Ah, the shootout. The New Jersey Devils were the best in the league at it under the prior CBA. However, the past has no bearing on the present. The Devils are the worst in the league in shootouts. They continued their futility with no goals so only one shooter from the other team needed to convert. They sit on 1-for-23, and Reid Boucher, who had the one, didn't even put the puck on frame. As a result, the Devils dropped another point for the seventh time this season. Tonight's beneficiary are the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have made post-regulation hockey their main way of not falling apart. The result was 3-2.
It's not as if the Devils did not try to avoid it. Toronto's notoriously leaky with respect to possession and shots against; and New Jersey took full advantage. They did miss a lot with 23 official misses. They did find a lot bodies instead of Jonathan Bernier and the net with 22 attempts blocked. But one can't say the accuracy was too bad as they did register 38 shots on net. That's a total of 83 attempts on net, which is crazy. Especially since the Devils played just about 65 minutes last night. Toronto had moments of excitement but they spent most of the game coming back on defense with only 25 shots on net, 14 attempts blocked, and nine misses - or 48 attempts.
The problem has been the same problem of the last few weeks: the pucks aren't going in. Jonathan Bernier definitely was good. He had to be all season given the guys in front of him. He had to be tonight given all of the red, white, and black he saw in his area. But the one timers, the two-on-ones, the rebound attempts, the crashing of the net, the long shots through traffic, and everything in between often stayed out. One would have had some hope for better since the Devils did score two goals. A lovely shot by Adam Henrique on a power play and a breakaway goal from Ryane Clowe. But despite their efforts, they didn't get that desired third goal.
Against Toronto, struggles or otherwise, they just have this way of somehow staying in games despite getting wrecked so much. They did flip the script by having one goal leads taken away instead of rising up to a heartbreaking shift or play. It's still disappointing all the same to see the Devils do so much and get so little. Especially with three arguably better teams up ahead on the road. At the risk of rationalizing, the Devils did at least earn a point. Arguably they could have gotten the second, but the shootout remains a massive failure.
The Opposition Opinion: Please visit Pension Plan Puppets for a response from the Leafs side. I'm sure they are happy Randy Carlyle gets to live to coach another day.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's the highlight video for tonight's game, featuring Ryane Clowe's first goal as a Devil.
First Period Typical: The first period went just like seemingly every Devils-Leafs game since 2013. The Devils control most of the period in terms of possession and attempts. All four lines swarmed and there were numerous chances where you'd hope the puck would just find a Devil stick to throw into the net. Tyler Bozak nearly did it himself when his backcheck to break up a pass forced a quick stop by Jonathan Bernier. The Devils perhaps weren't crisp in Toronto's end, but they won a lot of battles to keep attacks going. They found the holes in the neutral zone to gain entry with relative ease. Toronto went a long stretch of doing little, highlighted by Mason Raymond leading a 3-on-2 rush only to drop the puck back to nobody. And after all of that, the Devils end up down 1-0 at the end of the first.
Those who don't like Bryce Salvador have plenty of reason to not like him. He coughed up the puck right in front to James van Riemsdyk. I still can't figure out what he was thinking for his decision to skate it out by the net instead of firing it around the boards. Cory Schneider bailed him out, but Toronto was able to recover. For one shift, the Devils looked as lost as the Leafs on defense. A netmouth scramble ensued and Bozak managed to find treasure in the trash to make it 1-0 Toronto. At least it wasn't a totally crazy fluke, but representative of how these games have gone. The Devils did a lot right and forced Bernier to make a lot of quick decisions; but they end up on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
Second Period Atypical: This second period featured three main parties: the Devils, the Leafs, and the refs. Both Ghislain Hebert and Tom Kowal were involved heavily throughout the period. They tagged the Leafs twice and the Devils four times: all high-sticking calls. Colton Orr tripping Ryan Carter down and giving him multiple shots away from the play, well, that wasn't called for anything. The Devils did benefit when a Bozak goal was waved off for incidental contact on Schneider. There wasn't any real contact on Schneider so the Leafs faithful can feel aggrieved for that one. Both teams made one of those calls count. Adam Henrique ripped a great shot off a great cross-ice pass by Ryane Clowe for an early PPG. As the Devils were under a lot of pressure on their four PKs, the second one (and not long after the first ended) proved costly when James van Riemsdyk banged in a rebound.
But the Devils would hit back with a response. Specifically, Marek Zidlicky hit Clowe for a brilliant pass up ice to spring him for a breakaway. Clowe finished it for his first goal as a New Jersey Devil and a 2-2 score. Despite other power plays, Mike Sislo hitting the post on a 2-on-1, Travis Zajac passing up a shot for a sharper angled try by Jaromir Jagr on another 2-on-1, and so much more, that was the score at the end of the period. The Devils looked very good whenever there was even strength as they out-shot the Leafs 8-2. The Devils' power plays weren't bad at all, but the Leafs had more advantages and so they did a bit more as they led 8-4 in power play shots.
