Last night was a rare game where I had the choice to either go or not go without worrying about eating money on tickets, since I’d already sold my regular section for last night’s game but still had a free pair in section 9 (well, free apart from the $7 I pay for parking a few blocks from the arena). Albeit they aren’t exactly the club seats I thought they were a while back, but still they’re lower-bowl seats that are close to my normal exit out of the building at least. With two other games this week and still somewhat getting over my booster shot side effects I was leaning toward not going, but pretty much pushed myself to going in part because last night was more of a de facto weekend game with having tomorrow off while Sunday night against the Flyers is more of a de facto weeknight game – 7 PM start time with work the next day – that I can try to sell for weekend prices.
I usually don’t choose to go to the nondescript out of conference game over a rival, but the NHL’s idiotic scheduling happened to give us both Flyer home games this season in a matter of a two-week span anyway. Plus with the NHL’s all-division schedule last year, we hadn’t seen the Wild at the Rock since pre-pandemic – i.e. pre-buying out the notorious duo of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. I was still vacillating on going right up until I got to the highway past Chatham, but at least the traffic wasn’t as bad as a normal weeknight going to Newark, despite going the long way while making a couple of stops along the way it only took me about 45 minutes of driving to get there (usually it’s like an hour getting in on a weeknight, and 35 minutes getting home).
In fact, despite my attempts to slow-play arriving I still got there 6:30 and much to my shock I saw 46 minutes on the pregame clock instead of 16 (which usually signifies the start of warmups). At first I thought ‘oh ****, this was a 7:30 game and I didn’t realize it, I screwed up here’, which did actually happen to me once before since 7:30 home starts are so rare now. Then I realized much of the crowd was already there and either near the ice or on food and drink lines so that’s when I thought something wasn’t right here. Did they really pull a last-minute switcheroo without advertising it? I took to Twitter and found out the shocking answer, that in fact the start time was delayed because the Wild were literally caught in traffic when the Holland Tunnel closed and the Wild players didn’t arrive at the arena until 6:26 PM. I mean really guys, I know it’s been a while since you’ve been here but come on now. I was alternately amused and annoyed. Devils coach Lindy Ruff was more of the latter:
Maybe the coach didn’t know the tunnel was actually closed on them or maybe he did. Either way I’ve never heard of such a thing happening before any professional game, NYC traffic or no NYC traffic. I’m not inclined to be sympathetic either, since in my rec leagues you have to forfeit if your team doesn’t show after fifteen minutes, but it was still somewhat amusing. Other than realizing I now had an hour to kill before the game instead of just a half hour. If I’d known this was going to happen I’d have brought my wireless earbuds into the arena and just listened to YouTube/podcast stuff. Instead I basically just walked around the arena for half an hour then stayed in line for the other half an hour (apparently most of our fans didn’t have any problems getting in either, figures) using some of my food and beverage card to try a lousy burger, though at least the fries were good. Not exactly worth $16 but I’m not a penny pincher when it comes to using a credit, especially since I don’t exactly plan on eating at every game anyway.
My seat was not actually as good as I thought, of course there’s always that danger when you’re sitting in the lower bowl that if you’re too far down the opposite part of the arena can provide a bit of a blind spot, and that’s what happened last night. Sometimes I even had to look at the jumbotron to see what was happening when the puck was in the same side of the rink at the far end, which happened to be the end where the Devils attacked in the first and third period. Unless it actually is a club seat pair – which I have for two games later in the season – or other free upper bowl tickets, I’m not gonna bother moving from my seats the remainder of the season for the games I go to.
I also had to look at the jumbotron just to remind myself of who was ON the Wild, another consequence of not having seen them in the last two seasons or caring about their hot start with two of their more well-known players having been told to vacate the premises after GM Bill Guerin unceremoniously bought out Parise and Suter together, going out the way they came in. I was like, Dmitry Kulikov? Forgot he signed with them now. Jon Merrill? LOL, talk about being well-traveled at this point. Mats Zuccarello? Oh **** that’s right, he’s still there. Alex Goligoski…he’s really still playing?! Those were pretty much my real-time reactions. I recognized more names than I thought but half of them weren’t guys I knew were on the Wild beforehand, including goalie Cam Talbot who was last on Calgary before the pandemic, but is more well known (by me) for the start of his career with the Rangers and Edmonton.
