Let’s just start with the good news, I’m glad I couldn’t even watch last night’s game, let alone attend what was always going to be a predictable beatdown by the Caps, who’ve owned us the last several years. Sure, we don’t have a good record over a lot of teams in that stretch, but we were 0-6-2 against the Ovechkin gang last year and have been particularly dominated by them since at least 2014-15. You would think there would have been a good effort last night given that backdrop and the team’s 2-0 start, but apparently not. Maybe we’ve accepted the fact the Caps are our daddies. Sure we had people missing – which I’ll get to – but when you have the coach indirectly calling out our stars for a lack of effort and switching around the lines in Game 3 because of a no-show against a rival that’s dominated you, that’s…not good.
I kind of beg to differ with the coach in one respect because this team IS outskilled against the Caps at full strength, never mind with the joke of a lineup we put out there last night, partly because of the injuries and partly by choice due to overcompensating against the expected physicality of the game with guys like Mason Geertsen. Nothing against a kid playing his second NHL game but the Caps laugh at guys like that being in another team’s lineup. Of course he’s gotta say we have enough talent to match up with anyone though. Especially if the effort is clearly lacking. You would think with a lineup that is full of guys with stuff to prove that wouldn’t happen, but maybe that’s an example of why certain guys have something to prove.
Has Jesper Bratt even been alive for the first three games? As much as the spreadsheet warriors like to claim Bratt’s a great defensive forward, I don’t see it – either by the eye test or the lack of PK time. When he’s not scoring he’s borderline useless, possession or no possession and he tends to have streaks of four points in fifteen games followed by streaks of twelve points in the next fifteen. Bratt was clearly one of the guys being singled out last night due to his 14 minutes of icetime though, and this isn’t exactly the first time a coach has had to put the spurs to him. So was Yegor Sharangovich, who’s clearly not gotten off to a good start this season. He had an assist but was also a -2 in just 11:30 last night. I’d give him a little more time before getting the search party out, but as this roster is currently constituted, we’re gonna need this guy to score upward of 20 goals and play a good all-around game. Janne Kuokkanen had a junktime goal last night but has overall been just as invisible as the first two guys on the opening homestand.
It’s not just the kids that have to pick it up (though sadly I’m not expecting PK Subban to pick it up at this point), although it’d be nice if the kid captain started scoring again. Nico Hischier’s offensive production has gone down every year since his strong debut stapled on a line with Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall. I get he hasn’t played a lot of hockey since the pandemic started, I get that he was milliseconds from scoring against Seattle but one assist in three games is just now gonna cut it from a supposed franchise center. Especially now that we’ll need guys like Nico to pick up the load even more with Jack Hughes on the shelf due to a separated shoulder, and likely week-to-week at the very least.
Not that Hughes was our only actual missing Devil last night. Miles Wood and Ty Smith are still on the back of milk cartons, and due to the vagueness of reporting and information on their injuries god only knows when they’ll be back. You could say the same for alleged starting goalie Mackenzie Blackwood but hey, he skated yesterday. Get out the confetti and balloons! With Blackwood out, the Devils could ill afford having Jonathan Bernier also getting hurt, but apparently his ‘minor camp issue’ cropped up again and he had to miss last night’s game, giving the crease once again to Scott Wedgewood. So much for having a full lineup in the first season post-COVID breakout with all but one roster player now being vaccinated.
Last night may have been a reality check in that the Devils certainly aren’t on the level of actual top teams in the NHL, but Saturday is another acid test against a currently surprising 3-0 Sabres team. I get the Sabres might not know they’re supposed to suck yet, plus there’s a little ‘thank god we don’t have to deal with that guy’ backlash towards Jack Eichel, who’ll likely be traded for Ben Simmons or Deshaun Watson anyday now (kidding), but if you’re the Devils looking to take a step forward this is the kind of game you gotta win at home. Especially with the Sabres on the rear end of a back-to-back. Whoever’s in net on Saturday, we’ll need a better effort from our D-core and PK, and more of our forwards to get going.