I can only wonder what could have been had the period stayed in 5-on-5 more often. Maybe the Devils would have found more success at scoring? They had plenty of swarming shifts. The penalties just hurt and as much as I hated the no-call on Orr, they don't excuse sticks hitting players high. Especially, Boucher doing it after a kill and Salvador, continuing his bad night, doing it after an awesome post-power play shift by Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, and Dainius Zubrus. By the intermission, who was luckier? The Devils surviving that much pressure from Toronto's power play, the one area they are legitimately good at? Or the Leafs for not conceding in between calls?
A Slower Third Period: After one wild second, play slowed down a bit in the third. Teams weren't hitting each other with power shifts. The Devils returned to holding an advantage in possession, though more of their attempts weren't on-target as opposed to those that were. As such, the Devils only out-shot the Leafs 7-6. But it was much like the first period where the Devils would just swarm the Leafs. The puck just didn't find the net. The Devils did get a great opportunity late when Joffery Lupul - who did play tonight - tripped Carter in New Jersey's end. It was squandered in the usual way by the Devils' power play has been all season. Still, the Devils did most of the dictating on the ice.
A Dominant Overtime: That dictation continued in overtime. Toronto had two dangerous rushes and put none of those pucks on net. New Jersey did put four on Bernier out of at least seven attempts. Even with the additional fatigue of playing late last night, the Devils were applying pressure right to the very end. But again, they created good looks but Bernier got to them and if not him, then not on target.
A Typical Shootout: Again, no shooter hit the net. Jaromir Jagr was one of three Devils to not register a shot on net, though he certainly tried with one attempt blocked and five misses. He just had the puck poked away from a stopping move. Ryane Clowe, who did score on a breakaway and had a very good game in general, was stopped on a shot that would have likely hit the outside of the net. Reid Boucher, holder of the lone shootout goal this season, tried to go high and went high. All Toronto needed was James van Riemsdyk, one of the few Leafs who had a very good game with a rebound power play goal among his six shots, to beat Schneider.
At this point, I don't know what to tell you. The shootout isn't really a coachable situation. Yes, you could argue for a different selection of players. But even then, it's a one-on-one battle. It's no different from Clowe going in alone for his goal. Guys just have to go up and score. Simple as. Hence, the frustration since there's nothing more to it than that. Consider that before demanding that Anton Volchenkov, one of the other Devils to not register a shot on net tonight, take them.
General Thoughts: Schneider had another very good game. He got beaten on two close goals that he really didn't have much of a chance on. Otherwise, he held the puck well. He didn't lose his cool when Toronto kept charging to the net. I was most impressed by his point blank stop on a rebound attempt by David Clarkson in the third, the kind of shot that would have sunk New Jersey last season by Toronto. I believe we may see Martin Brodeur soon but I think tonight helps Schneider secure that starter's spot with strong play.
The usage of Eric Gelinas raises an eyebrow. He only played three shifts in the third. That's usually a negative message from the coaches. But he was put on the ice for nearly half of overtime. That's usually a sign of favor from the coaches. Weird. By the end of the night, he played 16:15 total or more time than Volchenkov. Gelinas definitely brought The Truth to Toronto. He put four on net out of nine attempts. I think he realized he needed to be active with being fully placed on the blueline in place of Jon Merrill tonight. I liked it. If only one or two of them dropped in or fell to a Devil with a great look.
Bryce Salvador did get better in the third, but he was pretty bad in the first two periods. The first goal against all started from his giveaway in front and then not being able to clear out anything in front. The second goal against puts some blame on him as van Riemsdyk got in behind him for an easy chance at a short rebound. The high sticking penalty he took was ill-advised, even though the Devils killed it.
On the opposite end, the Andy Greene and Mark Fayne pairing was real good. Fayne was excellent on the puck with five shots on net out of ten attempts. When he deked away from a block by Carl Gunnarsson, I thought he was going to fire it in - only for Bernier to just get his blocker on it. His attempt differential in 5-on-5 play was crazy good at 27-7. Greene was very good, which isn't really notable anymore given how good he's been. It is notable that he played 30:32 tonight. If you thought you saw a lot of #6, then you were right.
I really liked what I saw out of the top nine in general. They did all of the things but score. The fourth line wasn't all that hot; I was surprised to see Boucher out there late. I felt Mike Sislo had the better game given his two shots and one post. I would have liked to have a seen him a bit instead of #15. Andrei Loktionov, well, he was the third Devil not to register a shot on net and he was just kind of "there."
James van Riemsdyk was Toronto's best non-goaltender on the ice tonight. Phil Kessel was also really good with four shots and two assists. Way down the list of effective Leafs was David Clarkson, who played like he was never in a board battle before. I can see why the heat's on the big money winger. He played like he did before 2011-12, even including the lazy penalty with a trip on Travis Zajac. It could be worse. He could have been like Morgan Reilly or Jake Gardiner, who were on the ice for at least 27 attempts against and 13 shots against with less than ten attempts for and six shots for. Are those two young defenders? If so, they got schooled tonight.
Your Take: What now? Well, probably a little rest before a very tough game in Montreal. How do you feel about this shootout loss? What do you think the Devils need to do to try and score some more goals (surely it can't be to shoot less)? Who do you think did really well and really poorly for the Devils tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's loss in the comments.
Thanks to those who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.