Futility for the 2013 New Jersey Devils hit a new low as they extended their current winless streak to seven games. They did get one point but they didn't get that needed second point against the Buffalo Sabres. Once again, the Devils went to a shootout against Buffalo and lost for a 3-2 final score. Once again, the Devils out-shot their opponent by a significant margin: 39-26. Once again, the Devils out-attempted their opposition at even strength by a significant margin: by 7 without blocks, by 11 including blocks. Once again, the Devils needed an additional scoring, didn't get in regulation, didn't get it in overtime, and didn't get even one in the shootout. Once again, the opposition goaltender - Ryan Miller tonight - was busy, active, and successful. Once again, the Devils needed a win tonight, didn't get it, and their playoff hopes took another big hit. I could say, at least they got a point, but that's missing the larger one.
I could also say a lot more except I need to level with you: I didn't see this game on TV along with the rest of you. Those of you who follow along in the Gamethread probably figured out I wasn't there. Those of you who follow the blog's Twitter account that I run probably noticed it was unusually quiet. And if you follow my own account on Twitter, you know exactly where I was: at MetLife Stadium for Wrestlemania 29. Despite the repeat main event (and repeat co-main event), it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and so I went there to enjoy it. And I greatly did.
However, how can I properly recap something I haven't seen? As much as I like to use stats to back up observations or refute my own, it's pointless to review a game and come to some conclusion or opinion on what went on without seeing it. There are two options: watch the game right now and recap it way early in the AM while I'm dead tired or provide a truncated recap that includes the usual links and update it later today after viewing the game. Either would be much better than winging it based on the available stats (e.g. the possession numbers suggest Buffalo loved playing against Adam Larsson and the Devils turned Mike Weber into a turnstile), the game highlights (speaking of: what an awful giveaway by Andy Greene on the first GA and I'm literally baffled as to why Anton Volchenkov was so high up in his own zone prior to the second GA. Much love to special teams tonight for contributing, though.), and what I read in the Gamethread (welp). I'm choosing the latter because the final result doesn't appear to justify losing a lot of sleep over it.
So I apologize for the inconvenience - this will likely push out Monday's post - and compromise but I'll get to finish it. Unlike the Devils for much of the last eight weeks now apparently.
4/8 12:05 PM EDT Update: The game has now been watched, my additional thoughts are now included.
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: Zachary Zielonka called the gamethread over at Die by the Blade the TANKThread. Well, so much for that. At least he had a win to recap.
The Game Highlights: I've only seen the four goals in regulation so here's what I know is in this NHL.com game highlight video: Wince at Greene setting up Jochen Hecht, who set up Patrick Kaleta for a score! Elate over Steve Sullivan putting one in from in close! Wonder why Marek Zidlicky was caught on an island while Steve Ott was open in the slot! Cheer as Mark Fayne (!?) scored a shorthanded goal! Roll your eyes at the Devils not getting any other goals despite the apparent effort!
Watch this Space: There will be more later today. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience but I assure you, I will have plenty to share after watching this one. In the meantime, please give your take on the game in the comments.
So Familiar: I swore I saw this kind of game recently. Like in Boston on Thursday. Like the first period against Toronto on Saturday. Like in a whole bunch of other games from the last eight weeks or so. The Devils really pushed the issue, their forecheck gave Buffalo a lot of problems - especially in the second period, and they got a wide array of shots both in-close and from distance at Miller (and with plenty of white jerseys in front of Miller for those). Yet: everything but the goals. Rather, the Devils got no goals at even strength. Not for a lack of effort, heart, passion, intelligence, integrity, intensity, or whatever else you want to call it. Blame Miller and fortune, I suppose.
At the other end, the Sabres benefited from one awful giveaway and one breakdown in coverage to give them two even strength goals. Again: the Devils needed near-perfect defense to get a win in regulation and it didn't happen. Andy Greene had an atrocious giveaway to Jochen Hecht in the high slot early in the game and Patrick Kaleta just blew by Greene in the corner to get to the spot for the game's first goal. The second goal against wasn't quite as obvious but a collection of errors starting with Marek Zidlicky getting beat to an iced puck, Anton Volchenkov chasing Nathan Gerbe to the left point, and neither Travis Zajac or Zidlicky dropping into the slot which led Steve Ott to be open when he got there. Pass, pass, top-shelf score. Maybe Brodeur shouldn't have tried the Hasek-esque windmill pad stop but neither were his fault. Blame defensive errors.
As an aside: I'm a little miffed that Buffalo's two biggest jerks both scored. Maybe Sabres fans are as well given how much grief they can bring to their own team at times.
So What Wasn't Familiar: For one: the opening of the game. The Sabres really did a good job for the first 10-15 minutes tonight. The Devils were struggling to get out their own end. Greene's turnover wasn't the only one they had from their corners and there was a lot of scrambling just to get the puck back and dump it away from the red line. The Devils' own offense was undercut by all that early on. It speaks to the Devils' effort and the Sabres' lack of quality that as time went on, the ice seriously tilted towards Buffalo's end. How tilted was it? The Buffalo fans actually jeered their own team when they cleared the puck out of their zone a few times in the second and third periods.
