I said it early, recently, and now once again: the New Jersey Devils do not score a lot of goals and that's their biggest issue. Yes, they're resolving the goaltending by playing Cory Schneider more since the new year. Yes, they've gone through their depth to find something - anything - to help them out. Yes, the defense remains sharp in the larger statistical picture. Yes, their possession game remains strong. But you have to score to win and when you don't score, you put yourself at risk of dropping a game due to something out of your hand. Such as: A puck coming off a skate to a wide-open man in a 5-on-4 extra skater situation. A deflection off a shot going right to a wide-open man in a 6-on-5 extra skater situation. A deflection from a long shot in a 6-on-5 extra skater situation with over two and a half minutes left on one of the team's few sustained offensive possessions of the third.
If those last three sentences seem familiar, then you've been paying attention to the Devils. Those are events that happened in each of the last three games. Each have turned what could or should have been regulation wins into overtime situations. The last one happened tonight at the Rock. Patrick Roy gambled late and came out a winner. The Colorado Avalanche got a fortunate event for the equalizer as P-A Parenteau tipped a Tyson Barrie shot (yes, Roy went 6-on-5 with Nathan MacKinnon plus his second best unit, not his best five skaters plus MacKinnon); Matt Duchene drew a foul en route to a late breakaway from the Devils' best defender, Andy Greene (he still got the breakaway); and the carry over of the power play gave the Avs space they rarely had all night. Duchene found Ryan O'Reilly all alone in front and the one-touch beat Cory Schneider to make it a 1-2 OT loss.
Making the loss even more bitter is the fact that the Devils were remarkably close to getting that all important insurance goal. They did more than just out-attempt and out-shoot the Avs. They hit three posts: Michael Ryder, Dainius Zubrus from a deflection that bounced off Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and Zubrus again in the dying seconds of a penalty kill. Jaromir Jagr put a shot past Giguere that just dropped onto, but not over the goal line. The Devils had several shifts where they simply swarmed the Avs. Jagr alone was close to scoring multiple times in the third as he put on clinics of long shifts on offense. But life isn't fair and neither is hockey. The Devils didn't get that second goal in spite of some superior efforts. And for the third game in a row, not getting that extra goal came back to haunt them.
There's your answer. It's not hoping Cory Schneider stops everything in and out of his sight. It's not demanding inch-perfect defense by one of the stingiest teams in the league. It's not about "60-minute efforts," which are rare from any team in any time ever. It's not about coaching since it's not as if coaches tell their players to do bad things on the ice. It's about scoring. S-C-O-R-I-N-G. The Devils don't do it enough. Nights like this one are truly frustrating because any honest fan who witnessed this game knows the Devils did all they could honestly do. The puck just didn't drop in. And so points were dropped.
Follow that with a 3-on-4 situation against Colorado team that thrives on open space and so that sealed the lost point. In a word: Heartbreaking.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Mile High Hockey, c6hor8 has a recap of sorts. You can make "you're" decision to choose which one.
The Game Highlights: Plenty of highlights in this one, including two lowlights. From NHL.com:
Sadly, Pucks Lie: Jaromir Jagr had an absolutely brilliant game. He led the Devils with five shots, eleven attempts, and seemingly a bajillion successful pivots. Jagr had several long shifts tonight because the Devils just kept pressuring the Avalanche in their own end when he was on the ice more often than not. Jagr's possession numbers were crazy at 17-4 at evens and 11-2 in terms of shots from said attempts. I wrote about how well most Devils play with Jagr today, noting that Andy Greene and Mark Fayne have been particularly good with #68 in front of him. Surprising no one who knows that, Greene and Fayne absolutely bossed the Avs for much of this game in the possession department. They helped keep plays alive for the offense, which yielded more chances for Jagr. If only one of those attempts found it's way in - especially the one that just sat on the line. But with apologies to Mr. Wallace, this isn't basketball, the puck does lie.
Other Things That I Liked from the Devils: I felt Ryan Carter had a really strong game. He scored the one goal for the Devils, which is an obvious plus. But when he was out on the ice, good things happened. CBGB wasn't a net negative tonight - again, they created the lone New Jersey goal - but Carter really shined among the three.
I also liked what work Andrei Loktionov did ahead of the center line. Behind it, he didn't do much. In front of it, he created a number of turnovers from Colorado. He took three shots. He played with pace. I felt he could have done more than the 9:42 he got. That could be because of the aforementioned "behind the center line" play. But given that staying in the lineup has been an issue for him, I think he did more than enough to get another game. Damien Brunner existed, which is a plus. I liked his energy on the forecheck, he got a couple of shots, and he was seen backchecking a few times. He got a couple of shots too, though I'm not a fan of him on the point for power plays.
Greene-Fayne were great as a whole. Sadly, Greene took the one penalty that ended up dooming the Devils.
Lacking Discipline: Discipline, or the lack there of, played a role. The Devils were doing quite well at evens tonight. But a large chunk of this game was played on special teams. Even though they had some solid kills and one kill nearly spent in their own end of the rink, giving an opponent five power play opportunities is a recipe for disaster. The last one did them in. 3-on-4 is really hard to deal with. Fayne was too far from the slot, which made O'Reilly's overtime winner look like a lay-up. But at the same time, had that puck go laterally, the right winger jumps up and can pound it home. Truthfully, the Devils really cold have used one fewer tripping call (they had four, three were legit). They could have had more time at evens to do more of the good work they were doing. Alternatively, if you're going to foul to prevent a breakaway - actually prevent the breakaway.
