Nine straight games without a win. The New Jersey Devils went in tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators with eight straight winless games. They got early power plays and didn't convert on them. They got a lot of shots on Craig Anderson in the first, second, and third period. They held the Senators to very few shots in each period. They killed both penalties against them without allowing any shots on net. Martin Brodeur had little to do for large stretches of the game. All of this should add up to a result. It did not. They lost 2-0. Again, they scored no goals. Again, they got beat by a bad bounce and a big error. Again, they lost. Nine straight games without a win.
Before you gripe about the title containing the overused-on-the-Internet term "epic," it really has been getting to that point. The longest losing streak the Devils have ever had was ten games way back in the dark days of 1983. The 2013 Devils are close to matching a thirty-year record of futility. I don't know the numbers from those games but I'm pretty sure the Devils likely didn't control possession, draw more calls than they took, have a myriad of attempts in the slot, and out-shoot their opponents by a 3:1 ratio back then. The effort's been there, the only thing that hasn't come from the game plan night-in, night-out was goals, and that only makes this particular winless streak more frustrating. It was like the four they scored on Boston two nights ago was just an oasis in a desert.
To be fair, Craig Anderson had a strong night in net and the post was made of metal again. The Senators got their break in front and made the most of a 2-on-0, yes a 2-on-0, breakaway. The Sens only needed one of those to be a goal. Then so what if they only got 11 shots on net and their top line got wrecked in possession; Anderson and Lady Luck kept denying the Devils over and over. It's enough to make you want to break something. Please don't, a losing result isn't worth breaking anything over - especially this ninth one in a row.
After the game, Peter DeBoer put the blame on himself and the other coaches for not figuring out a solution based on this post at Fire & Ice by Tom Gulitti. Well, fine, good, great, whatever. But I'm not sure what coach not named Matt Shaw is going to say. Take fewer shots? Allow more shots to the opposition? Be more lazy in the neutral zone, be lighter on the forecheck, and just hang out in your own end? Give up on some more board battles? Spend more time with the puck so a defender can knock it away instead of firing and missing? I'm not even sure what I'm going to say and I'm a naturally wordy fan with more opinions. I'm seeing shooting not unlike the John MacLean era only among better performances and the team's dropping games like it's going out of style. Of course some of this falls on the coaches, but what of the players? What of the opposition? What of the uncontrollable? I don't know.
What I do know is that this loss was a real deathblow. The Devils needed to win games two weeks ago. They obviously haven't done that. I know they're not mathematically out of it but they basically need to run the table and get help in the standings to really get in the top eight. I'd love to be proven wrong. I want to be proven wrong. But even with this team's best efforts it's not a guarantee they'll even score one goal. I'm unhappy, upset, and angry. You're unhappy, upset, and angry. The players and coaches and management are unhappy, upset, and angry. As we all should because this season is just about done before it actually is. Nine straight games without a win. We just can't hate it enough.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Faceoff Comparison | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Report | The Time On Ice Corsi & Fenwick Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Peter Raaymakers stated that the Senators stole two in New Jersey tonight in his recap at Silver Seven. Really. He did. Go read it. Pay attention to the image at the end of it, too. I'll bring it up here in case you didn't.
Let's Look at that Shot Chart: One of the few things ESPN is good for the hockey fan is that their gamecast page includes a visual shot chart based on what the counter recorded. While the counter's own methods may be off, it's better than nothing. So let's look at tonight's, which I got from Peter's recap at Silver Seven:
Look at all of the red X's in between the dots and towards the crease. Those are all shots on net in all situations. By my count, I see 17 shots. Jerry's eventual scoring chance count (I'm sorry he has to see these games again) may be less by being stricter; but it could be more as it would also include the many misses the Devils had when shooting from those spots. This meant that Anderson definitely didn't face 33 weak shots or anything like that. By the same token, it does make me wonder that the underlying assumption in getting shots in those locations - the assumption being the guy with the puck will know what to do - isn't quite right. Maybe the Devils' skaters don't know what to do with the puck in the slot. Maybe that's why these chances happen without the siren going off and everyone in the stands going "Whoo." or some similar noise. At this point it's all I got beyond Anderson being really good at what he does - and he was really good at what he does tonight - and transient ability not favoring the Devils.
