After our previous two meetings with the Leafs this season resulted in 6-1 and 7-2 losses, I knew what was coming last night. I still had to attend the game to experience ’80’s night with a friend, but I warned her the actual game might get out of hand early. Sure enough being down 3-0 after the opening twenty minutes set off the boos from the crowd and my own sarcastic laughter, especially as I was thinking how we were actually lucky to be only down 2-0 before one more fatal breakdown with 6.6 seconds to go in the period resulted in goal #3. It definitely looked like a worst-case scenario after twenty minutes.
The fact the Devils actually got the game to 3-2 and kept it there until Mitchell Marner’s empty-netter, spoke only to the Leafs dialing down the intensity in the second period, and Keith Kinkaid’s best game in a month if not longer – making 40 saves in defeat – rather than any actual sustained competence by the Devils that actually put the result in doubt for a time. Of course John Tavares ran riot against us with two goals in the first – including his 300th career tally, but honestly there could have been five or six goals in that opening twenty minutes. Even as someone agnostic about results at this point I was annoyed. I don’t really want to deal with this crap when I have to watch.
Briefly things picked up after that, but after our 12-15 minutes of life in the second period that culminated in quick goals from Blake Coleman and Brian Boyle late in the period came one of the worst down by a goal third periods I can ever remember. Toronto outshot us 15-3 in the third and really those three shots really weren’t all that threatening. I had forgotten how bad Toronto’s goalie situation had gotten due to injuries so when I saw Michael Hutchinson in net with even worse split numbers than Kinkaid my response was ‘when did they get him?!”. I only had remembered him being a Winnipeg reject. I had hoped at least we could get a few goals and somehow win a scoreathon.
Truth be told however, a high school goalie could have played against us in the first and third periods. Even against a waiver-wire goalie we had no chance, without Taylor Hall and Marcus Johansson we couldn’t sustain any offensive push – again. Which is actually underselling things. When we were still trying to figure out a way to tie the game late, coach John Hynes didn’t pull Kinkaid till there was about a minute left. The crowd was screaming for the earlier pull but honestly both the coach and I knew it was pointless anyway. We weren’t even sustaining any kind of possession, once Hynes pulled the goalie it was gonna be over. Of course by the time it got to a minute left I just bitterly remarked just pull the goalie and end this, I was tired of watching a monkey screw a football the entire third period, to quote a famous line from the late Herb Brooks. Sure enough, about half a minute later it was over.
Let’s face it, the Leafs are a lot better team than us – with or without Hall and Johansson. Last April seems a long time away now, when we beat them in front of a sellout at the Rock in the penultimate game of the season to clinch our first playoff spot in six years. Since then of course, they added Tavares while we’ve either subtracted players or production from most of the players still remaining. GM Ray Shero extending coach Hynes a couple weeks ago smacked of the Jets giving Todd Bowles an extension after last year when he’d put up two straight 5-11 seasons. Sometimes it’s the overt lack of accountability that’s more upsetting than the actual losing and incompetence. While former team czar Lou Lamoriello could get a bit trigger-happy on coaches, at least you knew there was accountability present. I’m still waiting for it under the new regime. Getting rid of an over-the-hill schlep like Mike Cammalleri and marginal players like Devante Smith-Pelly two years ago don’t count all that much, sorry.
At least ’80’s night was cute, even if the idea of theming the Ken Daneyko bobblehead with a Ghostbusters suit was a little odd on its face, you could conceive of Dano wearing that outfit at a costume party during the decade. He’d have to actually have some form of hair for it to be an accurate era look…just a little though. They could have done far worse for a central theme though. Clearly the ambiance was there if you grew up in the ’80’s from the music choices, to some of the graphics like the Meadowlands-ish type scoreboard and the montages like NJayDevil popping into a lot of ’80’s movie scenes like Back to the Future before the game. The white and green throwbacks were nice again, though I joked to my friend after the first period this season would be the last we’d see of them after the team got smoked by the Blue Jackets 3-0 in the first of our four throwback jersey games this year.
In many ways last night was a perfect prism for how things have changed all around the organization since the glory days. It’s almost like a curse, for ages and ages under Lou people complained the team wasn’t marketed enough. You would never see the social media stuff, the Internet extras or an attempt to reach out to the fanbase. Now it’s there, and we’ve been losing for the most part. If we only had to have one or the other give me the boring winning over the ‘exciting’ losing anyday. Ideally it wouldn’t be only one or the other, god knows teams like the Caps and Blackhawks market fine and they’ve been successful organizations on-ice in the last decade.
It’s just sort of fitting that it’s worked out that way for us since people went overboard complaining about the lack of extras as if they were the most important thing. No, the most important thing is actually enjoying the product. And enjoying the product shouldn’t be about how much action there was, but whether the team is winning. Not having to say well everything around the game was nice, it’s just the game itself sucked like last night. Although it would be nice if those off-ice extras didn’t include increased ticket prices for a losing team or decreasing season ticket benefits by the season. But that’s a seperate rant for when we get our renewal invovices for next year and they’ll almost inevitably go up.