Three. Some say it's a magic number. I could go into all of the many things that come in threes. But this isn't Schoolhouse Rock Report. This is In Lou We Trust. This is a site about the New Jersey Devils. For them, three represents the most number of games the Devils won in a row this season. Today was a chance to match that against the San Jose Sharks. They had the energy. They had the effort. But they didn't do enough right and did too much wrong. As a result, they lost 4-2 and we, the fans, are still waiting for what would be a highly-desirable winning streak.
To be fair, the Sharks are a very good team. Certainly better than Columbus and the Islanders. Mistakes can be costly in any sport and the Sharks are talented enough to make a team pay for multiple errors. All four goals they scored this afternoon were the result of some kind of turnover. Cory Schneider hesitating and then not getting the puck out from behind the net led to a play where Logan Couture put back a rebound created by Patrick Marleau. Andy Greene throws the puck to no one on an offensive rush, leading James Sheppard to throw it up to Raffi Torres for a give-and-go goal with Joe Pavelski's help. Anton Volchenkov attempted a pass through the neutral zone to Adam Henrique, which was broken up by Scott Hannan. Hannan throws it up-ice to Joe Thornton for a 3-on-2 counter-attack that ended with a blast by Matt Nieto. As the Devils tried to find a late equalizer, Eric Gelinas blindly fires a puck cleared to the Devils' end due in part to pressure by Tommy Wingels. Marleau picked off the puck, charged in, and fired a shot cleanly through Schneider to seal the deal. This isn't to say the Devils were just turnover happy, but you can find some concession of possession at the heart of all four goals against.
This also isn't to say the San Jose Sharks played a sharp game. For a game that ended 23-22 in shots (favored New Jersey), the action was very wide open with both teams losing pucks plenty of times. There botched clearances, unfortunate bounces, pucks hitting skates instead of sticks, and all other kinds of movements. It's the sort of game that coaches despise because they know that those kind of errors can result in goals against. While the Sharks pulled away with the win, the Devils were close plenty of times to at least get a tied score. Most notably when Greene broke through defenders, drew a hook from Justin Braun, and beat Alex Stalock with the shot - only for the puck to hit the post. But the finish was lacking despite efforts to the contrary.
This was most apparent on the power play. Clearly, the Sharks' penalty kill played a lot better than the Islanders or Blue Jackets. It was back to business as usual for the Devils' man advantage. That means plenty of chasing back for cleared pucks. Missed opportunities to pass the puck to set up something good. Several quick clearances by the Sharks when the Devils did manage to get the puck in the zone. The Devils had four power play opportunities and generated only one shot on net. That simply isn't good enough. Today's game was a rude awakening for the dream-like power play performances of the last two games.
Overall, it wasn't a terrible performance by the Devils. It wasn't ideal, there could have been plenty that would have gone better. Schneider could have been better, the sticks on offense have cooled, and too many turnovers turned costly. However, the team did show up and provide a competitive effort. Under most circumstances, I would chalk this to a loss to a better team and just move on. Nothing to get crazy over. But this is March and the Devils need results. It was 2-2 going into the third and after Nieto's goal, it was still a one-shot game. There was reason to think the Devils could have found the equalizer. They didn't. Let us hope this doesn't haunt them in April. Let us also hope the Devils can start taking some more wins in short order. Hopefully at least three in a row.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Fear the Fin, The Neutral hits all of the big points from a Sharks' perspective in this recap. He would agree that despite only conceding 22 shots, this wasn't a strong defensive performance.
The Game Highlights: There's plenty to see in this game highlight video from NHL.com:
Staying Hot: If there are some positives from this win, then it's the fact that Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique have remained productive. Each scored off re-directions. Henrique tapped in a great pass by Steve Bernier right in the crease. It was the sort of "throw it to the middle and see what happens" pass you see from time to time. This time, it hit Henrique right in time it was a great goal. The second goal was combination of good forechecking, sticking with a play, and Elias being in the right place at just the right time to re-direct a slap shot by Jon Merrill. I felt this line performed the best going forward and I'm pleased to see Henrique and Elias continue to put up points. If only they finished that make-shift 2-on-Stalock not long before the go-ahead goal by Nieto. Or on the offensive flurry that elicited a big reaction from the crowd right before that goal. Alas.
Pinned: On Saturday, the line of Andrei Loktionov, Michael Ryder, and Ryane Clowe dominated in 5-on-5 play. Today, they got owned. Only Merrill and Marek Zidlicky played more at even strength than Ryder and Clowe and it wasn't because Ryder and Clowe drove a lot of possession on offense. This trio got picked apart and had to spend quite a lot of time in their own end of the rink. Clowe was notable for throwing a lot of big hits. Big hits are great to look at, but a good game needs more than big hits. The rest of his game didn't look all that good. Ryder didn't even attempt a shot or attempt to do much on defense. Loktionov was just all over the place. Amazingly, they were only present for one goal against. But they were just difficult to watch out there.
Not A Good Game: It was bound to happen eventually, but Schneider really didn't have a good game. In addition to helping create the situation with the first goal against, the two of the other three goals allowed didn't reflect well on him at all. On the two-on-one that resulted in Torres scoring, Schneider over-committed to Pavelski when he made the pass. Granted, Merrill could have helped by jumping at Pavelski immediately instead of waiting for the pass too. Greene could have done the most help by not turning the puck over to begin with. But Schneider darting too far to his right made it an easy play for Pavelski and shot for Torres. Nieto's goal was the least odious in retrospect. Marleau's game-icing score went right through him; I think he could have stopped that one. While Schneider made some important stops - like robbing two Sharks right in front of the net on two separate occasions - he wasn't the brilliant goaltender he has been for most of this year. I think he'll be fine. It just should be pointed out that he wasn't amazing.
Discipline Was At Least Good: The Sharks' power play can be absolutely terrifying when they're set up. The Devils did a very good job at not giving them much of a chance to do so. Elias took the lone penalty of the day for New Jersey; a hooking call after a turnover by Bernier. The penalty killers frustrated San Jose to concede only one shot. That went well, at least.
Short Observations: Rather than break this all up, I have a bunch of smaller observations from this game. Anton Volchenkov seemingly went for hits when they weren't good ideas to do so. Thankfully, the Sharks didn't take too much advantage from that. He needed to pick his spots better, in my opinion. The Gelinas-Merrill pairing did OK overall. However, Gelinas' giveaway to Marleau was hideous (and killed any hopes of a comeback) and Merrill looked dumb on the two-on-one. I understand they're young but this isn't the time for errors. Dainius Zubrus getting a breakaway was an experience, but he could only get on the side Stalock dove at. Didn't think I would type this but it was a somewhat quiet game from Jaromir Jagr, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus. Hopefully they come out with more success on Tuesday. The Devils' fourths were much better by way of not being creamed. I had no issues with Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, and Jacob Josefson. I loved the Justin Braun and Matt Irwin pairing for San Jose; I didn't love the Marc-Eduoard Vlasic and Jason Demers pairing. Lastly and obviously, Pavelski is really good.
Your Take: The Devils got dropped by the Sharks. What do you think went wrong today and can they fix it? Does this change your outlook on what the team should do going forward? Can they bounce back? Who was the best and worst Devil from this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about today's loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed the really sparse tweets on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.