Around the rink: Devils and All-Star thoughts

Figures, doesn’t it? Right after we bury out of one week’s worth of snow, another big storm’s on the way tomorrow. I’m looking forward to the Devils’ return for the final 33 games of the season in spite of our current position in the standings but I’ll probably have to sit out of going to tomorrow’s home game against Ottawa since it looks like the snow’s going to wreak havoc on attendance yet again (see: December 26 against Toronto). Hopefully none of our players will be sleeping in their cars again tomorrow night.

Aside from the snow, it will be nice to have real hockey back, whether on TV or in the arena. Yes, I admit the All-Star game was a nice diversion…especially with the unique format of picking teams encouraged by former legend and current NHL exec Brendan Shanahan (can we just nickname him the Mad Scientist now?). Whether it was staged or not, I still got a kick out of Johnathan Toews staring daggers into teammate Patrick Kane – assistant captain for Nicklas Lidstrom‘s team – for bypassing him in the first several rounds.

The shenanigans of the ‘draft’ also included Eric Staal‘s theatrical hold once he indicated a certain pick was going to be from the Rangers, but instead of his brother (defenseman Marc) it turned out to be goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Of course he picked his brother in the next round and made sure to have his other two Canes teammates with him as well – wunderkid Jeff Skinner and goalie Cam Ward, the first draft pick thanks to team colors and the fact the game was going to be in Carolina. Hometown and family blood trumped Lidstrom’s collection of talent in the skills competition and narrowly went down to defeat in an 11-10 shootout during the game itself.

Still, even with the new format (and my personal fave Patrik Elias being the Devils’ only ASW representative) I can’t really get into watching the game. It’s hard to watch a game where teams don’t even attempt to play defense. Then again, I got used to it during the first half of the season – well, at least one team wasn’t playing defense then. Which perfectly segways into my team’s return from the All-Star break tomorrow night against the Senators. To think, eight years ago these teams met in an epic conference final, now they’re among the dregs of the league. Even last year, both teams made the playoffs but were ousted in the first round by Pennsylvania teams.

Thankfully the Devils played their best hockey of the season in the three weeks prior to the All-Star break, but will the long layoff and another tough loss in Detroit (still winless there since ’96) stall the momentum gained by a seven-game point streak? At least the 3-1 loss to the Wings can quell the silly playoff talk for a while, since we’re still twenty points back of a spot. Don’t delude yourselves with futile playoff hopes, Devils fans. At least not until this team gets back to .500. Unlike the playoffs, .500 is at least a semi-realistic goal and I can’t take the playoffs seriously until we at least get to that point since it’s likely going to take being several games over .500 to get the eighth seed.

Even that will be a challenge though, since the team’s overall record is 16-30-3. Can the team go, say 21-7-5 in its last 33 games? That’s what it would take just to get to 82 points and a .500 record. Our last three weeks of January cautiously suggests it’s possible but further complicating the march to respectability is the trade deadline looming at the end of February. Granted, the only likely candidate to be moved is center Jason Arnott, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season – but I certainly can’t picture the Devils adding anyone at the deadline.

Whether this team gets back to .500 or not, at least we’re on our way to accomplishing what should have been the only goal at the halfway point – making the second half of the season fun to watch and worthwhile since we’re seeing vets return to form (Brian Rolston‘s among the hottest Devils, for crying out loud!) and rookies learn from vet coach Jacques Lemaire. Both will serve us well next year, whoever the coach may be since Lemaire’s already ruled out a return.

At least I’m glad I decided to go to the home game against the Panthers before the break, since that turned out to be another winning effort. My only regret was I should have stayed for the third period instead of rushing home to catch the Jet game. Not so much cause I missed anything at the Devil game (we were already up 4-1 when I left, well on our way to a 5-2 win) but because I had to watch the ridiculously lethargic start to the AFC Championship that doomed the Jets. Sometimes things in sports are just unexplainable, like the Jets’ effort level in that game or the Devils’ in Game 6 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals at home.

Maybe the first half of the Devils’ season will fall into the ‘unexplainable’ category if this team returns to its winning ways and gets its pride back over the final two plus months of the season. Or then again, maybe the problems will be far more explainable given the two major changes from the first half of the season till now (offing the coach and captain).


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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