Postgame Thoughts: Jets 4, Devils 2 (2/24/13)
Well, that got out of hand quickly. After a strong first period, the Devils seemed completely overwhelmed by the tempo of the game and just never got it going. All of the textbook problems were there and you have to wonder if Marty’s late scratch may have played a factor. Some thoughts…
Funky: I delved into it briefly during the pregame post, but the Devils have been less than stellar over the past two weeks. During that stretch, they’ve failed to put together an overall game as strong and complete as some of their early season efforts. Is it the injuries and lack of depth catching up to them or is this the Devils team we should get used to seeing? I tend to think it’s a bit of both. The Devils probably aren’t as good as they showed in the first couple weeks, but they’re certainly better than the team that lost 9-3 over the past two days. They’re in a funk, which Pete DeBoer has been aware of for a few games now. DeBoer has tried to find a way to spark the Devils out of their funk, specifically using line changes to try to get players out of their comfort zones and force them back into doing some of the fundamentals of the Devils’ gameplan. It’s worked for some players (Travis Zajac’s goal from Patrik Elias tonight), but for the most part the alterations have been unsuccessful in getting the Devils back to playing their basic game of forechecking, taking away the other team’s best player and being responsible with the puck in their own zone. Is it time to panic? Not by a longshot, but the time to be concerned has definitely arrived.
Mind the pace: When the Devils aren’t forechecking, they’re usually not winning. Today, the Devils had difficulty establishing any sort of sustained pressure in the Jets’ zone and they let Winnipeg set the tone for most of the game. It was an up-and-down, wide-open style that led to a lot of mental mistakes, a lot of giveaways and a lot of prime scoring chances. Today, the Devils made more mistakes and the Jets were able to capitalize. This is where I think the Devils miss Carter and Zubrus the most. Those two guys are key figures in the way the Devils grind down opponents and slow the pace. Unfortunately, it’ll be at least another two weeks before Zubrus returns and Carter could be sidelined indefinitely as he deals with post-concussion symptoms. That means the rest of the team has to pick up the slack and rededicate themselves to grinding out a game instead of trying to just make skill plays. There were a couple opportunities tonight where the Devils tried to go for the pretty play or the scoring opportunity instead of dumping the puck below the goal line and working through an extended possession. To quote the movie “Miracle,” the Devils aren’t talented enough to win on talent alone.
Backup blues: How much of today’s loss is on Johan Hedberg? How much of it is on the sudden late scratch of Martin Brodeur? Any? Some? Regardless of the answer, Hedberg has looked less than solid in each of his last three starts. While DeBoer might now be worried about him, I am. He should have saved the Clitsome shot that tied the game at 2 and I think that pokecheck on the Evander Kane goal was an unnecessary risk. Hedberg has been very reliable in his time as Brodeur’s backup and I wouldn’t do anything rash and “FREAK OUT, MAN.” But I will say this — I think DeBoer has to be concerned about how much and when he uses Hedberg. Obviously he’s not strong in back-to-backs, but he’ll likely never have to do that again. But maybe in a situation where DeBoer would normally use Hedberg but the Devils are scuffling a bit and need a win — maybe then you go to Brodeur again just to give the team some confidence. I know DeBoer keeps saying the Devils aren’t giving Hedberg any offensive support (and that’s true), but he’s given up five, five and four goals in his last three starts, respectively. At some point, it stops being about the goals scored in front of you and the goals you keep from going in behind you.
Game of groans: I’ll keep this brief because I don’t think anyone looks at Anton Volchenkov as a beast of burden in the Devils’ defensive corps. That said, his two penalties today were absolute killers and so freaking lazy. The Jets tied the game on the first Volchenkov-sponsored power play and then put in the fourth and final goal about a minute after the second penalty expired. I think it might be time to either see what Peter Harrold can do on defense or see what’s out there on the trade market. Despite having eight defensemen on the NHL roster, the Devils could use a boost on their blue line (like a lot of teams). Will there be anything out there? Probably not for a reasonable price, but it also might not be the worst idea to give Harrold a brief look while taking a leaguewide survey. I mean, if you’re going to hamstring yourself by having Harrold on the roster as an eighth defenseman, shouldn’t he get in the game at some point? Or am I just talking crazy nonsense?
Notes: I wrote this on Twitter during the game but it bears repeating: I find it hard to believe the Kings couldn’t find a spot for Andrei Loktionov. The kid can legitimately play and he’s got more offensive skill than I originally thought. I’m cautiously excited about his place on the team. … Patrik Elias should bottle his essence and sell it on QVC as a cure-all for slumping scorers. I think as long as Zajac skates on a line with him, Travis will find the back of the next more than a few times. … Steve Bernier has five goals so far, the same amount he had in 68 games with the Florida Panthers two seasons ago. Another fantastic find by Lamoriello. … Man, the Jets really love that wide-open, go-go-go style of hockey and it suits them pretty well. They’ve got a very forward-thinking defensive group and some guys with some nice speed and skill up front, particularly Evander Kane. … Where, oh, where have you gone David Clarkson’s scoring touch? … Worst game Adam Larsson’s played this season. That “pass” across the top of the offensive zone that led to the Kane goal was just awful. That said, he’s still one of the Devils’ two best defensemen on a night-by-night basis. The Devils are just going to have to live with his growing pains. … Can’t stress how many times I jotted down “pace” in my game notes tonight. Unreal. … Penalty kill still struggling although they limited the opportunities tonight, which was nice to see. … How did the ref miss that Ron Hainsey puck grab in the third? That whole sequence was just so strange and so bizarre. I guess the cross bar got in his way as he came around the back of the net, but that was a tough one to miss.