Devils’ goon tactics come back to bite them at MSG

I’m sure Derek will be around later with a more detailed recap of tonight’s chippy 4-2 Rangers win at MSG that split the season series for both teams (well technically the Rangers ‘won’ it by a point since they were 3-2-1 while we were 3-3) and are making the Devils’ last nine games more exciting than they need to be, but I just wanted to talk about a couple of pet peeves of mine – one in general, one specific to coach Pete DeBoer, but they’re both related tonight.

Of course, I’m talking about the stupid opening sequence where for the third time this season, there was a fight within the first five seconds of the game, and multiple fights for the second straight game at MSG. I’m fine with fights in the course of the game, usually they’re done to change the momentum or to avenge hits but doing it at the drop of the opening faceoff is obviously premeditated – and to me that’s the kind of fighting I don’t like. As much as Henry Winkler on the Ranger bench wanted to scream and stare down DeBoer, John Tortorella was equally as culpable, since he was the one that started the fourth line when Mike Rupp and Cam Janssen fought at the Rock a couple of months back and he was the one that put his fourth line out to counter our fourth line.

Not only is premeditated fighting at the opening faceoff dumb, but doing it when you’ve beaten the Rangers the last two times and they’re coming in slumping is beyond dumb. Especially in front of their home crowd. After our last win against them, the Rangers’ Brian Boyle said ‘they (the Devils) wanted to kill us, we need to match that intensity’. What better way to get your opponents fired up than to stage a mass triple fight at the opening faceoff on their ice with Janssen, Eric Boulton and Ryan Carter all squaring off with counterparts Brandon Prust, Rupp and Stu Bickel? Those theatrics gave an angry Tort an excuse to go off on DeBoer and predictably, the Rangers scored soon after through Brandon Dubinsky and swarmed us the entire first period.

After Martin Brodeur let in a soft goal from Dan Girardi early in the second, the game looked all but over but fortunately the Devils came to life with goals in the second period from Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora. Sykora’s goal in fact came shortside, an unusually bad goal for Henrik Lundqvist to allow against us (or anyone really this season). Even after getting back in the game however, DeBoer’s goon fascination came back to bite us again when Boulton took another stupid penalty and Mats Zucarello scored a goal on the ensuing power play that proved to be decisive.

It was this penalty that annoyed me almost as much as the stupid fight sequence itself. When we signed both Boulton and Janssen simaltaneously in the offseason, I figured maybe one would play and one would be a healthy scratch or Janssen would be in Albany, since he was signed to a two-way deal. I never dreamed we would have a lineup where they both played at the same time, but our head coach has a fascination with Goon Central I can’t understand. When the Rangers play Prust and Rupp, well they’re fourth-liners that can actually play hockey. Despite his odd hat trick against us last year, Boulton’s shown zero in terms of hockey skill this year and Janssen never has.

Yet, DeBoer continues to play both at the same time and every time he does the fourth line is the worst in the league. From Janssen’s screwups against Vancouver and Tampa to Boulton’s dumb penalties like tonight, having staged fights is not worth dressing two players who are collectively a -20 with one single point in 92 games combined. Not only are you playing bad hockey players, but you run up the icetime of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, all averaging at least two-three minutes more than they have in recent years. Is it any wonder they’re looking tired at the end of season or the end of games so frequently?

With the lead, the Rangers’ third period became much different than it would have been in a tie. Predictably they put up Fort Knox up in front of Lundqvist and the Devils resumed their recent clinic in overpassing and finding ways not to put the puck on net, and eventually another penalty from Jacob Josefson late led to a Derek Stepan goal that put the game on ice.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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