|While Alex Frolov celebrates Brandon Dubinsky's goal, the looks on Travis Zajac and Johan Hedberg sum up Devil frustration in loss to Rangers last night.|
When it comes to winning, there are no style points. Somebody might want to clue the Devils in following their latest disappointment- a 3-0 shutout defeat at the hands of their bitter Hudson rival, the Rangers last night at The Rock. The loss dropped New Jersey to 4-10-1 overall. They've yet to win at home falling to 0-5-1. The next opportunity comes four days from now against equally struggling Battle brother Buffalo, who also have yet to win on home ice.
Yes, the Devils competed for the most part unless you watched mega million star Ilya Kovalchuk basically watch as Brandon Dubinsky followed up a Todd White weird carom for the backbreaking shorthanded tally that finished the Newark hosts. The player Lou Lamoriello's building around also took a mindless penalty 15 seconds into the third. On a night his team desperately needed him to show, the former Thrasher played like he still was in Atlanta, partially responsible for all three goals against while finishing minus-two with four shots. The problem was none of the offerings fooled Henrik Lundqvist, who recorded his second shutout in three games, improving to 20-7-5 versus his favorite target.
“I thought we were the better team, dominating the play for most of the game, and then we don’t give ourselves a chance to get back in the third period,” an exasperated Patrik Elias said essentially throwing Kovalchuk under the bus. “We lost the game right there.”
“We played hard. We competed hard. We’re just not generating enough offense," first-year coach John MacLean echoed despite his team holding a 33-20 edge in shots.
Remarkably, they trailed by two despite outshooting the Blueshirts 23-12 through 40 minutes. Something Devil buddy Rob "Kraze" Davis texted while I was watching Procal Harum. When you're going bad, this is what happens. One of the Ranger four first period shots went in with Dubinsky finishing off his ninth. The Devils took 11 but none found twine against Lundqvist, who was a vacuum a day removed from a forgettable showing in a 4-1 loss in Philly.
“After last night, it was important for me and for all of us to get a good solid game,” he said. “I don’t think we played all that bad, but I felt that I had to play a lot better.”
That's what you expect from your leaders. In this early season, the Rangers have gotten it from Dubinsky, Lundqvist, revelation Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi, Michal Rozsival, Sean Avery and Ryan Callahan, who missed last night with a sore neck due to a cheap Kimmo Timonen hit from behind. With injuries to Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal, they've stepped up. By contrast, their archrivals haven't gotten any yet despite enough talent to push on without Zach Parise and an injury list that's growing as long as Pinocchio's. The Devils are still searching for an identity. While the 5-3 win over the Blackhawks temporarily cured their offensive fallacies, they simply couldn't carry it over against a better goalie. Part of the issue which Davis alluded to was the lack of bodies in front of Lundqvist. You have to be willing to pay the price.
"Lundqvist played a great game and we didn’t have any traffic in front of him,” Kovalchuk pointed out after remaining stuck on three goals. “All the shots were from outside, and you know we are not going to score like that.”
“We’re disappointed after a loss every time,” added Elias. “You cannot go into a hockey game down all the time. You have to clear your minds and go into a game with a clear head.”
It's never easy when you lose players. The Devils severely missed Anton Volchenkov, who finally returned Friday from a broken nose. The former Senator shot blocking specialist missed a dozen games. He's easily the Devs' toughest and should only bolster a blueline, which was without Colin White (flu). Young Swede Alexander Urbom was recalled from Albany. It's really tough to compete when half your back end consists of rookies. Matt Taormina has been a nice find and Olivier Magnan hasn't struggled as much as former Sabre Henrik Tallinder, who fans probably want to send over Niagara Falls. Maybe Volchenkov can boost Tallinder and Andy Greene, who's a team worst minus-12 following a breakout '09-10. Bryce Salvador won't return anytime soon. Neither will Anssi Salmela. That leaves Mark Fraser, who despite limited skills always is willing to go.
It'd be easier if Kovalchuk was finishing and Travis Zajac remembered who he was. Instead, they've combined for five goals and only 14 points with no power play goals. Jason Arnott, who's been benched at times- paces them with four markers. Elias remains in a funk stuck on two goals. Dainius Zubrus gives max effort every night but simply doesn't possess the hands. The captain everyone wants to get rid of, Jamie Langenbrunner actually is tied with Kovalchuk for the club lead with eight points. The stat lines are as ugly as it gets. Halloween already passed but you wouldn't know it in Jersey. Perhaps Jimmy Hoffa's ghost is at work.
Then there's David Clarkson, who continues to let Sean Avery get the best of him. For the most part, he tries. But as soon as he sees No.16, the Devil antagonist becomes possessed. He lost his head again taking a five-minute penalty for boarding Boyle, which erased any chance of a miraculous comeback. But hey. The way the Devils were firing blanks, it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway. You expect better from a player who seemed on the upswing not long ago. Twenty goals and 40 points seemed possible. Now, he finds himself stuck on one goal and one assist with a minus-nine and 34 penalty minutes. What happened? The same thing that's gone so wrong for the Devils thus far. The sum not equaling the parts. Langenbrunner on their ineptitude:
"It's getting frustrating. We all can read the standings and see where we are and the games we've played and the games in hand teams have on us and where we could be when it's all sorted out. But we can't concern ourselves with that so much. We need to find a way to get some wins ourselves, keep the effort where it's been, but learn to play a little bit smarter."
When Martin Brodeur doesn't suit up for the Rangers, something's wrong. Perhaps he just decided that extra rest would be wiser than rushing back from a bruised elbow that forced Johan Hedberg into action the other day. For his part, Hedberg wasn't bad despite only making 17 saves with a few sparklers which at least kept his team afloat. Chalk up the third goal to bad luck. You don't expect a deflected shot to take a funny carom back to Dubinsky, who was only too happy to tie Steven Stamkos and Patrick Sharp for the league lead in goals (10).
Sometimes, it's just not your night. Now, it's almost a month with the quarter mark approaching. Are the Devils really this bad? Well, to borrow a phrase Hasan used from Bill Parcells, "You are what your record says you are." They have nine points in 15 games, digging themselves an early hole along with Buffalo (8 in 14 entering tonight vs Toronto). Ironically, both trail first place by similar margins. The Devils are eight out while the Sabres trail by nine. There's plenty of season left to make up ground. It has to start soon.