After a disasterous 1-6 road trip (with a whopping 34 goals allowed, I might add!) dropped the Devils under .500, I can’t say I was feeling too confident in any type of bounceback while making my trek to the Rock last night. Even if we were facing the rival Pens, who we managed our lone road win against in a desultory game for them last week. Along with the Devils playing poorly, they also had to deal with a couple of injuries to the center position – Nico Hischier being day-to-day with a wrist issue while Brian Boyle got put on IR after running into the machine known as Dustin Byfuglien in Winnipeg. Two of our top four centers being out neccesitated a quick recall of Pavel Zacha, who – while he’d been reportedly been playing better in Binghamton – still hasn’t scored a goal at either level this year.
Given this backdrop, Travis Zajac’s quick goal less than thirty seconds into the game was more of a welcome surprise for me than anything else, and maybe a bit of a panacea for the team who played some of their best hockey of the season the first twelve-fifteen minutes of the first period. Of course I didn’t think this was going to be as easy as the game in Pittsburgh and sure enough, all it took was the Penguin power play showing off its skill to even the match, with Sidney Crosby threading the needle with a pass through Andy Greene’s legs that was deflected home by Phil Kessel (with an assist from defenseman Ben Lovejoy). Crosby and Kessel were to prove pivotal in both that goal, and seperate contreversial events still to come.
With the game tied, momentum swung back Pittsburgh’s way, but Keith Kinkaid held the fort down again the way he did during last season’s stretch drive until the MVP started to make his presence felt. Taylor Hall already had the primary assist on Zajac’s goal, but his pass to a wide open Damon Severson on the Devils’ second goal was more of a classic ‘assist’, and after Severson ripped the puck home you should see Hall’s excitement for the defenseman getting his third of the season. Compare and contrast that goal reaction with the ho-hum businesslike approach of Zajac’s goal in Toronto!
After re-taking the lead the Devils played better though not quite as dominantly as in the first, and were fortunate after they gave up a shorthanded two-on-one when Kinkaid made a tremendous double save on Bryan Rust, sweeping his glove back after the initial save to keep the puck from trickling over the line. For their part the Devils could have extended the lead but Miles Wood could not corral the puck when all alone in front of Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith, and was likely distracted by the goaltender’s poke-check attempt. They really should have extended the lead in the final two minutes of the period when an unfortunate series of events confused the heck out of seemingly everyone in the arena, especially me.
All I really saw was Will Butcher’s tremendous stretch pass finding an open Jesper Bratt who stayed onside according to the near official, and beat DeSmith for a breakaway goal. Well okay I did see Kessel jumping Brett Seney behind the play but figured they at least let us play advantage the way they do in soccer. I did not hear the stupid quick whistle that replays showed went off as Butcher’s pass was finding its mark. Clearly nobody on the ice heard the whistle from the far side of the ice and with the crowd buzzing during Bratt’s breakaway chance some of us in the stands didn’t either. I didn’t even notice the officials waving off the goal and was celebrating as the PA guy ran the entire goal song. A nice Penguins fan sitting next to me quietly pointed out they disallowed the goal and I was incredulous.
Honestly it took a few minutes for both of us to catch up to what the hell happened. He thought it might have been an offside, then I thought they were dinging us for a penalty. Technically there was a penalty on Seney (how?! He got jumped!) and having simaltenous penalties stopped the play, but since Kessel committed a double minor we actually got what turned out to be a meaningless power play out of the bargain. Yet even the more aware Penguin fan next to me didn’t realize it was a Devils power play and thought there were too many men on the ice for a faceoff towards the end of it. Strange sequence. Perhaps even diabolical too, it seems unfair that Kessel could jump Seney and because the player was defending himself it canceled out a legitimate breakaway chance.
Or maybe the refs were just looking for an excuse to cut the NHL’s golden team a break. It sure looked that way in the third period after another contreversial goal decision went the Penguins’ way. This time it was on a play where (who else?) Crosby that gained a step on Blake Coleman and drove to the net. Crosby’s initial shot was stopped but he lost control and took out Kinkaid with a slide, leaving the goalie defenseless to stop Jake Guentzel’s rebound putback. Honestly I thought that was just an unfortunate break before seeing the replay, but Crosby made no attempt to stop and lost his footing. At the very least the goal should have been ruled out for incidential contact but NOOOOO…this is the NHL and this is the Penguins.
Toronto and the refs’ excuse was that Coleman shoved Crosby, causing the contact. Horsecrap…yes he did shove Crosby before the shot (basically with the force that a first-grader shoving anyone would provide) but that had absolutely nothing to do with him falling down or losing control. Again it was just a convenient excuse to play favorites. Even the nice Penguins fan next to me knew that was horsecrap and should have been disallowed. Mine and the rest of the crowd’s sense of injustice was now keyed up, although in my case it manifested in sarcastic laughing more than actual anger. I’ve seen this movie before, after all.
Now tied 2-2 where it should have been 3-1 Devils, the team at least showed a sense of resolve it hadn’t for much of the season, and it was the mighty Hall who gave the Devils back their lead on a breakaway goal just four minutes later. Even the Devils’ Facebook feed was trolling the refs with their post showing the Hall goal.
When sometimes it looks like it’s #NJDvsEverbody, don’t get mad or get even. Get the lead.
#NJDvsEverybody indeed. I almost lost it late in the game when in the final two minutes Patrik Hornqvist was crying for a delay of game on Joey Anderson, and I probably wasn’t the only one thinking or saying ‘you’ve gotten enough breaks tonight ****head, be quiet’. At least I had a more reasonable Penguins fan next to me than my friend sitting a few rows in front, whose fiancee is a Penguins fan (while she’s obviously a Devils fan). While a nice guy in normal settings evidently he fits the stereotype of a spoiled Pens fan during games whose team can do nothing wrong. Which I’m sure makes for an interesting dynamic during these Devil-Penguin games.
Thankfully for one night it had a 2017-18 feel at the Rock again, and it wasn’t the refs or the Penguins who’d have the last word – it was the Devils themselves, who after several anxious minutes finally sealed up the game with a Hall empty-netter in a finish befitting the pregame commemoration of the franchise’s greatest (Martin Brodeur) being inducted into the Hall of Fame last night. Marty gave a short, but emotional speech on Monday that made Dick Vermeil look emotionally restrained. Oh I kid cause I love. No speech last night, but instead a spotlight at center ice before an honorary pre-game faceoff with Crosby, who got the predictable boos raining down from the skies.
Overall a fun night, and my own record at home is surprisingly 3-0 this season (the Devils themselves are 6-1-1 at home, though that includes the overseas game and 1-7 on the road). Hopefully last night’s game and the emotional way the team won it serves as a springboard to start turning things around.