If you can play better in a loss, I'd like to see it. OK, maybe if you scored some goals, but I'm not sure how much more the Devils could've done tonight. They dominated puck possession, neutralized the Bruins' offense and put tons of pucks on net -- all to come up with nothing. Even worse, with the way things are unfolding around the East, they've fallen out of the playoff picture for now. Not a good night, to say the least. Some thoughts...
Everything but the kitchen sink: The Devils did it all tonight. They threw pucks at the net, they deked the Bruins out of their jocks (Andy Greene says "Hi" Shawn Thornton) and they had Tuukka Rask running all around his crease. Yet, at the end of the day, it was a zero on the scoreboard. While I've spent countless posts here lamenting the Devils' lack of a finisher, never was it more apparent than tonight. Say the Devils didn't get "puck luck" and I'll say you're being naive. Tell me the Devils should've scored four times tonight and I'll respond, "But they didn't." None of this is to say the Devils played poorly in the offensive end; it was quite the opposite. The Devils did so many things well tonight, reducing the Bruins (arguably the second-best team in the East) to nothing more than partners in an optional skate. But the one thing they didn't do outweighs all the positive because this time of the year isn't about "building." Just like coffee, April is for closers, which is one thing the Devils have been woefully lacking since January 19. There's no relying on Ilya Kovalchuk's return. It's not coming "anytime soon," according to Pete DeBoer. That means "future Hall of Famer" Patrick Elias, "budding power forward" David Clarkson and promising young centers Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique need to start putting pucks into the net. Devils fans ask if this team can make a run like last season but tonight was 60 minutes worth of reasons why they might not even get the chance.
Perfect opportunity: The worst part of tonight's loss was they wasted a wonderful performance by Marty Brodeur. No, he wasn't tested a lot -- the Bruins' 26 shots felt more like 16 -- but he was spectacular when he needed to be and solid when he didn't. The Devils wasted a performance they're not likely to get more than once or twice every few weeks. Brodeur's sliding skate save in the final minutes of the third period somehow kept the puck out of the net, much like the right post did moments later. But that's the thing about vintage Marty, when he's on his game, so are the metal pipes surrounding him. The pipes seem to be more friend than foe when Brodeur is playing at a high level, giving Marty three extra appendages like some freakish hockey version of Doc Ock. Unfortunately, the only thing Marty gets for his stellar evening is a boost to his goals against average and save percentage, all while the one stat the Devils didn't need continue to add up. The losses keep coming, whether Brodeur is on his game or off. That should be a terrifying thought for the Devils and their fans.
Looking up: The Devils are frustrated. You can see it by the repeating image of heads jerking back, eyes agape at yet another blown chance. When the Devils aren't staring blankly from their bench, they're pointing their gazes upwards, almost begging some higher power to reward their hard work. Except when you build a team that's counting on fourth-line wingers to play third-line minutes and asking a second-year player to go from ROTY candidate to All-Star, all while hoping that an out-of-nowhere 30-goal season somehow repeats itself -- well, you get the 2013 Devils. They score four goals when everything seems to be clicking, until the Lightning score in the final seconds and it all goes to shit. DeBoer spent the first weeks of the season talking about how overtime losses weren't ideal but were good enough. They needed all the points they could gather, he said. He was partly right. Can you imagine where the Devils would be right now if not for that roaring start? Injuries are part of the problem, but so is not adding any legitimate secondary scoring either last summer or during the first few weeks of the season. The Devils will continue to hit the post and the crossbar. They'll continue to flub shots and watch the puck hit the outside of the net. It's not because they're not getting scoring chances. It's because the players on the roster aren't good enough to finish those chances. This isn't necessarily an issue with coaching or system, although those have both been issues at separate points this season. This is an issue with the flawed construction of a roster that left the team with too many shortcomings to overcome injuries or regressions from the few players talented enough to help replace Zach Parise's scoring and offensive presence. So the Devils will likely keep looking up at the ceiling, perhaps even in the locker room on baggie day, which will come a lot earlier than last year's.
Crazy 8 (plus 3): Don't look now, but the Flyers are two points behind the Devils, who are in ninth with 39 points after tonight's loss and the Islanders' (40 points) overtime loss. The team that beat the Isles, the Capitals (yes, the Capitals we all counted out weeks ago) have 38 points and are sitting in third place The Jets, who also have 38 points, are in 10th based on tiebreakers and the Rangers, meanwhile, are in 8th with 39 points and at least one game in hand on most of their playoff competitors. If you're starting to feel tight around the collar, it's a feeling you share with the Devils. Things are getting tight in the bottom third of the Eastern Conference playoff chase and the Devils have more in common with teams careening out of the picture than they do with those moving on up. The good news for New Jersey? Of the Devils' remaining 11 games, two are against teams currently out of the playoff picture (Panthers, Sabres) and three come against teams they're directly competing with (Rangers 2x, Flyers). The bad news? The Flyers and Rangers might be hitting their stride and the quickest way to fall out of the playoff chase is to lose those oh-so-special "four-point games." That's not even mentioning the games remaining against the Bruins, Senators, Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Penguins. The point being the Devils neutralized the team with the second-most points in the East tonight, yet still fell in the standings. What happens when they lay an egg?
Notes: I'm not quite sure how Bryce Salvador got back out on the ice tonight. He could barely tough his leg to the ice after that hip check in the first few minutes, yet was back on the bench before the 10-minute mark for the first and took a shift minutes later. He is way more banged up than the Devils are letting on. ... Andrei Loktionov was shot out of a cannon tonight, but that he was (arguably) the Devils' top center tonight is one of the problems, not the solution. I'm a huge Loktionov fan, but he should be playing third- or (maybe) second-line minutes -- not carrying the top line that's already missing its best player. ... The Devils' response to the Bruins' goal was one of the better responses they've had to going down 1-0 this season, which is saying something because, you know, they've given up the first goal a lot this season. ... Speaking of which, guys like Jaromir Jagr have all the (puck) luck, right? ... The David Krejci line was pretty much the only one that put consistent pressure on the Devils tonight. They had some shifts and I was actually surprised they didn't score. ... Remember that "jerking head motion after a missed goal" thing I talked about? David Clarkson is the poster boy. I'm surprised he hasn't missed time with whiplash. ... How desperate is DeBoer for an answer? He reunited the CBGB line for a key shift late in the third period. The fourth line. I enjoy watching those guys play, but should they be the ones you go to for an answer? ... The Devils' frustration came to a head with about 4 minutes left in the third when the Devils were looking for penalties on three successive shifts. In fact, they showed Steve Bernier on the bench a minute-plus later still complaining to a teammate about the call he didn't get.