After a total unmitigated disaster and tease to end all teases like tonight, where to start?
Start from the pregame I suppose, where I was seriously debating not going to this game, but an inability to sell my pair of tickets combined with just flat-out talking myself into going on a weekend night rationalizing (correctly as it turned out) I’d at least see a couple of friends at the arena led to a last-minute change of heart. I don’t actually mind sitting by myself during the games since I zone in and hardly talk during play but pregame and intermission especially is another story. When I’m not with anyone I wind up walking the concourse more than using my phone during breaks in the action. I do wind up using my phone more if the game itself is annoying me though. While I didn’t see anyone in the pregame I did wind up running into an arena friend during the first intermission and one of my better friends was sitting in my section so I wound up talking with her after the second period and OT. So at least the night wasn’t going to be a total loss.
As for the game I was fully expecting a beatdown from the Jets which would be lunacy if we were talking about football, but not so much here. Especially after they destroyed us in Winnipeg a few weeks back, and have had a lot of success against this team in recent years. And why not with a bigger, stronger, more well-coached group? They are one of the best teams in the league, and the Devils right now…are not. Even with Keith Kinkaid in goal instead of hopeless Cory Schneider which tells you all you need to know about what the Devils think of their goaltending situation when Kinkaid is starting a back-to-back in different cities, after arguably his worst game of the season last night.
Of course at least with Keith you have the illusion of thinking you’re going to win. And through the first period it was actually the guys in red who were the far superior team. Maybe home magic would carry the day once again? Sure looked like it after Marcus Johansson of all people made a nice block at one end of the ice, then scored on the other end. If there is a bright spot in recent games (besides the Energizer Bunny named Blake Coleman) it’s the sudden return to life of #90 on the scoresheet, really for the first time as a Devil other than his great game against a bad Sabres team early last year.
With the Devils being the Devils however, they couldn’t extend the lead despite dominating the first period. Of course two early power plays failed spectacularly as usual, and a botched play by Mirco Mueller in the second period led to a goal and might have earned him a return seat in the scratch box. First Mueller held the puck forever on a three-on-two without shooting or passing it cross-ice, finally dropping it back to Miles Wood who of course missed the net. It would have been nice if Mr. I only care about offense now that I got my contract actually you know, hit the net. Then Mueller compounds his role in botching the 3-on-2 by falling out of the play on the defensive end, probably lost an edge on bad Prudential Center ice but whatever the case neither he or Sami Vatanen could prevent Blake Wheeler’s perfect feed to Mark Scheifele to tie the game.
All that as it turned out was merely a prelude to an insane third period and OT.
Actually most of the third period was an utter bore – there’s no other way to put it…for the better part of fifteen minutes the Devils went through the motions and finally, inexorably the Jets took the lead midway through the period when we had almost the slowest possible lineup we could ice with Brian Boyle, Drew Stafford, Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy on the ice all getting their eyes rolled around in their sockets by the Jets’ superior skating and passing. Really, go to NHL.com and pull up this goal (or go about two minutes in to see the brief highlight of it), you’ll laugh at how silly everyone on the ice is made to look. Our wonderful defense and system also looked silly on Winnipeg’s third goal of the night where all five skaters got caught on the left side of the ice leaving the front of the net wide open for Andrew Copp to score off his own rebound, seemingly putting the game away.
To exacerbate my anger at the team even more, the refs seemingly stopped calling things in the third period as if it was 1998. Kyle Palmieri got held for so long seconds before Copp’s goal earning resounding boos from the crowd, that was so bad even an NFL ref would call that holding. Finally the Devils got another power play, not that it was going to matter with five minutes left with our powerless play 0-for-our last whatever, I lost count. Things got so bad with the man advantage coach John Hynes finally scratched the struggling Will Butcher, but even that didn’t jolt the first couple of power plays earlier in the game. While I was texting one of my other friends who sits across the arena from me that I didn’t think we were getting a goal he predicted we’d get one now that the game was all but out of reach, then lose 4-2 on an empty-netter.
He seemed to be right when finally the power play jolted to life thanks to the mini-Energizer bunny in Jesper Bratt. My reaction at this point was more amusement than anything else, now figuring Rudy’s prediction to be on the money (as usual). It seemed only a matter of time when we pulled the goalie with just over two minutes remaining that Winnipeg would score the empty-net goal to seal things up, just like the Caps did last night and many other teams have done this season.
