Nine times. Nine times the New Jersey Devils had to play beyond both regulation and the five minute overtime period. Nine times the Devils had to settle a game in a simple matter of one-on-one with the goalie. Nine times they lost. Nine times they left a point to the other team. Eight times they did not score a single goal. For one reason or another, the shootout has been a part of the Devils' downfall in 2013-14. Or a part of what was holding them back. Or whatever you call it. Tonight was the latest example as they lost 2-3 to the playoff-fighters Phoenix Coyotes. And, no, they didn't score a single shootout goal either.
While I personally like the shootout and think it's a good way to decide games in the regular season, I can understand why the collective Devils fanbase has grown to despise it. The Devils have been beyond bad in them. One goal. Seriously, one goal and it was done by a rookie who's now in Albany. Before the shootout, someone at the Rock asked me who I wanted to see. I responded: Foligno, Barr, and Stevens. The joke took but I'm now wondering whether they should've tried it. At this point, does it matter who they select? It's either the guy scores and we're pleased, the guy doesn't score and we lament that Peter DeBoer didn't pick some other guy who hasn't scored in the shootout.
Making the shootout even more of a let down was that the Devils played a pretty good game. Well, they played a pretty good half of a game. The first period was poor. The Devils were chasing the game, they took three avoidable penalties, and had to endure the legitimately good power play by the Coyotes. They also gave up a pretty bad goal early on as the Coyotes' fourth line beat the Devils' fourths (with a cameo from Tuomo Ruutu). It was a goal that made Martin Brodeur look bad as Kyle Chipchura slid a puck out of chaos through the five hole. Fortunately, the Devils were able to escape the period only down 0-1. The second half of the third period was also mostly Phoenix as the Coyotes seemingly realized that the Devils tied up the game and they could lose it unless they picked up the pace and possession. Which they did.
Yet, the other thirty minutes or so were quite in New Jersey's favor. Possession ended up being in the Devils' favor overall (50-40, 38-29 at evens) because of it. They got power plays and actually threatened to score. They were close a number of times, either denied by the post (Jon Merrill in the second period), a crossbar (Damien Brunner in the third), and the shrugged shoulder of Thomas Greiss (I want to say Brunner on this one, but I'm not sure). The advantage in attempts didn't always lead to shots as the Devils missed the net quite a bit (hence an overall shot count of 28-27, New Jersey); but they were at least in solid control. It looked grim, though, as the Devils scored nothing throughout most of the second period and the Coyotes get a goal from Chris Summers (assisted by Chipchura, screened by Brandon McMillan) off one of their few attacking shifts of the period.
But the Devils got the bounce they needed. A literal within-the-last-second bounce off Ryane Clowe's shoulder in the crease as Merill threw the puck in before the period was over while the Devils had a delayed call in their favor. And they got the equalizer they needed when Adam Henrique snuck in a wraparound past Greiss' left foot just past midway through the third. They nearly had the winner in OT when Marek Zidlicky found Patrik Elias on a cross-ice pass, or when Brunner followed up a shot by Clowe only to be denied by Greiss' right pad. One cannot say the Devils didn't try to win tonight. It's arguable whether they deserved better but a win wouldn't have been that off the mark. But they had their chance in the shootout and for the ninth time this season, the Devils fans all over the world have a reason to sigh in sadness about it. Especially as it likely means another nail in the closing coffin of this season.
The Opposition Opinion: Will Sowards has this recap up at Five for Howling if you want a Coyotes-based take.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights to tonight's game:
Without Captain: Believe it or not, there was a small cheer at the Rock when Bryce Salvador was announced as a scratch in tonight's game. I'm not disagreeing that he's not very good, but that's pretty cold.
Anyway, the defense featured Eric Gelinas back with Peter Harrold and Jon Merrill moved up to play with Marek Zidlicky. Given that the defense conceded only 21 shots at evens, I'd say they were pretty good from what I saw. Harrold's attempts to skate the puck out of his own end were a bit too exciting for their own good, but he was pretty solid elsewhere. I really liked Merrill's performance; I'm sympathetic to his post-shot in the second on a power play. But he got rewarded for a last second move in the second period so he got his point anyway. Gelinas resembled a defenseman again, which is good - his stupid interference penalty aside. Marek Zidlicky kept his turnover to one minimum and thankfully Brodeur bailed him out of it. Mark Fayne was solid as usual. Andy Greene was a beast as he played a bit over 28 minutes, boosted by all of his special teams time, and put four pucks on net out of seven attempts. Overall, I'd say that's quite good and justifies the fans' hope of a blueline without 24 (and 28).
