Tonight didn't matter in the larger picture of the 2013-14 regular season. In less than a week, the game won't count for anything. The New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators stepped out onto the ice with nothing to play for this evening. They both were eliminated from the playoffs. They both put in an effort to play a competitive game of hockey. Sure, it had it's lulls. It also had a penalty shot denied, plenty of open shots, and several scoring chances by both teams that ended with big stops by Cory Schneider and Robin Lehner, the two best players for both teams tonight. I'll admit it wasn't easy to get into this game knowing that it doesn't mean much. But it wasn't a relative snooze-fest either.
Unfortunately, the game ended with a very familiar and dull pain for Devils fans this season: a shootout. No, the Devils did not score a goal. Yes, Ottawa got one. This time it took four rounds. Yet again, they lost - their twelfth of the season. It would have felt like a sick joke if the Devils finally won one of those tonight, just after it helped them stay out of the playoffs. But at least a sick joke could yield a laugh. The one that completed the dozen of post-overtime futility just left me sighing. Not out of anger. Not out of frustration. Not even out of sadness. Just something that felt appropriate.
Schneider left the game smashing his stick in anger. I don't blame him. The Devils had an awful start as Ottawa went up 9-1 in shots during the first period. Schneider was a big reason why the game was still, well, a game then. The Devils would put up a better offensive effort, but throughout the game, Schneider was called upon to make an important save and he did. He bailed out Adam Larsson after a potentially killer turnover. He denied an open shot in the slot by Clark MacArthur and the followup by Mark Stone. He robbed Chris Phillips on a point-blank one-timer in overtime. He made 32 good saves. The one that beat him in regulation was Mike Hoffman putting one in as a trailer in a 2-on-2 rush - created by a good pass by Mika Zibanejad. Not a bad goal at all. Schneider even made stops in the shootout; Erik Karlsson beat him with a good move and that was that. Schneider put in another "A" performance but comes out of this one without a "W" thanks in part to a lack of goal support.
It's not like the Devils didn't try. The Devils put 39 on Robin Lehner. They did create plenty of chances. Jaromir Jagr alone is probably still mad that he didn't finish a breakaway in overtime among his four other shots on net. His slump sadly continues despite making defenders look silly at least once a game. Andy Greene had an awesome look before the end of regulation, but Lehner got a piece of it with his glove. Lehner denied Patrik Elias with his right toe when he got sprung for an open shot in front. Lehner moved very well post to post. The only one that beat him was a bit of chaos in front helped by Tim Sestito and Anton Volchenkov crashing the net. Michael Ryder put in the loose puck to make it 1-1 in the second. The Devils pushed for the breakthrough but, like so many nights this season, it never happened. And it happened too many nights this season - at least twelve - which is partially why there's no postseason for the Devils.
The Opposition Opinion: Ameila L has this recap of the game from a Senators perspective at Silver Seven.
The Game Highlights: Loads of saves! Two goals in regulation! And some more in this highlight video at NHL.com:
Existing!: Michael Ryder exists! He actually was rather active on offense with three shots on net, four attempts blocked, and one missed shot. He also scored the lone goal for the Devils tonight. I can't be too mad with his game because of that. But, seriously, the Sestito, Dainius Zubrus, and Ryder line wasn't hot garbage. I suspect we'll see it tomorrow.
Turris Unit!: The Devils didn't exactly quell the Spezza line. They had a good game. Ales Hemsky, Jason Spezza, and Milan Michalek each got two shots each in all situations. Marek Zidlicky did foul Hemsky on a breakaway, which yielded a penalty shot that Schneider stopped. But I ended up being more impressed and concerned by the Turris line. They seemingly kept finding holes in the neutral zone and in the Devils' end in the second period for open shots. MacArthur had five shots on seven attempts. Turris had three shots. Mark Stone had three as well. I was amazed that Schneider denied MacArthur and Stone on successive shots in the second. They had a strong game. I think better than the Spezza line, but Ottawa's top six wasn't their problem at all tonight.
Returning Elias!: Patrik Elias had an active game, too. He got moved up as the game went on wih Jagr and Travis Zajac, moving away from Damien Brunner and Mike Sislo. He very nearly scored out of his four shots on net, which is not at all a bad effort. That said, he wasn't perfect. I wasn't happy with the penalty he took. He lost some pucks on offense early on that could have - but didn't - end in distaster. I do like he went through 19 or so minutes without any issue. He should be OK to see out the season, which is always a good thing to see.
Returning Larsson!: Larsson was put into the lineup tonight and he was good. He had some poor moments, like a bad turnover in the first. But there was many more positives than negatives as he was only out-shot 10-4 at evens. He got some special teams time. He got a shootout attempt where he showed some dekes. He got hooked early in the third period to give the Devils an early power play (it was wasted). He got two shots on Lehner. He even attempted that not-very-successful wraparound move Zidlicky likes to do. I didn't know what to think about his inclusion over Eric Gelinas and Peter Harrold, but after tonight, I had no overall issue with what he did.
CBGB?: It was sort of a typical night for them. They got out-attempted, but shots were close to even. Ryan Carter did draw a call but also didn't really pick up the Senator streaking into the slot - Hoffman - that yielded a goal. It was the sort of night where they didn't do so much good that they justified their use, but they weren't nearly as bad as some think to be.
Same Special Teams Too: I really liked the penalty killing effort by the Devils tonight. They allowed all but one shot, while generating a few shorthanded looks themselves. I was left wanting by the power play. The second one wasn't so bad once they got set up (three shots), but the first one was a waste of time (one from Ryder at the end). Both could have provided the breakthrough goal for the Devils, but alas, they didn't bring much to the table again.
Your Take: Well, the Devils now lost a dozen shootouts, which feels a lot like it did when they lost nine, ten, and eleven. They didn't play a bad game - a bad start, yes - but they couldn't beat Lehner playing really well to support Schneider, who was also playing really well. What's your take on this game? What would you do with this roster for the Isles game tomorrow? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this shootout loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.