An old sports adage is you want to win most of your games at home and go .500 on the road. In the Devils’ first few weeks however, they took it to an extreme going 4-0-1 at home while starting out 0-3-2 on the road – before finally winning away from Newark earlier tonight with a 4-1 thumping of the Hurricanes. True, the most recent road trip on the whole wasn’t terribad although once again Florida proved to be a fruitless task with an overtime loss at Sunrise (after rallying back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game in the third period) and a desultory 4-1 loss last night at Tampa. Thankfully the Devils got both Florida trips out of the way early this year, although that’s not to say things get much easier the rest of this month with a West Coast swing looming next week.
A couple of important things did happen tonight for the Devils going forward. For one, backup Keith Kinkaid had his second consecutive strong outing of the season, looking more like the goalie that showed promise two years ago rather than the dissapointment he was last year. Of course the backup goaltender position is often fickle, very few can handle the job consistently well but on a team with little margin for error it’s key that the Devils’ backup does well and is able to give Cory Schneider the night off on the schedule-induced occasions where he needs a rest. Honestly I would have given Schneider tonight’s game and thrown Kinkaid against Tampa where we never win these days anyway, but in the end it worked out about as well as could be expected.
Perhaps the most important thing to come out of tonight’s game was the breakout of Mike Cammalleri – goalless on the season and generally ineffective through the season’s first month, many were starting to wonder if he was washed up. Some of the lunatic fans wanted him scratched (yeah as if scratching him for Jacob Josefson is going to solve anything). Personally I wanted to wait and see what happened when Cammalleri finally got on the board with his first goal. Even veterans need a confidence boost from time to time, and clearly Camm’s first lifted some pressure off him. What followed shocked even me though, as Camm put in a second goal, and then a third. A natural hat trick is quite a way to break out of a slump, and it couldn’t have come a moment too soon for the Devils, or for Camm, who’d been dropped to the third line in recent games and was playing with Beau Bennett (two assists, +3) and the aformentioned Josefson for much of the game tonight.
Coach John Hynes wasn’t taking the team’s lackluster start in Florida and overall game in Tampa lightly, making a pair of lineup changes with Devante Smith-Pelly and Sergei Kalinin scratched in favor of Josefson and Reid Boucher. Tonight’s game didn’t do much to get Boucher out of the doghouse he’s been trapped in all season, as he played less than ten minutes of 5-on-5 though he and Josefson did get some power play time. Hard to say the changes really had as much of an impact as did Camm’s breakout though, but it does seem like Smith-Pelly’s fallen off dramatically from the flashes of potential he showed late last year, so clearly his lineup spot is no longer safe. Kalinin’s a fine fourth liner but like most of our fourth-liners he’s allergic to offense, so he’s an interchangeable part too.
Defensively I can’t say the Devils are really playing particularly well allowing over thirty-one shots per game including thirty-four tonight. Fortunately their goaltenders have been good enough to bail them out so far and keep them in every game – aside from the third period in Tampa which was the first loss that truly got away from the team this season. However, the defense has been home to one of the season’s brightest spots in Damon Severson. After he struggled for much of his first two years in the league after a brilliant first ten games of his NHL career, the light seems to be coming on for Damon this year. Particularly on offense where he’s already surpassed his meager goal total from last year and leads the team in points with nine in eleven games. Sure, playing with Andy Greene always helps but Damon’s carving out his own path on the man advantage without Greene too (five power play points).
Looking ahead, this is a must make hay week for the Devils with a return match against the Canes at the Rock on Tuesday, followed by a home and home with another struggling team in the Sabres over the weekend. After that slate of games looms the big four-game trip starting in Dallas and then moving onto California for the three games there. If the Devils win at least two of the three games this week they allow themselves a slight margin of error on the Southwest coast trip. No game’s ever easy for this team though, well tonight was but I had a little sports fatigue after that annoyance of a football game earlier today that ended my Jets season so I wasn’t in the mood to double down with the Devils tonight. At least they gave me a better result though.
Of course I won’t be at the game Tuesday because needless to say I don’t want my attention divided that night, if anything I’d rather not pay attention to the game at all. If you need to ask what else is going on Tuesday, you’re not an American citizen and/or are blissfully ignorant considering how much the presidential election has dominated the news. This is the last place I’m going to preach about the election or opine about either of the candidates running for president because nobody wants their politics and their sports intertwined, god knows there was enough hulabaloo about the stupid anthem protests in the NFL. I certainly have my own strong opinions about which way this country should vote for president and why but all I’ll say here is get out and vote. If you don’t want to vote candidates for president in some sort of protest that’s your choice. I vehementely disagree with that choice but if you refuse to vote for the two major party candidates at least get out and vote downballot to make your voice heard. Nobody has the right to complain about government if they don’t participate in electing who runs it.