You have to score to win. You have to score to have a chance to win. You have to score to really be competitive in a game. The New Jersey Devils did not score. The St. Louis Blues did. Alex Steen fired a blazing wrister as he hung back in a 3-on-2 rush in the first period. Brendan Morrow tipped Jay Bouwmeester's slap shot in the third period to convert a third period power play. Maxim Lapierre iced the game with a lofted shot that dropped into an empty net. The Devils did not answer any of these goals, so they lost 3-0.
That's a very simple summary but this game was simply another familiar performance from the Devils. Last in average shots generated per game, entrenched in the bottom third in goals scored per game average, and top ten in the league in times shut out. The offense has not been very good. There was not a lot of hope going into this season that it would be. I've maintained it's their biggest ongoing issue this season. Tonight's game was yet another example of that issue in action.
Full credit should go to the Blues. They are one of the best defensive teams in the league. Despite coughing up the puck several times in their own end in the first and being forced into multiple turnovers in the third, they hustled back to prevent the Devils from having too many free looks. Of course, they were helped by the Devils wasting plenty of those chances as well. Those that got through were stopped in one way or another by Jaroslav Halak. He earned his shutout with a good performance. The Devils did test him, but as usual for this season, it could have been much more. The Blues' forwards helped out too and kept the Devils more than honest with a few counter-attacks and good possession shifts.
Cory Schneider certainly put in a full night's work too. He bailed out the Devils a handful of time. The most notable in the second period with two point blank stops on Alex Steen right in front of the net, after a gaffe by Eric Gelinas. Twenty two saves on twenty four shots aren't exactly gaudy figures, but he did what he could to keep the Devils in the game. It's not his fault Anton Volchenkov was in no man's land on the 3-on-2 rush in the first and managed to get in Schneider's field of vision. It's not his fault Morrow tipped the shot while coming across at just the right time. The empty netter certainly isn't his fault as he wasn't in the net. Schneider hasn't been the problem. Alas, even if he was perfect, the Devils would have needed to score at some point to win. That obviously didn't happen. So he gets stuck with another 'L' on his record despite not being the reason why this result happened.
It's true that the Devils didn't get the bounces like they did last week. It's also true that St. Louis is a really good team and so a regulation loss to them shouldn't be so unexpected. Unless I'm mistaken, no one from the Eastern Conference has won there yet this season. But twenty three shots including only five while down throughout the whole third period is simply poor. There was early promise. The Devils' first two power plays were actually effective. The Devils did try to rush up ice when the Blues did turn it over in their end and in the neutral zone. My (least) favorite example was seeing Stephen Gionta strip a Blue in his own end during a penalty kill and then firing a shot wide of the net to waste the opportunity. The actual shots and the finish simply wasn't on display from the Devils. All that undercuts all the good work that was done (and there was some). Frustration can boil over from such a game, and it did at the end of the game. As much as some fans may like to see emotions displayed physically, it didn't change the result one iota. Where was this energy in the third period? I don't know. Maybe St. Louis blocked and stickchecked that out of them as well.
That's the real harsh part about a loss like this. Losing on the road to a Western Conference team isn't the end of the world. Getting shutout sucks but it's not the end of the world. Those things can and will happen. But because of the Devils' issues from earlier this season - like starting off with a seven game winless streak, not winning a shootout, etc. - they really can't afford too many nights like this one. Adding to my sour disposition after watching this game is the simple reality that nothing has really been done to address it. Maybe nothing can really be done (it does take two teams for a trade). But it cannot be denied that the Devils' lack of offense has been an ongoing problem all season long. It arose tonight again for another loss. Either the team can better hope for better luck (the 2013 lockout season suggests that's a bad plan) or the team should consider making some actual adjustments. They can't afford too many more of these types of game for much longer.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at St. Louis Game Time, RealBadRobot highlighted Halak's night, which is appropriate.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights to tonight's game.
