Oh, the first period wasn't too bad. But in the second period, the Devils collectively forgot how to play anything resembling an aggressive offense. The "highlight" being a John Madden shorthanded breakaway. Sergei Gonchar fell down on his own at the point with the puck whilst on the power play, and Madden took advantage. Madden's no offensive dynamo, but even he could have done something with this opportunity.
He misses the net.
Alas, it was the only shot that the Devils would take on backup Penguins goaltender Jocelyn Thibault that would be directly in the slot. The offense in this game was horrible. Horrible. The power play was impotent and the Devils could not maintain any sustained pressure on Thibault and the Penguins defense. For the few shifts where the Devils maintained control in Pittsburgh's end for more than 10 seconds, they did way too much passing along the perimeter as opposed to challenging Thibault. The Devils took 24 shots and pretty much all of them were no trouble for Thibault. He was not challenged at all. The vast majority came straight ahead from the point or from the endboards. He did not have to make lateral movements to get at the puck. He did not have to make glove saves. So many of the shots went at his already-set chest and his already-set leg pads with no problem. Yes, good on him for the shutout, but I'm pretty sure any goalie in the league would have gotten a shutout against an "offensive" performance that the Devils threw out there. You know how bad it was? Let me put this in perspective.
The last time the Devils got shutout was back in November on the road against San Jose. In that game, the Devils actually played the Sharks closely and actually made Evgeni Nabokov work during the game.
Defense was sloppy at times. They held the team as a whole quietly, but the first and third goals should not have occurred were the Devils performing as they normally do. The first goal came from a really sharp angle shot by Jarkko Ruutu; with an unfortunate deflection off Travis Zajac's stick. Some have defended the play and say it was just unlucky, fair enough. But Martin Brodeur is arguably the best goaltender in the NHL. Let him face the shot! On the third goal, the Devils just hung Brodeur out to dry, forcing him to take a risky pokecheck. Brodeur missed and the goal was easy for Jordan Staal. Ugh.
But the offense is what I'm most unhappy about. They showed no fire. None at all. Well, that's not true. Late in the second, Patrik Elias decided he had enough of something and tried to drive to the net - a novel idea the Devils didn't think of during this game - on an end to end rush wherein he burned about 3 Penguins. It looked like something out of a video game; as if he hit and held his inner "speed boost" button. Why didn't he do more of that? Well, in the third period, he got upended in his leg and left the game as a result.
Yes, it's possible that the Devils' most talented forward is now injured. What's more is that John Madden also left the game during the third period with an injury. It is not known what the injury is; but the fact that they happened as well as the Devils' completely listless and pedestrian offense makes this a really bad game.
Next is the Hurricanes down in Carolina tomorrow. No Gionta, possibly no Elias or Madden, and coming off a bad loss. Had the Devils showed something resembling a damn for most of the game, maybe I'd be talking about how the Devils are tied with Buffalo and improved their chances of securing the Atlantic Division. Instead, the Devils remain behind Buffalo and now Pittsburgh is breathing down New Jersey's necks being only behind by 4 points. Tomorrow is a gut check game and I'm worried about it.
How can I not be? Jocelyn Thibault got his first shutout since 2003 against the Devils in New Jersey tonight.
Labels: Devils Postgame