What I didn’t want to believe was going to happen but outwardly feared for a while – since the Devils’ nine-point playoff lead went down to three in the matter of four days – is going to happen now. Let’s face it Devil fans, this team is on its way to being out of the playoffs by this weekend (and probably not getting back there this year), now just one point up on the Panthers with them still having two games in hand after our back-to-back meltdowns in California. Our 4-2 loss in Anaheim was probably more lopsided than it was on the scoreboard, but at least they had good goaltending that game from Keith Kinkaid.
Last night on the other hand was a total team meltdown starting from the net out.
When I heard Cory Schneider was going to start last night’s game, I winced and with good reason. Ten straight losses with 3+ goals allowed don’t exactly engender a lot of confidence at this stage in the season. Last night was Cory’s most important start as a Devil given both the team’s perilous situation and the fact his own legacy and reputation as a goalie was on the line. Even with the lack of confidence Cory’s earned in fans and the team, I couldn’t have envisioned last night’s total nightmare. Just thirty seconds into the game when Cory nearly gave away a goal with his usual hideous puckhandling, things had an ominious overtone.
Sure enough before you could blink Eric Fehr scored yet another ‘fluke bounce’ goal that only seems to happen to Cory these days and the rout was on, despite Taylor Hall’s best attempts to thwart the inevitable, with his game-tying goal at 11:19 of the first period. Yet barely a minute later, Joe Pavelski gave the Sharks back a lead they wouldn’t relinquish and again before you could blink it was 3-1. Though I already turned off the game after Cory’s first allowed and knew what was coming I just couldn’t bring myself to go to bed. I would have been better off, but instead I just followed the rest of game on Twitter/message boards which no doubt exacerbated my angst and cost me sleep. Not exactly a wise move given I’m just getting over a cold where I didn’t sleep great anyway.
I was honestly shocked coach John Hynes didn’t pull Cory at the end of the first and sent him out there to start the second. If there was any doubt that was an erroneous decision, it was erased minutes into the period where this hideous 5 MPH shortside backhand somehow beat Cory and rang off the post:
Honestly that was worse than any of the actual goals allowed last night. and pretty indiciative that Cory is shot for the season. The only amazement was it took half the period for the Sharks to score a fourth time. Only THEN did Hynes pull Cory for Kinkaid. Like really dude, what’s the point then? If you weren’t going to pull him at 3-1 when it was obvious Cory had nothing might as well leave him in to take a beating and not expose Keith to this hopeless cause of a game, no way we were coming from three down against a quality Sharks team, especially not being able to stop the puck. Predictably Keith allowed a goal on his first shot coming in cold and the ‘change the goalie momentum’ immediately dissipated. For a fourth straight time over the last two seasons the Sharks pounded us with a fourth straight blowout.
What makes this end of the season more frustrating is it’s not like the Devils have completely wet the bed down the stretch – the last two games notwithstanding. Maybe our supposed elite goaltender has wet the bed but really wouldn’t everyone have signed up for 3-2 on the first five games before this trip? Of course even that’s no longer good enough because the OOT results last night are the same as its been the last three weeks – absolutely, positively zero help from anyone else. Another Panther win, another Blue Jacket win, another Flyer point coming from two down in the third period and another late deficit to at least get to the skills competition. We haven’t so much as gotten a loser point since early January, it’s either been win or bust for us and that’s caught up to the team.
As a Met fan I’m seeing ghosts of 2007-2008 where the perfected the art of late-season collapses to somehow miss the playoffs despite all the percentages that 99% said they were getting in. Just like the Devils were 95% or whatever it was to get in at the beginning of March when they were nine points up on the field. Now the entire field’s passed them except for the Panthers who’ll no doubt pass them tomorrow when they’re the ones to finally end Columbus’s nine-game winning streak just when we no longer care about Blue Jackets results. In fact, the Flyers are the only other realistic team to try to catch at this point but that presumes the Devils are even going to psychologically recover from these two beatdowns in California.
We know Cory won’t. It’s gotten so bad I actually do feel a little for him at this point, despite how annoyed I am with his continuing to come up small when we need him most. Just IR him with some phony-baloney injury and send him away for the rest of the season, not gonna do him or us any good to continue to bury this team’s playoff hopes. Nobody knows more than him if the 2017-18 Devils choke away a playoff berth, he’s gonna have to be the one to wear it with eleven…straight…losses allowing three or more goals. At this point if the team doesn’t make the playoffs, you might actually have to send Cory away for good. God only knows how, his contract is way too long for a buyout, you’d only be able to trade him for similar long-term contracts of guys also not doing well like Bobby Ryan or retain a ton of salary on the 4 years, $24 million left on his deal. For now, might as well take your best shot with Keith and Eddie Lack and at least try to get the rest of the team something out of this mess of a season.
Things still don’t get any easier this weekend with our lengthy road trip concluding in Pittsburgh Friday followed by a home matchup with the Lightning that now has a very different feel than it did a week ago. I was envisioning a hero’s return after the Devils had won the first three games of the trip with a rocking crowd in a meaningful game but instead it’s gonna be an apprehensive, nervous reception for quite possibly the final nail in the Devils’ coffin. Lordy, even I can’t believe it’s going to end quite like this – and this quickly too. My prediction is we go on one last surge at some point and then of course the final ending will come in our home finale against the Leafs – Lou Lamoriello’s Leafs for one last karmic screw you by the NHL gods to us this season and once again poor Taylor Hall will be sitting home in April, his best season having come to waste and the Devil franchise will be sitting home for a sixth straight year, ultimately gaining nothing from this season in the end other than more heartbreak and knowing you need an actual starting goaltender next year.