Let me start this blog with a thought: There really shouldn’t be any games on deadline day. It’s just too hectic for the teams and the fans to go through the dual emotional roller coaster, it’s another game you lose from your acquired players if you’re a buyer, and one less game you get to see your younger replacements if you’re a seller. True, Trade Deadline 2019 was mostly a yawner till about 2:30 but even with big names such as Mark Stone and Wayne Simmonds moving after that, more of the big trades happened in the days before the actual deadline as it worked out.
Even in the best of times I wouldn’t have really felt like watching tonight’s game after nervously rechecking Twitter and other sources to see if the Devils were able to trade all of their expiring contracts (yes) and whether they’d make any other surprise moves (no). Imagine what it’s like for the players who don’t know who they’re going to be playing with or against on deadline day. Especially given the Devils’ injury issues as of late – Pavel Zacha missed his fourth straight game, Jesper Bratt sat out with an undisclosed injury and both Miles Wood and John Quenneville left tonight’s game with injuries.
Somewhat surprisingly I did actually wind up listening to most of this game, however loosely it may have been. I half thought of making myself get a cheap ticket and go, but I’m a bit gunshy lately after my last few home games have all been fiascoes. Plus I had some errands to run, even more than I thought when I had to get a new printer and install it – which was my excuse for having the game telecast on and listen to it while I put the printer in. If you looked at the lineups, the teams’ respective position in the standings and the shots on goal tonight (35-22 in favor of the Habs) you really would have expected a Montreal romp. Yet somehow thanks to Cory Schneider and contributions from some of the newer and more unheralded Devils, the team completed a shocking sweep of the Habs with an ugly 2-1 win.
Of course in Montreal they are only going to care about a brutal result as they’re dancing on the playoff bubble. Hab fans must think this is the days of Martin Brodeur when we would dominate them in their heyday with the local kid almost always doing well against his boyhood team. Only instead of Brodeur and Scott Stevens it was Nathan Bastian and Kurtis Gabriel who played spoiler scoring the Devils’ only goals of the night, and one of the newest acquisitions (defenseman Connor Carrick) had assists on both goals. Really this is what these games are about now. Kids like Bastian looking to make good, role guys like Gabriel looking to take advantage of a last chance to stick in the league, and a guy like Carrick who fell through the cracks in Dallas trying to make the most of a second chance.
And of course the magical mystery redemption tour of Cory continues, now with his fourth win in five games after another strong game today with 34 saves, only allowing a shorthanded breakaway goal by Paul Byron in the third period which spoiled a potential second straight shutout on home ice. For once however, the team didn’t blow a multi-goal lead or a late third period cushion. By all rights this game probably should have gone the other way, but such is hockey. We’ve been on the other end of this type of game plenty over the years.
However the big news of the night wasn’t the Devils playing spoiler on the ice, it was what happened off the ice with GM Ray Shero continuing to divest expiring contracts for draft picks. Much to this blogger’s surprise he actually found a taker for goalie Keith Kinkaid, albeit Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was in the middle of a trading orgy and his friendship with Shero probably influenced a back-scratching deal. Surprisingly the Blue Jackets also took on Kinkaid (without trading either of their top two goalies) for a 5th round pick – in 2022. I just couldn’t resist a chuckle over the fact that Keith was traded for a guy in middle school.
It’s no laughing matter for Keith though, and the part of me that will forever appreciate his spring of 2018 that helped will the Devils into the playoffs does feel bad for a guy who came into the year as the #1 guy and a cult hero and will now end it in obscurity as the #3 in Columbus with his NHL prospects after this year very dim. That’s the human side of deadline day. So was the irony of the Johansson trade, as he was flipped to Boston for 2nd and 4th round picks. A fine deal to be sure, but it’s like Shero or the hockey gods were trolling him putting MarJo on the same team with Brad Marchand, after his dirty hit on Johansson caused the winger to miss a ton of time last year. Playoff chases makes strange bedfellows.
Although this isn’t the deadline anyone wanted coming into the season you have to consider it a success for Shero – getting back two additional second-rounders, an extra third, fourth and fifth rounder plus Carrick for four expiring contracts. In a sense it is a win-win for everyone, respected vets get to play meaningful games and contenders get better while the Devils get assets to help down the road. Of course you never know how players and teams will respond to the deadline day chaos, they’re human after all. Just look at last year’s Devils, the afterthought acquisition (Pat Maroon) fit like a glove while the baleyhooed guy who was supposed to fit like a glove (Michael Grabner) didn’t.
Going forward the Devils have another five weeks and nineteen games to show why they should be a part of this team’s future. Guys will get opportunities, just look at tonight’s lineup for proof of that. It probably won’t be pretty most of the time though, unless Cory and the recently returned Mackenzie Blackwood can hold down the fort in goal. Tonight’s game was an example of ugly being masked by good goaltending. Generally this year the ugly’s been exacerbated by bad goaltending but at least unlike the rest of the team, Cory’s stepping up now in possibly a career-saving drive.