I will say that if the team did miss Salvador and Anton Volchenkov, then it was on the penalty kill. Phoenix really did threaten in the first period, especially on their first two power plays. Keith Yandle was dominant from the back and the rest of the Coyotes just maintained control of the puck. The second power play didn't have as many shots but they kept control. As good as the Devils were in maintaining their formation, they eventually got broken down for a shot from the slot that forced a good save from Brodeur. It's possible the Coyotes would have done just as well on those power plays with 24-28 out there, but I'd like to think they would have helped out there the most.
Speaking Of Calls: The Devils' three calls in the first period: Gelinas trying to posterize David Moss to deny him a chance at the puck, Jaromir Jagr grabbing Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the neutral zone and getting caught; and Ryane Clowe making a beeline to cross-check Moss in the corner in apparent retaliation. The fans hated the last one and I suspect the second period penalties were a bit of a make up. But those were all legit penalties. While they killed all three, it helped prevent the Devils from getting going in the game on any kind of offense. Fortunately, the refs kept their whistles mostly quiet in the third and the Devils smartened up on discipline.
Short Ryan: Did Ryan Carter get hurt? Did he get punished for something? I don't know, but he only played eight shifts including only one in the third. I wouldn't say he was a difference maker regardless but it stood out a bit.
Good on Top: While there was only so much even strength play, I will say that I liked what I saw out of the top six Devils forwards tonight. Jagr, Travis Zajac, and whether it was Tuomo Ruutu or Dainius Zubrus, played their usual, let's mostly crush our opposition kind of game. Five shots from that line (Jagr & Zajac), four at evens, and plenty of pressure. The other line of Henrique, Patrik Elias, and Brunner was also quite good. Favorable in possession, many more shots as the three combined for eight at evens. They got one goal, could have had a bunch more, and Brunner actually doing things even if he didn't finish them is way better than Brunner not doing things. I will state that as good as they looked, it could have been better had they hit the target more often. Still, this end was good.
Did #16 Make the Most of His Latest Opportunity?: Jacob Josefson was more notable tonight. In fact, he played more than Stephen Gionta. I liked some of the things he did off the rush and he wasn't terribly out of place in between Clowe and Ruutu. He also picked up a secondary assist thanks to Merrill accidentally finding some part of Clowe's body to put a puck off of in the final two seconds of the period. That said, he finished the night with no shots on net, no shooting attempts, and one of the few Devils (Ruutu, Clowe, and Carter being the others) to finish below 50% in shot-attempt differential in 5-on-5 play. That is, he played more defense than offense. Your mileage may vary. I'd say he was OK and leave it at that.
The Goalies: Griess wasn't tested much early on but his night grew more and more difficult. He did need the goalie's best friend to help him out twice. At the same time, the Devils needed a good shoulder and 0.2 seconds off the clock to beat him once so it's not as if he blew his team's lead. He'll get praise for the shootout as he held position fairly well, only being vulnerable just as the shooter ran out of room.
As for Brodeur, I'm not sure. The Chipchura goal was a bad one to allow. The Summers goal was forgivable as I don't think he saw it. The shootout goal he allowed to Mikkel Boedker was helped in part by his decision to go down early and stretch his leg out. That gave the skilled Boedker the space to shoot at that ultimately got his team another point. That said, Brodeur did make 25 other saves that were valuable. He had to deal with plenty from distance as Ekman-Larsson bombed away with six shots of his own. The Coyotes' first two power plays made him work real well. He denied a shorthanded breakaway that could've essentially ended the game in the third. He had an error, he did some better things later on, and that seems to be how it goes for Brodeur. Whether you think that's bad or not, is up to you. I would've preferred Cory Schneider to start this game and nothing Brodeur did would've changed my mind. That said, Brodeur didn't botch the game entirely and the guys in front of him couldn't find that extra goal to make all the difference - something that was real familiar with Schneider in net earlier this season.
All or Nothing (for Possession): When Boedker, Antoine Vermette, and Shane Doan were on the ice, the ice was not only tilted in Phoenix's direction but the shots were massively so as they heavily out shot the Devils in 5-on-5 play. The exact opposite happened when Martin Erat (yes, he played tonight; yes, he's on this team) and Jeff Halpern (still in the league) were on the ice. Those two weren't on the ice for a single Coyotes' shot for and were largely defending. Most of the rest of the visitors were unfavorable in attempts but around even in shots since the Devils' lead in attempts was driven in part by missing the net more than Phoenix.
X Factored: Kyle Chipchura: goal, primary assist, 7-for-9 on faceoffs, and 11:37 of ice time. Clearly a factor.
Your Take: The New Jersey Devils did take a 0-2 deficit into OT by the end of regulation. But they lost in the shootout to dampen the spirits even further. What's your take on this shootout loss? Who do you think had a very good game for the Devils? What would you like to see differently (other than more goals) for the next game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments.
Thanks to those who commented in the gamethread and followed the sparse tweets with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.