Five winless games. It's been eleven days since the New Jersey Devils won a professional game of hockey in the National Hockey League. They had their chance tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They played a good first period. They played an even better second period. They went up 2-1 in the second periods. They came close to making it 3-1 as they didn't sit on the lead. All the Devils needed to do was to put together one more good period. Or even an average period. Just enough of a performance to keep the Leafs at bay as they have been all game long.
They did not. They laid an egg. A bad giveaway by Patrik Elias led to Jay McClement cutting to the slot and putting a short shot off the left post and Johan Hedberg before it fell into the net. It took 39 seconds for the Leafs to tie up the game. The following 19:21 was an exercise in frustration as the Leafs played like they were on New Jersey's level. After being out-shot 18-10 after two periods, they out-shot the Devils 13-12. After getting only a few odd man rushes as their offense, they actually carried the puck into New Jersey's end a few times and had strong shifts of offensive pressure. More importantly, they scored two more goals. Clarke MacArthur was all alone in front of Hedberg seconds after a power play began and put one past his stick from a missed poke check and through his open legs. A bizarre pinch by Marek Zidlicky minutes later yielded a two-on-one when the Devils couldn't keep the puck in deep. The two were James van Reimsdyk and Phil Kessel. The one was Andy Greene. Greene nor Hedberg had no chance as Kessel scored his first at the Air Canada Center all season to make it 4-2, Toronto Not even ten minutes into the third period and the score swapped from 2-1 to 2-4.
While there was plenty of time to make a game of it, I won't lie: my hopes of a comeback were slim to none. I was not the only Devils fan to feel that way. Part of that was because of their recent slide. In their previous seven games, the team scored exactly twelve goals. They haven't won in their last four and their only comeback attempt, Sunday at Buffalo, still only forced OT. Part of that was because the Leafs adjusted to what the Devils were doing and the Devils became less and less successful in what they were doing for two straight periods. It was plain by eyesight that the game changed, and it clearly helped the Leafs play one strong period to win it. Part of it was because Johan Hedberg was such a nightmare that even if the Devils did tie it up, who knows whether it would have lasted? The reality is that it's all three.
All the same, it's frustrating to see another third period "effort" yield a loss. I don't know what to tell you to make you feel any better. The losing streak can't last forever is true but it doesn't make me feel any better; I doubt it does for you. The Devils played two good periods but what does that mean if they essentially throw it all away in less than ten minutes? That they just need to extend it? That they need to be even better in those periods to put the game out of reach? That the goalie's got to play competently? The players and coaches know the answer, I think; they just haven't demonstrated it in action. They'll play Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Better luck tomorrow - maybe.
The Opposition Opinion: The folks at Pension Plan Puppets are likely still going "WHOOOOOO!!!!111" and such. Remember when we had reason to do that? That was fun. Anyway, I'm sure they'll have a post about the game at some point.
The Game Highlights: Moose probably doesn't want to you to watch this one from NHL.com:
The Corsi Charts: Again, Corsi counts all shot attempts. The Devils didn't just out-shoot the Leafs at even strength 28-18. They also racked up lots of blocks (20 total) and misses (21 total). Including those, the Devils out-attempted Toronto 58-35 tonight. It was 15-5 in favor of New Jersey in the first period; 23-14 for the Devils in the second period; and 20-16 in the third. That third period was notable in that shots and attempts were actually close. Shots were 12-10 in favor of New Jersey. But you'll come away thinking like I do, "Yeah, and the Leafs got two goals to New Jersey's none in the third at evens." To reiterate, the Devils controlled the play in the first two periods and not as much in the third.
Toronto's chart had a couple of zero event generators at evens. Surprise, surprise, it's their useless fourth line:
David Steckel, Colton Orr, and Frazer McLaren did nothing at evens. None of them had an attempt all game. As the chart shows, a lot of players got lit up. The Big Body Presence of Dion Phaneuf got beat. Korbinian Holzer got run over. Their "checking" line was a solid negative. Their top line was wrecked in possession; the Devils enjoyed playing against Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and James van Reimsdyk. Of course, each of those two lines got a goal at evens tonight. By the by, Toronto's best looking line from my eye and one of their most productive with eight shots total was the unit of Nazem Kadri, Clarke MacArthur, and Leo Komarov. They actually won their battle in possession. The Leafs could have used more of that in general tonight. Of course, their one goal at evens was a bit of a fluke: Kadri attempted a pass towards Komarov and Hedberg tipped the pass with his stick to knock it through his five-hole. Of course.
