Despite a predictable dud of a game against the Sharks last night at the Rock after a thrilling OT win in Ottawa on Thursday, things are still mostly looking up for the 6-2 Devils – though they’re currently looking up at nobody else in the Metropolitan division. Indeed, the Devils are in first place after 10% of the NHL season (already it’s that much?). Not that anyone seriously expects the Devils to hold their current place in the standings for much longer, though their Stanley Cup odds have dropped from 125-1 to 40-1, so that’s something cause bookies know everything, right?
For reasons defying explanation by anyone, the Devils have a full six days off before their next game on Friday against the Senators at home. Yes, I realize every team has a ‘bye week’ now in the NHL where you get five or so days off and don’t have to practice, but this isn’t actually the Devils’ scheduled bye week, which is in January. This is just regular time off where the team will be in the area and practice. As annoying and mystifying as this break is perhaps it’s for the greater good right now given this team could certainly use more work defensively. Not to mention the break will give some of the nicked up guys time to heal, such as goalie Cory Schneider who had to leave Thursday’s game in Ottawa with a lower-body injury. Also, defenseman Steven Santini was a surprise scratch last night ostensibly due to general wear and tear from playing big minutes early.
Too bad the Devils didn’t put up a PG-13 disclaimer for last night since having to watch a defense where John Moore and Ben Lovejoy were a pairing is not for the faint of heart, and when they weren’t the ones screwing up Mirco Mueller was all to happy to take his turn with the dunce cap on. Former Devil coach Pete DeBoer must have been smirking on the bench at his luck facing a team coming off an emotional road win the night before with a couple of key guys missing. True, even a tired Devils team could have had a hatful of goals last night, but Sharks goalie Martin Jones and his best friends post and crossbar were all at their goal-repelling best last night. Not to mention Jimmy Hayes, who essentially blocked a Taylor Hall shot from an open net attempting a deflection.
Last night was annoying for yours truly on a number of fronts last night. Usual Friday night traffic getting into Newark that made a 35-40 minute drive into an hour long. Another few minutes getting into the building when I had to reload my Devils app and re-sign in to get my electronic tickets to show (I thought technology was supposed to make things easier, not more difficult?). Then my food and beverage card wouldn’t work and after getting the runaround to guest services, then to the Membership Lounge I was told I’d in fact brought a commemorative card that didn’t have the credit on it. Yes, I did get two food and beverage cards but figured the credit would be on both and was never told one was essentially a dud. Guess changing over the sales team in the offseason didn’t help in terms of communication but I don’t get the concept of a seperate commemorative membership card anyway…as if you can’t just keep the one you have once the credit runs out?!
I just barely got to my seat for the anthem when something else unusual happened, and the young anthem singer froze up in the middle of it. I at first wondered if the mic had cut out but apparently not, and the crowd picked up the slack and finished the anthem for her in what was clearly the best moment of the night. Thankfully we didn’t have to sing the Canadian anthem too, I doubt most of us know the words to that offhand although having been at enough games I at least know a few verses if not the whole song.
As far as the actual game went, the sooner I forget about last night, the better. I’d prefer to rewatch the wild, dual 5-4 wins over Tampa on Tuesday and at Ottawa Thursday. If last night’s game showed the growing pains (particularly on D) that still remain, those games showed the excitement of what lay ahead. In a game I had to miss on Tuesday, the Devils wound up scoring three times in the first period against the Lightning, but still trailed late in the third before Drew Stafford’s tying goal at 15:54 of the third period sent the game to OT, then the shootout. I was hoping we’d see one of the kids like Nico Hischer or Jesper Bratt strut their stuff in the skills competition but coach John Hynes went with a veteran-laden lineup of Stafford, Hall and Kyle Palmieri for the shooters. Thankfully for once Schneider stood tall in the shootout going 3-3 and Palmieri’s goal was enough to get the extra point.
If Tuesday’s win was dramatic, Thursday’s game was an even more exciting finish, although the start wasn’t bad either with #1 overall Nico Hischier getting his first NHL goal early in the first period, then following up quickly with his second later in the period to help the Devils take a 2-1 lead, but Ottawa scored three times in the second and a banged-up Schneider gave way to an unsuspecting Keith Kinkaid – who in his own words was stuffing his face with granola bars when he found out.
Kinkaid gamely held the fort and the Devils stormed back with goals by Palmieri and Marcus Johansson to send the game into a second straight OT – where our 3-on-3 specialist John Moore won it at 1:20 of the extra session, with his fifth OT goal since becoming a Devil just over two seasons ago. After the game Sens coach Guy Boucher had some nice things to say about our skill level and speed, and Boucher has an interesting connection to the Devils having coached #1 overall Hischier in juniors. As he once recalled, Hischier played three straight games for him as a 16-year old against men and didn’t make one mistake. Ironic then that Hischier would get off the schneid against his former coach.
After the rousing win Saturday against the Rangers followed by the OT games Tuesday and Thursday it appeared the team was just a step slow where they had been, but they’ll get some needed time off and get another crack at it with a back-to-back at home against the same Sens on Friday, and against Arizona on Saturday. Of course if another certain local team is playing home games Friday and Saturday night, the crowds will be severely sparse and muted watching Games 3 and 4 of the World Series. Of course, the Yankees have to win their Game 7 in Houston tonight for that to become a reality. Although as a Met fan I’m ambivalent at best to the Yankee run I do appreciate how GM Brian Cashman has completely made over the organization and how they’ve been able to not only build the farm but find undervalued players from other organizations. It’s a model franchise for sure, and there’s also this:
Yes, Brian Cashman is a not-so-secret Devils fan. Interesting there’s always been a loose connection between the two franchises since former Yankee owner George Steinbrenner once held a stake in the Devils too, and I believe even got a ring for the 2003 Stanley Cup. Too bad my Mets don’t have more of a connection with the Devils haha. But having high-profile fans and getting some cross-promotion can’t hurt in any case.