No Man Advantage: The Devils had three power plays in the first period as well as an 84 second-long five-on-three. They got two shots on the 5-on-3 but did not score. They only got one other shot on their other power plays in the first. Talk about wasted opportunities to get up early. The Devils were a little more efficient on their two power plays in the second period with four shots on net, but again, no conversion and more failures getting started than getting set up to do something. If misses and failed zone entries counted for something, than this power play would be going somewhere. Instead, it's in the middle of the Town of Useless, lost and wondering where their head's at.
As far as the personnel, wow, does this team miss Ilya Kovalchuk. Adam Henrique appeared to me that he guessed wrong almost every time he made a decision in the offensive zone. Marek Zidlicky was all over the place from bad to good, when the team really needed him to be more consistent in what to expect at the point. I'm realizing more and more why Steve Sullivan was acquired for only a seventh round pick. Patrik Elias found the net tonight, but he could not find the way to put it in tonight. He led the team with five shotsm incidentally. Go Elias, I guess. I barely realized Travis Zajac was there (or in general - he had no shots on net tonight; his main positive was winning 80% of his faceoffs) outside of getting hi-sticked by Erik Condra that led to the 5-on-3 the Devils didn't score on in the first period. Peter Harrold was a non-factor. I know Ottawa has a really good power play but the Devils were really underwhelming with the man advantage tonight. This power play stunk tonight, they stunk against Boston, and they've stunked a whole bunch of other times. I think the underlying system stinks and it really shows without the presence of a player who can be two-minute anchor to either direct play or fire rockets on net from distance.
I Apologize For My Error...: Near the end of the game, I - with the ILWT Twitter account - accused David Clarkson of faking when he threw his head back like he was wont to do. I was mad that he just stopped to yell at the ref about a no-call while the play was going on and time was ticking down. I was quickly told by many people that he wasn't. Indeed, he was cut. I got that wrong. I'm sorry for that.
...So Will You Apologize for Your Performance?: I was not a fan of Clarkson tonight. He had three shots on net and only one of them was something resembling dangerous as the other two were from the outside of the circle by the sideboards. Clarkson was present quite a bit in Anderson's grill which only served to have shots get blocked away by his body rather than make life difficult for the goalie. His attempts at moves like his little toe drag or his wrap around were denied. He got lost on shifts. While down two goals and shortly after Adam Henrique took a retaliation penalty for being fouled, Clarkson felt he needed to throw down with Zach Smith for some reason. Yes, you're down two goals in what is essentially a must-win game, take yourself out of the game for five minutes because that is a thing you do. Like your attempts at drawing calls at times - hint: this may be why you didn't get the call near the end of the game, not like the Devils would do anything with a power play anyhow - the performance was rather dumb. For someone who scored a whole lot last season and was hot early, one would think that you should try to be an offensive player while in the top six instead of acting like you're the tough "energy" guy. But as this happens more frequently, I think more and more that I'll happily drive him to the airport when some other team (please let it be Toronto) throws buckets of money at him this summer.
The Refs Were Bad, But So What: Referees Wes McCauley and Ian Walsh let a lot of fouls go tonight. I'm not sure how Anderson got away with striking Henrique with the butt-end of his stick or how interference was missed in general. That said, the Devils did get four power plays and did nothing for those that were. While the officiating left a lot to be desired, it definitely didn't cause the Devils to lose. If anything, it just highlighted the Devils' lack of scoring further to the frustration of the fans.
