You were right. Not you specifically, but the collective you. The majority of you, the readers, were right. On the previous Monday, I put up a poll asking the following question: What is the biggest problem with the 2013-14 New Jersey Devils that is keeping them out of the playoffs? I presented six potential root causes of their issues. While the poll isn't closed, one has such a large lead that it's not going to change. So I might as well announce the "winner." It's the goalscoring, rather the lack thereof. Tonight, the New Jersey Devils demonstrated that issue yet again.
For the ninth time this season, they were shut out entirely in a hockey game. Making that look worse was that they did it with a mere 21 shots on net. Worse, it was against an opponent within the Metropolitan Division and ahead of the Devils in the standings, which made winning paramount. Worst of all, it was against Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. They scored one goal in regulation, one empty netter, and that was the game.
Given how far back the Devils are in the standings, I can't help but feel that I just saw the Devils' playoff hopes die in Newark. Mathematically, they're still in the picture, but I honestly can't see the Devils making a run. They've been treading water, so to speak, all season long and retaining playoff hopes due to a weak division. At some point, they just had to string some wins together, beat teams in front of them, and hope they get help. They haven't done the first thing, they've only done the second thing a few times, and they haven't received the third thing. The Devils needed to win this one - and in regulation - to really keep some reasonable hope alive. Instead, they didn't score even one goal.
It wasn't that the Devils didn't put in an effort. It wasn't that they lacked hustle and heart and hunger. It wasn't that they were undercut by one bad player or moment. It was the same issue all season long from the offense: they don't shoot the puck a lot and so they don't score a lot of goals. The Devils had a territorial advantage and attempted more shots than the Rangers. But because so many of their attempted attacks ended with only one shooting attempt (if even that), and more attempts were not on target, the Rangers managed to out-shoot the Devils by a healthy 27-21 margin. Henrik Lundqvist could have taken the second period off given that the five shots he did face were rather simple. He got some more challenges in the first and third, but short of a great play, great shot, or a big mistake, Lundqvist isn't going to be beaten much with so few shots. In retrospect, the Devils needed to start ripping it on net when they got a lane and hope for a rebound or something loose for a jam play. They did this late in the game (and almost got lucky), but by then, it was too late.
Plenty of credit for tonight's goalless result does have to go to the Rangers' defense. Their defensive play was rather good. Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh made a lot of important interventions. Their Corsi was poor but they made sure they weren't out-shot. Raphel Diaz had a good game as well, so each of their pairings had plenty of good things to report. Their forwards all helped. When Rick Nash is diving on his stomach to sweep a puck away at the point - and succeeded - you know they were all in on helping. While the Rangers were pinned back more often than the Devils, they just got in the Devils' way enough to make the night a bit easier for Lundqvist. Of course, the Devils helped the effort by missing the net 14 times (it felt like more as seemingly every other shot from the point went wide) and shooting into Rangers 13 times. A bad offensive performance usually comes in part from a good defensive performance by the opposition and the Rangers provided that with few breakdowns and errors. Not that the Devils were able to finish when those happened or that Lundqvist didn't.
As for the Rangers' offense, well, they did out-shoot the Devils. They didn't attack as much but they made sure their attempts got to Martin Brodeur and the net. Brodeur really did play well tonight. He was active and successful at playing the puck. He made plenty of tough saves. I'm confident Mats Zuccarello is still talking to himself about being robbed on a 3-on-2 in the second. The one goal that got past him was a tough break. Rick Nash started the attack off side, fed it to Derek Stepan for a shot, Brodeur stopped the shot and then got hit a bit by Chris Kreider due in part to Mark Fayne hitting him. The puck went out way wide, only Nash could have got to it first, and by the time Brodeur got his head back up, Nash fired it in high. I'm not going to fault Brodeur for getting hit prior to that goal. But even if he stopped it, then what? The guys in front of him weren't able to get him one goal anyway. Brodeur doesn't play well all that often any more so the skaters wasted his play.
As an analogue to the whole season, the Devils did make it interesting late but didn't get the result. After Andy Greene was called for a trip (a legit call though Nash may have sold it a bit) with 2:03 left, the Devils flat out forced the issue after pulling Brodeur and forced New York to be defenders. They tried to set up plays, they won pucks, and they threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Lundqvist. Perhaps too late but they tried. Alas, after a second one that nearly hit home, the puck went out to Derek Stepan. He skated it out, fired in the empty netter, and sealed one big step towards the playoffs at the expense of their rivals.
The issue tonight wasn't that they didn't get the jam play or that awesome shift by the Travis Zajac line after the Rangers' first third period power play, but that they spent most of the game with so little offensive results such that trying to get one goal seemed like a mighty feat. It shouldn't be too much to ask a team to score at least two in a game. Even the least productive teams in the league average at least that many. But the Devils didn't get the shots, they didn't get any goals, and it's look. All against Our Hated Rivals. I'm not even mad or upset or irate or frustrated or annoyed. I'm more or less sad about it. Stepan's empty netter just felt like a doctor came in to tell me "Well, it's not certain yet, but I highly suggest you just try to enjoy the last three weeks as best as you can."
