There was a hockey game played at the Xcel Energy Center tonight between the Devils and the Minnesota Wild. Unfortunately, there must have been some sort of mixup and the Albany Devils accidentally boarded the plane to St. Paul instead of the New Jersey edition. At least that's how it felt at the end of the slog through 60 miserable minutes (the latter 40 in particular) in Minnesota. There is very little in the way of positives to take away from this game, and it's made all the worse by the fact that they put up a similarly lifeless effort one day earlier against a Flyers team in disarray.
The game started off decently enough. The Devils were actually buzzing a bit early and created some pretty good chances in front of Josh Harding. As is so often the case, though, they couldn't find the back of the net while they had the Wild pinned back. They also drew a few penalties during that time. Unfortunately, the Devils' power play is the Devils' power play, so, if anything, that only really slowed their momentum. The Wild killed off the penalties, and around the 13-minute mark, they potted their first goal of the game. Jason Pominville collected a chipped puck in the neutral zone and carried it into the zone along the left wing in transition and fired a puck on net. Cory Schneider saved the initial attempt and a rebound try from Nino Niederreiter, but they Devils failed to help him out and Mark Fayne and Jacob Josefson foiled each other attempting to clear out the front of the net. The puck found its way to Mikael Granlund, who slammed it home into the empty net. The rest of the first period featured a couple more chances for each team, but no further scoring.
In the second, the Devils still looked as if they might make a game out of it early. The created a little pressure on an overlapping 5-on-4 and then shortly after almost put one in on a jam play at the side of the net. Alas, the puck would trickle harmlessly along the goal line before it was cleared away by the Wild. After that, the Devils opportunities would mostly dry up. The Wild, however, decided trying to score goals was something they'd continue to do. First, they had a power play opportunity off of a Michael Ryder penalty where they would bomb away on Schneider for most of the advantage. Schneider withstood that, but the Wild would continue attacking after the penalty expired. They would get their second off of a scrum in front after a Zach Parise shot from the right circle. After the initial save, the puck deflected off of Torrey Mitchell and went in off of the thigh of Marek Zidlicky. Despite the two-goal deficit, the Devils would mount little in the way of an attack the rest of the second. Even when they were able generate turnovers, they couldn't get pucks on net.
The third period featured little in the way of attack for the Devils, especially when you consider the score of the game. Minnesota added a power play goal on a deflection by Dany Heatley and the Devils only managed to get four shots on goal. All things considered, it was a brutal period from a team that absolutely needed to create pressure. Minnesota would add a meaningless empty netter when the Devils were in desperation mode late and that would close the scoring for the game. The final score shows a 4-0 drubbing and a shutout for Josh Harding and it's hard to say the Devils deserved any better with their play in the last two frames.
If you are a masochist or a Minnesota Wild fan, these highlights are for you:
Get Well Soon: This team looks lost at forward without Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac. They are two of the Devils' best play drivers and the team struggled mightily to mount any threats without them this weekend. The Devils are now sitting on an almost 150 minute streak without a goal. Everybody knows that the Devils aren't the most talented team up front, but without Elias and Zajac, they now have mustered 33 shots on goal in two games. Hurry back, fellas.
Very Brief Debut: One of the exciting things going into tonight's game was the NHL debut for Jon Merrill. Unfortunately, it didn't last long. On his second shift of the game, he was tripped up by Torrey Mitchell and careened into the boards. He was visibly shaken up and his face was bloodied pretty badly. He was reported to have facial lacerations and did not end up returning. This meant the Devils played basically the entire game with only five defensemen. Somehow, the Devils are starting to run out of bodies to stick on the blue line. Hopefully, the young d-man just needed to be stitched up and will be okay going forward.
Can We Decline It?: To the surprise of hopefully no one, the power play looked pretty dreadful once again tonight. In three opportunities, they generated only two shots on net. That isn't going to get it done. Contrast that with the Wild's power play, which was able to get set up in the zone and at times was absolutely bombing away on Schneider, and it becomes that much more frustrating. The Devils were dumping the puck in a lot and having about as much success as you'd expect when that is the case. Not really a good night for the special teams.
That Guy: MSG spent much of their broadcast tonight discussing all things Zach Parise. That was obviously one of the big storylines tonight and I don't expect the network to ignore the subject, but man did it get grating after a while. He tallied an assist on
Marek Zidlicky's Torrey Mitchell's second-period goal and looked mostly solid for Minnesota. Whatever.
Minnesota Looked Fine: The sad thing about this game is it's not like the Wild necessarily looked like a juggernaut. They really didn't have to be once the Devils' offense checked out about two minutes into the second period. They capitalized on some opportunities and just avoided making any mistakes to allow the Devils back in the game. They did what they had to and they Devils didn't really mount much of a challenge in the second half of the game.
Can Anyone Win a Faceoff?: The Devils were an unmitigated disaster at the dot tonight. They ended up going 15-39 in faceoffs for the game. That is about 28%. I don't think faceoffs are typically a huge issue as long as you can win in the neighborhood of half of them. Winning about a quarter of them is an issue. This is another area where they miss Zajac, who is really the only decent faceoff guy they have.
Final Thoughts: The Devils had an fairly encouraging start to this game. They were probably the better team in the first outside of one failed clear in front. The last 35 minutes of this game were horrible. The Devils were trailing and could hardly get anything going. The list of players who had a good night overall is short. Maybe Adam Henrique? Loktionov? There are a few guys you could possibly make arguments for, but to be honest, if you can only come up with nine shots in the final two periods of a game you trail, it's hard to really pass out much in the way of praise. Yes, the team is depleted with injuries, but simply, they need to be better than they were tonight if they want to go anywhere this season.