Six losses in a row. The New Jersey Devils are mired in a slump. The scoring has come at a premium. The slot remains open at seemingly the wrong time everytime. The goaltending is either hung out to dry or too soft to get wet. The special teams haven't been. Tonight, the sixth loss came at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils lost 5-2 and each period was representative of what one would see in a bad game.
The first period is common to several of the recent Devils game: good performance, good possession, and losing due to one mistake. The Devils out-shot the Lightning 10-4. They racked many attempts. A line of Travis Zajac, Ryan Carter, and Steve Bernier actually thrived out there. Ilya Kovalchuk was seemingly everywhere on offense. The Devils won pucks, won battles, and did it all but score on Anders Lindback. Alas, one lost battle on defense by Bryce Salvador to someone named Ondrej Palat yielded Mark Fayne trying to cover Cory Conacher behind the net. He was too late as Nate Thompson was all alone in the slot and one-timed it home to make it 0-1 Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay looked second rate throughout the period, but one foul-up by New Jersey and it's a deficit. Story of most of this streak of futility.
The second period was a straight-up awful period. I understand coaches make adjustments but I highly doubt the Lightning simply got better. No, the Devils got worse. They struggled to move the puck up ice and to turn it into shots on net. The Lightning, on the other hand, found it easier to gain the zone and make things happen. Their second goal came off a rush, starting with a Bernier shot blocked out by Keith Aulie. With all three forwards in deep, it was a three on two for Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Alexander Killorn. Salvador went up on Lecavalier, making it a 2-on-1 between Killorn and St. Louis against Fayne. Fayne got caught, Killorn fed St. Louis, and the shot was academic though it bounced off Moose. 2-0 Tampa Bay. Ten minutes and very little from New Jersey later, Killorn picked up a rebound, shed off a check by Salvador, carried the puck into the high slot like he was Kovalchuk, and ripped a low wrist shot that beat Hedberg. Maybe Moose should have had that one. Maybe Salvador should've tried defending the guy. Even if there was a save, Lecavalier was right in front for a rebound. All the same, it's 3-0 Tampa Bay, the Devils look miserable, and the fans cheer a goaltending switch. Keith Kinkaid got the love at the Rock (a simple save on a low & slow shot elicited a big one, proving the concept of the soft bigotry of low expectations driving fan support), but the boos were present at the end for a 4-shot effort by the Devils. Yes, that's right, in the middle of getting pounded by Tampa Bay and scored on twice, they put a mere four on net. The players certainly didn't play to the score. Seeing Krys Barch and Cam Janssen getting shifts was indicative that Peter DeBoer threw up his hands and said "welp." The other skaters weren't giving him much reason to care with, you know, only four shots on net while losing their sixth game in a row. They could have had much more had they bothered to aim at the net. Witnessing David Clarkson put more effort into fighting a guy than, you know, trying to score was further evidence of just giving up. In fact, adding up all of the beefs the Devils got involved in, they had more of those events than shots on net which was simply terrible.
The third period continued more of the same only with a different goalie and a twist for the final seven minutes or so. While the Devils had every reason to attack and make a game of it, it was surprisingly even. It nearly went awry early when a turnover by Adam Larsson yielded a breakway for Steve Stamkos. Amazingly, Kinkaid denied him. Was it the play that would help inspire a team to get it together? No. The Lightning gave back as good as the Devils took it to them and went a step farther. A lost faceoff led to a clearance and Conacher torching Salvador. While Larsson was back to recover and Andrei Loktionov hustled back to pick up Pierre-Cedric Labrie. Salvador went over towards Conacher and no one picked up Thompson in the slot. As he got the puck, Labrie stopped in front of Kinkaid so it wasn't just an open Bolt in the slot, but with a screen. Thompson got his second of the night to make it 4-0. Given that shots ended up 13-10 in favor of New Jersey, it's fair to say that the Lightning made a point of it not to sit on 3-0. They didn't and got rewarded.