One thing I did correctly remember is that Talbot’s usually been a pain in the neck for us, which is borne out by his career 7-2 record and 2.28 GAA against us, and it would prove to be more of the same last night. Although to be perfectly honest, last night was as unimpressive a 40-save performance as I can remember in quite some time. Either our shots were hitting the crest, or hitting the post but I don’t actually remember seeing too many OMG saves from Talbot throughout the game. Of course some of that could have been influenced by not having a great view of the attacking zone in the first and third periods, but you didn’t need the best view in the building to see that a majority of our shots in the first period were unscreened, short-side crest killers. We outshot the Wild 18-13 but it certainly never felt like we were controlling play, especially after we wound up falling behind on a goal from Ryan Hartman, tipping home a point shot from our old buddy Kulikov at 12:10 of the first to put me in an even more foul mood than the delay (and the cold as **** air near ice level with me wearing short sleeves) already had.
Pretty much the only thing that could possibly put me in a worse mood was seeing our own power play screw the pooch yet again, which is exactly what happened toward the end of the first period when the Wild ran their PK breakout better than we run our PP one, with a Jonas Brodin clear around the boards finding the stick of Frederic Gaudreau (I was also wondering when the Wild got a Gaudreau brother before finding out he wasn’t related to Johnny and Matt), who fed a perfect 2-on-1 pass through Dougie Hamilton right onto the stick of Nico Sturm for a one-timer goal NHL ’94 style. It wasn’t really a banner first period for Hamilton, who’d canceled out our last PP with a weak interference call that he was not happy about, taking out his anger by laying out the first Wild player he saw coming out of the box. Yet that wasn’t even the most annoying PP fail of the night…more on that later.
At least this game the Devils kept coming and didn’t let a ‘we did everything but score and then get scored on late’ first period obliterate them the way they did against the Panthers last week. Still the game continued to be frustrating. If it wasn’t the PP burning us, it was the goalposts, Damon Severson alone clanged at least two off the iron last night and the Devils as a team had literally five or six ping shots. After a low-event second period other than a couple of the aforementioned post shots, I was pretty much resigned to defeat though I couldn’t exactly leave at 2-0. Maybe I would have at 3-0 if only because the cold was starting to bother me and I was getting a bit of a headache again, now regretting the fact I pushed it last night instead of just continuing to relax.
My patience was running out with most of our forwards who’ve largely been passengers, including two thirds of our so-called top line – Nico Hischier who has just two goals in 17 games and 10 points going into last night, and Tomas Tatar who also has just two goals (none off a stick with a goalie in net) this season. To his credit, the captain cooled my annoyance with a difference-making third period, first finding Pavel Zacha from behind the net in his sweet spot just inside the left circle, where Zacha’s patented hard wrister found the back of the net to finally get the Devils on the board and give Pavel his eighth goal of the season.
Of course there was still more pain and frustration to come in the third period as Zacha found Hamilton at the end of a tic-tac-toe play for a wide open shot, but Hamilton flubbed it and the play died there. Even more annoying than that was when our powerless play struck again late in the third. Back-to-back Wild penalties gave us three straight minutes of PP time including just over a minute of a five-on-three, I almost mocked it when we called timeout before the 5-on-3…what’s the genius (meaning supposed PP guru Mark Recchi) drawing up now, I wonder? Clearly nothing that worked since our 5-on-3 was just one big, fat stinkbomb of nothing and our 5-on-4 after provided one final frustration when PK Subban hit both the post and crossbar with a shot and it stayed out. I realize NHL assistants don’t get fired in-season but this is getting ridiculous now, it’s one thing to be below average, it’s another to be hopelessly inept. Something’s gotta change with this powerless play, and I don’t just mean giving second-year defenseman Ty Smith a well-deserved healthy scratch after a poor start to the season. With just over five minutes left when the Wild penalties expired it felt like a fitting end to a frustrating game.
