In what’s been a mostly lost month for the Devils, these last two games have been the nadir (so far anyway) of their season. A team that mostly gave effort last year has turned in back-to-back noncompetitive efforts with no hint of any defensive structure, not enough sustained offense, horrendous goaltending and bad coaching. And clearly they’ve shown they’re not ready for primetime with the way they’ve been completely outclassed against both the Canadiens and the Blues this week. This entire season is now into rant territory, the rant I was ready to write up last week before their ridiculous comeback at Nashville swept the team’s problems under the rug for exactly one more game – a tense win at home against a lousy Vancouver team on Tuesday night. I’m not exactly in a holiday mood today, after how awful this week’s been from pillar to post.
Even Tuesday’s win against the Canucks wasn’t without its annoyances although in that case it was annoyance with the refs, who completely allowed the game to get out of control with their negligence. First, they failed to call a penalty when Travis Zajac was boarded by Michael Chaput and suffered a broken nose late in the first period. Then to top that off they dinged John Moore with a misconduct for instigating a fight with Chaput. For the coup de grace they also dinged coach John Hynes with a bench minor for the crime of showing indignance for making the Devils short-handed on a play where they could have lost their best center for a long period of time. So instead of a five-on-four, Vancouver got a completely unjust five-on-three. Considering how sparse the crowd was, we were incensed Montreal fan style on the refs after that sequence. Which only got compounded when the Canucks scored the tying goal on that five-on-three.
That whole sequence put tensions on a knife’s edge and the bitterness threatened to boil over when Taylor Hall knocked out defenseman Phillip Larsen with a legal hit. Of course there was no instigator penalty assessed on the Canucks for jumping Hall en masse behind the net – consistency not being the NHL’s middle name. And after the Devils’ third, decisive goal by Ben Lovejoy of all people came a cheap shot seconds after the goal Dale Hunter-style by Erik Gudbranson. Of course that was unpenalized too. Sure the Devils managed to win in the end, although as usual not without some unneccesary drama late. Can this team once, just one lousy time have an easy 4-1 win where everyone can relax in the third period? Apparently that’s too much to ask. Then again lately just winning is too much to ask for.
But now let’s get to the real heart of the problems this week and start with the biggest contreversy of the week if not the season…the Carey Price incident which Derek just gave a rundown on. While I didn’t see this in real time, I’ve obviously seen the replays and have a slightly different take on this. First of all, the refs were completely negligent in not applying the rule which allows for the expulstion of a goalie for using his blocker as a weapon and attemping to injure.
51.3 Match Penalty – If, in the judgment of the Referee, a goalkeeper uses his blocking glove to punch an opponent in the head or face in an attempt to or to deliberately injure an opponent, a match penalty must be assessed.
Look at that video clip Derek posted and tell me how this is NOT an attempt to injure?! Especially the first punch which was straight to the helmet. So how did the refs and the league justify not punishing Price? By allowing for ‘if in the judgement of the referee’. Well there was some bad judgement going on in Montreal on Thursday night then. Or the refs were just (as usual) intimidated by the Bell Centre crowd. As big a whiner as Peter Laviolette can be he had this one right years ago where he said simply ‘typical Montreal’ after a series of bad calls in the Bell Centre predictably went for the Canadiens. And let’s not overlook defenseman Jeff Petry‘s role in all this, first by nudging Kyle Palmieri into Price in the first place then even more egregiously holding him down on the ice while Price beat up on him in a cowardly act. That looked like something you’d see in Goodfellas or any other mob movie with one gangster holding a guy for another to beat up on him.
Now that I’m done bagging on the refs, Price, Petry and the league – this is the portion of the program where the knives come out toward the team and the organization for a disgraceful two games. Did the Price incident in Montreal on Thursday send this team into a tailspin? Certainly this team lost their composure after that and Cory Schneider had his typical awful 2016 effort giving up two bad goals in the third period when the Devils were still within shouting distance, but that doesn’t explain last night with Schneider tucked safely on the bench where again this team came out flat in the first period, and even when the effort improved in the second period the Devils maintained their 2016 system of running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
Let’s start with the coach – for the lauding Hynes got for a scrappy team that wouldn’t quit last year, he deserves grief for a team that has constantly come into games half asleep with bad first period after bad first period, constantly putting themselves behind the eight-ball with a lack of effort and attention to detail. And while this team maintained a tight structure last year, this year the structure seems to be just throw the puck in the middle of the ice and chase it around like kids in Central Park. There’s absolutely zero structure to anything this team does offensively or defensively, and Hynes should thank his lucky stars it’s Ray Shero, and not Lou Lamoriello that’s the GM. This is the kind of stuff that would get Lou’s trigger finger itchy. While it’s hard to get on Hynes’ lineup choices given the utter lack of them and the lack of production by certain key players (re: everyone not named Hall, Zajac or Cammalleri), it would be nice if at some point they finally took away Moore’s immunity idol. On a defense that makes mistake after mistake, he and vet Kyle Quincey were particularly bad last night, somehow getting beaten on a one-on-two and taking a penalty to boot.