Needed More Shots, Attempts, Anything Offensive: The Devils ended this game up 55-53 in attempts, while being out-shot 23-25. This tells me two things. First, the Devils' accuracy with their attempts were off. Part of that has to do with the Blues, who got in the way of plenty of rubber with their sticks and bodies. Still not good for our favorite team. Second, the Blues are truly a strong possession team. Normally, a team up a goal or two will get pinned back more often than not. This happened mostly in second half of the second period. It did not continue beyond it, however and so the attempts ultimately finished off around the same. That's further evidence of how well the Blues played. A team doing well with the puck and making passes and so forth is going to keep attacking instead of chipping pucks away and hoping to fend off a losing team for a period. They come out much better for it. They were even rewarded with two power plays; the first yielding their second goal of the night.
Captain Bringdown: Bryce Salvador is the captain of the team. Captains do not get scratched. Salvador has made a good case against that last point, though. He was miserable tonight. He was often picked on by Derek Roy and Vladimir Tarasenko at evens. He was beaten by speed. He took a few icings when the team really needed a change. He took a tripping call during a flurry of offense from the Blues that they nearly scored on. The Blues scored on the resulting power play, albeit from a fortunate deflection. Granted, having Marek Zidlicky as a regular partner on defense may not provide much help; but a big reason his ice time was so large was that he averaged over a minute per shift in the second. It's hard to get off when you're stuck on the ice. St. Louis is really good; but Salvador still had a bad game.
Did They Play?: Dainius Zubrus and Damien Brunner played in this game according to the summaries from NHL.com. I know Brunner returned to his November form by doing very little outside of taking an offensive zone penalty. Granted, it was a bit of a weak one, but still a call. Zubrus has done...what exactly? Patrik Elias was moved up to play with Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac beyond the first period. While some may view that as Jacob Josefson not being given a shot - as if the previous 107 games he's appeared in didn't count - I wonder if Elias was moved up to get him away from Zubrus and Brunner. I suspect a shake up of that line may be needed sooner rather than later.
As an aside, I didn't mind Jacob Josefson early on in the game with Zajac and Jagr. He had a few shots. But I can more than understand replacing him with Elias in an attempt to get something going on offense. It didn't work, due in part of Jagr misreading several passes. I don't think it's a difficult argument to state that Elias is way better than Josefson. Even away from 19 and 68, Josefson was still way better than, say, Zubrus and Brunner tonight.
Tryed: One player I won't dis tonight is Michael Ryder. He put in the most effort with three shots on net out of eleven attempts. That eight of them didn't get to the net is indicative of the Devils' offensive woes. But he was trying to make it happen. I think he came rather close to scoring, only to be denied by a last second block (e.g. such as the first power play) or a stop (e.g. the angled shot while the Devils pulled Schneider). In retrospect, I think the team needed more of what Ryder brought in the hopes of beating Halak.
Two Out of Three: The Devils actually impressed me on their first two power plays. They were able gain the zone without it being a journey in of itself. They were able to pass the puck for good shooting lanes and they actually took them. They actually threatened to score, only without scoring. Of course, their third power play - mind you, it was still 0-1 St. Louis so it could have been important - featured more time in their own end of the rink instead of pushing forward. At least threatening is a step forward.
Get Better on D: Eric Gelinas had four shots on net, which was good. He looked lost in his own end several times, which was bad. In 5-on-5 play, he was on the ice for as many shots against as Salvador and Zidlicky. His usual partner, Anton Volchenkov, wasn't even that porous. Once Eric Gelinas figures out positioning, decision making, and timing on defense at this level, he could be rather good. Unfortunately, now really isn't the time to do this. I would've went with Jon Merrill in this game, but perhaps we'll see him soon enough.
Why, They're Quite Good: St. Louis is a very good team. Kevin Shattenkirk had a very good game. Tarasenko is going to become a remarkable player for the Blues. Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka had good games. Steen continued to threaten all night long.
The one thing I didn't get from them was why they started beefing with the Devils late in the game. Sure, Ryane Clowe (and his concussion history) was dumb to get into a fight. Maybe the Devils were starting quite a bit of it, but why respond? You're up 2-0 or 3-0. You won't likely see them again until next season. Why bother? They got the win, so whatever.
Your Take: The next two games become crucial, but of course all of the games are just about crucial until further notice. What do you think the Devils' main issue was tonight? Can they get it sorted out before Thursday's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to those who followed along in the Gamethread and with @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.