After yet another extended delay in the schedule, the Devils returned to the ice for just their seventh game in the last twenty-four days. Early on it seemed as if the Devils were fine with the infrequent games but after desultory efforts in their last two losses, everyone in the organization was on high alert after coach John Hynes laid down the law with some tough words, and a brutal practice on Monday. While I was confident the message would get through, I’d have felt better if we weren’t playing one of the best teams in the league tonight. Against Nashville, you can play well and still lose, which as it turned out is more or less what happened.
I missed the first two periods of tonight’s game, maybe I would have been better off missing the third period as well since the Devils had a 3-2 lead going into the final twenty plus minutes in what was a high-octane game early (Thirty-five shots combined by both teams in the first period alone!), then settled in to a punch and counterpunch showdown later. While both teams had 36 shots on net for the game, it was the Devils who jumped out to a lead three times in the game – only to blow it each time continuing at least one concerning trend that’s developed over the last three games. Another disturbing trend is the overreliance on the first line, which granted was a problem last year but has only been exacerbated this season with the utter faliure of our ‘second’ line in Pavel Zacha, Marcus Johansson and Stefan Noesen/Jean-Sebastian Dea to generate any form of offense at all. Johansson has just two points in seven games this season, while Zacha has two less than that.
True to form our fabulous first line factored in on all three goals, with Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri getting assists on Damon Severson’s first period marker, then Nico Hischier later scored on both the power play and at even-strength. Yet it was all for naught with again Keith Kinkaid playing subpar, looking like the pumpkin he was pre-February last year rather than the Cinderella he was after it and for the first few games of this season. Maybe he’s feeling the heat from Cory Schneider’s impending return? Yes, the OT goal was screened but it was a screen twenty-five feet from the net, sorry – the goalie still had plenty of time to pick it up. But even that goal wasn’t as bad as his first one, which I saw on the highlights moments ago – yuck for allowing that goal and yuck to the coaching staff for not even challenging offsides on the goal. It looked plainly obvious that Kevin Fiala was in the zone a stride ahead of Yannick Weber after dropping the puck off to him. Would have been nice to get one of those reversals our way, oh well.
Of course it would help if this defense could hold a lead this season. Last year the team didn’t have a single regulation loss entering the third period with a lead. While technically tonight wasn’t a regulation loss and they didn’t enter the third period with a lead against Colorado the fact remains they’ve blown either a lead or a tie in the final six and a half minutes of the last three games. As a result, in a stretch where they could have tacked on four or five more points, they only got one. While it’s probably too early to pull the ‘but last year’ wistfulness, the last few games do feel like ones we win last year somehow, that we’re now losing early this season. Especially tonight where they weren’t really outplayed, although there was again too many penalties at crucial times and some more questionable decision-making. What made Fillip Forsberg’s tying goal so gutting was the fact Blake Coleman was stopped on a shorthanded breakaway moments before by Predators goalie Jussi Saros. Not to mention Kyle Turris’s OT winner came moments after Andy Greene shot a two-on-one right into Saros, who looked every bit the part of a starting goalie filling in for the injured Pekka Rinne.
Tonight the staff needs to accentuate the positive after coming down (rightly so) on the effort of the previous two games, but Saturday’s a vital home game to get against a Panther team that’s struggling to keep pucks out of the net. Matinees are never kind to this team for whatever reason, but me and a friend will be in attendance before going to the Halloween movie at night so perhaps the karma can change back. Plus after Saturday, the team begins their brutal seven-game road trip over the next two weeks. At least they’ve had some good news on the injury front lately with Cory having two successful rehab starts in Binghamton and primed for a final one tomorrow before likely coming back to the team next week. Travis Zajac returned after missing two games as well, but there still remains a hole on defense after Ben Lovejoy’s lower-body injury and Steven Santini’s broken jaw forced the staff to give Eric Gryba his first game of the season. Jesper Bratt’s also on the mend and is probably a week or two away, but who knows.
Hynes accurately pointed out in the postgame they still need more from certain guys, and pretty much everyone knows who they are, but they also need to figure out how not to give away points in the third period of these games. In many ways that’s even more concerning than the ineffective second line or taking a couple too many penalties each night.