New-age Devils bust in their opener against Winnipeg

As much as I’d love to sit here and type about my Mets and the lollipops and gumdrops around LA after a spectacular Game 1 win that kept me up till 1:30…this is a hockey blog and the Devils did play their opening game of the season after all, so as much as I don’t want to this is a must-recap (at this rate there probably won’t be many more this year).  Especially having to sit through live the first of what will probably be many disasters at the Prudential Center in 2015-16.  And no, I wasn’t delusional enough to believe this team was a playoff contender as presently constituted but on Opening Night you always hope for the best, and the best for the Devils this year would be meaningful games in March/April and development from the younger players.  You always want to find a way to have hope at the start of a season – shoot, even an Arizona team that’s expected to be terrible beat the once-mighty Kings in their season opener, on the road no less.

Yes, it’s only one game but boy my hope got shot down pretty quick last night in a 3-1 loss to Winnipeg that probably wasn’t even that close.  Maybe Derek was actually being generous with his 52-point assessment.  I get that Winnipeg’s got a game under their belts and knows their system while neither is true for us, I get that they’re a better team anyway and believe me I get that our offensive lineup is a dumpster fire – much like my fantasy football lineup with Luck, Dez, Marshawn, Davante Adams and Jordan Reed all on the shelf.  All that said, it would have been nice to see a little more urgency and effort the first two periods of a season opener at home.  Not to mention it would have been nice to have good goaltending from Cory Schneider when this team still has some semblance of hope instead of having another awul October showing and piling up the numbers after when the team’s out of it.

I’d love to sit here, wave the pom-poms and go through the positives but there really weren’t a lot out of last night to be honest.  Oh, the power play actually looked somewhat competent (even without one-dimensional Eric Gelinas, one of the healthy scratches last night along with Stefan Matteau) although the goal Jiri Tlusty scored in the second period almost looked like they just lulled the Jets to sleep with Tlusty and David Schlemko (!) just throwing lazy passes back and forth at the side of the net before Tlusty finally jumped toward the front of the net like a coiled snake and stuffed the only goal of the game past Jets backup Michael Hutchinson at 12:53 of the middle frame.  Still, the Devils’ second power play of the game in the third also looked fairly decent.  Even if I don’t completely understand why guys like Schlemko, Jon Merrill and John Moore get power play time over Adam Larsson, who’s a better point producer than any of them.  Aside from the PP though, pretty much the only positive for me was newly minted captain Andy Greene and d-partner Larsson continuing their strong showing as the #1 pair into this season.

Unfortunately the negatives overwhelmed the positives from last night, starting with the fact that recent first-rounder Matteau and blueline weapon Gelinas couldn’t win spots in the Opening Night lineup, while fellow kid Reid Boucher missed a golden opportunity to get on the board early then got benched yet again late in the game and barely had over ten minutes on the night.  And if you thought the overplaying of marginal vets was going to end with the fact that OMG EVERYTHING ELSE IS SO NEW HERE!, think again.  While I admit I thought Schlemko was a solid signing as a #7, it seems obvious he’s the new Peter Harrold – a vet that gets played above his pay grade in a top four role and even gets PP time he has no business getting.  Not as if most of the defense was any good last night though, second-year player Damon Severson had a particularly awful game from where I sat with turnovers and giveaways.

Last night wasn’t just a case of the D leaving Cory out to dry though, which they did to a degree being outshot 12-4 in the first and 23-11 in the first two periods.  Cory himself gave up two bad-angle goals early in the second period that (with our offense) essentially all but ended the game.  First he allowed Mark Schiefele to beat him shortside 73 seconds into the second period, then Blake Wheeler beat him longside from almost an impossible angle, again off the glove side.  I was so down on Cory after that I was bronx cheering saves for most of the period.  If I expect anything out of this season I expect Cory to play well, and when it matters.  Don’t give me a .890 save percentage in October and put the team out of the race then go put up .940’s in January when we’re 25 points back again.  And yes every mistake gets magnified with our horrible, hideous offense but if Cory’s not going to live up to his end what’s the point of keeping him around during an obvious rebuild?  I was really ready to boo the team off the ice after the first two periods for more of the same ol’ crap unti they actually finished the period strong with Kyle Palmeri drawing a shorthanded penalty that canceled out a Jets power play which could really have ended the game with them already up 3-1 after scoring on another power play earlier in the second.

