For all the things that may be changing so far with the Devils, apparently one thing destined never to change is the Devils’ dreadful record in weekend home matinees. It seems as if it’s the same script over and over again, sellout crowd ready to go nuts (albeit a sellout crowd with a noticeable contingent of Bruins fans today), and the team throws out another nothingburger of a game. I wish I had stats to back it up, I know the Devils were 0-9-1 in weekend home games last year but that was with no/little crowd in the stands and they weren’t all matinees. Sure, it’s hard to really get on them in the overall landscape for losing 5-2 to the Bruins. After all, I’d have taken two out of four this week and they already have the first two wins in the bank. Still, there were some troubling things that came out of this game.
First among them was – as much as I like Lindy Ruff – the head coach’s insistence on line matching as if it was 2003 and we had John Madden and Jay Pandolfo at their peak instead of Mike McLeod as our ‘checking center’ against one of the best lines in the league with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, who just ran roughshod around us all afternoon. It’s unconscionable to me how you have a line that’s absolutely cooking right now in Jesper Bratt, Andreas Johnsson and Dawson Mercer and yet they get a grand total of eight minutes of icetime in the first two periods – in which, oh by the way, they scored the team’s only two goals of the game – while the coach keeps running out McLeod and Jimmy Vesey playing not to lose. You know what they say about playing not to lose, you stop playing to win when you play not to lose.
I mean come on now, I’m fine with McLeod as a fourth liner but he shouldn’t be any more than that. You have to have one of McLeod or Jesper Boqvist as your default third-line center until Jack Hughes gets back, I understand that. That does not mean that our third-line center should be getting first line minutes, especially being behind for most of the game. And I get why he moved rookie Alex Holtz off our supposed first line with Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha in the third period, Holtz hasn’t done much so far and if you want to replace him with a vet in crunchtime, fine. But what the heck has Tomas Tatar done as a Devil to earn benefit of the doubt to be moved up when not playing well?! He scored one lucky goal against the Islanders that apparently gave everyone in the locker room warm and fuzzies because he’s ‘popular in the room’. Wonderful, he still hasn’t actually produced points as a Devil (five in thirteen games is actually higher than I thought his total was, but only that one goal among them) and was a -2 in his 17:22 of icetime today.
Not that lineup decisions were our only issue today, although in that vein maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for the head coach to let Jonathan Bernier sit for a week after his hot start to the season, cause he sure cooled off today with a couple of meh goals allowed and a lot of juicy rebounds that extended plays. Bernier even nearly botched away a goal with Cory Schneider-esque puckhandling in the first period. Maybe he was owed some market correction after his 4-0 start to the season, but either way he was gonna get in a game during the back-to-back. Obviously despite Bernier’s start, Blackwood’s still being treated as the clear 1A goalie and having a virtuoso shutout performance Thursday only solidified his hold on the starting job. I don’t want to hear that Bernier shouldn’t have played after Blackwood had a shutout though, you can afford to give Blackwood an extra day off after he hasn’t played all spring and summer. Bernier was gonna play one of these games regardless, might as well let Blackwood play in the four-point division game.
Now that I’ve checked off goaltending and line matching, let’s go back to a familiar problem that unfortunately cropped up again today….hideous special teams. How is it possible that the special teams, which finally showed some signs of life over the last week, can go right back to collectively sucking?! It’s not as if it’s just the power play or just the penalty kill, it’s either they both work, or more often they’re both a tire fire, as was the case today. Regular as clockwork, our power play failed on two straight chances in a five-minute span in the first period and that turned the momentum of what was mostly an even game till then. From there till nearly the end of the second period it was a Bruins rampage. Erik Haula scored just a few minutes after our power fails turned the game, then the hated Brad Marchand scored on the power play early in the second period to really put us behind the eight-ball.
