Did the Devils lose because of the referees? No. The power play was god-awful today, with the passing yet again failing to hit the mark.
Were the referees awful today though? Absolutely. From missing obvious calls (McCann hauling Hughes down in the first), failing to know the rules (I jest a bit, but come on – Smith was bleeding, it’s a double minor), and blowing too quick a whistle (the Devils really should’ve been rewarded a second goal for their efforts, get your stuff together refs), the refereeing yet again caused frustration with their inconsistent efforts.
I complain, but I don’t think for a second that the referees cost the Devils the game. What I do think cost us the game is a terrible game plan, no-look passing where the intended receiver isn’t even looking at the puck, a lack of physicality or defensive awareness, and one of the worst power-plays in the NHL. In the end, the Devils cost themselves the game with their ineptitude, with the coaching staff showing the same mistakes as always.
The game itself was the definition of “meh” all-around, except for the power play, which was gross.
The first period seemed promising. The Penguins had the first shot on goal, with a shot from Evan Rodrigues to open the game. The Devils, however, were seemingly showing signs of growth as they stopped the fancy defensive zone transitions in favor of reducing turnovers, which while limited their chances, also drastically decreased opposition play.
As such, the first real opportunity came seven minutes into the game for the Devils, and it happened to be the first goal as well. Jesper Bratt, using his shiftiness, was able to actually complete a pass across the ice to Sami Vatanen, who blasted a one-timer which DeSmith stopped. The one-timer popped over to Palmieri, who showed signs of the old Palmieri by corralling the rebound and hitting it into an empty net for a 1-0 lead.
With this, the first period ended at 1-0, with the Devils getting outplayed but holding the lead.
The second period was all Penguins. The Devils were shutout the whole period, as they could not make any passes and were outworked on numerous occasions. Andreas Johnsson had the first (and possibly) only great chance for the Devils, as he found a centering pass which barely missed Gusev. After that, the Penguins took over, starting when they found the scoreboard six minutes into the first. A bouncing puck corralled its way through multiple players, before eventually finding Aston-Reese in front. It was an unlucky situation for the Devils, but Aston-Reese did a great job of depositing that puck to tie the game at 1-1. From this, Miles Wood was deservedly called for an interference call, and the Devils penalty kill looked good yet again to start the kill. Bryan Rust, however, was able to embarrass Severson while Subban and Crosby were bickering in the corner, and get a breakaway in the slot where he beat Wedgewood for the goal.
The Devils drew another power play, and it yet again seemed as if it never happened. Hughes tried to do another sharp angle goal, which very nearly worked, before the Devils pinned the Penguins’ defense in the zone but failed to score. With that, the period ended with a shift in the lead, as the Penguins lead 2-1.
The third period started with a Jack Hughes chance which he shot high on. Despite missing the opportunity, Hughes needs to coach his teammates on how to properly corral a puck, as the rest of the team seems to struggle with it. This could particularly be the case on the power-play, where yet again nothing happened. Another penalty was called right away, with yet again multiple failed entry zone passes. Despite the Devils seemingly having the majority of the puck, the Penguins were the only ones to score in this period, as a weird tip-in by Jake Guentzel beat Wedgewood for a 3-1 Penguins lead.
The Devils pulled the goalie with less than two minutes to go and were able to score, if not for the referees being dinguses and blowing the whistle early. And with that, this terribly boring game ended with the Devils falling 3-1.
Today wasn’t the best day for many Devils today. The Kulikov – Subban were the most hurt today in terms of CF%, as they recorded Corsi’s of 16 and 35 respectably. The Kuokkanen – Zajac – Sharangovich line was weak as well, as the trio was less impressive compared to previously.
Gusev always performs well in terms of CF%, but I’ve come to understand that this is because Ruff babies him a bit, using him only in offensive opportunities and power play chances. Gusev has not performed well in these situations, as he consistently struggles to create chances when needed, and only seems to excel in a strip of the puck every so often.
Wedgewood yet again played well, and the Devils really should have done better to support him.
Lastly, I don’t trust the coaching staff of the Devils. While I have to give credit where credit is due and concede that the penalty kill is looking better (despite letting in a goal), there are too many mistakes that the Devils have failed to correct. Passes still aren’t connecting, there are still too many two-on-one opportunities against the Devils, and the power play is still awful.
Regardless though, this wasn’t a terrible game for the Devils. The power play was terrible, but the rest of it was just the Devils getting outplayed by a better team.