The Devils muddled about until they got a break on a penalty kill of all situations. As Stephen Gionta was serving two minutes for chopping & breaking Adam Hall's stick, Ryan Carter got a puck loose from three visitors to Adam Henrique who made a nifty deke to slide one through Lindback's five hole. It appeared to be a consolation goal until Labrie got tagged for a similar slashing call in breaking Henrique's stick. The Devils, believe it or not, scored on the resulting power play. A Kovalchuk one-timer from the right point where he belongs led to
Clarkson Zajac digging the puck out and Elias finishing the rebound. The Devils pressed hard for more and Loktionov came incredibly close on the flank. He had an empty net, the puck went laterally, and just before it bounced off Lindback and into the net, a Lightning defender cleared it off the line. Henrique's shorty was the spark that got the Devils back to pressing the issue like they did in the first period. Alas, there would be no late comeback. Loktionov's chance was the closest; the team played with an extra man; and B.J. Crombeen got the empty netter to seal the win.
Essentially, the Devils played a good first period and put up a somewhat admirable effort late. But they got burned on a mistake, rolled over in the second period, and put up too little, too late in the third. It was a buffet of bad at the Rock by the home team. As much as I can appreciate the team not getting shutout, it was arguably their worst game since their 5-1 loss at Washington two Saturday's ago. There was no need to activate two useless players, Salvador & Fayne looked poor - especially the Captain, and the offense that was productive in the first period just went into hiding after the first until Henrique got a great chance and scored. The few positives from tonight are two-fold: the PK was perfect and the power play snapped their epic streak of failure. Yet, overall, performances like this aren't going to lead to wins. This isn't like Toronto last night where the Devils played very well for two periods and lost due to one bad period and bad goaltending. Or the Buffalo game where the Devils smacked their opposition around in possession but ended up needing to tie. No, this was a Bad Game. I'm hoping it's rock bottom because I really don't want to think how it can be any worse right now.
The Opposition Opinion: For the sixth straight recap, the opposition has every reason to smile. Cassie McClellan has this short recap over at Raw Charge.
The Game Highlights: This video from NHL.com has a Devils power play goal in it. It truly does exist. Here:
Captain & Fayne: My goodness do Salvador and Fayne look bad on the first three goals against tonight. Raise your ire a little more at Salvador as it appears Fayne dropped to help when Salvador lost it on Thompson's first and Salvador got beat by Alex Killorn for the third. While he wasn't with Fayne on the play, he doubled-up on Conacher to no affect, which helped leave the middle wide open for Thompson before his second goal. Fayne got caught out and so all he could do was lunge for Conacher's pass and miss. I'm still not quite sure what Fayne decided to do before St. Louis scored. Did he want to deny the pass? Was he trying to cover St. Louis? Whatever it was, he just looked dumb on that one. Not a good night for that pairing at all.
If the idea is to hold players accountable for bad games, then ordinarily, Salvador would draw the coaches' attention. But he's the captain so watch as Fayne gets punished or something like that.
Defending the Decision to Start Moose: Johan Hedberg got the start for this one. He was very bad in Toronto but I see the sense in the decision. The team has not been scoring a lot of goals, they've been on a losing streak, and their opponent, while poor in possession, has the weapons to light the lamp. That's not a good situation to try out anyone new. Now, if the Devils were scoring goals more regularly and not playing as if it's over when they're down one or two goals, then it would be a different story. But they haven't, so I get going with the vet.
I honestly felt bad for Moose that there calls for Kinkaid after St. Louis' goal and that the switch elicited a lot of cheers. He probably should have stopped Killorn's goal but, again, even if there was a save, Lecavalier was in a perfect spot to put any rebound back in. There were some cheers for Moose as he was leaving the ice; but given the loud applause for even the simplest of Kinkaid's stops, it was clear the fans wanted a change. It would be one thing if he played like he did against Toronto. Had, say, Salvador or Fayne played better tonight, he doesn't give up three. It would have helped him if he had a goal or something to work with, too.
Would the Devils have won with Kinkaid starting? I did like what he did in net in relief and he came up big on a Stamkos breakaway of all situations. The goal against certainly wasn't his fault. All else being equal, which would include the skaters' performance, I don't think starting the rookie would have changed the result in my opinion. Two of the three allowed by Moose weren't his fault either unless you think it's his job to cover the slot. I'm just hoping the back of Martin Brodeur is feeling good for Thursday.
Narrative Watch: The new word is "confidence." Hedberg's confidence is apparently wrecked. I don't know if this is code for "he didn't do much" like Bobby Butler or "he was present for a lot of bad things and didn't do so well" like Jacob Josefson. Maybe it's something different. Me? I think he just was awful in Toronto, made some bizarrely bad decisions in the games against Winnipeg, made one atrocious turnover in D.C., and possibly should've stopped one out of three tonight. He did not and does not need confidence. He needed to make better decisions and more saves then and to do so in the future. Easier said than done, but not as easy as a narrative.
