Maybe, just maybe this is a new day in Newark after all. If you could dismiss the Devils’ 7-3 win against the Panthers on Tuesday as an inevitable road letdown from a team off to a hot start that just lost its first regulation game the night before, you can’t dismiss Thursday’s impressive win over the Islanders so easily. Especially given the Devils’ 2-6 record against (mostly) these same Islanders last year. If the fans are starting to believe in this young team that’s now 7-3-2 despite ostensibly their top center for all but two of those games, it looks as if the team already has that belief in itself.
I admit to having that exact feeling before this four game stretch against the Panthers, Islanders, Bruins and Rangers. However after two impressive wins and seven points out of a possible eight in their last four games, this team’s earning some credibility from the fanbase. Blackwood himself was a big reason why in last night’s game, stopping all 42 shots he faced from an Islander team still on the road for the eleventh straight game until their new arena opens. Tough noogies – we had all the excuses we needed and then some when they killed us last year.
It wasn’t just the Blackwood show in spite of the stats though, it was a team effort last night. To wit, four different goalscorers and ten skaters put up at least a point. Our special teams continued its show of life over the last week with both a shorthanded goal and a power play goal. If there’s one cause for optimism besides now having both goaltenders in gear and playing well, it would be having a sustainable positive contribution from our special teams, which arguably sank us as much as COVID did last year. I’m sure GM Tom Fitzgerald was looking on like a proud dad as all four goalscorers were either signed, traded for or drafted by the Devils’ third-year GM.
Getting Janne Kuokkanen was a masterstroke for Fitz, although he got off to a bit of a slow start this year, he’s starting to heat up with two goals in his last three games. His shorthanded goal last night in the first period opened the scoring and gave the Devils an additional shot of momentum after Blackwood stopped Matt Barzal on an early breakaway that could have completely changed last night’s game. It was a tense first two periods as the contest remained at 1-0 until a late second-period power play goal doubled the Devils’ lead and gave Tomas Tatar his first goal of the season. Sometimes results matter more than looks, as a Dougie Hamilton shot caromed off Tatar’s leg past Ilya Sorokin, but that couldn’t dampen Tatar’s emotional celebration of his first goal this season.
It was prize rookie Dawson Mercer who upped the Devils’ lead to three in the third, off another brilliant feed from a still-sizzing Andreas Johnsson. All Mercer had to do was beat Sorokin on a partial breakaway, which he did for his fourth goal of the season. Yeah I’d say this teen wonder is here to stay. The jury remains out on fellow teen rookie Alexander Holtz, kept off the scoreboard again but as long as the team’s winning and Holtz isn’t hurting matters you might as well see if he can get going at the NHL level. Hamilton himself would finish the scoring with just under four minutes remaining with his third goal of the season. Hamilton and fellow offseason acquisition Ryan Graves have combined to give this team a true first pairing it’s sorely lacked since the days where the two Scotts patrolled the blueline. Maybe you could argue Paul Martin and Brian Rafalski were a legit #1 pairing, or Andy Greene and Mark Fayne resembled one for a hot minute but neither were a long-term solution.
Speaking of Greene, too bad the schedulemakers couldn’t figure out a way to squeeze in one more game for the Islanders so that he’d play his 1000th game at the Rock instead of #999. He played eighteen minutes with an even plus minus, which is about what you can expect from Greene – even in the twilight of his career. On the other hand Zach Parise and Kyle Palmieri’s reunion trips at the Rock in Islander uniforms weren’t as placid with Parise getting a -1, Palmieri being a -3 and both committing minor penalties. I always liked Palmieri when he was here so his heel turn in the three or four games against us since going to the Island is a bit puzzling, it’s almost as if he’s playing like he was a pariah here with bones to pick with ex-teammates like Damon Severson, who was on the other end of a roughing matching minor in the second period.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to even watch this game, much less attend seeing as I had my own prior commitment. Not that I really cared since I was happy over the win, and also given the fact I wasn’t likely to go to all three home games in a five-day span anyway. Plus I was just there Tuesday for the goalfest and I’ll be back Saturday afternoon – in all-you-can eat club seats no less – the second of four (currently) such games I’m getting upgraded as a season ticket holder. Well technically two of the games were season ticket holder upgrades and the other two were part of a free ticket giveaway sent to all sth’s, where I happened to notice club seats were available for tomorrow’s game and the pre-Thanksgiving night game against the Wild.
I was in the clubs for the Sabres game already, as much as I like the all-you-can eat aspect, there wasn’t an especially big food selection – chicken tenders, buffalo chicken tenders, fries, small burger sliders, hot dogs that are only lukewarm, baked pretzel pieces, a few other things and assorted snacks. I did like the fact they were portioned out, seeing as I like to have a little bit of everything when I’m there anyway although I might stick to the tenders, fries and dessert for the most part going forward. Sometimes you forget about the tradeoff sitting down low is until you’re there. I was in section 9 for the Buffalo game, only a few rows up from the ice…a great view for the near half of the ice, not so much so for the far end. Plus with club seats you have to pay attention at all times with potential pucks going into the stands right behind the glass, whereas in 120 where I normally sit, your attention can wander and it’s still a great seat. Still, I’m not gonna turn down an upgrade and free food even if I prefer my own seats on some level.
Of course the fact I’m literally getting comped club seat tickets (outside of the actual season ticket rewards) isn’t a great sign for attendance. According to my buddy who was at the game last night it was about 60-40 Islander fans, which makes sense given it’s the closest thing they’ve had to a home game so far this season while it’s the middle of our third home game in five days. At least for once we sent them home angry. Having a bunch of home games early in the season isn’t going to help attendance either, but without much of an NFL season for local fans apart from fantasy/knockout pool/betting interests and MLB likely to go into witness protection in another three weeks, the Devils will have their time to get the fanbase back. It’s up to the team to continue to earn points and belief from the fans that this year will be different.
Devils Three Stars:
- Mackenzie Blackwood (42 saves, shutout in his third start of the year)
- Dougie Hamiton (goal, assist and +1 in 20:42)
- Dawson Mercer (goal, +1 in 15:51)