Well, the New Jersey Devils had a chance to close out their three game homestand with a win and they blew it. They failed to score any goals in a 3-0 loss against the Florida Panthers, resulting in the third time they’ve been shut out this season. This was Florida goaltender Robert Luongo’s 73rd career shutout (11th all-time) and 448th win (passed Terry Sawchuk tonight for 5th all-time). This is the first time in team history that Florida has swept the season series against New Jersey. The first two games of the series were both overtime losses.
It wasn’t a bad game for the Devils, per se. The game itself was, dare I say it, boring. It was still fast-paced hockey but it wasn’t as exciting as other games have been. I almost wish this game had gone into overtime just like the other two.
Both teams are evenly matched. They’re very similar in standings. Florida only outshot New Jersey by 1 (29-28). The difference was Florida’s power play goal when Pavel Zacha was sent to the penalty box on a five-minute roughing major. He boarded Malgin and as a result of the ensuing scrum, Thorton received a two-minute roughing minor. Florida scored with 22 seconds left of their three-minute power play. The Devils did a great job all night of killing penalties. The Panthers were only able to score on one of their six power play opportunities.
The hit in question was clean (to me); Malgin had his back turned but he did not return to the game and hurts Florida even further, who are currently depleted with injuries. The penalty probably shouldn’t have been five minutes especially back in December when the Washington Capitals’ Tom Wilson similarly boarded John Moore and there was no penalty. Moore had to be stretchered off the ice and still has not returned. There wasn’t any penalty called, let alone the wrong one. The officiating season has been worse than normal this season and I won’t nitpick calls; referees have different versions of the rules but those rules have to become standards across the league. A penalty called in one game has to be a penalty called in another, and if a penalty isn’t called, it shouldn’t be called in another situation.
The Devils didn’t score on either of their power plays tonight and while that is still a problem, I won’t keep harping on about how they need to score power play goals. They’re taking more shots (they had five SOG on the second) which will eventually lead to more goals. Taylor Hall led the team with six shots on goal; Kyle Palmieri had four. Hall is taking more shots than he has been and had a few good chances tonight; he will score eventually. It’s frustrating for any player to go through a goal-scoring drought but he’ll come around. Hopefully he’ll score a goal or two in Edmonton.
The Devils offense just isn’t there right now. Even if they managed to score a few goals a night (two or three), they can win games. Two goals tonight would have won the game (Florida wouldn’t have those two empty net goals). The Devils did have plenty of chances. A few shots hit the posts. The pucks just couldn’t find the back of the net; Luongo was too good. He denied Miles Wood on a really nice breakaway. They were better at finding rebounds and winning puck battles but the team looks like they just don’t want to play. They took way too many unnecessary penalties, especially by the Devils defensemen.
The Devils defense as a whole has gotten much better over the last few weeks. They’re not allowing as many goals as they were and they’re not allowing as many shots to get through to whoever is in net, whether it’s Cory Schneider or Keith Kinkaid. They’re blocking more shots and slowing moving the game out of their zone. The Devils are actually playing hockey during their second periods and outshot the Panthers tonight. They’re not allowing late-period goals or easy scoring opportunities. They’re making progress in a lot of different areas and while they probably won’t make the playoffs this season, they’re doing the right things to be a Cup-contending team next season.
The second half of the season is officially underway. The New Jersey Devils return to the ice to face the Edmonton Oilers in their last meeting of the season on Thursday night. This game marks the first of four games on this West Coast road trip. It will be a late one: puck drops at 9PM.
As a side note: New Jersey is also getting new jerseys! As a league, every team is getting rid of their alternate jerseys next season but Adidas is officially redesigning New Jersey’s current jerseys. They’ll hopefully stick with the same logo but it sounds like they’re going to change the color scheme and actual design of the jerseys. Personally, I’d love to see all-black jerseys. I love Carolina’s current all-black jerseys and Team North America’s (World Cup of Hockey) jerseys. I could go for an all-black jersey with red and white highlights, and I would definitely buy a jersey as soon as it comes out. New Jersey has stuck with the same old since they were brought to New Jersey in 1982. Change might be a good thing.