Except this time the Devils flipped the script and jolted what was left of the crowd (many of whom had left after the Jets’ third goal) back to life after Taylor Hall scored, culminating a netmouth scramble that seemed to last several seconds – minutes it seemed to me. Hall actually made a play that almost defied belief, leaping over the goalie’s pads to get in postion to swat home a rebound and redeemed himself from an otherwise poor game. Now they had me again…after a very brief goalie review that scared the dickens out of me, especially when I saw skates making contact with the goalie in the crease. This time even Toronto didn’t mess things up for us and the goal stood. I was legit excited, as much as for any goal this season.
By all rights now, the Devils should have, HAD to win this game really – even with the dreaded 3-on-3 OT looming. And winning this game could have been the spark that saved a struggling team’s season. On the team’s first shift it looked like they were finally going to break the curse when Hall and Nico Hischier got a 2-on-0 break on Jets goalie Laurent Brossoit. This was going to be the moment…that we would get kicked in the teeth irrevocably. Everyone in the building thought a goal was inevitable, but Hischier passed the puck too far away from the net and Hall never returned the pass. Yes, two of the Devils’ three most high-profile offensive players somehow managed to screw up a 2-on-0.
3-on-3 or not, I don’t remember ever seeing a two-on-the goalie breakaway fail before. I remember way back in 1999 when Martin Brodeur stopped an initial 2-on-0 shot against the Penguins in Game 7, but they scored off the rebound anyway. Now the air was sucked out of me and probably the rest of the building. Yet OT still went on, while we had one or two more good chances the Jets seemingly ended the game themselves a couple minutes later when Kinkaid stoned uberscorer Patrik Laine, then gave the puck away in the slot to Kyle Connor for another prime scoring chance but bailed himself out with a sterling glove save. So sure did that shot look to be a goal both me and Rudy across the arena were out of our seats ready to leave the premises until realizing incredibly that Kinkaid had kept that puck out. At this point the game had jumped the shark.
Sadly I was actually praying for the shootout, especially since Hynes had restored shootout specialist Stafford into the lineup, I figured our better chance to win was the skills competition. Despite the end-to-end action it looked as if we’d get our first chance at the shootout lottery this year, until Hischier culminated a nightmarish OT by failing to clear the puck out of the defensive zone with less than half a minute remaining, then getting stripped from behind and falling down out of the play so Vatanen was left alone to defend a 3-on-1, with the predictable end result of Schiefele putting home his own rebound. At least one team knows how to score with a two-man advantage on the goalie.
I wouldn’t say Hischier lost the game himself, but his disasterous OT was the ugly end of a lot of disasters tonight. Really this team didn’t even deserve the loser point after how they sleepwalked through the third period. And get that moral victory junk out of here, this was another point lost that could have, should have been won. We’re six points out of a playoff spot in a bad East where seemingly nobody else is out of the race. At this point we’d be doing well to have our hideous 3-on-3 record cost us a playoff spot the way our 0-13 shootout record cost us a spot in 2013-14. We just might match that level of futility in the 3-on-3 though.
This was seriously the most gutted I felt walking out of that arena since Game 3 2012. To lose that game after the way you tied it (and after already having been teased in a similar but somehow less annoying fashion against the Isles a week or so back), with this team in the dire straits it is felt like it went from a potential season-saver to a season-ender. Now I’m wondering if I should no-show Monday the way I wanted to no-show Saturday. Odds are most of my other friends aren’t going to be at that game. On the bright side, the odds are probably better I’ll be out of there after two periods with the game 5-1 or 6-1 – no matter who’s in net we’ve been destroyed by Tampa this year. And really how can this team respond from a loss like that? Especially with the utter lack of a system and brainpower this group has as a unit.
And to top this night off I come home to see the news of the Mets’ dopey Robinson Cano trade being official. With the Jets being a disaster, the Mets’ agent GM getting duped and horrendously overpaying in a trade for his biggest-name former client and the Devils being a mess tonight’s a night where I think about WFAN host/fan Joe Benigno and his oft-repeated line about how he doesn’t want to know anything about sports in his next life, should he have one. Right now that sounds pretty good to me.