Johan Hedberg went way out of his net in the hopes of stopping Evander Kane on a breakaway. It didn't work. - Al Bello
The New Jersey Devils fell to the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 in a dismal performance that saw the Devils play entirely lackluster hockey in the third period. This recap goes over how the loss happened and includes other observations from the game.
I'd like to thank Carlos Figueiredo for coming up with the perfect word for the New Jersey Devils' performance this evening at the Rock: dismal. The Devils were dismal in their 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. They were dismal in their own end, often chasing the play when the Jets were able to get it in their end. Johan Hedberg was dismal in spots and paid for it twice for two of the goals against. The defensemen were dismal. The Devils' offense, which responded well to an early goal against with two of their own, became dismal over time. They were far more active in the first half of the game but couldn't buy a shot on net at times in the second half. Even the refs were dismal in missing a clear grab of the puck by Ron Hainsey and later a textbook boarding call inflicted on David Clarkson. Nevertheless, the stripes weren't at fault for the Devils' loss, it's all on the team we all support and love. They were simply dismal.
In the interest of fairness, the Devils weren't that way the whole game. The first period wasn't bad. Seeing Jacob Josefson follow the defense instead of backchecking for trailers was bad as it led to an early score from Zach Bogosian off the rush. But the Devils responded. They were making plays in the neutral zone and their forecheck found success against a Jets defense who were vulnerable to stick checks. A two-on-one with Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac resulted in an equalizer by Zajac, someone who really could use a goal these days. A forecheck yielded an Alexei Ponikarovsky shot that got deflected wide late. That opened it up for Andrei Loktionov and Steve Bernier; Loktionov threw a shot from the sideboards and Bernier jammed it in. The Devils were up 2-1 and looked OK after the early GA. The Devils looked OK early on in the second period.
However, things took a turn when Anton Volchenkov got in James Wright's way at the Jets' blueline. The Devils' PK started off well but an error led to yet another PPGA. Mark Fayne makes a good play on Evander Kane to knock the puck loose into the corner. Salvador knocks it out and Stephen Gionta continued it along. For some reason, Jacob Josefson decided to go after Paul Postma even though Gionta was heading in his direction. This left Grant Clitsome wide open on the right side. Clitsome had space, Salvador was stuck in no man's land, and the shot went off hedberg's glove and in. Not a good play by Josefson, not a good goal by Hedberg, and the penalty kill woes continue. The Devils were getting sloppy in their own end prior; Eric Tangradi got behind everyone and forced a point-blank stop by Hedberg, for example. It continued into their offense when Adam Larsson shot was blocked high by Kane, it went right to Alexander Burmistrov, and so he and Kane split the D for a breakaway. Kane got ahead, Hedberg bizarrely came out of his net to deny him, so Kane easily went around him and put the puck into the net before hitting it himself. Lovely highlight for the Jets and the Devils' long possession turned into a GA thanks to one error followed by another.
You would think that down 3-2, the Devils would show some fire. That they would make the effort to tie it up. It's a one-shot game so surely the Devils would go out there and try to find it. Score effects suggest that normally happens. Not in this third period. The Devils only got five shots on net. Five. And it wasn't like they missed the net or got blocked a lot. No, they just didn't even make the attempts. They had more shifts getting the puck in deep in Winnipeg's end and somehow come out of it without even firing it towards Ondrej Pavalec for minutes at a time. OK, Volchenkov's kneeing penalty on Tangradi took two minutes off the clock. But after that? Not much. After Andrew Ladd picked a corner after Marek Zidlicky lost a puck to Blake Wheeler on the boards and a short feed by Bryan Little to make it 4-2? Nah. The only passion they showed was in arguing to the ref about an early whistle in the crease, where Hainsey gloved the puck. Even after that, the Devils were content to wait for a lane instead of throwing caution to the wind. Even with six skaters on the ice for much of the last three minutes, the attempts weren't there. No passion, no desperation, no fire, no effort, and so no hope. At least they didn't concede the ENG.
The only people in red who seemed to care in that third period were the Devils fans, who were understandably unhappy. It was a 2-3 game after two yet the Devils didn't play like it. That's who I feel bad for. It would be one thing if the Devils tried real hard to make a comeback and it didn't happen. It wouldn't be so bad to find one and lose because Ladd fired a wonder-shot. But that wasn't the case. The Jets out-shot the Devils 7-5 in the third, and they weren't a surgical or precise five shots on net. Even if the ref did grant a power play late or allowed the goal after the early whistle, their third period play dictated a loss. That's why there were many boos and unhappy faces at the end. That's why fans here and elsewhere are vocally unhappy about the team's performances. The fans showed up for sixty minutes with another sellout, but the players couldn't be bothered. In short: Phbbbbbbbbbbbbbt.
The Opposition Opinion: Derek Gagnon is pleased with what the Jets did in his instant recap at Arctic Ice Hockey. As he should.
