In this of all seasons it’s hard to know where criticism will diverge from reality. I was gonna be even harder on the Devils in the headline, but before even getting to criticisms I have to remind myself that yes, over half this team had COVID in-season and it’s not always gonna be smooth sailing for a team I and many others expected to finish either last or next to last even before that disaster. Certainly guys like Mackenzie Blackwood and Travis Zajac are a couple of the more glaring examples – not that Zajac was playing all that great before the pause himself, but Blackwood’s game has certainly taken a hit since that unfortunate team-wide absence.
That said, when too many veterans are passengers for extended periods – you get nights like tonight – and it just reminds you we’re going on eight years of almost constant losing hockey aside from the one Taylor Hall-led blip of life on the radar screen. I haven’t been watching as much lately so some of my angst has dissipated for that reason but not watching tonight had to do more with both my annoyance over the Nico Hischier injury and needing to take a long nap after a lack of sleep last night. Literally I slept through the game. So upon waking up I did what all the kids do and checked YouTube first – to see if the Devils postgame had anything up online before bothering to check the result on my computer. When I saw it was 6-1 I rolled my eyes. Then I turned the postgame highlights on, albeit a Devils highlight show but then I was actually surprised, this was a 6-1 game?! Especially seeing the 36-19 shot total in favor.
Then my mind immediately went to quitting, which perennial losing teams tend to do. Certainly Pavel Zacha’s turnover on goal #3 early in the third was ugly and I’m now back off the bandwagon after his fluke point scoring streak ended, that was more of the same old Zacha I’ve come to know and loathe. Hence my wanting to call the piece loser mentality instead of empty feeling. Whatever you want to call it, the Devils have now lost eight straight regulation home games including back to back beatdowns from their two local rivals in our first games with fans back in the building. This whole season has had a Charlie Brown-like feel to it…seemingly on the verge of becoming relevant again after the 6-3-2 start and now this – double digit points out of the playoff race and sinking in the standings faster than a skydiver after seven losses in their last eight games.
More than anything outside of maybe the COVID pause, it’s the Hischier thing that’s just put a total wet blanket over the season though. Derek chronicled his season of hell in a previous blog but we’ve certainly hit all the different ways to miss a game eh? Injured off the ice before the season, sick off the ice during it and now injured on the ice, from his own teammate no less. Finally the diagnosis came back on a fractured orbital bone and being in concussion protocol, so basically this was a worst case scenario. A fracture AND concussion-like symptoms from it at the very least. I almost titled this blog mutually assured destruction though, since the Rangers had a key loss of their own during the game. I did get the Rick DiPietro heebie jeebies seeing the highlights of Igor Shesterkin suffering a goalie’s worst nightmare of an injury. Hoping for the best, but at the very least it looks like he’s not going to play in the rematch Saturday afternoon.
Not that it’ll matter for that game since our special teams sucks, scoring sucks, right now goaltending sucks and on top of all of that it’s another retro uniform night where we’re guaranteed to suck in general. It didn’t even matter that Lindy Ruff put all our lines in a blender and hit the mix button before the game with some panic-looking combinations. You could say they responded, at least early judging by the shot totals but it obviously didn’t help create offense in the end. Credit Shesterkin obviously but there’s a lot of good goalies in this division, you gotta start scoring sooner or later. We were predictably shut down on Tuesday by the Isles, lost to both Capital goalies over the weekend and got whipped in the third tonight. Overall the Devils have scored just sixteen goals in their eight-game slide (1-7), including twelve in the seven losses while our lone win and four-goal performance in it was extremely fortunate after the Linus Ullmark injury, to put it mildly.
Both the best and worst thing about the remaining part of the season is the compressed schedule. One bad game turns into three turns into five with the snap of a finger, which is very frustrating and going to color the evaluations of a lot of guys in the end. Certainly our slow-starting vets like PK Subban, Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev and company aren’t going to have a lot of time to salvage their season. On the other hand there’s only about two months left of games because of it so it really isn’t that long a time frame for the fans to deal with more losing. In a normal season that’s eighteen games old we’d be in late November and still be staring down the barrel of four plus months of hopelessness. So that’s good I guess.
Still it’s very discouraging, sure there are isolated positives to take out of the season so far but they become less and less meaningful surrounded by the tide of negativity and disappointment. Especially considering Blackwood’s backslide and Hischier’s injury. You want to see stuff from the younger guys and for different reasons two of our franchise keys going forward aren’t helping the cause right now. Even Jack Hughes was slumping on the scoreboard for a few weeks now, but by all accounts was a lot better tonight, including an electric goal that actually gave the Devils the lead for a while. As Edmonton fans or Buffalo fans can tell you, one young center isn’t enough to turn things around though. There just isn’t a lot else to say…Derek can handle the game recap from the winning side today and Saturday. I’m just played out with this team right now.