Just a few days ago things were looking up for the Devils as they won their fifth game in a row in Dallas with a hard-fought 2-1 OT win. Since then however, the team has hit a collective pothole starting with the Taylor Hall meniscus injury that’s going to shelve the star winger for about a month – somewhat inconveniently the month where the Devils are playing 17 of 21 on the road. Even without Hall the Devils played well in Anaheim and stormed out to a 2-0 lead looking to get a sixth straight win for the first time since the end of the 2011-12 regular season.
However, the trip if not the season itself changed when the Devils’ lead melted away in seventeen seconds late in the second period and then the game itself was lost late in the third in the team’s second game this season where they turned a 2-0 lead into a game where they got zero points out of. Perhaps that game carried over to this afternoon’s effort, or lack thereof against the Kings in the first two periods of a rare West Coast matinee. You name the player, they pretty much didn’t compete – Cory Schneider gave up two bad goals including a disgustingly soft rebound goal by Jeff Carter, captain Andy Greene was culpable on a bad pinch in the third period that started the fatal 2-on-1 which gave the Kings a 3-1 lead in the third period, Kyle Palmieri‘s looking dangerously like a one year wonder and Adam Henrique is well, pulling his usual inconsistent act where he dissapears for two months before racking up points over a two-week stretch.
If this seems like a post veering into unneccesary rant territory well this team can’t take squat for granted. Especially in a brutally tough Metro division which has three practically sure playoff teams in the Penguins, Capitals and Rangers and a young, dangerous Blue Jackets team that’s beaten some stout competition this year. When you’re lacking your top offensive player for your biggest travel month you have to bring effort every night and this team looked like it left its heart in Anaheim. At least until the third period today where the team finally gave a too little, too late rally and Nick Lappin‘s late goal made the game undeservedly close before Jake Muzzin‘s defensive zone clear wound up being an empty-net goal.
Former Devils coach Pete DeBoer used to say that your best players have to be your best players. This is both true and shows the extent of the problem facing the Devils right now. Other than Hall their best players have not been their best players for long stretches this season. Although Cory started out good enough, in the last two games he’s given up backbreaking goals he quite frankly can’t afford to give up with the state of this team right now. Greene moved to third on the Devils’ all time list for consecutive games played behind Travis Zajac and Ken Daneyko but he certainly needs to be better than he was today.
However, the forwards are a bigger issue now. Yes, Henrique and Palmieri combined for the winning goal in Dallas but by and large they’ve both been dissapointing this season with a combined six goals and 15 points in 33 games. From two guys that both scored thirty last year, more was certainly expected. That’s not even including Mike Cammalleri who played twelve games but only scored in one of them (the hat trick in Carolina before his sabbatical to attend to an unspecified family issue). Perhaps whatever’s caused Camm to miss the last few games weighed on his mind early in the season? Doesn’t explain everyone else’s struggles though. Lappin who’s played eleven games with limited minutes has as many goals as the last three players I mentioned, all thirty-goal scorers in this league. Ironically one of the few things I DID like about today’s game is coach John Hynes‘ willingness to even punish his best players (Henrique and Palmieri) for lack of effort by benching them for long stretches. I don’t think I’ve seen that kind of blanket accountability since Jacques Lemaire‘s first tenure, or the late Pat Burns.
Speaking of former coaches, the Devils’ next game involves another reunion with ol’ Pete although with the dramatic turnover in the last eighteen months few players remain even from the end of Pete’s tenure. With the way things are going I’m fully expecting a California whitewash at this point, especially assuming backup Keith Kinkaid will play since coach Hynes initially said he’d get in one game on this trip. Even with the defending Western Conference champs struggling I’m fully expecting the Sharks to find their mojo for Tuesday. As such it’ll be the only game on the trip I probably won’t watch past the first period – I’m still paying for staying up on Thursday to witness the Hindenberg disaster that was our last twenty-five minutes.
On the brighter side at least the Devils will return home for a couple of games next week, where they still haven’t lost a regulation game yet. It’s not as if the schedule is lightening up all that much though, with the Devils playing at the Rock both before and after Turkey day against an improving Leafs team and the Wings looking to make the playoffs for their 10000th consecutive season. And that leads right into the Bataan Death March of our next road trip – which starts in Pittsburgh Saturday for our third game in four nights, followed by trips to Winnipeg, Chicago and Nashville. Yippee. Hopefully I’ll at least be in a more festive mood after a four-day weekend this week and going to two home games.