Tonight, the New Jersey Devils showed up at the Joe Louis Arena to play a game of hockey against the Detroit Red Wings. They did show up and played this game. It's just that they had a bad game plan with even worse execution. The New Jersey Devils went down 2-0, scored a quick three goals in the second period, but never fixed the issues that led to their early deficit. The Red Wings preyed upon the lax coverage on defense over and over and over and over. They ran away with this important regular season game by a score of 7-4.
Don't tell me the Devils didn't show up; they did to play one bad game. It was remarkable to see men in red jerseys open in the middle of the ice. Nearly all seven goals by Detroit were scored from the middle of the ice. The Devils failed to pick up trailing Red Wings and paid the price. The Devils failed to catch up on odd-man rushes and paid the price. They even failed twice to address Red Wings driving to the net looking for a rebound. It was just porous defensive coverage all night long. Cory Schneider certainly didn't play well. No goalie who gives up seven out of 33 shots can be said to be good. I can't. But he was hung out to dry so much by the Devils' skaters that I'm more sympathetic than mad at him. Not even Dominik Hasek in his prime would have made it any better. The skaters let him down tonight. I'd go as far as to fault the coaches - Peter DeBoer and Scott Stevens - since Detroit was looking for these plays right from the beginning of the game and even attempted it in their game on Tuesday. If there were any adjustments or tactical shifts, they didn't appear. Then again, maybe the players just couldn't execute them.
Full credit for this game goes to the Detroit Red Wings, of course. They made the opportunities happen. They took great shots. Johan Franzen continued to be one of, if not the, hottest players in the league. He finished the night with two goals, two assists, six shots, and a lot of deserved love from the Detroit faithful. The mule was amazing. Gustav Nyquist made the Devils look especially stupid for cutting across to the middle with no one on him and put the one shot that Schneider possibly should've had. He was an absolute force with a goal, three assists, and eight shots. He's a very good player. David Legwand had a strong night, scored his first with Detroit, and tacked on two assists. I'm sure any Red Wings fan concerned about the team getting him has less of them now. These three among their team really stood out and gave the Devils problems all night long.
As for the Devils, there aren't a lot of positives. They lost a crucial regular season game and lost it big. Adam Henrique stayed hot. He scored what was a go-ahead goal for the Devils in the second period and put home a backhander as a late consolation goal. I suppose the fact that the Devils got four goals as a team is a plus given their scoring this season. No injuries as far as I know. That's all I got, really. Tomorrow is an absolute must-win. It probably was even if they won this game, actually. But the Devils have to bounce back from this game on general principle. Let's hope Carolina didn't develop any plays for trailing skaters in odd-man rushes for Saturday night.
The Opposition Opinion: Obviously, those at Winging it in Motown are happy. As they should be, their favorite team won an important game and won big. They put the Devils' lost defensive effort to the sword and cut them down. Here's Detroitnr1's recap at WiiM.
The Game Highlights: There was that brief time the Devils came back from 0-2 to lead 3-2. Then Jon Merrill took a delay of game penalty and everything started to fall apart. Here's the video from NHL.com if you want to see each blow struck against the Devils (and the goals they did score):
The New Jersey evils: Defense was uncharacteristically atrocious tonight. Among the pairings, the Jon Merrill and Bryce Salvador pairing was lit on fire. Somehow, Merrill managed to not be on the ice for a goal against. It's OK, he took a delay of game call that led to Franzen turning 3-2 to 3-3. Salvador wasn't necessarily responsible for a goal against, actually. But the possession doesn't lie. The fact that both were double-digits in the red in shot attempt differential means they got killed. Burn that pairing.
As for the other four defenders, they weren't that much better despite better numbers in possession. I think Riley Sheahan is still blowing past Eric Gelinas. Marek Zidlicky was just there in body but decided to do nothing on both rebound goals. Drew Miller certainly was thankful for his (the seventh). Legwand's (the sixth) was especially odious as no Devil was near him as he charged in, went around Schneider, and fired it in. As far as why there was a not-small rebound, consider it was Franzen shooting it - I don't think he knows how to shoot softly. Andy Greene and Mark Fayne weren't their usual strong selves. It was so bad that I actually wouldn't be unhappy with Peter Harrold and/or Anton Volchenkov getting in tomorrow's game just on general principle.
