There's going to be a multitude of reactions to tonight's loss. Many will cite "puck luck" or the lack thereof. Others will claim a screwjob from the refs in the third period. Some will say Pete DeBoer isn't doing his job and needs to go, if only to shake up the team. I'll give you the first one. I may even listen to you on the second one, too. But this loss, like most of the last nine have not been the fault of one, Pete DeBoer. This loss, like this skid, is a combination of factors, but the blame resides largely on the ice. Some thoughts...
Car, meet wall: We talked about it in our pregame thread, the idea of a team struggling to score running into a very good goalie in Craig Anderson. We were concerned that if Anderson was on his game, it might not matter what the Devils did -- and after 60 minutes it was pretty clear that Anderson was going to win tonight no matter what the Devils did. Although he got a little help from the iron maidens, he did plenty of work on his own. At times, Anderson used excellent positioning to give the Devils almost nowhere to shoot. The rest of the time he flung his legs or his glove or his blocker (or the butt end of his stick) into the Devils' way (and faces). Flat out -- Anderson was a damn beast tonight. He might have missed too much time with a sprained ankle to still be considered for the Vezina, but he put on the type of late-season performance tonight that usually rockets a goalie's name to the top of the list. You know what tonight was? It was the Coyote vs. the Roadrunner. The Coyote painted the train tunnel on the rock, thinking it would fool the Roadrunner, who of course (through the miracle of dated animation) ran right through that tunnel. When the Coyote tried to follow, he either found himself flattened by a train or up against the rock. Craig Anderson was both the train and the rock tonight, sitting back and attacking and basically steamrolling a Devils team that basically gave everything it had and came up with nothing.
Wow: 33 to 11. That's the amount the Devils shot the puck on net as opposed to the Senators. 33 TO 11! I can't even wrap my head around that differential, especially in a 2-0 loss. I keep coming back to a phrase Chico Resch repeated over (and over and over) during tonight's game. "The Devils are close, but they just can't get the puck in the net." Chico thought the more they shot, the harder they skated, the goals would eventually come. But they didn't. They haven't come all season. Whether it's Martin Brodeur or Johan Hedberg in net. Whether Ilya Kovalchuk is playing 30 minutes or sitting in the press box. The goals rarely end up in the back of the net for this Devils club. You can cry "bad puck luck" all you want, but I keep going back to something DeBoer has been saying since last season: In this game, you create your own luck. Yes, there's deflections and pucks sometimes go off skates or endboards or metal posts and end up tickling the twine. And sometimes that's just the result of hard work or a good forecheck (like it was on Ottawa's first goal tonight), but a lot of times it's the end result of talent winning out. Although their forecheck has been spotty for long stretches, the Devils work hard most nights. The problem is that when you are counting on a guy like Ryan Carter to get you back in a game, you're probably in rough shape. I don't know how many times I can write the same thing, but, for me, this all comes back to roster construction.
No, no, no, no: This is not Pete DeBoer's fault. Say it with me: This is not Pete DeBoer's fault. He does not deserve to get fired. This is not a situation where Lou Lamoriello can suddenly shake up the team with a late-season firing and spur the boys into a miraculous playoff push. The Devils must build for next year and the year after that and the year ... OK, you get the point. The Devils have to rebuild the roster, but they do not have to do a damn thing to the coaching staff. You're not going to fire Scott Stevens, not are you going to axe Matt Shaw, who's specialty (the power play) has looked downright abysmal this season. DeBoer? I know some of you think he's not doing enough or this team isn't responding to him, but that's simply not the case. On the first point, he's done everything short of trading half the team for the Albany Devils. He's pulled veterans and young players out of the lineup. He's moved first-line players to the third line and second liners to the fourth -- sometimes in the middle of a period. He's put them through rigorous practices in the midst of road trips while also giving them a day off when it was deserved. Pete DeBoer is doing everything he can -- and sometimes, it's worked, which leads us to the second point. A team that has quit on its coach or tuned its coach out doesn't suddenly awaken after timeouts like the Devils have done constantly this season. They don't go into the dressing room a beaten team only to come out looking like the clearly better squad. The players like DeBoer and most importantly, they respect him. This is an on-the-ice problem and there's only so much DeBoer can do about that.
Bad math: Todd Cordell of Hockey Buzz postulated on Twitter tonight the Devils will likely need to go 6-1 over their final seven games to win the playoffs. After checking his math, it's hard to argue. Those six necessary wins also include two regulation victories over the Rangers within a span of six days. I'm not saying it can't be done. I'm saying it won't be done. This team can't win three out of four, let alone six out of seven -- not when their final week reads at the Rangers, home for the Canadiens, home for the Penguins and at the Rangers again. They're losing at least two of those games or at least going to overtime once with the Rangers. That's also assuming they go 3-0 next week against the Maple Leafs, Panthers and Flyers, who you know would like nothing more than to EFF the Devils' shit up. There's no "good time" for a nine-game winless streak, but the Devils certainly picked an inopportune time for theirs. It looks like it's time to starting thinking about baggie day and start planning what you'll be doing the first week of May.
Notes: Seriously, if Anderson doesn't at least get a fine for what he did to Adam Henrique in the secord period, I'm gonna -- OK, I'm not gonna do anything, but it'll be pretty ridiculous. ... Has David Clarkson scored his last goal as a New Jersey Devil? ... They REALLY need to put in some offseason work on finding a power-play specialist. I mean, for crying out loud. ... Speaking of the power play, why not try Adam Larsson there over the next two weeks? He had his best game in weeks and it included some pretty nice moves with the puck. It's better than the same old thing from Marek Zidlicky. ... I thought Steve Sullivan had some nice offensive chances tonight. It seemed like every time I looked up he and the puck were around the net. Maybe he's worth taking a camp flier on next season? ... How do you win a draw in the offensive zone and end up giving up an odd-man rush? Better yet, how do two defensemen BOTH go to play the puck and collide, ensuring neither of them get it? It felt like I was watching a vaudeville act at times. ... It was so predictable that the Devils showed some immediate fire after the David Clarkson fight and Henrique's cross-check. I guess that's why DeBoer chose not to call a timeout tonight. ... I will admit there was VERY questionable officiating in the third period with some blatantly missed calls. I imagine those refs will be hearing from the league office.