Devils trick Isles and treat fans with shootout win

On a Halloween afternoon matinee in front of a disurbingly sparse crowd that mostly contained Devil season ticket holders, their kids and a smattering of Islander fans, the Devils stole a shootout win over the Isles, giving coach John Hynes and his team their sixth win in seven games.  While coach Hynes refuses to use the word rebuilding, he also doesn’t want to name a specific goal, only saying he wants to maximize the potential from this team, whatever it may lead to.  So far, he has – arguably exceeding expectations with a 6-4-1 record through eleven games and points in eight of their last nine.  Of course, the schedule gets tougher in November and the Devils took advantage of an Isles team missing top gun John Tavares (illness).

Nevertheless a win is a win, especially against a rival.  Particularly after the Islanders and Rangers bullied the Devils last year, with New Jersey failing to record a single win in eight tries combined against both NY teams.  This season the Devils have already gone two for two in the Metro Cup, with a win over each team.  Of course, this afternoon’s game was hardly the best the Devils have played during this stretch – especially given they failed to record a single shot on goal for about a 25-minute stretch until the final moments of regulation.  Not to mention Cory Schneider gave up a horrendous shorthanded goal to Frans Nielsen shortside during a second period where the Devils blew a 2-0 lead with some bad special teams play.

Still, the Devils hung on somehow – and to their credit the defense kept the shots down themselves and didn’t crack 5-on-5.  Even the Isles’ vaunted speed was mostly a non-factor, except on special teams perhaps where the Devils’ power play was dreadful all game long.  Both the PK and PP conceded a goal during the second period.  Fortunately a strong first several minutes of the game had given the Devils the lead, with some unlikely offense coming from defenseman John Moore and waiver pickup Bobby Farnham.  I literally had not heard of Farnham until a week ago when we claimed him off waivers from Pittsburgh, and with his scouting report being that of an agitator with little talent I wasn’t exactly expecting much and he didn’t even play in his first two games.

With Jiri Tlusty ill, Farnham got in the lineup and made the most of his opportunity, first feeding Moore cross-crease for a goal after getting to a rebound from his own shot less than three minutes in.  To his credit Moore also made a nice play, kicking it to his stick before firing it in.  It was rather Zidlickyian in its execution, ironic both because he’s wearing the number defenseman Marek Zidlicky had for the last few years, and because Zidlicky was in the building playing for the Islanders (though in an unfamiliar #28).  Even more astonishingly, Farnham pounced on a rebound from a Stephen Gionta shot and showed skill I didn’t think he had, firing a one-timer past Jaroslav Halak top corner at 14:36 of the first period.

Despite a dominant early start, the Devils looked like they were running on empty after about the first seven or eight minutes of the first period and spent the right of the night holding the fort down.  Rather than criticize his own team, coach Hynes made sure to credit the Islanders after the game for their play though radio voice Sherry Ross was possibly more accurate in her assessment, saying neither team played very well.  Which was true in the respect that the Isles really should have blown us out of the water in the final fifty minutes but despite the special teams breakdowns, the Devils managed to take the game into OT and then into the dreaded shootout.  If you were taking bets I’d have put the odds on a Devil shootout win at about .0001 percent, although I didn’t quite realize Tavares wasn’t actually in the game as I wasn’t checking Twitter all that often while sitting with my friends two rows below my normal seats.

Granted, even without Tavares the Isles have more than enough shootout specialists to put the fear of god in you, starting with Nielsen who predictably put the Isles on the board.  I didn’t want Hynes to defer to taking the last shot for fear that Nielsen would score and we’d be chasing the shootout from that point on.  For a while we were, after Adam Henrique’s clunker of a miss but then Schneider managed to stop Kyle Okposo and Cal Clutterbuck (on a shot Tavares no doubt would have been taking had he been healthy), giving us a chance and Jacob Josefson did manage to tie the shootout.  Lee Stempniak nearly won another one, but his attempt rang off the post.  With the skills competition now in sudden death, Josh Bailey found the iron as well, giving us another chance to win it with Mike Cammalleri, who skated wide then deked Halak in close and found a hole to win it, and afterward the Devils gave a stick salute to the crowd.  I’m not sure if this is an everyday thing yet since I didn’t see the Arizona game but it’s not exactly uncommon in hockey, still a nice gesture though.  Especially since only the diehards were there apparently with an announced attendance of just over 11,000.

To spend a moment on one of my least favorite topics (mostly cause it gets beaten to death), apparently – since I don’t pay much attention to single-game prices, particularly when they change frequently now – the Devils way overpriced this game, probably expecting a sellout with a weekend matinee game against a rival.  However the overpricing backfired badly as people found other less expensive plans to make on a holiday, and belated discounts came out too late to make a difference.  I get trying to squeeze every nickel but there comes a point where you’re being penny-wise and pound foolish.  Business econ majors will argue that the team would rather have 12,000 fans at higher prices than 15,000 at lower prices cause it makes more money but that’s a completely macro way of looking at it…and quite possibly not even true considering most of those are season ticket holders not paying the single game prices.  You have to market and grow your product, social media and a better 3D show before the game are nice add ons but not going to get anyone to pay the single-game prices to attend.  Assuming that attendance figure is accurate and you have around 9-10,000 season and partial ticket holders then walkup sales were completely nonexistent, which is really shocking considering Isle games on the weekend are usually an excellent draw.

I can’t even blame baseball tonight since the Met game doesn’t even start for another couple hours although I’m not sure many Met fans going to Citi Field would have wanted to do a doubleheader and attend the Devils game.  If I was willing to pay the $700-800 on the secondary market for a 500-level seat I’d have considered it but at those prices I’d only have gone in the event of a clincher (though prices would no doubt skyrocket even beyond those levels by then).  Still, getting back to the Devils people complain about there not being enough matinee games for kids to attend and this was a rare one – and on a nice afternoon – so you’d figure more people would have found their way into the building somehow.  Although I can’t blame people for not believing in the team just yet either, and clearly perception of what the team is will drive ticket sales to a large degree.  For now we have the luxury of not really having to worry about attendance and how much money the owners are making since the team still has a long lease and a lucrative TV contract but there will come the day where the team’s going to need a more consistent base of attendance before Nashville ’95 type rumors start popping up.  It would be nice if ownership didn’t price this generation out of the building.

At least for the moment I’m glad the team didn’t stink today since my fear was that when I started watching again they’d immediately go in the tank.  During this streak the Ottawa game was the only one I saw most of until tonight, with other plans and baseball getting in the way.  Things don’t get any easier with a return matchup against the Isles in Brooklyn on Tuesday (likely with Tavares back) followed by a homestand with the Blackhawks, Canucks, Blues and Penguins.  We’ll find out just how for real this team is soon enough.

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