After winning their first three games in impressive fashion, the Devils’ challenge last night against the Stars was to avoid a dreaded letdown against a middle of the pack Western Conference team playing on a back-to-back. My challenge, apparently was just to get TO Prudential Center. Generally weeknight trips take an hour from Morristown to Newark with rush hour traffic so I left at 5:30, but there are also scenes from the upcoming movie ‘The Joker’ being filmed in Newark and some streets were closed off – just my luck one of those streets closed off was the one I usually turn onto to get to the front entrance my lot. So from 6:30 till after 7 I basically crawled around Newark when as it turned out, I could have just avoided that whole mess by squeezing in the back entrance to my usual parking lot. Eventually I wound up back there, relieved that entrance was still open and barely got in the building for puck drop.
Still annoyed over the whole ordeal and taking over an hour and a half to drive and park, the game itself helped relax me as the Devils got off to another fantastic start and cashed in with a familiar name on the scoresheet – Kyle Palmeri with his seventh goal in four games scoring a rocket one-timer on a PP mere minutes after I got to my seat. Unfortunately the momentum of the first half of the period got stalled in unusual fashion, with the Devils about to go on a 5-on-3, Taylor Hall for reasons known only to him decided to flip the puck into his own bench on the delayed penalty and wound up getting thumbed on a delay of game to cancel out the Stars’ second penalty. Now I admit I’ve never seen the delay of game be applied in that manner before. Then again players are usually smart enough to just throw the puck to the other team or go offside if the idea was to get the extended 5-on-3 (which it was). I thought delay of games only applied to pucks over the glass or closing your hand in the crease but apparently I was wrong as Steve pulled a Doc mid-game and explained the wording of the rule on Twitter.
While the team’s momentum stalled after losing that power play, the Devils avoided the costly mistake against and the game remained 1-0 into the second period. Then Blake Coleman did what he does, sparking the team with a well-timed goal – making a couple moves in traffic and firing a wrister past Anton Khudobin. Khudobin’s troubles as it turned out, were just beginning. If the delay of game penalty was the first ‘you don’t see that every day’ moment of the night, what happened later in the period was the next, when Khudobin’s stick got broken and somehow nobody on the bench or the ice noticed it, while the entire crowd of 12,808 saw the goalie gesticulating while doing jumping jacks in the crease trying to get someone to notice he didn’t have a stick for half a minute. Defenseman John Klingberg literally skated past the goalie’s broken stick with the puck but instead of icing it or keeping it long enough for someone to notice and get the goalie a stick, he turned the puck over to the immortal Jean-Sebastian Dea who fired a shot past Khudobin the one place he might not have been expecting…glove-side. Dea admitted he didn’t realize Khudobin lost his stick either or he would have shot the puck someplace else. Pity. My former seatmate on the other side of the arena (who I sat with for the third period) had thought it was a clever psychological gamble.
With one exception the third period brought back memories of late ’90’s hockey where the team shut the door on a lead in convincing fashion. There was even a good old-time fight between Miles Wood and Jamie Benn early in the period – no strategy or probing, just wailing on each other that ended with a Wood takedown of Benn. I don’t really know what Benn was doing in the first place since the Stars were down three early in the third period, and trying to make that comeback with one of their better offensive players missing a couple of shifts was not ideal. Maybe the Stars already knew this wasn’t going to be their night. They rarely came close to scoring until the final minute where a botched power play gave the Stars a couple of good shorthanded chances but Keith Kinkaid stopped them all to preserve a shutout, and finally a well-deserved star after being denied by the attending media in the previous two home games despite 37 saves against the Sharks and another shutout against the Caps.
Unfortunately the reason for that botched power play could have serious reprecussions going forward as Will Butcher was not on the ice, having been taken out by a likely uncalled boarding penalty minutes earlier with a suspected collarbone/shoulder injury. I had visions of Mirco Mueller’s collarbone injury last year which led to him missing three months. Although the power play’s been streaky so far this year, losing Butcher could cripple it. It won’t do us any favors 5-on-5 either having to replace Butcher with either the uninspiring Eric Gryba or the unimpressive Steven Santini, neither of whom can really add a lick to the transition game. So while last night’s 3-0 win continued the impressive 4-0 start (the team’s best since defending its ‘first’ Stanley Cup in 1995), and they’ve outscored a decent slate of opponents 17-4, the first dark cloud appeared over this season and we’ll just wait and see what the word is on Butcher today.