I’ll just say this right up front…if you were watching the Devils at all the last three nights after their ugly 0-5 homestand, which culminated with an embarrassing sweep by the Rangers over the weekend, then you’re either a better fan than I or more masochistic (if not both). Even the Devils’ 1-0 shutout win in Boston on Sunday didn’t really engender much excitement from me although at least they deserve some credit from rebounding from what was likely the rock bottom moment of the 2021 season. After all, we’re double digit points out of the playoff race already and you could pretty much chalk our success against the Bruins this season to a bit of a fluke (especially after a 40-save shutout by Scott Wedgewood of all people in TD Bank), sort of like when we had other terrible teams the last few years but would somehow almost always stick it to the Penguins. Or when the Islanders frequently beat us when they were awful and we were good.
I did actually listen to most of the Ranger disaster on the radio Saturday, and still couldn’t recall what the exact score of both games were – I thought they outscored us 11-5 in the two games, but it was actually worse than that (12-4). I’m not sure how much really improved in Boston other than the goaltending considering Mackenzie Blackwood is still recovering from his COVID-induced month off. I was actually glad Lindy Ruff didn’t just stick with Aaron Dell by rote and gave Wedgewood another shot yesterday when it was time for another backup goalie start. I was also glad he gave Wedgewood the second start, more to give Blackwood an extended blow than even the fact that Wedgewood had a 40-save shutout on Sunday.
Goaltender wasn’t the only change the coach made after the Ranger fiasco, he yanked (and that is the right word) Will Butcher from the lineup after eviscerating the third pairing of Butcher and Sami Vatanen in the postgame Saturday following a rough afternoon where they were both benched for a time, as the coach tried to go with four defensemen to stay in the game. Butcher’s not the only underachiever that’s earned his way on the outs lately, Nikita Gusev has played like a guy who’s going back to the KHL next season with just two goals and five points in sixteen games, and the majority of those points have been in 6-on-4 situations down two goals, i.e. borderline junktime goals. Offseason acquisition Andreas Johnsson has also been awful in every way imaginable with just three goals and six points in 21 games, but even that wasn’t as bad as his total see no evil, hear no evil act of skating away from the carnage when Brad Marchand cheapshotted prize rookie Ty Smith on Sunday. If you’re not gonna produce, at least show some effort and grit. Johnsson had another rough game tonight, earning himself an in-game benching and probably a trip to the scratch box. Woof, what a waste of $10 million.
Seemingly like his first stint in the lineup earlier in the season, Wedgewood came crashing back to earth after a first appearance shutout as the Caps predictably ran riot in the first two periods and went up 3-0 and 4-1. I can’t even call the Caps a jinx team for us, cause they really are that much better of a team at this point. Which renders what happened in the third period inexplainable, did the Caps just turn a switch off, or did the Devils just play with a nothing-to-lose swagger? Whatever the case, the Devils made a furious rally. Somewhere Stan Fischler, who’s known for saying ‘the three goal lead is the worst in hockey’ was smiling as the Devils roared back with goals from Miles Wood, Yegor Sharangovich and Damon Severson to tie the game. I was only paying enough attention to occasionally check my Twitter feed, and less as the Caps built their early lead. I did see the score at 4-2 in the third but resisted the temptation to turn it on until after I saw that the game was tied. I wound up only really watching the final couple of minutes and OT.
It turned out to be too much viewing for the night.
You would think after scoring three goals and coming back to tie the game the Devils wouldn’t have come out as tentative as they did in the OT, trying to make the perfect play. I get you have to be careful in a 3-on-3 but at a certain point you just gotta start putting pucks on net against a goalie who just gave up three third-period goals. Predictably once they passed up a couple of chances in the offensive zone it took the Caps just one breakdown to get a breakaway goal from Jakub Vrana, who’s becoming a Devil-killer even by Caps standards as Vrana turned up the jets like he hit the turbo button on PlayStation to speed past Ty Smith for the game-winner.
In this season with this schedule there’s no rest for the weary though, hopefully Blackwood comes back from his four-day break rejuvenated on Thursday when we play the first of three straight games with the streaking Islanders. As I said before, they weren’t even a good matchup for us when they were bad. Now that they’re good and you know any Lou team will want to stick it to us whenever they can, forget about it. Even if Wedgewood actually got his other shutout of the season against the Isles (which was actually our last home win of 2021 at this point). Our last game against them is more what you can expect, a game where they play like the 1995 Devils against us and wait for us to make the mistake we’re inevitably going to make or allow a bad goal, and voila you’re looking at another loss. Or three, as it were.