NHL.com has this video clip of last night’s ‘highlights’ as nine minutes long. I beg to differ, and not just because I’m salty over the Devils’ latest fiasco at the Prudential Center. Even when the Devils had a 2-1 lead through the first fifty-three and a half minutes, it wasn’t a particularly entertaining game. In the glory days, it used to be that boring was other fans’ code for being bitter over our stifling defense shutting down games but in the case of last night boring represented two bad teams playing a near passionless game with one bad team getting ultra conservative with a one-goal lead and eventually paying for it.
Even with a surprisingly high attendance of 13,438 (barely 3000 short of capacity) for a midweek fall game against a nondescript team, it wasn’t like the team gave the crowd much to be excited about. Other than maybe the first several minutes of the game when the Devils could have run Ottawa out of the building with some early momentum, outshooting the Sens 8-0 and getting a sweet breakaway goal from Wayne Simmonds to take an early lead there wasn’t much to report from the game. Even Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s first goal that tied the game in the first was met with a collective ‘huh?’ reaction after he snuck in a shortside goal on Mackenzie Blackwood.
Maybe that goal was indiciative of how the Sens sneak up on teams in general. If you asked me before the game I wouldn’t have guessed they even had six wins, or remembered the name of their head coach. Nor did I realize Pageau even had a hat trick until I read about it in Derek’s recap. After they stripped down and started an owner mandated budget-cut (i.e: ‘trust the process’) nothing was or is expected from Ottawa this year. And clearly they’re not going to make the playoffs in a loaded Eastern Conference, but just the fact they compete and have gotten their share of wins early is indicative of buy-in from the players of this coaching staff, no small consideration after it wasn’t too long ago where some Senators players were videotaped in an Uber with unfiltered thoughts on the state of their team.
One of my bitter jokes last night was that if you had someone Uber-recording Devils players after the game they’d probably give the exact same cliched, milquetoast thoughts they give for public consumption. Which isn’t a compliment, but rather an indictment of the so-called leadership on this team and the lack of passion in the room. No I’m not expecting Scott Stevens to walk through that door, but it would be nice to see someone – anyone – throw a skate in the locker room and demand more from this underachieving group. This lassiez-faire atitude reached a new low last night in the third period. Once Devils defenseman (ahem) Matt Tennyson tied the game with a perfect screen in front of Blackwood on Mark Borowiecki’s goal, right there the team quit on the ice in the last six and a half minutes. In a tie game, against the Ottawa Senators at home. Basically every last man starting with my guy P.K. Subban, whose ‘effort’ on both Pageau’s winning goal and on a breakaway Blackwood had to stop before that was hideous…you don’t believe me, check that highlight video.
Not that he’s the only one whose effort dragged in those last few minutes but when you’re talking about a supposed leader on the team – whether it’s Subban floating around during the game or Taylor Hall after it seeming more preoccupied with his stats in his free agent year than the team’s losing, then Houston we have a problem here. That goes to leadership and the lack of respect for it. Why would the players have any respect for management when there’s been zero accountability in the last five years? Say what you want about Lou Lamoriello, things got stale here – it was time for a change and the team needed a rebuild, I get all of that but he wouldn’t stand for what this team’s become now. And he’s certainly getting the last laugh in Long Island now, isn’t he? As the Islanders win their nine thousandth straight game while the Devils head for rebuild 2.0 and a deadline where Hall, Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen could all be on the move and we’ll be once again breathlessly hoping good things happen in threes with another lucky lotty drawing.
Not that winning lottos have done a lot of good for us at this point. On this roster we’ve iced THREE #1 overall picks on an almost nightly basis – Hall, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes – along with the ‘best player not in the NHL’ in Nikita Gusev, traded for a Norris Trophy winner in Subban and made other additions like Simmonds. Yes everything needed to go right for the Devils to be on the plus side of the playoff bubble but instead, the total opposite has happened and everything has gone wrong. Blackwood struggled early and fellow goalie Cory Schneider’s just struggled – again. Gusev may have a world of talent but he’s been frighteningly bad away from the puck to the point where he was scratched for two straight games. Subban hasn’t done much at all, and Hall only has two goals and is a whopping 0-7 on breakaways including one last night that could have put the game away early in the third period against a Sens team that really showed little bite until the tying goal.
Yes there’ve been plenty of low points this season – losing the four goal lead on Opening Night, losing a three-goal lead to Florida, but in some ways last night was the total nadir with the team quitting on a game the franchise absolutely needed to win if they wanted to sell any hope of getting back in the playoff race anytime soon. Instead the Devils sank to the bottom of the Eastern Conference entirely with their twelfth loss in seventeen games, suffering their seventh home defeat in nine games. I don’t want to hear about the St. Louis Blues last season being dead last in the NHL in January, that’s the exception rather than the norm plus it took 100 points to make the playoffs in the East last year (and 99 the year before that) while it only took 90 to make the playoffs in the West. The Blues made the playoffs comfortably in the end but they would have had to go down to the wire to make it in the East where there’s a lot less of a cushion, especially when you factor in improving teams like Florida and the Flyers who didn’t even make the postseason last year.
It’s not even just that things are bad now…but what’s truly a discouraging thought is why should I think things are getting better anytime soon? Even putting aside for a moment that a deadline selloff and rebuild 2.0 looms, what’s truly grating is with each passing day, week and month John Hynes and this current staff stays employed despite a resume of one playoff appearance in five seasons and a whole lot of ugliness around that, I’m that much more convinced that there’s no accountability anywhere in this organization. Crickets are chirping while Newark burns down around Ray Shero, who may very well lose his second GM job based on sticking with a hand-picked coach too long. That’s presuming the owners actually care about the hockey team and not just the profits in the building.
At least in the case of Dan Bylsma you could understand it, he won a Cup with Shero. What has this head coach done to deserve total immunity? I’m half expecting Shero to troll me and all Devil fans like Christopher Johnson with the Jets and announce that Hynes is here through the rest of the season and beyond. You want to blame some of Hynes’ woes on the goaltending that’s fine, but he was supposed to be a developmental coach that hasn’t exactly developed a lot of the young talent on this roster. Even Nico has stagnated in his third year. If it wasn’t for Blackwood stepping up after his own bad start to the season – last night aside – would this team have any wins at all?
When a handful of players underachieve you tend to blame the players. But when pretty much an entire roster is underachieving, that’s when you gotta blame the coach. Even the good plumbers (as Jacques Lemaire would once famously say) like Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac have been MIA this season. While this isn’t quite as bad as the John MacLean fiasco of a season yet, it may well get there with more ‘efforts’ like last night. But at least you knew there would eventually be accountability for inefficiency and lack of effort in 2010. I’m not so sure about that now.