After a 3-1-1 start, things were looking up for the Devils. Especially with the surprise return of Jesper Bratt to the lineup the first day he was eligible to come back with the team for tonight’s second game against the Flyers in three days. Maybe it shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise that he was rushed back without a real practice under his belt because this team is desperate for offense, as tonight’s dreadful 3-1 loss proved. It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise the Devils lost both games – at home! – to a talented Flyers team who finished with the top seed in the conference last year. Especially with slanted officiating that even coach Lindy Ruff couldn’t help but make a snide remark about in the postgame after Wednesday’s 5-3 loss, where a string of questionable calls led to the Devils giving up three straight goals in the third period of what was a 2-2 game. Doesn’t sound like today was much better, so I guess working the refs (who were the same refs with travel restrictions) didn’t help in this case.
Of course bad goaltending on Wednesday and a popgun offense also didn’t help our cause in either game, along with our disasterous special teams which have been a problem the whole year. Other than maybe the special teams (when we had a returning coach for the PK and one of the best scoring forwards of all time running the PP), I can’t say this should have been a surprise coming into the season. Obviously the first five games inflated expectations a little, but the problem with just attributing our last two losses as regressing to the mean is that we’ve had zip, zilch and nada from many of our veteran leaders, specifically Kyle Palmieri and P.K. Subban. Palmieri’s beard has become the new MB30 helmet of bad juju. Catty references aside, perhaps his impending contract status is weighing on him. Subban, on the other hand doesn’t have that excuse. Maybe he’s just shot and still hasn’t figured how to adjust his game after his back issues which started at the end of his Nashville tenure. Whatever the reason, we need more from our highest paid player – offensively and defensively.
As far as the goaltending, it’s hard to get annoyed other than at our current situation where we’re playing a career journeyman. It would be nice to get consistent goaltending from more than one guy one of these years. Admittedly it’s hard to fault Scott Wedgewood on much tonight, but after what we saw from Mackenzie Blackwood early in the season (and Wedgewood on Wednesday) it’s hard to make the case goaltending hasn’t mattered in these two games. Presumptive backup Aaron Dell is still a week away after – finally – getting his own visa situation resolved.
Offensively the power play woes have been well documented but other than Jack Hughes there hasn’t really been a lot of production from anyone offensively, man advantage or no man advantage. New acquisition Andreas Johnsson had his best game as a Devil by a country mile but it still didn’t materialize in points. After a hot early start benefitting from playing regularly in the KHL before camp, it looks like Yegor Sharangovich is turning back into a pumpkin. Speaking of guys whose contracts might be weighing on them, what exactly happened to Nikita Gusev? Hopefully Bratt’s return will help a little but three goals in two games – leaving out that junkiest of junktime Pavel Zacha goals on Wednesday night – just won’t cut it. Especially in a game where the Devils dominated for two periods, but couldn’t put more than one past a previously slumping Carter Hart. The minute we botched a 4-on-1, or 5-on-1, whatever the heck it was late in the second period I should have shut the TV off right then. I knew we were gonna bite the dust in the third, and we did.
Back at .500 now, this weekend’s two-game block (I still find myself reflexively saying home and home with back to back games) at Buffalo is vitally important. Particularly coming on the front end of an eight game out of ten road stretch. The fact it’s Taylor Hall’s first game against the Devils means very little at this point, what matters is if the Devils are going to hang around the race long enough for reinforcements to potentially matter, they need to grab points against teams at their level. Going 0 for 4 against the Flyers at home was bad enough, things will look really bleak with a similar weekend in Buffalo.