This is Why Fans Complain About the Defense: The Devils allowed 11 shots on net. Eleven. That's incredible even if you figure the Devils scorer undercounts shots by one or two per game. The problem is that those eleven shots included this:
And especially this:
The result: Brodeur gets a hideous 81.8% save percentage for the night, a big hit to his season percentage, and people will look back at this and go, "Well, why can't Marty make a stop." The videos show that others are truly to blame.
For the first video, you may not blame anyone beyond possibly Mark Fayne and Andy Greene. Fayne gets to a dumped puck and plays it along to Greene. Maybe he should've fired it hard around the other way or just blast it along the boards. Greene plays it towards the middle as most defensemen do to get out of a battle and the puck just careens off the skates of Andrei Loktionov. The puck drops to Colin Greening, who fires a backhanded one-timer that Brodeur was about to glove. Only Jean-Gabriel Pageau gets right in front of the goalie ahead of Fayne to tip it up and over Brodeur's shoulder.
For the second, those who do not like Marek Zidlicky are currently trying their best to download the above video for their personal records. The Devils win a faceoff, Henrik Tallinder is about to collect it and Zidlicky for some inexplicable reason goes after the puck too and so runs into Tallinder. The resulting collision knocked the puck back and gave the space for Milan Michalek, who took the puck, and Daniel Alfredsson to rush up ice unopposed. I cannot tell you why Zidlicky felt he needed to go after the same puck Tallinder was in position to get. I do not know how the coaches are supposed to be at fault or find a solution for something like that. The two went for a give-and-go to make it easy for Michalek to beat a hung-out-to-dry Brodeur high. It also made the fans restless and I'm sure many more unhappy with #2. On a night where the Senators only got eleven shots, he was on ice for six of them - I wonder if that was really coincidence.
Still, on a night where Andy Greene plays rather well, Adam Larsson actually looked good in his own end, and the team just isn't giving up much to Ottawa territoriality or attempt-wise, these are the errors - both small and unfortunate to big and stupid - that people remember over something like allowing only 11 shots and 25 total attempts in the game. They'll remember moments like the goals. In my case, I recall Milan Michalek coming out of coverage with a breakaway and a drawn call against Harrold more than noting that that was only his second - and last - shot of the night. This is where the total lack of offense hurts; when bad things happen to or by the defensemen, there isn't always a response.
By the Way: Pageau's goal was his first in the NHL. But of course.
Also, By the Way: All of the Devils finished positive in Fenwick and Corsi. Only one Senator finished not in the red in both stats: defenseman Patrick Wiercioch (0/+1), who played 11:47 at evens. I'm not going to delve into it; the links are there if you'd like.
What's Up with Fayne?: Mark Fayne played one shift in the third period. I don't know why he was benched. According to the Devils' ice time report, Fayne played regular shifts in the second period after the first goal against. He played a very long shift as his final one in the second. Then he only appeared during a penalty kill in the third. I don't recall Fayne making any horrible error that would have caused him to get benched. If he did, then I'd love to know what Zidlicky's punishment would be for the second GA. Tallinder nearly handing Smith a golden opportunity to score (he hit iron) in the third period, too. Maybe he got hurt and therefore only played when he had to? I don't know but the fact he only got 12:27 of total ice time tells me he's going to sit when Bryce Salvador is ready to play.
Tomorrow is the Charity Game: Global (Russian and local to this area players) Hockey Legends (read: former pros) will play an exhibition game to raise funds for the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund at the Rock. It should be a fun time and it's for a good cause. I'll be there and I'll likely see more goals from the Devils alumni than the current crew. It'll make me half-seriously wonder whether some of them can run a power play or just find some way to score or something. I'll have a post about it later on Saturday if only as a diversion from this despairing winless streak.
So what now? What do you think the Devils should do after a game like this? Were there any Devils you felt had a good game? Which Devils stuck out to you in a bad way tonight? How much angrier should I be if something like this happens in Toronto on Monday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on the ninth winless game in a row in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and through @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.