Power? Play: The Devils did have plenty of time with an extra man themselves. They had three such situations in the first period. And the Devils came away with very little. I felt the first one was OK but the others were just more of the same from this team. Struggles to get in the zone and when they did get a chance at setting up in their 1-3-1, an errant pass put them back at the start. Forget any notion of missing Eric Gelinas (who's basically been Kurtis Foster in recent weeks). Him doing something would've required the team to have the puck long enough to set up a shot from the point - something the team rarely did tonight. Overall, they got three shots on net over four opportunities. That's rather lackluster. To me, it's a glaring issue given the lack of goal production by the Devils.
Your Worst Devils: Surprise! They weren't the five on the ice for the equalizer! On defense, the pairing of Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky was simply bad. Zidlicky wasn't very good on the puck. Salvador has been playing like he has been recently. I will be sympathetic to the captain in that he nearly left the game injured. He went right down in the left corner in the second period, clutching left shoulder (collarbone?) in pain. Salvador did return, but he was mostly in his own end trying to do things.
Curiously, the coaches have been noticing #24's bad play. He played 17:41 tonight, but 7:44 of that was on the PK. Getting less than ten minutes of ice time at evens is a sign that they understand what's been going on. It also speaks well of the second pairing, but I'll get to them in a bit.
At forward, the Newfoundline really had it's issues. Michael Ryder remains snakebit as his goalless streak continues. But Ryder, Ryane Clowe, and Adam Henrique rarely did much on offense. They had one or two really good shifts, that one play in the first period where Ryder hit the post, and that's it. They actually got beaten on in possession and got out-shot. They got MacKinnon with Gabriel Landeskog and P-A Parenteau early and that match-up didn't go well.
Surprisingly, Elias really didn't have that good of a game either. Also out-attempted, he only had one shot on net, and I'm still confused why he attempted a drop pass with a clear look at Giguere during the first power play. Elias is usually a safe bet for having an effective game by the stats and by eye. He didn't have either tonight, in my opinion.
So About the Equalizer: No, having 34-10-11-18-26 isn't an ideal unit to defend in an extra man situation. But it wasn't as if Peter DeBoer had a choice in the matter. For starters, there wasn't a stoppage in play for about six minutes running. Those five started were on the ice about three minutes left when O'Reilly missed a shot. Presumably a change not yet started or finished. When Roy noticed how the Avs actually managed to keep them on the ice, he must have figured on a gamble. The Avs got fresh guys and really moved the puck with poise they haven't shown for most of the game. Granted, they kept it mostly on the outside, but that I think that was the point. It ensured the Devils couldn't get the puck or get somebody fresh out there. Long shifts can spell disaster for defensive effort. Yet, the issue wasn't a turnover or a giveaway or a bad read. They just couldn't get the puck on their sticks to clear it out - even an icing would've worked given they have a timeout. Barrie took a chance, Parenteau just happened to get a piece of it, and so it became 1-1. Like the last two games, it was a bounce - a chance event that could've easily gone wide, into body, or anywhere but behind the goal line with one slight difference.
That's precisely why it's so enraging. It would be simple if it was, say, Jon Merrill making a mistake. There would be something to point out. Something to learn from. Something to improve upon. Something clear where you can say "Well, there's your problem." Not really in this case.
Peter Harrold Wasn't Bad: Well, he wasn't. He wasn't perfect or great, either. That tripping penalty he took in the first period was obvious and unnecessary. But he did have his bright spots. He made a great neutral zone pass up to Clowe that set up Ryder for a shot that unfortunately hit the post. He was good in possession overall. He made a lot of "safe" plays by my eye. Possibly due to the facts that he was paired with Jon Merrill (who also was pretty good), he was playing his first game in months, and he is Peter Harrold. He was generally acceptable for most of the 15:43 he played, which is superior to the performances from Zidlicky and Salvador tonight. Interestingly, he and Merrill didn't get more than one offensive zone start. Whether that's a result of icings or how the faceoffs went, that speaks well of how possession went given that they didn't get the easiest end of the ice.
Schneider Deserves Better: Well, yeah. I don't think anyone blames him. It's worth pointing it out anyway.
#1 Overall: Nathan MacKinnon jumped ahead of Seth Jones and others to be the first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. Tonight showcased his impressive talent. He was Colorado's most active player. He had five shots on net. He came remarkably close to scoring after Colorado's first power play only to be denied by Schneider's left pad at the left post. Roy was feeding him shift after shift, notably moving him up to play with Duchene and O'Reilly in the third in the hopes of getting that one goal they needed to tie. He was strong on the puck, he was quick when he had a lane, and while he made a few errors due to inexperience, a lot of the good things Colorado was doing in this game was often because of him. MacKinnon is only 18. Like Landeskog a few years back, it's remarkable how good he is right away. He's already a very good NHL player; I can only wonder how he'll end up.
3 Posts & A Puck Died on the Goal Line: I repeat: Life and hockey are both not fair. Giguere is thankful for that.
Your Take: I'm sure you all have plenty to say about this game, so have at it. What did you make of this one? What could the Devils have done differently besides the obvious (score) to have won this game? Do you chalk this one up to some awful puck luck for the lack of a second goal or something else? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this overtime loss in the comments.
Thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread and those who followed along with @InLouWeTrust. Thanks for reading.