You won't believe me, but the New Jersey Devils were in today's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. At least, it was a game on the scoreboard. The Devils and Penguins ended the first period scoreless, the Penguins were only up 8-6 in shots, and the teams were even in shooting attempts. There were some errors by the Devils with the puck, but the Penguins had a few of their own too.
In the second period, the Penguins began to take over. While the Devils had offensive attempts of their own, they struggled to hit the net whereas the Penguins not only put their pucks on target but they got great chances. Then the mistakes started to lead to goals. Brandon Sutter feathered the puck through Adam Larsson's legs, put a shot on net, and eventually got his own rebound as Larsson watched to open up the scoring. That was early and the Pens compounded the lead with pressure. Closer to halfway through the second period, Anton Volchenkov committed an atrocious turnover, gift wrapping a puck for Chris Kunitz who scored. The Devils got back on the scoreboard when Andy Greene jumped up on a shorthanded rush and put a shot five-hole through Marc-Andre Fleury. Yet, by the end of the second, there wasn't a lot of reason to be hopeful. The Penguins out-shot the Devils 12-4. The Corsi at even strength was 23-12 in the second alone. The defense was spotty at best, the forwards didn't help all that much, and when they did get the puck in Pittsburgh's end, Fleury didn't have to get involved with a shot.
Nevertheless, it was a 2-1 game. It was still a competitive game. The Devils could have used that second intermission to get their minds right. They could have communicated how they needed to be better with the puck and better positioned on defense. They could have done a lot of things. A good third period could have led to an equalizer, or even a win. However, they did not. Oh, no. Instead, they played progressively worse in the third and the Penguins took full advantage.
Early in the third, the Devils actually won a defensive zone faceoff and the play went behind the net. Adam Henrique left the slot to help Marek Zidlicky and they didn't win the puck. While Ilya Kovalchuk dropped low in the slot, there was enough space in the high slot for Chris Kunitz to find Kris Letang. The pass was made, Zidlicky stood right in front of Martin Brodeur, and it's 3-1 Pittsburgh. About five minutes later, a failed pinching attempt by Zidlicky created the space for a two-on-one with Sidney Crosby carrying the puck. Salvador was caught in no man's land, Kovalchuk couldn't catch the other man, and it didn't matter as Crosby sniped a shot to make it 4-1. A little later, Krys Barch loses a puck battle to Crosby (duh) and a pass was tossed all the way to Robert Bortuzzo. I never heard of him until today and he scored his first NHL goal ever when he fired a low shot that got deflected by Jacob Josefson's stick to make it 5-1. What did the Devils do in between any of these goals? Nothing on offense and just scraping by on defense. It was all Penguins hockey and it continued until the final minutes of the game. The game ended with the Penguins up 30-16 in shots, 49-33 in shooting attempts at even strength, and their first home win of the season by four goals. The Penguins took full advantage of an awful performance by the Devils and turned a close-looking score into a blowout win.
The underlying numbers after the first period were ugly and the third period continued that and with goals. We've seen the Devils had bad periods in past games,but I would say this was the first out-and-out bad game. The first period today was OK but nearly everything by the skaters today was just second-rate. What makes it more distressing is that this is the fourth winless game for the Devils in a row. They got points in their prior three games and perhaps getting those results covered up some of the flaws in the team's eyes. Now this is a team in the midst of a busy schedule (like everyone else in the NHL) that really needs to get two points soon. Otherwise, they'll find themselves on the outside looking in.
The Opposition Opinion: The Penguins faithful should be pleased. Hooks Oripk's recap is just that over at Pensburgh.
The Game highlights: Well, they were mostly for the Penguins today, but here's the highlight video from NHL.com anyway:
The Corsi Charts: It's a road game so enjoy the Corsi charts for this game. Again, it's for all shooting attempts at even strength. Surprising no one, the Penguins were the superior team at 49-33. Here's their chart.
Sidney Crosby was a beast. So was Evgeni Malkin, but Crosby was beastlier. Far more beast. Everyone else on the Penguins did well except for some members of their bottom six. Given that they didn't see a lot of ice time, the Devils just kept getting beaten in possession by Pittsburgh's best. Therefore, their chart is appropriately terrible looking.
Peter DeBoer tried to get the CBGB line out against the Crosby line at times. That was a big mistake. Today was another piece of evidence that Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, and Steve Bernier are truly fourth liners. But you knew that already. And that Crosby line regularly crushed almost everyone they saw at evens today. Bryce Salvador was once again horrendous in terms of possession.
As for the rest, I'm surprised Henrik Tallinder was actually positive while Dainius Zubrus and Ilya Kovalchuk were out there for as many Corsi for events for New Jersey as they were. Still, this chart is a quick summation of how bad today's game was.
Crosby is Incredible, It's Hard to Deal With It: As for the Penguins, well, they are who I thought they would be. Crosby played like one of the best players in the world. One goal, two assists, a drawn penalty, five shots on net out of eight attempts, 14-for-21 at the dot, and 19:56 of ice time. His only real errors were taking two tripping calls that he really didn't need to commit. The Devils had no answers for #87, much less his usual line with Chris Kunitz (one goal, two assists, three shots) and Pascal Dupuis (two assists).