The Game Highlights: There were some highlights in this game. More of them for the visitors than the home team. Here's the video from NHL.com:
Loose Moose: Martin Brodeur was supposed to start but he pulled himself out in warm-ups. According to this report by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Brodeur suffered a sore back and tweaked it prior to the game. Brodeur did dress as the backup, so I can't imagine it's so serious of an injury. Rather than risk it, Hedberg got the start. He was a real wild card today. He made some good stops. He made some amazing stops, like the point-blank robbery of Tangradi with the glove. He also should have stopped Clitsome's shot on the basis that if he got part of it, he should have had all of it. I don't think Salvador screened him that much and I think Moose would agree based on his body language after the goal. His decision to come out on Kane's breakaway was very strange and poor. I get the idea in general; come out hard and hope you knock it out. However, he came out in such a way that only his arms could reach it. Kane easily dodged him and so Hedberg turned what was a great chance for Kane to score into a near-guarantee. You didn't know what you were going to get from Moose this afternoon, for better or worse. All the same, the two second period goals he allowed hurt the team.
Train Warning: Giving up 27 shots in a game isn't bad. But the Devils really looked lost in their own end at times. There will always be shifts where the Devils will have some trouble getting the puck out of their end. It happens to everyone. It happened quite a bit to the Jets, in fact. Alas, when the Devils were pinned, they looked all out of sorts. Of the six, I'd say Anton Volchenkov looked particularly awful. He struggled with the puck at times. He lost his target in his own end a few times. He took two really unnecessary penalties; the latter being a dangerous kneeing call. The only real positive I can say for him is that he had two shots out of five attempts. But even then, it was an adventure when #28 was out there. Once again, he got limited minutes (14:26 TOI) and he deserved them. The rest of the defense had their own moments of silliness, like converging entirely on a puck carrier and ignoring an open winger. I'm just highlighting Volchenkov from my own observations.
Some Bright Spots on Offense: I like the fact that the Devils actually got 13 in the second period after two goals on eight in the first. They really did make an effort then to try and break through the game's score. It just didn't happen nearly at all in the third period, even when they went 6-on-5 late. Peter DeBoer did mix up their lines a bit and they looked good. I liked what I saw early from Ponikarovsky, Loktionov, and Bernier. They forechecked well, generated five shots on net (Loktionov was not credited for his shot before Bernier's jam goal), and got a goal out of one of their efforts. Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, and David Clarkson were a unit and they were successful early with seven total shots in the first two periods. Given that Zajac got three shots on net, it was further evidence that People Play Well With Patrik Elias. Problem is, they weren't so good later on.
Another weird bright spot was that the Devils actually were the better team on faceoffs today. They won 60%, going 32-for-53 overall. It's weird because the Devils have been consistently out-drawn every game such that I only notice when they aren't.
Third Period Flop: Again, the third period attack was few and far between. Ilya Kovalchuk showed up for two shots in the third but that was it; a real quiet game for #17 after being the standout player in D.C. for two games. The Devils really could have used a more effective night from him. I could say that about mostly everyone else based on the third period alone. Bobby Butler did very little on the top line and Adam Henrique only got one shot. David Clarkson did nothing in the third, Bernier didn't get anything, Loktionov didn't get anything after his unofficial shot in the first period, and the other forwards not named Elias (one shot) and Ponikarovsky (two shots) got anything towards the net. Not even the D chipped in. Passes went astray, attempts were passed up, and little was done. All evidence pointed to the Jets being vulnerable from the first two periods. Not that you would know it in the third.
The Return of Josefson: Jacob Josefson returned to New Jersey as Stefan Matteau was kept out after being banged up a bit from the last Washington game. Josefson had an evening to forget. He made bad decisions in coverages on the first and third goals against today, he generated no offense, and only played 8:57 in part of the former two points. Maybe he needed more confidence from Albany. It sure looked it today.
The Top Gunner: Evander Kane really is a fantastic player. He had a great night with six shots on net, strong play at both ends, and creating and finishing a breakaway that ultimately won the game. The Jets faithful clearly appreciate him. Tonight's game was one of the reasons why anyone who doesn't should.
Special Teams Sucked: The power play got four shots on net over two man advantages and there was little sustained pressure. There were more failed zone entries and dump-ins than shots on Pavalec. Another poor power play performance. The PK yet gave up another goal but they at least got one successful kill, their first from the last three. By the by, the Jets snapped a 0-for-21 power play streak. Of course it would be against the Devils because the Devils have been caught with opposing players exposed for a majority of the power play goals against from the last two weeks or so. I'll go into more detail with a post tomorrow about that with a lot of pictures.
Why So Discouraged?: Part of the reason why I sound so negative is that I just had to witness another game where the Devils came up short when they could have performed better. It's not easy to watch and it's worth criticism. We also have to consider the standings. While the Devils have been near the top of the Atlantic, the standings are very tight. The Devils only earned three out of six potential points last week and with games outside of the Atlantic, now is the time to pull away from Philly and the two New York teams. But with performances like this one, they're not only not getting ahead but they're slipping in the Eastern Conference. Losing two in a row is far from the end of the world. But they're deserving of these defeats and if they don't fix it soon, then they'll find themselves looking up at many teams. You may be surprised but those who follow the game-to-game performances won't be.
A Last Point: There were indeed fireworks after today's game. It happened on Mulberry Street. There were clearly more explosiveness there than any of the Devils in the game's final twenty minutes. With three days before the next game, I certainly hope they'll find some before travelling to Manitoba.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and through Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. What did you think of the Devils today? Did anyone on the Devils have a good game overall in your eyes? Who on the Jets impressed you? What do you think needs to change for the team to get back to winning ways on Thursday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments. Thank you for reading.