When you're guilty of multiple defensive breakdowns in the first period and no-show the entire second, it's highly unlikely that any sense of urgency in the third is going to save you. That was pretty much the story for the Devils as they went back into the losing side of the ledger Saturday. Some thoughts...
What are you waiting for: Remember when bad starts were the problem? Well, that's not exactly the case now -- the Devils' starts have actually been OK, but they haven't shown any urgency over the past three games until their backs are up against the wall in the third period. Thursday night the Devils did just enough to force OT, but tonight and the time before came up short. And it's not even just about the offensive side of their game. The Devils basically allowed the Hurricanes to walk into their zone time after time and showed absolutely no fight in clearing the crease. Two of the goals tonight were the direct result of Devils defenders allowing a Hurricane forward to stand right in front of Johan Hedberg and play the puck. That's simply unacceptable and has to change, because it doesn't look like the Devils are going to be able to score more than two or three goals on a regular basis. I'm starting to worry this is more than just a bad habit. I'm starting to worry this "is what it is." The defense is slow and sloppy, the offense is pressing and gripping their sticks too tight and Pete DeBoer showed at least four different versions of the "You gotta be kidding me" face tonight. I can only imagine what he said to them between the second and the third period that had them jumping out of their skates to start the period, but it's probably not along the lines of "Good job, good effort." Will things change tomorrow night against Winnipeg? Maybe, but I'm not holding my breath.
Break it down: The first period wasn't bad. In all actuality, the Devils were probably the better overall team, but there were two breakdowns and that led directly to goals. On the first goal, the Devils (again) overpursued the puck, with three Devils on one side of the faceoff dot and facing the puck carrier. OK, that tends to happen on a penalty kill -- but the Devils happened to forget the guy behind the net: Alexander Semin, who was wide open in front of the net, deked Hedberg out of the crease and backhanded an easy goal. Normally I would've called this the Bryce Salvador Special, but he didn't even play tonight. On the second goal, it was another case of the Devils not backchecking and not taking care of the trailer, who happened to be defenseman Jay Harrison. When Eric Staal's puck bounced to an open portion of the net, there was Harrison, streaking into the slot and completely unchecked. He had enough of the net to shoot at that it wasn't really all that difficult a shot for him. And those two goals ruined a solid first period for New Jersey, which is exactly what happened in Tuesday's loss. As for the second period, it looked like the Devils were sleeping for almost the entire period. Hedberg will take the fall, and he should, but he was consistently let down by a defensive group that did nothing to protect the ice around the crease and a defense that let the Canes come and go from the Devils' zone at will. Breakdowns of a different sort, but breakdowns nonetheless -- and far too many in a game against a team that boasts two legit scoring lines. That's basically been the story of this slide for the Devils, breakdowns on top of breakdowns, average to below-average goaltending and not enough offense. That's how you go from first to seventh in the conference in two weeks.
Backup blues: So, I know we all knew the Devils needed Martin Brodeur before he got hut, but I think we all know right now just how badly they need him this year. Hedberg is either exhausted, finished, overwhelmed or some combination of the three. He's clearly not up to the job of being this team's full-time goaltender and DeBoer has absolutely no interest in starting anyone else in net while Brodeur is out. Tonight, Moose let in at least two goals that he absolutely should've had and just looked completely shell-shocked by the time of the fourth goal. Unfortunately, there's no other real answer except to wait for Marty to return and no one seems to know when that will be. The only option for the Devils is to become a team that scores three goals a night on a regular basis and hope to either win or get to overtime and get a point. Do you see that happening any time soon? I didn't think so.
Notes: All of the Devils' assists tonight came from the blue line. That tells you all you need to know about the offensive output from the forwards tonight. ... Adam Larsson is much stronger in his own zone than he was last year, but he's gotta be more aggressive with the puck on his stick. The Devils need some sort of offense from the back end besides Marek Zidlicky. ... Semin is making himself a lot of money right now -- a lot. ... Jiri Tlusty: Four goals in two games against the Devils. Jeez, they might wanna put someone on him every time he enters the offensive zone, like how NFL defenses use a "spy" on mobile quarterbacks. ... How many times are we going to have to watch the Devils make one too many passes on an odd-man rush? ... Travis Zajac may be a ghost in the offensive zone, but credit to him for getting back and using his stick to disrupt Semin on what should've been a 3-on-2 and likely a goal for Carolina during the first period. ... I can't get over how different the Devils look in the third period over the last three games. If only DeBoer could bottle that and somehow deploy it for the other periods, the Devils might actually put together a winning streak. ... Ilya Kovalchuk's good at hockey. Really good. I feel like I need to repeat that once a week so no one forgets. ... Peter Harrold, who played solidly Thursday night, was the worst Devil on the ice tonight. If either Henrik Tallinder or Salvador are healthy tomorrow, I don't think there's any doubt who's coming out. The question now is whether he's worth keeping on the NHL roster -- but you already know my feelings on that. ... I thought Jeff Frazee looked OK, but he wasn't really tested enough for me to form a real opinion. I thought Keith Kinkaid had a much tougher first NHL test.