Again, the majority of you were correct. The lack of goalscoring has been the team's biggest issue this season. It really has been. I think you would all agree that you wished you were wrong - I wished I was wrong to be concerned about it - but it is what it is. The team can still beat Toronto tomorrow and theoretically go on a crazy run. But right now, I just don't see it. I think I saw the postseason dream die right before my eyes. There was no bang, it was all whimper.
The Opposition Opinion: Bryan Winters has this recap at Blueshirt Banter.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are some highlights of this game. Though not many of them are good:
Seriously, That Second Period Offensive "Effort:" You know when it's bad? When I caught myself applauding the Devils hitting Lundqvist square in the chest on an open shot because they didn't have a single shot on net for a while. I know the Devils scorer is very stingy, but the Devils really didn't get a lot of rubber on Lundqvist in the first forty minutes. The first period at least had close misses, a breakaway for Jaromir Jagr going wide, a turnover right to Dainius Zubrus where he nearly found the corner, and other potentially exciting instances. Most of that second was just the Rangers attacking and the Devils getting away from it.
Need More Jagr: There's only one Jaromir Jagr unfortunately. He did come very close to scoring, perhaps the closest except for maybe Andy Greene's wraparound attempt in the third period. He got two breakaways, one forcing a tough right toe save by Lundqvist. He led the Devils with four shots and eight attempts overall. Whether he had Tuomo Ruutu or Dainius Zubrus on his off wing, his line with Travis Zajac did very well. While the Devils offense as a whole certainly didn't shoot the puck much, at least Jagr made plenty of efforts. Even if he could have decided to just take a shot straight up instead of going backhand, pivoting, and hoping to find a friendly stick in the middle of the ice.
What Of Him?: The amazing young talent of Jacob Josefson played over twelve minutes tonight. He looked good in spots, though he didn't make any mark on the box score. However, he managed to get out-attempted 4-8 in 5-on-5 play in a game where the Devils out-attempted the Rangers 40-28 in 5-on-5 play (Aside: This makes the fact that they only got eighteen 5-on-5 shots a bit sadder.). He got to play a bit against several top nine forwards on the Rangers. That didn't help. Being in between Ryane Clowe and Dainius Zubrus didn't help much either. He was actually better with Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. Anyway, Josefson got his minutes. While he didn't offend, he also didn't stand out. Kind of like what Stephen Gionta does, really. He didn't do a whole lot when he got his chances to do something. Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe he was really good at attempting less than 15 passes or something. I don't know.
Wrist Shots: Someone tell Marek Zidlicky that he's allowed to take wristers. Please. He had the puck on his stick a lot, it wasn't all bad, but every time he got an open look, he'd take the extra time to wind up his stick. Yes, his slap shot is not bad but time is of the essence with a shooting lane. I know this is a lost cause since he's a veteran and trying to get him to change that is highly unlikely. Can someone try anyway?
A Summary of How the Possession Went: When Mark Fayne was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils out-attempted the Rangers 17-7. That's really good. When Fayne was on the ice in 5-on-5 play, the Devils were out-shot 4-5. Again: the offense really needed to put more rubber on frame. Given that every skater had no more than two official misses and only Ruutu had more than two attempts blocked (he had three), it was a collective effort.
The Damage Dealers: The Rangers' best line tonight was Kreider, Stepan, and Nash. They provided the only goal they needed to win plus the empty netter. They also combined for eight shots (four each for Stepan and Nash) out of the 27 the Rangers got. They were also the only line on New York that wasn't below 50% Corsi in 5-on-5, which means they didn't get pinned as much as the others along with providing plenty of attack. The Zajac line had this unit at times but so did Patrik Elias, Clowe, Ruutu, and Zubrus. While moved around a bit, they didn't have all that notable of a game either by eye, attempt differential, or the box score. I think that had an impact on what went down.
One Last Question: When did Zuccarello become such a jerk? He clipped Brodeur with a slash to the back of the knee early in the game. That's a move I'd expect more out of Daniel Carcillo as opposed to a legitimately effective forward. He started two beefs and ended up helmetless and spitting verbals at both in the first. He calmed down afterwards, but what was he so mad about?
Your Take: The Division Snapshot should be up at some point tomorrow so you'll see how damaging this loss looks in the larger picture then. In the meantime, what did you think of this loss? Did you just let out one heavy sigh and solemnly shake your head like I did after Stepan's empty netter? What could have the Devils done to have possibly score a goal? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Again, sorry for a lack of participation from the Rock; but thank you all for following @InLouWeTrust and/or commenting the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.