Next up is the fraud of an All-Star goaltender. If you want to make excuses that the defense is awful and the team’s giving up 35 shots a game so how can his bad play be helped, vaya con dios. I don’t care if this team gives up 50 shots a game, you can’t allow dribblers to squeeze through you, bad rebounds of off-angle 5 MPH shots and bad angle goals on a game-by-game basis. Especially when you’re supposed to be one of the top five goalies in the league (and getting outplayed by a nameless backup no less), this despite having an under .500 record for the Devils. While I’m not normally one to use W/L record as a be-all end-all, especially for this team – through his Devil career it’s becoming obvious Cory has been one of those guys that will do just enough to lose a game. If you score one goal, he’ll give up two. If you score three goals, he’ll give up four. You could fairly blame his W/L record the prior couple of seasons on lack of goal support but you can’t use that excuse this year. Not that the Devils’ offense is great, but can this GREAT goalie once, just once be the difference on the positive ledger in winning a game at some point in the last month?
Of course the defense HAS been awful, I’m not hiding that for a second. They’ve performed below my worst expectations for them, especially in terms of shots allowed. And while I’m not sitting here wanting to undo the Hall trade, it’s obvious Adam Larsson was even more important to this D than we thought. Throw in David Schlemko while you’re at it too, his loss is a bit understated. Still it would be nice if the great general manager at some point addressed the D, he had all offseason after the Hall trade and oodles of cap space to do so, and all that’s been done is bringing in patchwork solutions like Lovejoy and Quincey. Lovejoy’s a nice second-pairing player but he can’t bring the same things Larsson did last year on the first pairing. Damon Severson‘s been a first-pairing defenseman offensively but defensively still at best a second-pairing guy. When you add in Andy Greene either losing a step or having his play suffer with Severson to his right instead of Larsson this year, Quincey playing on his off side and trainwreck Moore the whole has been far less than the sum of its parts for Hynes and defense coach Alain Nasreddine.
Clearly the Hall trade did at least improve the offense. But the only improvement TO the offense is Hall himself. Palmieri and Adam Henrique aren’t playing at anywhere near the level they were last year when both were thirty-goal scorers. Together they have just ten goals in 52 combined games this year and the phrase one-year wonder is starting to pop into everyone’s head with Palmieri, while Henrique’s usual act of dissapearing for two months to be followed by a two-week binge of scoring is getting old. If it wasn’t for Travis Zajac turning back the clock to 2009 this offense might actually be worse than last year. Ballyhooed former first rounder Pavel Zacha‘s been a dissapointment in his rookie season with just seven points and a -11 in 24 games played, and with only Zajac providing offense from the center position, as usual this team’s pathetically weak down the middle. Palmieri was supposed to be the start of the solution on the right side but combined the Devils have just thirteen goals from the four guys that were their starting RW’s before the season – including Palmieri (4), Devante Smith-Pelly (2) and Beau Bennett (1). Waiver wire pickup PA Parenteau leads that group with six goals but he’s a limited player and is a -11 himself. Nick Lappin‘s provided a spark since his callup but even he’s stuck at four goals in 21 games.
As much as I like Shero I’ve been hearing for ages how we’re going to use all this cap room we have and take advantage of teams with cap problems or roster crunch decisions before the expansion draft, so when exactly does that start? You can’t rely on bargain-bin basement solutions forever. I’m sorry, getting a 2018 second rounder from the Panthers for Marc Savard‘s dead cap hit contract and signing a second-pairing guy in Lovejoy isn’t exactly what I had in mind with being able to take advantage of twenty million in cap space this offseason. When does that start happening now, after we’ve missed the playoffs for a fifth straight year? That’s pretty hard to do in a parity-driven NHL where basically every team this side of Arizona or Colorado is at or over NHL .500.
If you want to blame ownership for that well be my guest, we were told they would allow Shero to spend where he saw fit, of course all the while they’ve stayed at the cap floor and as a Met fan I’ve already been sold that bill of goods before. It would be nice if ownership was more worried about winning as opposed to the bottom line, clearly this joke of a schedule the first two months of the season with an absurd 21 of the first 31 games on the road is a byproduct of the team not wanting early-season home games because of the fear they won’t sell tickets before Christmas. Maybe worrying about ticket sales shouldn’t be a motivation when the team starts badly enough that fans won’t want to buy tickets even after Christmas, because in the first two months of the season the team’s had to contend with a West Coast swing (which included Dallas), BOTH Florida trips – one of which included a third game in four nights in Carolina, and another swing from Pittsburgh to Winnipeg, Chicago and Nashville. Of course the road trip this week isn’t exactly a picnic with two MSG games sandwiching trips to St. Louis and Ottawa. I’m thoroughly expecting another spanking tomorrow by a Ranger team that can win and put up goals even when its goalie isn’t playing well because – guess what – they have structure!
If you want to attribute the lack of structure to the inability to get consistent practicetime in with all these road games, again be my guest. There might even be validity to that. I don’t care anymore, I’m just tired of this team being a joke, I’m tired of the younger players not panning out and our vets either being dissapointments or leaving. Last year seemed like a step forward out of the dark ages we were in two seasons ago, but this month’s been two steps back. And I don’t want to hear about promise when literally every other team in the division’s showing real signs of quality and improvement other than us. Literally every team. Thankfully we haven’t had many division games yet, but those won’t be a picnic either. I’m calling an easy 4-2 Rangers win tomorrow right now.
End rant…for now.