For another: pinches were far, far better tonight. Corsi and Fenwick only count shooting attempts; if there was a a time of possession stat, then the Devils would have looked far better by that regard. A lot of that is due to how the Devils kept the puck in at the blueline. Alas, all we have is what we have. Regardless, Zidlicky was great at this in Buffalo and a lot of offense at evens was generated by this. Greene and Fayne were good and even Larsson had a couple of notable ones. It really kept the Devils having opportunities to generate opportunities, which is what you want a team to do regardless of whether they're struggling to score goals or they're getting them quite often.
For a third observation: It appeared that the shooting locations were better. I expect a good number of chances to be counted for New Jersey by Jerry when he gets to it. I liked David Clarkson not just firing away at will. I enjoyed seeing Andrei Loktionov taking more initiative and finishing with four shots. Elias, Sullivan, and Bernier were all active as well. Bernier has some right to talk to himself after getting denied by Miller's stick shaft right in front of the net in the second period. That was the play that eventually ended with Ott's goal. If this continues, the goals will come. Of course, I've been saying that for a while just like LA Kings fans last season.
As a fourth unfamiliarity from recent games: both special teams by the Devils were quite good. That deserves it's own separate point.
The Quite Good Special Teams by the Devils in Buffalo: Obvious title is obvious but there really can't be any complaints about the special teams. After all, they got the two goals the Devils needed to move the game beyond regulation. The penalty killers not only didn't concede a goal but also held Buffalo to only two shots. That in of itself is quite good. What made it better was that the Devils got a shorty. Dainius Zubrus took it out of the zone and just sliced through and around Buffalo power players. Seriously, not even Christian Ehrhoff, one of Buffalo's best players in the game, made a serious attempt to stop him. Zubrus curled around the net, found Mark Fayne just above the high slot, and he got one in low. It was Fayne's first goal of the season and one finish off an excellent individual effort by Zubrus. All told, a great PK night.
I also liked what I saw from the power play. Against Toronto on Saturday, the Devils got five power plays and only one shot on net. Against Buffalo, the Devils got five power plays, got ten shots on net, and scored a goal right away on their first power play. The goal itself was a neat play. Steve Bernier won the puck behind the net, when around, and found Steve Sullivan for an easy re-direction. That's Sullivan's first goal as a Devil since
ancient times 1997. The other power plays varied in terms of how much offense they got and many of the shots were from distance. But those shots from distance did have at least one body in front of Miller to make it difficult and I'd rather have that than the lack of them that we saw on Saturday. And, hey, they got one goal. Can't complain about a PP that had some success.
Oh, Travis: You can complain about Travis Zajac against Buffalo because he didn't have a good night. While he came out well in possession like most of the Devils, he was one of two skaters without a shot on net tonight. (The other was Ryan Carter). Zajac came close in overtime when he got sprung for a one-on-one but Tyler Ennis hustled back to deny Zajac from even getting a shot off. He didn't really cover for Volchenkov before Ott scored. He took two really silly and unnecessary penalties, too. The first was shoving Tyler Myers down into Miller while Patrik Elias had the puck. The second was roughing up Myers during the Devils' fifth power play, which ended it early. It's not like he set up a lot of great plays either. Why he was picked for the shootout was beyond me. Overall, not a good night for the center.
You Needed to be Better: The Not-Existent Big Wheel of Defensive Errors for GAs turned up Greene tonight but I felt he did OK after that botch. He did have a challenge at times because his original partner for the game was Adam Larsson and he did not have a good game. Whenever Larsson was on the ice, the Sabres managed to attack more often than not. Witnessing him stand about or be just a little slower to react was concerning to say the least. I was surprised to see he even got about twenty minutes at evens. Managing the rather negative Corsi and Fenwick differentials on a team that was mostly positive was proof of his night. For a guy who was scratched in recent games precisely because of his play in his own end, he needed to be less tentative. None of that led to a GA so maybe he'll get another game or two figuring it out. If he doesn't, don't say it was without cause.
Oh, Captain: Bryce Salvador managed to get picked on almost as much early on in the game, if not more so. The captain struggled with the speed of Buffalo early on and #24 was constant during Buffalo's initial. In his defense, he played better as time went on and managed to get fortunate on a few stops on a few late 2-on-1s for Buffalo. Unlike Larsson, he somehow worked his way up to the break even point. Since Salvador also played about twenty minutes at evens, I presume he either improved or Buffalo was pinned back more often while he was out there so he didn't have to defend nearly as much.
Up Tempo Overtime: I will say this, the game really opened up in 4-on-4 play and it gave Buffalo some of their best chances since the first 10-15 minutes of the game. Good on Martin Brodeur to make the saves needed to avoid a loss in OT. Not so good on the Devils skaters to not continue to do as they did for much of the game. At least it didn't cost the Devils but in the shootout, well, that did it. I'm not really unhappy about the shootout.
The best way to avoid those kinds of losses is to score more goals in regulation or get one in OT to avoid it entirely. But as you and I know, that hasn't happened in most games for weeks now. While the Devils did a lot right, yet again, the goals didn't happen. So it was another very good performance but no goals means the result is lacking. And right now, the Devils can't afford that - presuming they still have any realistic hopes at the playoffs at this juncture.
Here are a few questions to get things going. What should I be looking for? Was it another good performance, bad result night? What can the Devils do differently defensively other than not make boneheaded errors in their own end to help the opposition out? What can the Devils do on offense - something that could be asked for weeks now? Is there any real reason to still think this team has a shot at playing beyond April? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the game in the comments. This will be updated later today. Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and thank you for reading.