Despite the team being lifeless in the second period, it was the Mercer line that somehow kept the Devils in the game, pulling a goal back just twenty-eight seconds after Marchand scored with some nice tic-tac-toe passing from Bratt to Johnsson to Mercer for a highlight-reel goal that pumped some life back into the Rock. It wouldn’t last long though, as Marchand gleefully took advantage of one of Bernier’s juicy rebounds to restore the Bruins’ two-goal edge barely two minutes later. It stayed at 3-1 for most of the period, and the coach still continued to line match at the expense of the Mercer line until they got a rare shift at the end of the period and inevitably took advantage with another highlight-reel play as Bratt got the puck behind the net and it took a fortunate carom to Mercer in front, who made the patient pass back to Bratt for an open-net goal that pulled the Devils back within one despite being dominated for much of the previous thirty minutes.
Finally it seemed as if the coach got the message early in the third and rolled out the Bratt line more, and while they created our best chances they couldn’t quite get the tying goal. That’s when the refs decided to strike, with a possible cross-check from Taylor Hall on Ryan Graves going uncalled and leading to an odd-man rush at the other end, which the Bruins promptly scored on to basically end the game as a contest, and end Graves’ afternoon as well as he left injured. According to the coach he’s day-to-day so hopefully this actually IS a day-to-day situation and not just an euphemism for we don’t want to give out any info on an injury timeline, heaven forbid. Funny how that goes uncalled while an even clearer boarding of Boqvist minutes earlier got missed. Perhaps the most maddening call of all was actually in the second period when Brandon Carlo got called for interference, but Nico was also called for embellishment! I might be missing something but I didn’t think Nico was in the officials’ black book a la Joseph Blandisi who got called for diving once a month seemingly. So when a guy five inches taller and forty pounds heavier cross-checks you in the back, you also get penalized for what…not getting up soon enough?!
You aren’t the only one Amanda. Especially given with the frequency it’s called. Maybe like one tenth of the dual penalties get called you can actually argue both happened simultaneously, but most of the time it’s either a clear dive or a clear penalty, you can’t apply the wisdom of Solomon to everything and just penalize both sides if you have any doubt. Make a call, one way or the other. But you’d better be sure if you’re calling embellishment, especially if it’s a guy with a seemingly squeaky clean rep like Nico, and he’s fouled by a much bigger player.
It wasn’t even just the on-ice stuff that annoyed me today – since the Prudential Center first opened, sections 7-9 and 17-19 were the club areas, no question about it. There were some front-row seats in other sections that had club access but the actual club section seats are all cushioned, and all blocked off from the rest of the arena. I only come to find out today that in fact it’s only the two direct center ice sections that have complete club access now, while the other sections’ club access only goes up to row 5, or row 8 of the section (I’m not even gonna bother to go through it). Everyone else, you have to enter the section through an adjacent area, go to your seat and then go around again on your way out without passing through the club area. Obviously the seats I got for this game and the Wild game don’t qualify for club access, whatever. Figures that getting club seats on a giveaway sounded too good to be true, it obviously was.
It’s annoying and nonsensical that it’s set up that way, but probably prevented me from eating too much today in the end. Plus I still have my food and beverage card ($150 for the season) anyway, so I tried two empanadas at one of the stands and was done with my ‘gorging’ for the afternoon, and I can use some reward points for other club seats if I wish, which is surprisingly easy this year since club seats are only 1200 reward points and you get 500 reward points just by ‘checking into’ a game, i.e. marking down you’re in attendance, plus you can get other reward points with in-game question and answers on their app. So all in all the season ticket rewards have been fine so far this season, as they should be – you want to make your ticket holders happy, especially after many let the team make interest on their money through the pandemic. I guess the disappointment in not actually being in the club area before the game was a harbinger for what was to come on the ice this afternoon.
We’ll see about tomorrow’s game at the Garden, obviously Blackwood is playing. Graves, who knows? Hopefully more of the players show up tomorrow, if I was doing a three stars it’d be all three forwards from the same line. Can’t say too many other people besides 63, 18 and 11 impressed me today.