Perhaps the best way to describe tonight’s game is frustrating, yet typical of the 2018-19 Devils so far. I was just as in and out of the game as the team was, my attempt to take a pregame nap to make up for my lack of sleep last night failed, so I turned the game on but my interest was fleeting throughout, with good reason. I didn’t exactly expect a repeat of our 6-0 pasting of the Caps in October, we were a different team them seemingly. And a different team at home in general given our home-road splits are now reaching hilarious proportions. I figured on a back-to-back they’d give Keith Kinkaid the first crack especially after he was in net for that shutout win, and there was at least in theory something noteworthy to watch with the NHL debut of former first-round pick Michael McLeod.
There was no redeeming part of this 6-3 loss though, not even McLeod’s debut. I mean really, what’s the point of calling up a kid to play a whole 5:36 on the night? If you want someone to earn a spot as coach John Hynes professed to, well give them a chance to do so. I get there was a lot of ‘special’ teams play in this game but if anything that’s just more of a reason to give guys like McLeod a chance, because the special teams were just flat out garden variety trash, specifically the powerless play. OTOH Miles Wood’s 7:40 was well-earned, he’s been – to be kind – dissapointing this season, his yearning to be more of a scorer (and recent alarming statement that he thinks he’s playing well despite subpar production and poor play away from the puck) seemingly taking away the sandpaper parts of his game that got him his four-year contract in the offseason.
Of course focusing on third and fourth-liners is missing the forest for the trees, you need your best players to be your best players and they certainly weren’t tonight. Kinkaid had one of his few truly awful games since becoming the full-time starter in February and may have just bought Cory Schneider his first home start of the season tomorrow – yippidee doo dah. Our new ‘top’ pairing of Andy Greene and Damon Severson? Just look at how bad both guys were on the third goal, or Severson and Sami Vatanen were on the first goal, the team in general was seriously making pee-wee level mistakes tonight with multiple bad line changes in the first period while the Caps had the puck in the neutral zone that got Hynes to nearly lose his voice on the bench:
Clearly this team is mentally going through the motions far too often this season. Even emotionally it seems like this team just isn’t actually enjoying themselves this year. Just look at the reactions when they score, there’s little celebration even when they actually score important goals like Travis Zajac’s shorty to cut the Caps’ lead to 2-1 in the middle of the second period. Whatever happened to this team after its 4-0 start where they outscored teams 17-4 is a mystery comparable to Jimmy Hoffa’s dissapearance or JFK’s assassination conspiracy theories.
What’s not in doubt is too many players have been dissapointing and there’ve been way too many mental mistakes this season, both of which go back to coaching. As a Jets, Mets and Devils fan I’m having more than my share of bad coaching at the moment. I used to think Hynes was actually better than Todd Bowles or Mickey Callaway, and he may still be – but by default. At least Hynes has some passion and can fill out a lineup card. Not that any of that helps if your players show zero emotion themselves, or any aptitude for actually taking care of the basics like not going off for line changes when the other team has the puck in the neutral zone, or not letting one player split the D continually down the middle of the ice.
That’s not even getting into the worst aspect of coaching from the standpoint of tonight – the powerless play which hit its nadir in the late second and early third period failing to score on a five-minute major when (who else?) Tom Wilson hit Brett Seney from behind late, earning a match penalty and likely another suspension in an already long rap sheet. If I ever complained about Geoff Ward’s power play last year, well the ‘Miss Me Yet?’ meme certainly qualifies now. Geoff, my apologies…it may have been inconsistent and ugly at times but you actually at least could coach an NHL power play. His replacement Rick Kowalsky on the other hand looks as bad coaching a power play as hapless John MacLean did coaching the 2010 Devils. With three failed power plays besides the major, the powerless play went eleven minutes getting a putrid four shots on goal and zero goals.
I vowed if the team didn’t score on the five-minute power play at least once that I was turning the game off and I did but only after Greene and Severson parted the red sea and let Andre Burakovsky walk in, beating Kinkaid with a shot that he got some of, but not enough of. I figured it was over then, and while Kinkaid got no help from his defense there he also botched a play early in the second period leading to goal number two, and gave up a shortside shot to Nicklas Backstrom on the fourth goal later on – albeit it was a 5-on-3 (what a novelty, a team that can actually score a power play goal!). Nico Hischier and Marcus Johansson scoring late cut the deficit to 4-3 amazingly enough and got me to turn it back on – just in time to see Johansson give the puck away carelessly for the first of two Cap empty-net goals that sealed the game.
Honestly I don’t even feel like going tomorrow. I’d rather sell my tickets but secondary market prices are plummeting so I may have to either eat it or bite the bullet and go…as it is I’m going Monday for the Brian Boyle Masterson poster giveaway as much as anything else, but I’m not expecting to stay long if that game goes as most of our recent games against Tampa have and it’s 5-1 middle of the second period. Certainly this weekend is going to put our home-road splits to the test and if we start losing at home, then the proverbial crap is going to hit the fan.