Game #27: Throwback Thursday – Devils 6, Kings 3

After a few days off we’re at my least favorite time of the year as a hockey fan – the Sleepy Coast trip.  Whether I stay up to watch the games on a weeknight depends on both how the team’s playing and how much the game generally means in the standings.  Last year, both boxes were checked off but it was a moot point anyway since the first two games of our California swing last year were on Saturday and Sunday night, and the last game in San Jose was over so quickly I didn’t have to stay up for the finish.  This year with the team playing poorly I’m not exactly that motivated for weeknight California hockey.  Even though as it turned out I could have gotten away with staying up for most of the game, I didn’t really feel like bothering to watch one bad team with six straight losses play another bad team who’s already gotten its coach fired in LA.

Might coach John Hynes soon follow John Stevens to the unemployment line?  Certainly it seems like he is worried about his job security given his desperation move to play Keith Kinkaid yet again last night despite Kinkaid’s own struggles the last two weeks (allowing four or more goals in his last five starts).  Clearly Cory Schneider is now radioactive for both the fanbase and the coaching staff.  If that’s the case, then quite frankly why is he still here?  Obviously we’re not getting out from under his contract anytime soon whether we waive Cory or not, but if Hynes and/or GM Ray Shero have any interest in trying to salvage this season it’s clear they have to find a way to get better goaltending from somewhere else, whether it’s bringing up suddenly hot prospect Mackenzie Blackwood for a couple of spot starts or bringing in a vet from the outside.  Cory being an AHL-caliber goaltender is problematic for two reasons, the automatic loss you take when you play him and running Keith into the ground the way he has been the last couple weeks when you have a one-goalie rotation.  

Sure the decision to play Keith ‘worked’ last night if you want to call giving up three goals to a bad offense while getting even more goalpost luck working, but Kinkaid’s not a goalie that can handle a 65-70 game workload, the last few weeks have proven that.  Sounded like last night he was more fortunate than good but hey a win’s a win for the coach so onward with Kinkaid until he gets hurt or has a losing streak to match Cory’s regular season futility (which he might have had if the Kings weren’t laughably bad themselves this season)!  It kind of reminds me of when former coach Pete DeBoer went down with the ship during the lockout season playing backup Johan Hedberg everyday despite a long losing streak, because he had no confidence in playing a rookie goalie in a big spot.  That rookie goalie was Kinkaid, so I guess things have come full circle in a sense.

Speaking of goaltending, for all my ragging on our two goalies the worst goalie that actually played last night was in the Kings’ net.  Like Cory, Jonathan Quick has had his own injury problems in recent years, although until this year it hasn’t really affected his play.  Seeing Quick with a 3.52 GAA and .884 save percentage in eight starts (just one win) reminds me that it sure isn’t 2012 anymore, when Quick was the biggest reason the Devils and 40-year old Martin Brodeur were denied a storybook fourth Cup win.  Of course like us, the Kings are a bad team now too which isn’t going to help a goaltender’s numbers, or his concentration level on a nightly basis.

In some ways it’s depressing to see how far both organizations have fallen in such a short time, particularly ours since until this year the Kings were in win-now mode and still have several players remaining from that Cup team (not to mention the KHL traitor who played with us in 2012, but skipped out to Russia soon after and is now ‘back’ in the NHL with the Kings, albeit on IR for a few weeks).  While the Devils have only won a single playoff game since 2012, the Kings won another Cup in 2014 and made the playoffs four times in the previous six years, although like us they also had diminshing returns the last few years – missing the playoffs twice and being punted in the first round winning just a single game in two series against the Sharks three years ago and the Golden Knights last year.

Given all that, the Kings’ decision to double down on winning now by bringing in guys like the aformentioned Ilya Kovalchuk and washed-up Dion Phaneuf is even more laughable now than it was as a first-guess.  I’ve seen this script before as a Devils fan, from 2013-15 under Lou Lamoriello when he made similar win-now moves to try to keep the good times going longer than realistically possible.  Even 2012 was a gift from the hockey gods after the Devils had been a boring first-round and out team the previous few seasons followed by the John MacLean disaster.  You wonder whether history would have changed if the Devils lose one of those final two OT’s to the Panthers in the first round, would Lou have actually rebuilt at some point, or been replaced sooner?  I’m glad we don’t have to find out since 2012 was the most enjoyable non-Cup run I’ve ever had as a fan (1994 I was too young a fan to really remember at that point, plus it got overshadowed by everything Rangers that year).

Still, by 2015 the franchise had hit a low point having the majority of the building cheer the Rangers for a President’s Cup clinching while we were booed off the ice fittingly after a clown show of a game and season.  It may make fans feel better to still blame everything on Lou since – god knows the Cory trade looks horrible knowing now what Lou knew then about Kovalchuk’s impending departure overseas – but the fact is this is Shero’s team now.  Only two players remain from that 2012 team, the fast-declining Andy Greene and the workmanlike center Travis Zajac.  Others were in the organization when we still had the semblance of a winning culture, but whatever gains were made last year in the Devils’ scintillating run to the playoffs have been lost so far this year in a stretch of misery reminiscent of so many other recent hopeless Devil seasons.

And the fact is until 2013, Lou’s organization was remarkably successful at winning, not to mention he and former player Brendan Shanahan made the playoffs two straight years in Toronto and now Lou looks like he’s going to somehow make the playoffs again with an Islander team that should by all rights be rebuilding after losing its best player this offseason (just our luck the Caps decide to boot Barry Trotz out the door after a Cup win and he lands on Long Island).  You can argue all  you want about Lou’s win-now approach, god knows I wish he’d done some things differently in his final years like not overrely on slug skaters in a league of speed, or give up the Matteau pick in 2012 so we’d have been drafting 11 instead of 30 two years later which was the John Quenneville pick.  Drafting 11 where we theoretically could have gotten a guy like Dylan Larkin instead of drafting one guy who’s washed out of the NHL and another who can’t win a job in the first place would have been nice.

That said, it’s a loser mentality to continue to blame Lou four years later for our struggles now.  Shero had his own opportunity to trade Cory once he took office and didn’t take it.  He kept Greene seemingly through his expiration date and brought in the rest of this defensive core that stinks.  He stood pat this offseason with millions of cap space available, fatally relying on Pavel Zacha to center the second line.  Instead Zacha and other younger players like Miles Wood and Will Butcher have all gone backwards this year under Hynes’ hand-picked staff, well I should say staff 2.0 since he had to replace assistants Geoff Ward and Ryane Clowe this offseason.  And the fact is despite last year and Taylor Hall we’re still in the wilderness and have completely lost any semblance of a winning tradition.

Even three years off from 2012 at the end of Lou’s tenure you could tell things were a lot different.  Six years now seems like another generation ago.  Heck, even last year seems a long way off at this point.

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