Nope that score’s not a misprint…the 12000 or however many souls showed up on a Monday night to see two teams going nowhere might have expected an NHL hockey game, but instead pond hockey broke out. Which I suppose was inevitable when you have two bad defenses, one bad goalie (the corpse of Cam Ward) and another goalie having a bad night (Mackenzie Blackwood). Still even with bad teams, 8-5 games are pretty rare. Maybe not as much with these two teams considering they played a 7-5 extravaganza in Chicago just last fall though. Both teams have fallen on harder times since then, and both teams’ third goalies going into the season are likely their best goalies now. Thank goodness the Hawks started Ward over Colin Delia, who’s actually been their best goalie as an undrafted FA getting his big chance this year with Corey Crawford injured and the aformentioned Ward struggling.
You may think I’ve spent too much time on the Blackhawks goaltending but really their goaltending decision, and the fact coach Jeremy Colliton waited forever to finally hook Ward for Delia was probably the deciding factor tonight (and yes, I had to look up who their faceless bench guy was after the dismissal of Joel Quenneville earlier this year). I like Ward despite the fact he’s stuck it to us in the playoffs more than once, but he’s had a bit of an Eli Manning-like career. Known more for a couple of playoff runs – including 2009 where they won two Game 7’s on the road before finally imploding against a superior Pens team in the Conference Finals – than for any kind of elite play in the regular season, and he certainly isn’t the goalie he once was…the fact he’s in Chicago now instead of Carolina is proof of that.
Somewhat surprisingly, a Devils team still without Taylor Hall was able to take full advantage of Ward and the Hawks’ D tonight, pounding their way to a 6-1 lead at one point in the second period before things got hairier than they should have late as the Hawks cut the lead to 7-5 with a couple minutes left before Blake Coleman’s empty netter sealed it. Coleman probably deserved first star tonight with two goals and an assist in 18:57 of icetime (second most among forwards behind Travis Zajac who played an insane five plus minutes shorthanded among his 20:14 of icetime. Zajac also had three points on the night with a goal and two assists. Kyle Palmieri actually did get first star with a couple of goals, and now has 22 on the season which is still not quite at the All-Star break yet. Probably he’ll wind up getting Hall’s spot on the All-Star roster since it doesn’t seem like he’s anywhere close to playing yet.
Tonight wasn’t just about the stars though – seemingly everyone contributed, including a couple of fourth liners who had their day in the sun. Plugger Kevin Rooney finally scored his first NHL goal (and his first NHL point to boot!) in his eleventh game between three or four different callups, while mighty mite Brett Seney had a goal and an assist in less than ten minutes of icetime. His goal came with bragging rights over buddy and former college teammate Delia, though it was the only goal the Hawks’ netminder gave up after relieving Ward late in the second period. I almost feel sorry in a sense for Brian Boyle and Marcus Johansson, the only two forwards not to get on the scoresheet tonight. Of course both will probably be elsewhere soon enough anyway as FA’s to be, barring some miracle run back into the playoff race.
Leading 6-1 after scoring five unanswered goals in the second (including TWO on the powerless play!), the Devils seemingly let up with twenty-two minutes left, allowing Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook to score in the final two minutes of the middle frame to cut the seemingly insurmountable 6-1 lead to a suddenly scary 6-3. Only the Devils could make me roll my eyes upon seeing the score late in the second when I saw the sequence of the goals and that they’d given up the last two. From reports it sounded like a rare off night for Blackwood to this point, that can happen – especially playing two games in three nights coming off IR.
Which makes coach John Hynes floating out the possibility of Blackwood playing tomorrow in Columbus clinically insane for doing so. Three games in four days just off the IR and continually extended by this defense, really? But that’s possibly why Cory Schneider got run into the ground last year and why Keith Kinkaid got used up earlier this year. Hynes takes this whole playing the best goaltender thing a wee bit too far – even with a clearcut #1, you still have to use the other goalie on your roster. Especially now while we’re still a thousand points out of a playoff spot. I get you want to give the kid a chance to rebound off an bad night but still, there are two other games before the break.
If the Devils got sloppy though, the Blackhawks didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory either after a performance like tonight. Listening to the radio broadcast on my way home from a brief trip to the city, Chico Resch was unusually critical of guys like Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith (a -5 on the night) – who didn’t play well or set an example befitting their status as winners and veteran leaders. I suppose it’s hard after you’ve been playing on winners essentially your whole career to suck it up as a vet and shine in meaningless games, but that’s what leaders getting paid big money are supposed to do. It’s actually a bit jarring to hear anything critical from Chico but he does know his stuff, all kidding aside about his malaprops and idiosyncrascies.
Of course that’s their problem. I’m just glad my friend got to see a Devils win and some actual goals, after having to sit through that embarassment on Thursday with me. I did accurately predict to her before the Thursday game that Monday was going to be her better chance at seeing a win. Not that it makes me Nostradamus given how good the Leafs are and how bad the Hawks have been this year. I’m not even that annoyed I missed both wins during this home week while having to suffer through Thursday, amazingly enough the team’s home record this year pretty much ensures I’ve at least seen some good games though after the Leafs game it’s a bit mehish 6-4-1 in the games I have been at this year.
I will see them play the Ducks on Saturday (and they’re one of the few teams struggling more than us in the last month, with a now-eleven game losing streak) but that’s my last home game for the month, having just sold my Ranger tickets on the 31st. Just as well not having to deal with possible winter weather the next couple weeks although other than the big snowstorm in October it’s been a bit mild so far (knock on wood). Before then of course they have tough division road games at Columbus tomorrow and at Long Island on Thursday. Considering how poorly we tend to play against both I’m certainly not expecting much in either game.
At least for a couple nights the Devils looked more like last year’s team than this year’s corpse.