Until recently there hasn’t been much to complain about this Devils season. For all the harping I’ve done on their inability to beat bad teams even being in the playoff race was still exceeding expectations. At times they’ve been wildly inconsistent too, as evidenced by the last month where they alternately won five of six, lost three in a row, won three in a row and now have lost another three in a row – this time all in regulation in what’s a critical blow to this team’s chances for making the postseason. While this team’s still right in the race points-wise seemingly every team around and above them has multiple games in hand. It is true that this team always seems to teeter on the brink of disaster, pulling a winning streak out of nowhere coming off a losing streak that seemingly knocks them out.
Somehow this one feels different though, like the inevitable fatal blow most of the cynics were waiting for. Consider the fact that until this week the Devils were 20-0-4 when scoring first…until this week where they lost to both the Flyers and Capitals after scoring first. This week the Devils have lost every way imaginable, they’ve lost in a no-show effort where they allowed the Flyers to put them all around Newark on Tuesday. They lost last night’s home game against the Isles when their offensive offense made it look like Jaroslav Halak was guarding a net the size of an NBA basket and the Isles played a four-letter system where it’s boring if the Devils do it but somehow when everyone else does it it’s good defensive hockey. And for the coup de grace they lost three seperate leads in Washington tonight – three! That’s something I would expect from a Pete DeBoer team, not a John Hynes one although this clearly hasn’t been the coach’s best week either. I’ll get to that later though.
Even more disturbing than the on-ice play (where you can only really fault the effort in the Flyers game) is the fact that there’s still no word on when – or if – key forward Mike Cammalleri will ever return to the lineup. His yearly monthlong absences have been an annoyance but at least he’s managed to play 60-65 games a year. That might not be the case this year though. Although for all we know Cammalleri could play Tuesday since the new staff’s even more secretive than the old one vis-a-vis injuries, something I didn’t think was possible. Whatever the case this team clearly needs Cammalleri with the lack of scoring around the lineup although one rare bright spot offensively is ironically replacement Reid Boucher, who has six points in his last six games including a three-point night tonight. Still this team doesn’t have enough depth to sustain key losses or ill-timed slumps and it’s showing right now.
Of course it’s also customary when the team’s losing to nitpick lineup decisions. But this staff’s treatment of second-year Damon Severson is getting reminiscent of the previous staff’s marginalization of Adam Larsson. Not that Severson’s been playing well but I don’t think he’s been a total trainwreck like say, Eric Gelinas who Severson’s been scratched for a few times. And if you’re going to hold him accountable for mistakes fine, how about giving John Moore a day in the press box now and then too? It’s not like he’s been all that great the last couple months either. I do like Seth Helgeson as a borderline #6/7 d-man in the mold of Mark Fraser or an older Anton Volchenkov but honestly he probably shouldn’t be playing over Severson either. Playing a defenseman who gets 14 minutes a night over one who typically gets around 17-18 when he’s in the lineup is odd, to say the least.
I admit we’ll probably have to wait a little longer to see how this works out in the long-term, despite the fact it makes no sense on face value – but one second guess that needs no time to pass judgement on is this staff’s continued fascination with Jordin Tootoo. After the stunt he pulled last night against the Isles when he forced the team to kill off a five-minute major with stupidity the staff responds…by scratching Bobby Farnham. Granted Farnham hasn’t been any great shakes since his suspension either. But playing Tootoo and his -22 or the human statue known as Tuomo Ruutu over Farnham is just silly. Couldn’t sitting Farnham have either waited a few games, or taken place a few games ago when we didn’t have to play Ruutu along with Tootoo? And typically it was the fourth line getting pinned in the defensive zone in a key spot when the Caps tied the game for the third time late in the third period.
With the trade deadline approaching any day now, it’ll be interesting to see what Ray Shero does at the deadline although I don’t want to find out the answer if this team continues to lose. As it is, his bizarre quote on thinking it would be possible to re-sign Lee Stempniak even if he was traded raised some eyebrows in more ways than one. Perhaps they will trade UFA’s to be Stempniak and David Schlemko if this team continues to fall further behind in the race. Certainly the next four games loom large with the Rangers, Lightning and Hurricanes at home in the next week and a half and a road tilt with the lowly Blue Jackets (who we still never seem to beat) in the middle. All the home games could be four-point swings. If this team’s truly going to stay in it they’d better resume winning, like starting Tuesday on. And if not well at least we’ll find out by the deadline that we should be folding.