I have to admit my pessimism about the 2021 season was slowly turning into guarded optimism, with five points in our first three games coupled with the welcome news Jesper Bratt is only days away from returning after finally getting his visa following a camp holdout things were looking up – at least until about four hours ago when the news dropped that Mackenzie Blackwood was placed on the COVID list. Not that there could have been any good timing for this news, but this quite possibly could have been the worst timing, both with Blackwood being on a hot streak to begin the season and with our backup situation still being unsettled. We’re still waiting on presumptive backup Aaron Dell (claimed after the Leafs dropped him), so in the pipes tonight for our first showdown with the Isles was Scott Wedgewood.
Tonight’s loss – yeah I know as I’m writing there’s still about twelve minutes left but let’s get real, we ain’t coming from three down against a Trotz team – was probably inevitable, especially after the Devils came out flat in the first period. No doubt the team was as floored by the Blackwood news as the fans were. Even under the best of circumstances the Isles have pretty well whipped us in the last few years regardless. With it being long-time Devil Andy Greene’s first game against his former team, there was even more emotion on the side of the home team tonight. I knew what was coming and peaced out of watching early, I didn’t even turn the game on until after the Devils showed some signs of life early in the second period and broke Semyon Varlamov’s season-long shutout streak with a goal from Nathan Bastian.
Ironically Bastian made a mistake that gave the Isles their second goal on the final shift of the first period. The fact Lindy Ruff put his line on the ice after that shows he’s at least going to give younger players a chance to get out of the doghouse rather than banishing them for the night after one mistake. This team is still very much a work in progress though, especially on the not-so-special teams, which have both been putrid this season. Our PK gave up another two goals in the third period while our PP is still scoreless and nearly gave up another shorthanded goal on top of it when PK Subban flopped a pass into Yegor Sharangovich’s chest that bounced away and led to a two-on-one. Fortunately Subban did his job at the other end taking away the pass on the play but overall he’s been dreadful again this season.
Really there are a lot of vets that need to pick it up, starting with the $9 million man. Maybe if Subban had just a couple of his elite seasons with us I’d be a little more inclined to give him slack the way I am Kyle Palmieri, but he’s been nothing but a massive disappointment so far in his Devils tenure. Yes he can eat minutes but with the ineffectiveness he’s played with on both ends of the ice, that’s like lauding a bad starting pitcher for eating innings (think Rick Porcello). As a Met fan with Roberto Alomar and a Jet fan with Brett Favre, I’ve seen this script before – the great player who then comes to your team and does squat. So far the only game Subban’s been good at here is the social media game.
Not that he – or Palmieri for that matter – have been the only disappointments. Our entire third line looks lost, especially wingers Nikita Gusev and Andreas Johnsson. Ineffective on both ends of the ice, for the second game in a row they’ve been benched for long stretches. This is more than a little problem considering Johnsson was one of Tom Fitzgerald’s big acquisitions this offseason while Gusev was supposed to be a lock top six forward, but instead is only inviting more questions over whether to re-sign him at the end of the season.
I can’t say tonight’s game really annoyed me, especially since I only watched about a period’s worth of action tonight. Once the Isles scored early in the third it was good night to lights. We’ll get another shot at the Isles at the Rock this weekend in Greene’s return to NJ (where it’s unfortunate he won’t get the fan ovation he deserves) but now we’ll have to play at least in the immediate future with either Wedgewood or waiver pickup Eric Comrie who just was eligible to be placed on the NHL roster yesterday. I’m not even going to bother to look at Wedgewood’s goals given up or try to rate them, what’s the point? The dude hadn’t played an NHL game in three years, was the third goalie for most of camp and will be the third goalie again when Dell gets here. Not that Dell’s great but at least he’s been an NHL backup.
Most of my annoyance comes with the forced limbo we’re now in, wondering which of the many possible reasons listed above caused Blackwood to be placed on the COVID list. A positive test, an inconclusive test or quarantining after a close contact? There’s already enough mystery around this virus in and of itself, having to wonder whether we’re talking about days or weeks when someone does get it. But also having to wonder about whether someone has it at all or is merely a precautionary quarantine just adds to the angst around this uniquely maddening season.
While in general we might be ready to at least start to turn the corner back the other way on the virus in terms of vaccine distribution ramping up, it’s still a long road ahead, one that’s not going to be finished before the end of the season in April. This was part of the reason I was and am still a bit ambivalent about the season but at least watching Blackwood and Jack Hughes was making the season interesting. Now we don’t even have the former to look forward to in the immediate future.