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Five observations from New Jersey vs Dallas:
1. The Devils showed up late
It's early but that headline may hold up as the understatement of the year. I honestly can't think of a time the Devils – or any team – started a game the way they did. I get it was a road game against a desperate team that was just shredded by the CEO. I get it was in a different time zone. I get the Devils are still getting back into the swing of things following the holidays. That still doesn't excuse the performance. They were a complete no-show. At one point the shots were 27-2 in favor of Dallas. It took nearly 30 minutes for a Devils forward to assist on a single shot attempt at 5v5. @ShutdownLine has more experience tracking them than I do but I've never seen that before. Nothing has even come close. They spent shift after shift after shift chasing play in the defensive zone and mustered up absolutely no pushback. It was as if they wanted to test Mackenzie Blackwood and see if the 22-year-old with six NHL games of prior experience could singlehandedly do the job for them. It was not at all fair and, quite frankly, embarrassing.
2. Defense was optional
There have been games where the Devils defended OK but a big number was put up against them (largely) due to questionable goaltending. This was certainly not one of those games.
They didn't just give up a lot of volume (40 shots). They gave up a lot in quality. There was a *ton* of glaring breakdowns from start to finish. As a result, Dallas was able to get to the front of the net at will. They were rewarded accordingly.
What's concerning is the big name guys – Damon Severson and Sami Vatanen, in particular – were at the forefront of a lot of key mistakes. If they're going to play like that, the Devils won't have a chance.
3. Kyle Palmieri bounced back
In four games prior to last night, Palmieri recorded just four shots, one high-danger chance, and owned a team-worst 38.59 Corsi For% at 5v5. He'd been awfully quiet. Or just awful.
With Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson out, the Devils really needed him to step up and he finally did that last night.
He scored a nice goal to get the Devils on the board early, registered nine shot attempts, five chances (four high-danger), and also led the way in 5v5 shot contributions. He was perhaps the only consistent threat.
4. Pavel Zacha was horrendous
In the game preview, I praised his recent play. Naturally, he followed it up with one of his worst performances of the season. As shown above, Zacha had just one shot contribution at 5v5. It was nearly impossible to do much more considering he was only on the ice for two(!) Devils shot attempts.
Beyond doing nothing offensively, he lost more than his share of puck battles and was a bit late getting to his man in front on one of Dallas' goals. It was not his night.
5. Drew Stafford continues to be serviceable
He takes a beating from the fanbase – rightfully so at times – but I think he has played pretty well when given a chance. Last night was no exception. Only four forwards recorded more shot contributions, he scored a goal and he broke even in possession, which is an accomplishment considering the Devils were out-attempted 47-35 at 5v5.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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