Then there's the forwards. On the first five goals by Detroit, you can see a lot of tunnel vision by the forwards. Patrik Elias is normally as solid of a defender as you can get. Seeing him be totally unaware of what was behind him as Franzen was open in the slot for his second goal of the night on a PPG was harsh. He got caught puck watching the whole way. Henrique is also a good defender and he was caught late on Kyle Quincey after Sheahan blew by Gelinas. When Nyquist cut to the middle before his goal, he did it in between Travis Zajac (too far up) and Jaromir Jagr (not up enough). Michael Ryder, who's been playing like Petr Sykora would play now as of late, made a turnover to Franzen that turned into Legwand's goal. It almost makes me wonder why he didn't get a secondary assist on the play. There was a lot of bad from them. A defensive effort requires all skaters to be on the same page. That didn't happen tonight.
But The Goals: Scoring three goals in a row was great. But the Devils didn't really change their ways because of it. The goals were pretty cool. Elias picked up a loose puck that got away from Thomas Tatar and just went ahead. Henrique could've been up with him but he went wide (possibly for a change?). Elias attempted a slap shot from distance and he just torched Jonas Gustavsson with it. Shortly thereafter, Jagr managed to keep the puck on his stick through Detroit defenders and unloaded an excellent shot past Gustavsson. After a Detroit timeout, the Devils went back on the attack. Mark Fayne fired a shot that got through Gustavsson but died in the crease. Henrique tapped it in. These were good goals. Too bad the Devils gave them back and then some.
Further Proof of Control: From the first period on, much was made on the broadcast and elsewhere that the Devils looked slow. Of course they did. Detroit maintained control of the puck. They won pucks, they didn't give it up easily, and they hit their passes. The opposition will always look slower, sloppier, and whatever term you choose in that case. Jagr coughing up the puck in the neutral zone that led to the play ended by a long blast Brendan Smith in the first period was a perfect example. The Devils could only react to what Detroit did. They ultimately paid for it then, but it was a common scene from the beginning of the game. Detroit led 11-6 and 13-10 in shots in the first and second period respectively. Over the whole game, the Red Wings out-attempted the Devils 44-40 per Extra Skater's Game Stats. It wasn't an accident. It wasn't that the Devils were disinterested. Detroit just controlled the puck more often. When you do that, you control the game and on some nights, it shows on the scoreboard. It certainly did tonight.
The Debut of Ruutu: Meh. This game didn't reflect well on most of the team. Since it was the first game for Tuomo Ruutu, I'm hesitant to be harsh. He wasn't really awful; he just didn't make much of a mark on the game in my opinion. I need to see more, preferably as part of a better team effort.
Special Teams: The Devils' power play displayed their struggles at just getting in the opposition's end of the rink and getting set up. When they did, they looked OK. It didn't happen often enough across their three opportunities. As for the PK, they looked stronger tonight. They only conceded two shots against across three situations. The Devils even did get a goal out of it. Alas, it wasn't perfect. Franzen's power play goal was a result of Elias not being aware of his man; it wasn't a unit error.
Better to Have Led than Never to Have Led At All?: I don't know. I think the 3-2 lead by the Devils in the second period was made to be an illusion given how Detroit just stormed back to finish the period up two goals. I will say it makes this loss sting a bit more. The Devils showed some fight, they made it a game after looking down the wrong end of two goals against. To witness it all go down the tubes was frustrating among other feelings.
Please: The Devils surely have to do better tomorrow night, right? Right?
Your Take: This game was hideous. What do you think of it? What part of it disappointed you the most? Who was the worst Devil tonight and why? Are there any positives to take out of this game in your opinion? Please leave your thoughts and other comments about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.