We saw the inklings of this slump in the Bolts vs. Leafs game, where despite a win that seemed dominating, the Bolts let themselves get outpossessed and outshot. In Montreal, against players that had played the night before, the Bolts had much better possession, but were also up against a rested and waiting Carey Price. The New Jersey Devils also used this strategy -- although they played a game the night before against the Chicago Blackhawks, they chose to rest their starter, Cory Schneider, to play against Tampa Bay.
Last night the Devils played a more tired game, ending with 27 shot attempts to Tampa's 38, but the Bolts failed to spot opportunities to not simply throw the puck at the net, but finish the plays.
Let's get the bad over with first. What happened that allowed the Devils to take advantage of the Bolts' defensive breakdowns? In the first period, Alex Killorn was not quite awake enough to be the playmaker that we've come to expect, and the first two goals against were due to Killorn (and his line's) inability to successfully play the puck.
First goal against
Killorn stepped onto the ice for a change and was not able to corral the puck. He had the misfortune to run into Adam Henrique, the Devils' strongest player (and playmaker) of the night, and who was looking for his 100th career goal. Henrique sprang the puck from a fumbling Killorn deep in the Bolts' D-zone, and sent it flying toward Andrei Vasilevskiy before he was prepared to stop it, into the expanse of empty net on Vasy's blocker side.
Second goal against
The Devils were set up in front of Vasy and enjoying some uninterrupted zone time before the second goal. "It looks like they're on the power play," I thought glumly, and indeed, the Devils were able to capitalize quickly from the zone time.
Once again Killorn and his line were hemmed in, unable to position themselves or spot plays to break the puck out. And once again, the Devils' Henrique saw a beautiful opportunity for a goal -- this time as the playmaker. With the puck on his stick, Henrique noticed that Jason Garrison's attention was distracted from Damon Severson, who was skating behind him. Henrique sent the pass behind Garrison to Severson, who immediately took advantage of Garrison's slowed reaction time to gently bat it in on Vasy's blocker side.
Third goal against
In the second period, JT Brown had the puck along the boards when it was knocked free by former Red Wing Kyle Quincey. Quincey sent it down the wall to rookie Nick Lappin, who passed to Devante Smith-Pelly in front of the net. There was a brief struggle for position between Smith-Pelly and the equally large Braydon Coburn, but Smith-Pelly managed to pin Coburn's stick and simultaneously redirect the puck in on Vasy's blocker side. (Vasy’s blocker side did not have a very good night.)
Luckily that would be the last time the Devils scored -- they only took twelve more shots in the game.
Power Play: 0 for 4
The difference is that Nikita Kucherov is not on the ice to help Jonathan Drouin make plays.
At the end of the second, Vasy made a lovely save on a 2-on-1 from Henrique and PA Parenteau to preserve the trailing score at 3-0.
The Bolts finally got onto the board in the third period. Brayden Point, working hard along the half-wall, beat out John Moore and a pinching Henrique (this guy is everywhere) to send the puck to Tyler Johnson. Johnson had just stepped onto the ice from the bench, and was racing toward the net when Point spotted him. Point's pass was ... on-point, tape-to-tape, giving Johnson plenty space on Schneider's blocker side to tap it in.
The best summary of the night comes from Steven Stamkos’s quote to NHL.com. He put it thus:
No one [cares] what you did last year as a team or what you did the previous two years. We have to be better and just come prepared to play. We scored a first-period goal in one game so far. You can have all the skill but if you don't stick to the game plan and the structure and work at it, you're usually not going to win in this league.
Here are Loserpoints’ game summaries:
Tampa with a big lead in the 5v5 shot metrics after the first period. If they can keep it up, it should translate into goals. pic.twitter.com/1GeabXGcRK— Alan (@loserpoints) October 29, 2016