Quite frankly tonight’s odd Thanksgiving game in Montreal was the first I’d really paid much attention to in the last couple weeks, though I didn’t watch as much of the latter part of the game nursing a headache and turkey hangover. I don’t remember the last time the Devils actually played on Thanksgiving, even the NBA isn’t going up against the holiday/NFL juggernaut tonight. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the only NHL game was in Canada where they aren’t celebrating American Thanksgiving, but it is a rough break for the Devils players to be the only ones away from their families on the holiday. At least make it an all-Canada matchup if you’re only putting a standalone Canadian game today. For whatever we think and say about these guys, they do have to sacrifice a lot of family time to play this game that (normally) entertains us.
At least this trip wasn’t a waste for the Devils from a results standpoint…they won and scored six goals, which are the best things I can say about the game. It was more pond hockey reminiscent of the early season rather than the low-event hockey the Devils have played lately, which may well be a good thing long-term. Firewagon hockey probably isn’t doing Mackenzie Blackwood any favors though. It was a mixed bag for the young goalie, who played well for the most part with 44 saves, though he did give up four goals including a couple of eh ones. Until and if this team ever went on a massive run though, all you can really look at right now is individual performances, and particularly of the younger players.
Perhaps most encouraging tonight was the game by Nikita Gusev, in a game with ten goals you could argue the biggest impact was by the KHL import who didn’t have one of them…but had three assists, a couple of the highest quality, and could have easily had four or five if the finishing had been even better. His three point night pushed his point total to a respectable 11 in 21 games, and the arrow’s pointing up after a scary beginning. Also worthy of notice was rookie Jesper Boqvist, whose first NHL goal was marred both by the fact it was in a loss to the Wild on Tuesday and that it should have been overturned because of a hand pass seconds before the goal. Thankfully his second goal tonight had more meaning, and overall he was more noticeable tonight with three shots on goal and two hits in just over ten minutes of icetime. It’s time for coach John Hynes to let the kid play. Even when Boqvist wasn’t scoring earlier in the season he wasn’t hurting the team the way some other forwards have.
As rough as I’ve been on Miles Wood this season, his play has improved in the last few games and his breakaway goal was reminiscent of the skill he showed in his breakout season two years ago. And after being quiet for much of the season, Blake Coleman’s roared to life the last couple of weeks – culminating in a two-goal, four-point night – as the line of Coleman, Gusev and Travis Zajac had their way with the slumping Habs. While 2017 #1 overall Nico Hischier’s still been quiet, at least he’s piling up some assists with six points in six games. Three goals in twenty-two games isn’t good enough at this point, but I’m not one of those fans that goes woe is us, we could have had Heiskanen or Makar! That’s the ultimate second-guess considering everyone in the hockey world only had either Nico or Nolan Patrick as possible #1 overalls that year. If one or a few guys below that tier wind up being better, that’s just tough luck and nobody’s fault. It would be nice if some other guys who are even bigger names than Nico got going but c’est la vie.
For once at least John Hynes played Pavel Zacha, Jesper Bratt and Boqvist in the same lineup and voila, the team looked a little more exciting – though most of that had to do with the Gusev line at least Zacha had an assist and Boqvist a goal. With our luck we’ll probably get Bratt scratched for John Hayden again on Saturday since we gotta use that grit against the Rangers in a rivalry game! I do want to give the coaching criticisms a break on this holiday, especially after a win…but I wasn’t amused over the charade of assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald being behind the bench ending with nothing materially changed. As I suspected, it was a move to try to buy Hynes time when he was under the gun, nothing more.
Although I watched some of tonight’s road game, Saturday’ll be my first home game in a couple of weeks. I could have used a freebee to go to Tuesday’s game after selling my pair but wound up playing hooky and hanging out with friends at a trivia night instead. I was definitely better off there, even though our trivia team only did about as well as the Devils and Louis Domingue against the Wild. At least I was spared watching that fiasco, but there’s no hiding Saturday for my one and only Devil-Ranger home game of the season, after also being forced to miss the earlier one. Seems like the Rangers have had more sustainable improvement than we have lately but we also had our best performance of the season against them last month, so who knows how it turns out Saturday.
Literally nothing would surprise me given both our teams’ wild inconsistencies. If we blew them out, I wouldn’t be surprised, if they blew us out I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m probably expecting a close game with blown leads (we somehow won tonight despite three blown leads) more than either blowout scenario though.