This one stings. Tonight is not only the last game for the next two and a half weeks for the New Jersey Devils, but it was against a divisional opponent. The Devils are battling the Washington Capitals among other teams for a playoff spot. They needed to get a result tonight. They needed to move up in the standings. They didn't even get a single, solitary goal.
They lost 3-0, a score that included two empty net goals. Cory Schneider is not the problem - as if he ever was. He was great tonight. The Capitals only played one really solid period, coming at him only in flurries earlier. The only shot that got past him was a wrister from distance that got through a moving screen. Julien Brouillette scored his first NHL goal and that was enough to seal it.
It is obvious to anyone, but this is a recap and since recaps spell out what went on in a game and why it happened, I have to say it: offense remains a problem. The Devils put 25 shots on Brayden Holtby, hit a post, and left many opportunities on the table. The official scorer counted 17 misses for the Devils and some of them were agonizing. Such as Mark Zidlicky picking up a rebound on a power play, seeing the top left corner wide open, and then firing it wide. Such as Patrik Elias all alone in front of Holtby in the second period, receiving a pass from Jaromir Jagr, and then one-touching it an inch or so wide of the post. Such as Travis Zajac getting a great look at the net on the very first shift of the third period and firing a slapshot wide. Those are just a handful of examples and they don't even include the 21 attempts that the Caps blocked. Oh, sure, the Devils put in an effort to score. It wasn't good enough. It would be one thing if there multiple posts hit like Adam Henrique getting denied by iron or plenty of out-of-nowhere stops like Holtby getting a pad on a rebound attempt by Dainius Zubrus. But tonight, the Devils had trouble finding the net, much less getting a puck past Holtby.
Defense? Overall, I don't have many complaints. Goaltending? No Devils fan should have any issue with Cory Schneider. Coaching? I'm not even mad about pulling the goalie late. Nothing much was working offensively; I'd rather go aggressive late than wait until 100 seconds like a lot of coaches would. Given that the Devils out-attempted the Caps on the road and the opponent only played one decent period, I can't honestly say the gameplan wasn't right. The execution and, to an extent, the talent was lacking; but that's not in DeBoer's hands despite what some will angrily tweet and comment. Offense was the problem tonight. Offense has been the main problem all season. Offense needs to be addressed almost right after the Olympic Break. Otherwise, they'll find themselves stay behind Washington, Carolina, Columbus, Philadelphia, and Our Hated Rivals as the regular season winds down.
In Summary: Your two best Devils in possession tonight were Peter Harrold and Jaromir Jagr. In 5-on-5 play, Harrold was on the ice for 23 attempts by New Jersey and 8 against. Jagr was out there for 24 attempts for and 10 against. Usually, that's indicative of a strong night. However, Harrold was on the ice for only seven shots for and against; and Jagr was out-shot six to eight in 5-on-5 play. That pretty much sums it up for the Devils tonight. The Devils had the territory but they reaped very little from the land, especially in the first two periods. As such, it was a one-shot win for the home team.
Newfoundline Wrecked: After a very good possession game against Edmonton, the trio of Adam Henrique, Michael Ryder, and Ryane Clowe were pinned back a lot tonight. They got to play against Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom quite a bit. That'll happen. Making matters worse is that it is yet another pointless night. Remember when these three were hot only a few weeks ago? It seems like forever now. If only Henrique's one-timer (what would have been his lone shot on net, if it didn't hit the post) was an inch or so lower.
24 and 7: Bryce Salvador got picked on in terms of possession. He was asked to play a lot of defense and, well, he did. Mark Fayne was surprisingly down there with him. I think that may have been circumstance. It wouldn't surprise me if he was just caught out there when the Caps had their second period flurries that yielded most of their ten shots that period. I think Fayne will do better, provided he's still with Andy Greene. Salvador, well, he's the captain so his spot remains.
Who Was More Invisible Tonight?: Andrei Loktionov and Damien Brunner both played about the same amount of ice time and did very little with it. They both have offensive talents, right? It would have been great if they showed them off.
Touchy: There were a total of seven penalties tonight and only the stick-hold by Ryan Carter and the last one - a high-stick by Connor Carrick that drew blood - was really obvious. I'm not going to say all of the other ones were false calls, but they were very light fouls. Among the ones the Devils took, Carter's stick hold was dumb. Stephen Gionta leading his defender into Brayden Holtby may not have been a call to the letter to the law, but it was dumb. He put himself in a position where he could get called and with the Devils down 0-1 at the time, two minutes of defending was the last thing the team needed. I don't know why Dmitry Orlov didn't get anything for bum rushing Gionta afterwards but whatever. It's moot now.
Usual Special Teams: The penalty kill was perfect. The Caps' power play certainly threatened and Ovechkin had several attempts from the right circle, hitting the post once. But I'd call holding the Caps to only five shots out of four power plays a victory on that front.
The power play was lackluster. They did create a couple of good shots. I'm still wishing Zidlicky didn't miss the gaping net in the first period. Could they have used a big shot like Eric Gelinas? Possibly? Of course, his inclusion would have given Adam Oates an easy match-up. The problem with being a defensive liability with a big shot is that you're still a defensive liability. If you believe the Devils already have at least one of them every night, then it's not a good idea to add another. Especially since it's not guaranteed that said big shot would have been utilized. Anyway, enough "What if," going back to "What was:" compared to several other games, this wasn't a bad power play night. But it wasn't good enough and a PPG would have been massive. Maybe Gelinas could have yielded that. Maybe the other guys on the units could have done it too.
Case Making: Anton Volchenkov did not play again, so Peter Harrold played again. Harrold had another good night. Not too many mistakes - one bad power play pinch did yield a shorthanded rush - but he was solid elsewhere. I know many fans want to see younger players on defense for a number of reasons - and apparently Jon Merrill doesn't count. But what you're seeing from Harrold is good play. Nothing flashy. Nothing too bad. The sort of play that's ideal for a third pairing. He's making his case and it's gone well in these past three games.
Ovechking: Led his team in possession at evens, put up four shots on net out of ten attempts, and he hit a post. Newsflash: Alex Ovechkin is extremely good.
Schneider Shined, Sun Still Rises: If only he got some goal support tonight and on so many other nights. Then the team would be a lot better. At least they've played him this much so far.
So Now We Wait: The next game comes right before the end of the month. The trade deadline is less than a week away from that game. To say tonight was a crummy disappointment from my perspective as a fan would be an understatement.
Your Take: I'm sure you all have plenty to say about this loss. So have at it. Please leave your thoughts, complaints, scapegoats, statements that reveal your biases about the team, and so forth in the comments. Thanks to those who followed along in the comments in the Gamethread and those who follow @InLouWeTrust on Twitter.