I really didn’t want to have to rantpost again, not this season and especially not after tonight. Honestly I don’t even know how much my heart is in a rantpost at this point. Last year was embarassing enough as a Devils fan, but at least GM Ray Shero recognized that status quo wasn’t acceptable after one of the worst years in franchise history and made moves to bolster the talent level of the roster. After a solid preseason, optimism was sky high among Devils fans. Although we were facing a Jets team that always gives us trouble, they were missing a couple key players and coming off a tough loss at the Garden the night before. If there was ever a time to get them, it was tonight.
And sure enough, through thirty nine plus minutes the script could not have gone better if you were a Devils fan. KHL import Nikita Gusev scored the team’s first goal of the season and his first NHL goal to get the Devils on the board. Then the Devils rocked the Jets and backup goalie Laurent Brossoit for three goals in the second period, with first Blake Coleman getting his usual hustle and grit goal early in the second period, then Sami Vatanen blew one through the Jets goaltender and finally Coleman looked rather Ovechkian – if you don’t believe me just look at Derek’s post below and YouTube Ovechkin falling down goal – somehow managing to roof one shortside with one hand on his stick while falling down, scoring over what appeared to be a hapless goalie.
At 4-0 late in the second period, this team was mere seconds away from a deserved, thunderous ovation going off the ice back into the locker room. What should have been an afterthought goal by Dmitri Kulikov to spoil the shutout with eleven seconds remaining in the second period instead became like the first raindrop before an oncoming monsoon. Perhaps that was my first indicator the third period wasn’t exactly going to be easy, when the post-buzzer reaction from the crowd after what otherwise was a dominant period got muted after the late goal. Still, even me in my darkest hour of pessimism as a Mets, Jets and Devils fan could not have envisioned what happened afterwards.
If Kulikov’s goal seemed a mere annoyance at the time, Jack Roslovic’s goal early in the third period was a dose of cold water nobody in the building welcomed, and not just because it made the game 4-2 but for the even more ghastly realization afterward that goalie Cory Schneider was hurt…AGAIN. The same Cory who was supposedly healthy for the first time in years, had looked great in camp after a decent second half and good World Cup during the summer – now he had to be helped off the ice after barely two periods of real hockey. I don’t know how serious his injury was, maybe we’re lucky and he pulled a hammy but if he tore anything or re-injured his hip then my god you really just cannot count on him to be anything close to a starting goalie anymore, contract or no contract.
As confident as I might be in Mackenzie Blackwood on another day, this was the farthest thing from an ideal situation to come into, with the team reeling and him not expecting to play at all tonight. It’s one thing when you come in for a goalie that isn’t playing well, you can usually sense when a game’s going awry and start preparing yourself to come in but no amount of preparation can simulate coming in cold the first game of the season. Sure enough my worst fears were realized in the third when first Mathieu Perreault scored to cut the lead to 4-3, and seeing that clunker of a goal go past Blackwood I knew we were losing right then. Blackwood wasn’t ready to play and the team was in full shell shock now, while I was in full rant mode. I just couldn’t believe this was happening AGAIN, after how my football Jets spectacularly blundered their season opener.
Our descent back into being chokers and losers was complete when Ranger castoff Neal Pionk scored to tie the game. All it took was thirteen stinking minutes for the Jets to erase a 4-0 deficit like it was nothing! Thirteen minutes!!! I don’t want to get in all fire coach Hynes mode after one game, and to be fair goaltending and the most ill-timed of injuries was more decisive in the meltdown than even bad defense but it just never ends with this team. Blown lead after blown lead, I don’t want to hear about new NHL or how good the Jets are…malarkey. A 4-0 lead in your building with barely twenty minutes left, you cannot let that get away. That’s about as likely as well, quite a few of the Met bullpen implosions this year. But that’s a separate story.
Until there was maybe three or four minutes left in the period the Devils were like a fighter in a fog after getting hit with a haymaker, still on their feet but not really doing anything. And the refs certainly didn’t help matters (or my mood) missing a number of potential Jets penalties including a total takedown of Jack Hughes in front of the net in the first period, not to mention it seemed as if every marginal icing where a Jets player slowed up the refs allowed the icing while the Devils got jipped out of an icing call or two. Finally the Devils had a couple of good shifts late in the third, but still nearly lost the game in the dying seconds in what would have been a too fitting coup de grace when Blake Wheeler somehow hit a post and missed a wide open net from in close. Yet the gimmicky three-on-three gave us chances to salvage some honor back but despite four or five quality chances to win the game the Devils outright missed the net on far too many of them and couldn’t cash in a barely deserved winner.
Maybe on a normal night I’d actually have felt fine about going into a shootout…but with a shaky goalie and a choking team I really didn’t want to deal with drawing out the misery any longer. While Gusev at least cemented his own solid debut with a shootout goal, Kyle Connor quickly evened the score after it seemed like he was allowed to come to a complete stop and take as much time as he needed on his attempt. I’ll probably look at the highlight later and realize he didn’t, but man in the moment it looked like he was allowed to have all day in front of Blackwood before scoring. With Hughes, Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri all missing their chances the shootout lurched to its inevitable but deserved end when Wheeler atoned for his late-game miss and finally put us out of our misery.
If there was ever a night where the expression ‘loser point’ was apt, it was tonight for the Devils. Anyone that wants to tell me oh at least they got a point tonight, get out of my face. This was a loss that felt like three losses rolled into one. It not only brought back memories of my football team’s recent season home opener disaster, but also one of the Devils’ recent past where they came into another season with unbridled optomism after a bunch of offseason signings and additions. Things looked great when the Devils scored two early goals and then led the Stars 3-2 late in the game, but somehow blew both leads and the whole ball of wax 4-3 in OT. The year was 2010-11…and that loss was the harbinger of bad times to come in the John MacLean error.
I really hope we’re not headed down that path. And yes I know last season was the complete inverse where we outscored four straight opponents 17-4 and looking like a dominant team before falling off. Obviously Game #1 of 82 isn’t always a harbinger, but man it just couldn’t have gone any worse for the Devils tonight. Not only blowing a 4-0 lead in craptacular fashion but likely losing Schneider for another extended period. If this team wants to prove it’s not the losing, choking dogs they’ve been for most of the post-2012 era it starts tomorrow night in Buffalo. Nut up, beat a team you’re supposed to beat and stablize things, then you can actually point to three points in two games and try to regain your equilibrium after getting hit with a Mike Tyson-esque punch – whatever happens with Cory will happen but at least you can plan around Blackwood and whoever his backup will be and try to play well enough around them to win, the way the 2017-18 Devils did with Keith Kinkaid.
If that doesn’t happen, then things could get very cloudy in a hurry. Especially vis-a-vis Hall…why would he sign long-term with an organization that can never seem to get out of its own way? A horrible start will mean probably trading Hall then going into rebuilding 2.0 after an offseason where acquiring entities such as Gusev and P.K. Subban meant we were supposed to be past ‘trusting the process’ here. Sooner or later this team is going to have to take the next step or Shero – for all his good intentions this offseason – is eventually going to have to answer (among other things) for why he is going to the wall with a staff that doesn’t seem able to actually improve this team’s mental toughness or defensive capabilities. And these players will have to answer for why they can’t get this team over the hump.