General Penguins Praise: Look at the Event Summary for today's game. You'll see a lot of Penguins with multiple shots on net. You'll see that all of their centers that took multiple faceoffs won at least half of them. You'll see that no one really played an incredible amount of minutes, due in part of a large scoreline allowing both teams to give shifts to lesser players. In general, the Penguins were who I thought they were: a great possession team with a strong offense. Crosby will deservedly get attention for his performance but their big win was a total team effort. They got better as time went on and made the Devils pay for their errors.
Avogadro's Turnover: Anton Volchenkov's turnover in the second period was a 6.023 x 10^23 on a scale of one to ten of how bad it was. I'm amazed the scorer didn't give him the primary assist on Chris Kunitz' goal. Volchenkov was benched after that play and didn't return to the ice until the third period when it was 5-1 Pittsburgh.
The New Lines Flopped: Peter DeBoer adjusted the forwards for today's game and I thought they would do pretty well on paper. Adam Henrique was moved up to center Zubrus and Kovalchuk. Patrik Elias slid to left wing as Travis Zajac center him and David Clarkson. Peter Harrold replaced Matt Anderson on the fourth line. Early on, DeBoer limited Henrique's minutes by switching him with Jacob Josefson on some shifts. That's six top-six caliber forwards, or at least five with Clarkson playing really well. Harrold could be used as a defender in a pinch, which would be useful given how strong Pittsburgh is on offense, an extra defender could be good if/when the fourth line gets pinned back.
Well, it all didn't work. The Devils mustered 13 shots on Fleury as the Penguins went up 5-1. Elias, Zajac, and Clarkson put up nothing on net until the third period, a close shot by Clarkson early that was followed up by nothing at all by the Devils. The team's top shooter had no shots on net or attempts in the first 40 minutes of this game. Elias got no shots on net out of two attempts in all 60 minutes of this game. Zajac didn't even have any attempts. That line was just straight up bad today.
Henrique didn't have a good game at all. He was beaten badly at the dot by going 5-for-16 and put up one mere shot. Zubrus' lone offensive contribution of any note was hitting a cutting Greene for the team's lone goal. Ilya Kovalchuk had three shots on net out of five attempts. I wouldn't say he did all that well, he lost the puck as much as any of the other forwards, but he was miles ahead of the rest of the forwards. So that's the top two lines doing nothing, the CBGB line getting creamed in possession, and the lone bright spot was that Harrold was there to play defense after Volchenkov was rightfully benched.
As much as I agree the Devils need another good forward and that there should be some other changes among the lines (namely, put Elias at center, keep Henrique at wing until he's fully back in form), the forwards were just ineffective on offense. The lineup can look good, but the players got to perform and they simply did not. Missed passes, missed shots, poor decisions, and moments of indecision; all of it hurt the cause. Save for Greene catching Fleury by surprise, Pittsburgh could have had an easy shutout today.
D(ogvomit)efense: I don't own a dog. I don't want to own a dog. I'm not a dog person. But I'm pretty sure the Devils' defensive effort was the equivalent of dog vomit. Just an oddly colored, stinky pile left dripping all over the place. They had turnovers in their own end. They got caught in the neutral zone and on changes multiple times. They had pinches at their own blueline. It was almost like the first period of the Montreal game, except it happened over the second and third periods of this game. The Penguins getting easy odd-man rushes and scored on one. They lost puck battles that led to two goals. There was Volchenkov's epic failure in the second period. They made the game that much harder for Martin Brodeur, who at least deserves a sympathy card from the skaters for what they did to him and his numbers. (Aside: I felt Brodeur probably should've had Crosby's goal. The rest certainly weren't his fault.)
There's really not a lot positive here. Marek Zidlicky continues to frustrate fans with his mix of awful plays and a few decent plays. I'm actually still mad at him for standing right in front of Brodeur for Letang's goal as I write this recap. Bryce Salvador is just past it; I know it's early but I suspect he's going to buried in Corsi this season. Volchenkov continues to prove he's a third pairing guy at best. Larsson makes enough fundamental errors that I'm beginning to understand why he was on the outside of this blueline looking in at the start of this season. Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder try, but it's not enough. I know Mark Fayne is good but was he really the key man on this blueline? This group - with Fayne - held teams to such few shots early this season, but in this past week, their lowest amount of shots allowed was the Boston game with 28 - and that included a third period of getting picked apart. What happened? I wish I could give you an answer but to my eyes, it's just stupid mistakes, poor positioning, and not getting enough help by the forwards. Tonight was more of that. It was more dog vomit.
Silver Lining: The penalty kill was great. They killed all three penalties, they kept Pittsburgh to only three shots on net, and they scored a goal. This is the lone silver lining of today's game.
So What Now: The Devils need to get their minds right or whatever else they have to do to raise their game. They got the Islanders on Sunday, Our Hated Rivals on Tuesday, a high-scoring Tampa Bay team on Thursday, and then a home-and-home with this Penguins team next weekend. They are all tough games and they're going to be a lot more losses unless the coaches and the players get it sorted. Bad games will happen, but unless the bad performances are addressed, they will continue. Let's hope.
That's my take on today's big loss. Now I want to know your opinion. How impressed were you by the Penguins today? What do you think is wrong with the defense? What can the Devils do about it? Would you make changes to the Devils' lines for tomorrow? If so, what would they be and why? Can the Devils rebound from this game? Will they? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about today's terrible game in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Of course, thank you for reading.