Suspend Janssen: Thanks to Nicholas Scibetta at the SBN Hockey hub site, there is video of what led to Janssen's charging minor in the second period.
Janssen led with his arms, hits Conacher high and in the head, and Janssen at least got one foot up going into the hit. In conclusion, it was a terrible and reckless move by a terrible player. He should be suspended for it. And I don't think there would be many would miss him because, well, he can't play, even though someone thinks he can.
Incidentally, happy birthday, You Can Play project!
Gooned: I'm sure Peter DeBoer didn't wake up this morning and think, "Hey, our team played two good periods in Toronto and just didn't score enough to win. Let's call up Cam Janssen to put us over the top." I'm pretty sure the word for that call up came up on high. So Krys Barch and Cam Janssen got several shifts in which they showed that they could get beaten by speed, not win fights & scuffles, not be in position to make hits, not generate any shot attempts, and not do anything but increase their PIM count. Each only played a bit over five and six minutes respectively. The larger sticking point is that instead of playing guys who could help out in spots, there were wasted shifts spent. That's annoying.
C'mon Son: Likewise, so was David Clarkson's decision to fight in the second period. The team's down 3-0 and their leading goal scorer decides, "I need to throw down instead of generating shots that we don't have." I don't care if they would be weak backhanders on net. Weeks ago, he was a critical part of the offense. Tonight, it was like he was regressing to his 2009-10 form. Only two shots on net from him. To put it in perspective, Carter and Bernier each had three and Bernier had five attempts. Clarkson, if you're reading this for some reason, don't be like that old guy you were. Think like Kovalchuk did tonight: carry the puck in, speed around like you own the place, and shoot, shoot, and shoot some more.
A Power Play Success: For the first time since their last win, the Devils scored a power play goal. Kovalchuk took a one timer from the right point he's been at ever since he joined the Devils in 2010.
Clarkson Zajac battled for a rebound. Elias swooped in to bury it. I don't care if it's predictable, it's way better than rotating Kovalchuk, Marek Zidlicky, and Elias above the circles to yield Kovalchuk on the wrong side of his shot for little result. That's the set-up, now use it.
A Penalty Killing Success: Two power plays allowed, two shots allowed, and two shorthanded shots including a goal. You can't ask for much better than that.
Another Reason to Bang a Head at a Wall: Stamkos had only two shots on net tonight. He had a breakaway and was denied by Kinkaid. Given how he's been running through everyone in terms of production, that's actually quite good. The ace didn't beat the Devils tonight. The problem is that the Devils made it relatively easier for his teammates to carry the day. That's actually quite poor.
Aim! AIM!: The Devils got out-shot 10-4 in the second period but out-attempted Tampa Bay 13-9 at even strength. How can that be? Well, when the shots are just flung towards the net or into bodies instead of on net, then it's a struggle. I've noticed the defensemen have fired quite a few at evens tonight and in the Toronto game. I suspect opposing teams would rather give up the long shot to, say, Andy Greene instead of someone in front. Besides, the points will be open when the puck's worked down low. Considering they're just flinging pucks plus whatever the forwards do, and it's clear they need to aim more. It's a sign of possession to make attempts but they won't turn into goals if the puck's hitting the backboards, the glass, or a body.
How About Some Charts: Not tonight. Some quick tidbits to reward your patience: attempts were 9-10 in favor of Tampa Bay at evens in the third. Overall, it was 40-28. Given that the Devils were out-shot 22-18 at even strength over this game, we can say the Devils' offense had quite a bit of sound of fury signifying nothing. The first period really drove things home; Zajac's line crushed it; Teddy Purcell & Stamkos got crushed; Alexei Ponikarovsky was out there for a lot of good things, and Elias didn't have such a good night compared to what he has done in recent games.
Spoiler for Tomorrow's Post: The reason why tomorrow's post is going to come into the evening is because I wanted to see what happened tonight. It's going to be a closer look at the current slump. I'm assuming the Devils are going to take an even closer look than I will since they have more of a vested interest in getting out of it than I do.
Where do we go from here? What can the Devils do? What should they do after this game? Can it get any worse after six in a row, other than the obvious seven in a row? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thanks to those following along in the Gamethread and through @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.