Normally I leave the Devil-Ranger recaps to Derek and certainly things are looking much better on the other side of the river at the moment with the Rangers above .500 and actually getting contributions from more than two or three players on their roster, but today was just so hideous (even by our putrid standards) I had to weigh in too. Granted, hideous isn’t much different than most of the rest of this sorry season on the face of it, but today was a new low – hopefully one never to be topped although I wouldn’t put that past us. You would think getting shut out 4-0 at home by our biggest rival with half the fans cheering for the Rangers and the other half chanting ‘Fire Hynes!’ in the third period after a carnival show power play turned the game into a rout would be IT as far as how low you could go. Perhaps that’s the only good news from an otherwise miserable Saturday afternoon at the Rock.
How could it possibly get worse? Other than macabre type stuff like injuries or losing by double digits, or off-ice stuff like what’s happened in Toronto and Calgary recently (granted with mostly past tense incidents but still providing an impetus for present-day change). Today gave me an acid flashback to the end of the Lou era where the Devils got whipped on Fan Appreciation Day, used as clown props really by the Rangers who not only skated circles around us but clinched the President’s Trophy in the process, and their fans booed our players off the ice for the team’s last home game of the year. A harsh, if not fitting end to a terrible 2014-15 season.
Here we are five years later, and how much has really changed? We squeezed into the playoffs once with a couple of great months of stretch-run hockey, but since Tampa gave us a five-game reality check in the blink of an eye we’ve followed up one bad season with another even worse season. Maybe it won’t be worse in terms of final record but it is in terms of what was expected of this team after all their new additions. Today was easily the low point of the post-Lou era, once again with another home embarassment against the Rangers. Losing 4-0 is bad enough but the comical aspect of the power play going -2 for 8 (0-8 with not one but TWO shorthanded goals allowed), while the normally above average penalty kill looked like mites on ice allowing backdoor play after backdoor play until one wound up in the back of the net for the Rangers’ first goal in the opening twenty minutes. Bad special teams is just another example of a bad coaching staff.
And now after this season goes up in smoke we’re going to be forced into rebuild 2.0, once GM Ray Shero does what he’ll inevitably need to do and deal Taylor Hall and Sami Vatanen at the deadline. I could see the Devils making a run to keep Vatanen on ideally a short-term deal given his injury issues with concussions but they certainly will miss him if he goes off to a contender by March. As far as Hall, the horse seems to be out of the barn at this point.
So let the sweepstakes commence. This team’s not getting out of the hole it’s dug for itself. The only way they even have a chance of doing so is a swift and immediate house-cleaning of the entire coaching staff, but until Shero actually does what needs to be done with John Hynes I’ll believe it when I see it. He shouldn’t fire Hynes because the fans demand it per se, although the fans chanting that any coach should be fired is a new experience for me. I grew up with the famed ‘Joe must go!’ chants from New York Jet fans but for Devil fans, this is new. Booing Pete DeBoer in intros is one thing, but usually coaches got fired before fans got restless – especially under Lou Lamoriello. And people could make fun of Lou’s itchy trigger finger but I’m sorry, he wouldn’t have let this kind of lack of fundamentals and accountability fester.
Silly me I actually was (ahem) looking forward to this game. Not that I neccesarily thought we were going to win – as I said the other day pretty much no outcome would have surprised me – but a Saturday afternoon against the Rangers you would figure would at least have some buzz in the building. There were people there, but no buzz – especially early. You could almost hear a pin drop during introductions. As jaded as I am over the last few years, even I stood and applauded for our players. Two things brought me back down to my normal 2019 pessimism level…one, seeing online that this was going to be a Heritage game. Seemingly every time since the first couple of games we wore throwbacks, we’ve lost on a retro night. Two, the aformentioned first goal of the game where the PK looked like it had never killed a penalty before allowing time and space everywhere. Then again, how can they be expected to get good practice in going up against our powerless play which was by far the biggest culprit on the night?
It was bad enough when the Devils squandered a double minor toward the end of the second period and gave up their first shorthanded goal of the game on top of it. When Jesper Bratt had a hideous turnover at some point during that four minute power failure the boos rained down from all sides, including me. I thought that would be the low point for our power play hahaha…true to form the Devils somehow managed to clear a limbo bar basically sitting on the ground by immediately squandering a five-minute major in spectacular fashion. Giving up their second shorthanded goal of the game was bad enough, doing it on a three-on-one was so inept I couldn’t help but laugh at that point. They finally broke me to the extent that I was actually hoping the Rangers would score at that point when I saw the three-on-one develop, that was the moment where I officially had it with just about everyone and everything associated with this team. Needless to say we squandered the rest of the five-minute major, with a Nikita Gusev penalty mercifully killing off two minutes of it. It was about at that point the ‘Fire Hynes!’ chants started and the boos rained down even more.
They certainly weren’t coordinated throughout the whole arena (maybe having half the arena be Ranger fans had something to do with it), but they were louder and more frequent as the game dragged to its inevitable conclusion. Yeah I participated in both and I’m not ashamed of it either. Texting my one friend he was like, ‘whoosh I’m glad I didn’t go’. And as annoyed as I was over sitting through that garbage, part of me actually didn’t mind getting my voice heard in that moment too. They deserved to get booed out of the arena. Pretty much the only thing that stopped the boos was the final stoppage of play with three minutes to go where the mass exodus of Devils fans commenced. The only reason I wasn’t among the ones walking out was I figured I’d catch a couple of my friends on the way out of the arena since I saw they were still at their seats. I didn’t even see the last goal while I was walking across the arena. Who cared at that point?
Pretty much being social is the only reason to go to games anymore. But when everyone is going to games less frequently, there’s less of an opportunity to actually be social. At this point I’d rather be social playing trivia with my friends on Tuesdays at local bars. If the first half of this season has seemed long it’s just going to get worse and worse unless something’s done to actually attempt to change the feeling around the team and in the arena right now. Even if Shero is too stubborn to want to change for the fans or because the players looked like they quit in the third period (especially on that stupid four-on-four right after the second shorthanded goal where they just let the Rangers skate around with the puck all day), you can’t deny reality with blind loyalty forever.
You can’t let a poisonous atitude fester around the team for the sake of loyalty. If it was just younger players who weren’t doing well you could maybe blame it on them not being as good as we thought they were. Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt’s regression is bad enough, Ty Smith not making the team was worse, but when you have a guy like P.K. Subban go pointless IN THIRTEEN STRAIGHT GAMES, that tells me something’s fundamentally broken. Is Subban washed up – maybe – but with so many guys underachieving I’d like to see them all under a new staff before I assume ‘all’ the players are the problem here. Even if I am starting to think of Subban like Brett Favre, another guy who I was a huge fan of before he wore my team’s uniform then became a lot less of a fan of after he put it on and dissapointed.
It’s your move Mr. Shero, you need to do what has to be done.