I’ve been so used to writing emo recaps lately, I actually started to type in Coyotes 2 in the title space as if they’d won this afternoon’s game before catching myself. For once the Devils did win a hockey game, and were really the better team against an Arizona squad fighting for their playoff lives in front of a near packed house at the Rock. Honestly they should have won long before the shootout but for some terrific goaltending by Darcy Kuemper, a pair of maddening misses by Mike McLeod (still looking for his first NHL goal) and a PP that actually looked NHL caliber for once but still fired blanks time and again.
Obviously there was no recap for Thursday’s game…what’s to say about an AHL team losing 5-1 to the hottest team in the league outside of the Tampa juggernaut? Especially considering I didn’t watch a second of the highlights. Amazingly, our lineup was a lot different for this afternoon’s game though. No fewer than five of the walking wounded (Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri, Miles Wood, Mirco Mueller and Sami Vatanen) were suddenly all healthy enough to play. I don’t want to accuse an organization of flat out chicanery – least of all my own – but the timing just smells fishy. I even joked to my friend Rudy, ‘are we just bringing these guys back now to sell tickets for the last few home games?!’
If we were holding these guys out in some sort of soft tank, maybe they should have waited another game or two since a little streak could still possibly change our lotto odds. Early on, it did look like more of the same in spite of the returning cavalry with Oliver Ekman-Larsson floating a partially screened wrister past Mackenzie Blackwood in the first period but after some more typical uninspired play of 2019, the team did wake up later in the first, getting rewarded when Drew Stafford’s wrister slithered through a screen and under Kuemper to tie the game. After that, the goalies took over but even so, the last two periods were as good as I’ve seen the Devils play in months. Even old, slow Stafford looked like he was using the turbo button on a power move towards the net in the second period.
I was only moderately surprised at the crowd at the Rock today, there were I’m sure a lot of presold tickets for a Saturday matinee and a lot of kids there to boot. Contrast that with our upcoming game with the Sabres on Monday where they’re literally giving away comp tickets to that game for season ticket holders as if it was a preseason game. Which to be fair, it pretty much is – an extended 2019-20 preseason if you will. I’m still debating using my comp for Monday, I hadn’t planned to go and probably won’t if my one couple friend winds up in the clubs as opposed to their normal seats since nobody else I know is going either. Not that I blame any of them.
At least I did get to see a few of my arena friends today. Otherwise these games just don’t have enough meaning to stay wrapped up in them. Oh sure, I celebrated out of habit when Blake Coleman and Pavel Zacha’s shootout goals gave the Devils a win – and my long awaited first live win of 2019 (now 1-6 in games this calendar year). But it felt empty afterward, like eating comfort food when depressed. Or as one time New Jersey Net Derrick Coleman once famously quipped…whoopdie damn doo.
Oh sure we played spoiler to the Coyotes to an extent, but it’s not like they’re any real rival. And we do get too wrapped up in the minuscule difference one or two places in the lotto odds can mean. Just look at 2016, when John Moore’s meaningless OT goal against the Flyers bumped our odds from third best to fifth best…but when the drawing was actually held it was one of our combos that came up. Perhaps the best thing about today’s game – besides the performances of Blackwood and Zacha – is it knocks one more game off the schedule and this time without any suspected catastrophic injuries.