After going into their five-game layoff on a 3-0-1 unbeaten streak, the New Jersey Devils hoped to pick up where they left off. The San Jose Sharks being among the league’s top teams was a challenge in itself for the Devils, who were shut out 4-0 by them in their initial matinee this season. For San Jose, this was the conclusion of a winless road trip that they went 0-1-2 on going into yesterday’s matchup.
The referees called a very tight game in the first period, issuing both teams a total of six penalties. Despite being outshot 19-3, the Devils somehow managed to escape with a 1-0 lead on PA Parenteau’s 13th of the year and first tally in 14 games. The Devil’s lead didn’t last long, and Brent Burns tied the game with his 23rd of the year 2:27 into the second period. Burns struck again over five minutes later, putting the Sharks ahead on what was the eventual game-winner. Joe Thornton would put the Sharks ahead by two 11:22 into the second with his fifth of the year, and Tomas Hertl scored the insurance goal for the sharks in an open net at 18:36 of the third.
Yesterday’s routing against one of the top teams in the league contained a lot of typical flaws that the New Jersey Devils exhibited in their routine losses this season. They were outshot by a large margin, struggled to stay disciplined at pivotal times, and once again succumbed to their own offensive inferiority after going down by two or more goals (which always seems to be the final nail in the coffin for the Devils). It’s hard to blame Cory Schneider on any of this, who stopped an onslaught of 19 shots in the first period before the Sharks finally got one past him. While the Devils did have some notable opportunities to get back into the game, they failed to finish on their chances due to overpassing, along with positional flaws like coverage in front of their own net, and instances of all their players winding up on one side of the ice.
Remarkably, the Devils outhit a big fast team like the Sharks 24-14, and went an impressive six-for-six on the penalty kill. Clearly the Devils were worn down by San Jose’s perfected balance of speed and size (despite outhitting the Sharks) in terms of being outsized against Sharks players in battles for pucks along the corners, and clearing out the front of their net.
Yesterday’s loss puts the Devils five points out of the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference standings with 27 games left. As New Jersey continues to struggle against the league’s top teams, blow pivotal opportunities to get back into the playoff race, or go on that lengthy winning streak they almost certainly need to get back in the playoff picture, the Devil’s window of opportunity for reaching the postseason continues to fade with each passing day. While the Devils are having a solid February with last night’s defeat being their first regulation loss since January, this is proving to be their most important month of the season if they want any hope of playing beyond April.