Although the Devils did better in the third it was really far too little and far too late by then, as the four goals in the second period were the entire game’s offensive output for both teams.  Hey, at least our empty-net defense looked good the last two and a half minutes of the game.  I can’t even give a report on most of the changes (there’s that word again) at the Prudential Center since me and my friend got stuck in traffic – on a rainy Friday, big shock there and it took us an hour to get from Madison to our parking lot in Newark.  We barely made it to our seat in time for the 3D intro, the first part of which I wasn’t a huge fan of but really you have to be sitting center ice staring at the logo to do it justice.  That said, the fire around the team logo did look nice while of course the music of choice at the end of the show was ‘Welcome to the New Age’ – hence the YT above.

Look I get there IS change, you’d have to be blind not to see that, and some of the changes I’m fine with (I thought the whole players walking up on the red carpet thing before the game was kind of corny until Palmeri said they did it in Anaheim too, so maybe this organization does need to get into the 21st century in some respects), while others I’m not as crazy about and some seem just change for change’s sake like putting the logo on the helmet instead of the team name and promoting it on Twitter.  Whether you’re behind all the changes, some or none of them the fact is promoting the fact that there’s change at every turn is just setting yourself up for backlash from the diehards who know only success under the changed administration if (when?) the team starts 3-10, or worse.  I mean yeah things were bad the last three years but it’s not as if every single thing needed to be scuttled…clearly that’s the mandate now though.  Change whatever you can, no matter how trivial so you can promote moar change on social media.

Back to the building itself, I did see some of the changes when I was there briefly during one of the preseason games but wanted to walk around last night with everything presumably in working shape for the regular season, that didn’t happen between a missed connection with my friends sitting in section 11 during the first intermission and then going all the way around the arena for a group gettogether with them and another couple during the second intermission.  At least I did get to see everyone I wanted to see, even if some weren’t that long.  Looking at the new food menus during actual regular season games will have to wait till next Friday, but I’ll have plenty of time to use my $260 food card regardless.  With pricing the way it is, it won’t take long for me to get through it.

From the outside I don’t mind the changes to the clubs making them more open and adding a bunch of TV’s so people inside and outside can see them.  It is kind of…telling that basically every TV I saw was tuned to something OTHER than the hockey game.  Whereas in the past you only saw TV’s with the hockey game on, which made it easier to keep track if you happened to be stuck in a food line during play.  Ideally you’d have both, most of the TV’s in all locations outside the clubs turned to the hockey game while most of the TV’s inside the clubs turned to other things since if you’re in the club you’re not that far from a great seat anyway and the lines aren’t as long inside the clubs as they are outside.  I mean do people really need to watch highlights of Washington-Cal or whatever college football highlights were being shown at one point?

I’ll end on a good note though, one change I do like was making Andy Greene the captain.  For where this team is, the choice makes the most sense with Greene mentoring a young D core that’s the future of the franchise.  Not to mention he’s signed long-term (unlike a guy who used to wear #9 before Tlusty) and still has years left as a top contributing player, as opposed to being a captain who’s only in the lineup cause of the letter on his jersey (sorry Bryce, still love ya though).  While he’s clearly the lead behind the scenes type, sometimes that’s still a good thing.  Why try to invent a fiery leader when one doesn’t exist?  Especially with a rebuilding team, you probably need someone cerebral and someone who slowly worked his way up the ranks from UDFA to #1 d-man.  I was kind of worried they’d give the C to Adam Henrique since he’s been the face of seemingly everything on social media this offseason but really he hasn’t quite earned it yet imo.  Not to mention god forbid he has a >40 point season the narrative will be that the C’s weighing him down a la Patty in 2006-07.

Hopefully the new leadership on and off the ice can find a way to get more out of this team before a potentially nightmarish start buries them, starting in Washington tonight.

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