn't think he'll start Friday's game. I hope he's right. While Brodeur has done well in the past few weeks, there's too good of a goaltender right on the bench ready to step in should things go bad. It went bad tonight, so Schneider should be in.
The Other Two Goals Allowed: The second goal allowed came early in the second period and really deflated the crowd. Being down 0-1 after the first period isn't good but it's not a disaster regardless of how bad the goal was. However, Peter Harrold couldn't chip a puck away and the Canes instantly responded. Andrej Sekera kept it in from the boards, Eric Staal got the puck, and fed Tuomo Ruutu for a banger of a one-timer. Harrold was catching up after the chip and deserves some blame for not getting the puck out. But the real culprit was Ryan Carter. With Patrik Elias higher up (Sekera beat him to the puck), he should have rotated to the slot. He was slow in arriving and so was not in a position to pick up Ruutu. This isn't to say that Carter being there would have definitely prevented a goal. It would have made it a more likely outcome than letting him have a free shot at close range.
The third goal was simply bad luck. Ron Hainsey fired a shot from distance and the puck got deflected in the slot. The deflection gave the puck some air and drifted inside of the left post. Patrik Elias, unfortunately, was the one to re-direct the puck's direction. His stick was out, presumably to try and stop or knock the shot away. Instead, it helped turn a routine shot that likely would have led to nothing into a big 3-1 lead for Carolina. That touch killed off the good feelings from a few minutes earlier when Zajac scored. Elias looked beside himself after the goal and I don't blame him. A tough break for a guy who does a lot of work.
The Ultra-Positive Would Conclude...: A better night from Brodeur or Schneider in the net plus one less bad break and the Devils could have won this game. Maybe, though one wonders whether they would have been as aggressive on offense in the third period if they weren't down by three goals. I'm not willing to go that far but it's something to keep in mind.
Back to the Point: Out of the 45 total shot attempts the Devils had tonight, 21 came from defensemen. The Devils stuck to their plan of getting the puck in deep and then passing it out to the open man on the point. I can understand getting the puck to an open man. But the Devils could enjoy more production if they didn't settle for shots from over forty feet away. Yes, it worked for Greene on one shot, but the other twenty attempts did not (and most of those didn't even get to Ward). They may have to move it around a bit more, but a closer shot has a better chance of going in.
At least the Devils weren't alone in this thinking. Carolina did it before their first goal, third goal, and many other attacking situations. Their defensemen combined for nine out of the 33 total shooting attempts they had. I suspect we would have seen more if the Canes didn't build up a lead. Perhaps all teams do this to some degree, only different in how the forwards move and how good the defensemen are at shooting. I still think the Devils would be wise to get away from it at times.
Hustle: While he didn't register a shot on net and he was one of the few Devils to end up on the wrong side of possession, I liked how Mattias Tedenby skated tonight. He skated hard. He went into the boards trying to win pucks. He got into the corners. He looked like a guy who realized that he could earn a job if he can do something positive. While the numbers show he didn't do much, he was at least recognizable on a fourth line with him, Jacob Josefson, and Cam Janssen, which had some actual good attacking shifts for them. The bar may be set low for them, but they didn't trip over it. Oh, and the bad possession may have come when Michael Ryder replaced Janssen for several shifts.
I'm Not Mad: I wasn't mad at Michael Ryder tonight. He took some good shots. He made some decent passes. He even backchecked a few times. He actually looked good at times with Andrei Loktionov and Ryan Carter. Believe it or not, they had some of the best possession numbers on the team. Yes, a unit of Ryder-Loktionov-Carter didn't get destroyed. Having the last change helps, of course.
Pivot: Travis Zajac, in my opinion, was the best Devil tonight. Yes, he botched a fantastic chance in front of the net in the third. But he did convert in a one-on-one situation to get the Devils on the board in the third period. He helped Jaromir Jagr get four shots out of seven attempts. His unit was excellent in terms of possession. He was even great on faceoffs, as he went 6-for-8. While he didn't get a star from Tonight's Attending Media, he'll have this part of this recap.
They're Back! Now Break Them Up: Also lost in this losing result was the glorious return of Andy Greene and Mark Fayne as a pairing. And they were great as the puck kept getting pushed forward when they were out there. The problem with that were the other two pairings: Marek Zidlicky & Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill & Peter Harrold. Merrill managed to keep the puck on his stick more often on offense, but he and Harrold were an adventure in their own end. Sometimes they would make a good play. Sometimes, they'd do a Zidlicky impersonation. It was harrowin; I'm baffled at how they got nearly twenty minutes together. Zidlicky and Gelinas weren't much better, though they took more shooting attempts. Until one of the three currently injured defensemen are back, I think it's in the team's best interests to split up Fayne-Greene to strengthen the others.
A Tale of Two Staals: Eric Staal seemed ever present going forward. While he was one of the few Canes to keep pushing the puck ahead, he didn't play that much more than Jordan Staal. Devils fans behind Ward got to see a lot of him as Staal seemingly played nothing but defense for most of his ice time. Yet, Jordan Staal's linemate Patrick Dwyer managed to put up four shots at evens (the fifth was that shorty). Weird since Staal was on the ice for exactly three Canes shot attempts (13 against). Although Eric was limited to only two shots out of five attempts, he did set up Ruutu's goal so he wasn't so quiet. I doubt they'll keep him that way for Friday.
Did You Miss Him?: I can't say I missed Damien Brunner much tonight. You?
Papered SelloutThe Devils announced this game as a sellout. I guess a voucher from donated food counts as a sale?
The Coat Drive: Speaking of, it was great to see that many people gave to charity on that evening, regardless of what drove the giving. You can continue to help someone out on Saturday. The Devils are running their annual coat drive at the Rock, so please bring a new or gently used coat if you're going.
What Special Teams: The refs called two penalties total and little of consequence happened on Carolina's lone power play. The Devils' lone power play was a lot like all of the other do-nothing man advantages only they gave up a goal. The less said other than "Stop throwing pucks away on 5-on-4 situations," the better.
Your Take: The Devils lost a game they would have been better off winning. While the score was made close, does it make up for a lackluster first two periods? Are you pleased that there was an effort at all? What do you think the team should have done differently? What should they change for Friday's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's loss in the comments. Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading and have a lovely holiday.