Remember the days when the Devils couldn’t lose at home and couldn’t win on the road? These days it’s just the inverse, now that the Devils don’t win at home and haven’t lost in regulation on the road since December. Problem with that is the Devils lost on the road when the majority of their games were on the road and now are losing at home when they’re finally playing more home games. And not just losing at home, but turning in noncompetitive effort after noncompetitive effort. Most of these games aren’t even close. In the Devils’ six-game losing streak at home they’ve been outscored 20-7, culminating in last night’s 5-2 wipeout against the Caps.
Worse from my perspective is I haven’t seen a home win at the Rock since December 6 (I didn’t attend the only two home wins they’ve had since then). It’ll be nearly two months after that when I go to my next home game, after the All-Star break. In my last six games attending the Devils have only been outscored 24-8, with two of those goals coming in a too little, too late ‘effort’ against Toronto when they blew up the game in the first period falling in a 0-4 hole. This is just one of many reasons why I’ve become apathetic about watching this team but after they did legitimately good work on the road going 5-0-1 getting back in the playoff race for a minute and a half, to go 0-5-1 at home to fall back out of it and crash into last in the East is just inexcusable.
Part of me’s just tired of ripping everyone and everything about this team but after this latest stretch they deserve another one. Let’s start with coach John Hynes, who granted does some good things like the second-period benching of Taylor Hall after a bad turnover in Minnesota, showing that everyone – or almost everyone – can be held accountable. Some of his decisions are just mind-boggling however, like playing Keith Kinkaid again last night. Granted starting goalie Cory Schneider was ill, missing two games over the weekend and had a poor first period on Tuesday. But he’s still your number one goalie and had still improved his play in January, he deserved another crack, especially with the fact the break was coming up and he would have only played that one bad period in two weeks. Not to mention as well as Keith’s played this season, he’s still a backup for a reason. The last time Hynes gave him a start over a healthy Cory in a non back-to-back, that didn’t go so well either…also against the Caps on New Year’s Eve. Predictably Keith got racked last night, and even more annoyingly when Cory did come into the game at 4-1 he played well. At least the silver lining is he gets to go into the break on that instead. By all accounts the Devils didn’t play that badly last night so maybe it was a game you could have stolen if you weren’t trying to get blood out of a stone.
Hynes must have ticked off someone in the refs’ union too given all the calls that have gone against us lately, especially the Montreal game which was such an abomination you would have thought the teams were playing at the Bell Centre. That game was so bad the NHL had to call us Roger Goodell-style to apologize for calling an early third-period boarding against Karl Stollery (admitting it should have been a minor) that led to a five-minute power play where the Habs scored two decisive goals in a 3-1 loss – which by the way I did attend after all, switching around dinner plans with a friend. Of course that game was another letdown. Not to mention an obvious missed goal call against the Kings on Tuesday, where LA’s Dwight King clearly pushed the net off its morrings and actually did get called for delay of game, problem is the net was pushed off just as the puck was going into the net. NHL rules allow for crediting the team with a goal even after the net gets pushed off when it’s intentional, but obviously rules get forgotten or misapplied in games against us.
As far as the players go, the less said the better. Only if we’re going to hold guys like Cory accountable and bench him because of one bad period or Hall a period for one bad turnover, where’s the benching for Mr. Invisible (Mike Cammalleri)? One goal in 26 games for a supposed top six winger just isn’t cutting it, albeit he’s had a couple of assists lately but still. His early season struggles could be excused because of family issues and rust from not having played in several months, but what exactly is the problem now? Other than a binge week or two in December, he’s been flat awful. What I fear is the problem is he’s just old and shot, Michael Ryder-style. Which would be a problem considering Camm’s still under contract for two years after this one, with a NTC. It would be nice to see a little more effort from one of the supposed leaders of the team though – perimeter players who score are fine, perimeter players who don’t are a problem. Bad enough Camm’s stinking on my fantasy team too, but the Devils need his goals even more than my fantasy team. To put it in perspective, recent waiver pickup Stefan Noesen scored last night in his Devils debut, which is as many goals as Camm has scored in nearly two months.
Of course Camm’s far from the only issue on the team but it’s indiciative of the larger issue right now. When someone I’ve always looked as a leader and an example for younger players is floating around, small wonder just about everyone else is too. Far too many of these games the team’s come out with a lazy first period that torpedoed the game. Even last night they were down 0-2 with sloppy defense after the opening twenty minutes. Against the Kings it was 0-3 before you could blink and nearly caused me to walk out after the first period in exacerbation. That wasn’t even as bad as the Toronto abomination three weeks ago where they were 0-4 in the hole after fifteen minutes. And I’m tired of seeing message board lectures that ‘this is what rebuilding is like’. Rebuilding doesn’t give you license to make amateur hour decisions or excuse bad effort. Put it this way, I’d gladly take the Brooklyn Nets’ season over our current one. At least they compete every night, albeit they’re so bad they’re a near-lock to get the most lottery ping-pong balls while we’ll probably get slotted fourth at best in the lottery behind Arizona, Colorado and expansion Vegas. Of course there’s also a faction of fans who want to tank Sixer-style, trade everyone and bemoan the fact we didn’t tank sooner. That kind of talk’s beneath a fanbase who used to take the high ground when the Penguins management actively did things to lose games to get Mario Lemieux.
What’s amusing – at least to me – is the fact season ticket renewals are going out next week, right after the All-Star break. Great timing eh? Considering the team’s lost six in a row at home with attendance dwindling and eleven of thirteen at the Rock (many blowouts among them) after their illusory unbeaten streak in NJ earlier in the season. It seems like the worse the team gets, the earlier the renewals come out to attempt to lock you in before the season becomes a total dumpster fire. It’ll be more amusing to see them pump season ticket sales during February when the team has nine of eleven games at home. Assuming the team isn’t brazen enough to raise ticket prices – rumor is they’re not – I’ll probably renew at some point given I still love my location and the price isn’t terribad yet, but it doesn’t sound like the benefits are going to improve from this year. Put it this way, they’re going to have to offer something besides shooting for your season tickets – when I have about as much chance of making that shot as a #16 seed does of winning an NCAA tournament game – for me to go out of my way to renew early. I would prefer to wait till the offseason and renew then, to see if this team’s going to do anything legitimate to improve or if they’re going to pinch pennies again and in the end it might just be more expedient to pay less for 90% of games on StubHub and ignore going to Ranger games that are becoming more blue by the year anyway, but at a certain point you lose tenure and the few perks left from renewing.
Until then, the less I think about this team the better. I was personally glad I had other plans and wasn’t able to go last night though I missed getting the retro theme socks, I knew what was in store against a Caps team that’d been killing everyone lately. At least my friend in 120 couldn’t blame last night’s loss on me being there.