The Devils' chart is more impressive than even their chart from the Buffalo that I didn't post (aside: Kessel got run over in Corsi but not as badly as Nathan Gerbe on Sunday). This makes me more mad about the result:
The Zajac line pinned the Leafs back over and over and over. The onyl problem: they didn't get most of those 20+ events in their favor on net. Good things continued to happen with Ilya Kovalchuk and, for a change, his various linemates weren't as good as opposed to Kovalchuk sinking with some of them. Ryan Carter didn't have such a good night along with Stephen Gionta; and Marek Zidlicky did the worst among all defensemen at +2. Of course, Zidlicky scored two goals, Carter assisted on both, and Gionta set a screen on the first one. Hockey is a funny game, yet I'm not laughing.
Moose Sucked: There's no other way to put it. Hedberg made a mistake, an error, an oops, and went "derp" on Kadri's goal. He needed to hold on and corral McClement's shot but instead he fell into the net after the puck did. He was put into a bad spot on MacArthur's goal since Mark Fayne didn't think he had to cover the big man right in front of the net. Still, Hedberg had a chance to swipe the puck away; he should have; and instead, he got caught with his legs open. The only goal he allowed that wasn't his fault was the Kessel insurance goal - that would be on Zidlicky. Still, every shot on him was an adventure as rebounds went astray and it looked like Scott Clemmensen in net at times. Some fans want Keith Kinkaid in tomorrow. It's not so much because they feel he's ready but that Moose has been so out of it. Me? I'm hoping Martin Brodeur's back is good.
Zid Takes and Gives: Marek Zidlicky scored two sweet goals in the second period. They were great shots in the second period. They were wrist shots, something I didn't know he knew how to do properly. The first was just an excellent shot through a screen set by Gionta. The second was a hustle play off McLaren coughing up the puck. Zidlicky and Carter did a little give-and-go to get past Cody Franson and get one in. Given the general malaise about his approach to defense, they were moments of redemption.
Of course, he was on the ice for the most events against among all defensemen, which backs up the notion that his defending sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. More importantly, his decision to jump up led to the two-on-one that really iced the game. Even when he does some very good things, he does something that gives one pause about praising his night.
You Need A New System: It's not like the Maple Leafs have a terrible penalty kill. They're about average. They're OK. They do work. The Devils power play made them look marvelous. The Devils had 6:13 of power play time over four attempts. The fourth came at the very end of the game, so that doesn't matter as much. Still, the Devils had three full power plays, one of which that could've put the Devils further ahead at the time. They only got two shots on James Reimer. Two! And they both came on the first one they had! This current system is simply not working. It's infuriating that Ilya Kovalchuk can go coast-to-coast to carry the puck into the zone at even strength but can't do it with an extra man. It's maddening that the Zajac line can pass the puck into the Leafs' end over and over but can't do it on a power play. It's enraging that this team repeatedly gets opportunities and can't must more than just one or two shots on net - assuming they even try to do that. Their system is not working. Something's got to change.
A Note for Mr. Cangelosi, Re: Power Play: It's not pressure if they're not attempting shots. It's just standing around with the puck.
Bah: Even though the Devils dominated in possession, I was left feeling wanting with some of the performances. Kovalchuk had nine of attempts but only three got to the net. Andrei Lokitonov got a lot of minutes and some power play time but his big moment was tripping Tyler Bozak that led to the game winning power play goal. Travis Zajac hit a post and only got one other shot. David Clarkson got four out of seven attempts on Reimer. Patrik Elias got two out of six, including one absolute robbery by Reimer. You'll notice that the common theme is that while plenty of Devils got a couple of shots on net, they could have had more with a little more accuracy. Some of that could have come on the power play that has been so shot-deficient. Some of that would have kept the play down low rather than dish it out to the defense. I'll admit I'm bitter about it because of the loss and the fact the Devils have now scored fourteen goals out of their last eight games. And I understand that Reimer played a very good game. It doesn't make me feel much better though.
Incidentally, I did really like how the defensemen generally did at the blueline to keep the puck in and the offense going in the first two periods. Mark Fayne hit a post with a long shot and plenty of others got in deep or on net. However, it wasn't 100% perfect and when someone got caught, an odd-man rush ensued. The Leafs had a couple of them in the second period that nearly cost them. It wasn't as useful in the third and when Zidlicky pinched that one time, it yielded the big goal Kessel and van Reimsdyk made it happen. Bah.
A Final Point: Normally, you'd see a post from me on Wednesday mornings. With a game tomorrow that I'd like to include in what I want to write about for that day, I'm going to put that up sometime in the evening. Let us hope with our hearts and souls it's not going to come after a sixth winless game.
What did you make of tonight's loss? Who do you think had the worst game in your eyes from the Devils? Who should have done better but didn't? Who did you think did well despite the loss? What would you suggest the Devils should do with their power play? What other feeling did you have about this third period failure by the Devils? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 4-2 loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who participated in the Gamethread and followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.