Except there was still more time left on the roller coaster that was last night.
Somehow our empty-net offense seems to function much better than our power play, despite being a man up on both occasions. That was the case again last night when Hischier was able to muscle a side pass over to Yegor Sharangovich, whose suddenly hot stick got the puck through Talbot for the tying goal with just 1:07 remaining in the game. If Sharangovich had been one of the passengers I’d been losing my patience with for much of the season, the last two games he’s looked more like the early 2021 version of Yegor with three goals and overall strong play that bumped him up to taking late-game and OT shifts. As usual, our best chance of winning the game was going to be the 3-on-3 but befitting the night it was, our best chance went by the boards less than half a minute into the OT when Hamilton hit yet another post. Shots-wise and just by the eye-test, we out played the Wild last night with a 42-27 shot edge – not even counting the five or six post shots – but when your power play is a net negative and you need like three times as many shots to get goals as some other teams do, nights like last night are going to happen.
Our shootout was destined to be more frustration piled on top of frustration, although briefly I thought the worm might be turning when Zuccarello actually hit the post on the Wild’s first attempt. Still, Kevin Fiala’s goal proved to be enough as none of our three shooters – Hamilton, Jesper Bratt, or the now out-of-the-doghouse Sharangovich – could find a way past Talbot in the skills competition. Seems like another world when our franchise dominated shootouts from 2005-2012, although on some level the shootout failures are endemic of the lack of scoring talent still on this roster. Ironic that this staff had little use for Alexander Holtz and yet he went down to Utica and regained his scoring touch immediately. I bet they don’t just throw him on the fourth line and see if he can score there the way they do at the NHL level. Hopefully Holtz will get a real chance down the road although I’m not sure it’ll be this season after the way they pulled the rip cord on him right away. Plus to be fair he does have a lot of non-scoring stuff to work on long-term. But it just gets frustrating seeing too many forwards who can make plays and not enough forwards that can actually cash in on them.
Can’t disagree with the coach here, although to be fair it was a borderline miracle we even got a point down 2-0 in the third with all the frustration involved in last night’s game. Still you can’t blow too many opportunities to get two points in the division of death. Case in point, the Isles – conference finalists the last two seasons – might actually be in danger of missing the playoffs after their brutal road trip to start the season with a COVID outbreak marring their initial homestand now that the NHL’s inexplicably making them play through while they postponed three Ottawa games in similar circumstances. I get you didn’t want to push back the Isles’ home opener even more and I could care less about the Isles in general, but really guys?
Before peacing out for the holiday weekend, I did want to offer some quick thoughts on the new third jersey, predictably booed when the new PA announcer introduced ‘the first third jersey in franchise history’ last night despite the number of fans who’d already bought one or did so before the night was over. A third jersey ostensibly heavily influenced by franchise legend Martin Brodeur. I’m not sure how much it’s fact and how much they’re just throwing him out there as a point man to insulate them against some of the inevitable backlash, but whatever. One thing they are telling the truth about is that this jersey’s been in the works for a while, judging by a season ticket holder pin they randomly sent out a couple of years ago with ‘Jersey’ in a very similar font.
Let’s just start out with this, many people are going to be resistant to unasked for change just out of rote, especially when you’re dealing with a franchise with some amount of tradition and a well-received primary logo and jersey. That’s generally where I am. I don’t hate it the way I did when I first saw the leak a few days before the announcement though (and not because Marty was made to be the point person on this), even if all the different nuances they have to explain like the white stripes come off like…they’re trying too hard to pay homage to too many different things, yet doing it in such a subtle way nobody really notices it unless you give an explanation. It kind of feels faux intellectual-ish.
I’m not totally against putting just ‘Jersey’ on the front even though part of me wishes it was New Jersey in total, a lot of people – even locals – do refer to the state as Jersey in shorthand slang, so whatever. And to be fair I kinda like the jersey better once it’s displayed on players. MSG’s own Bryce Salvador is even going to wear one in the Macy’s parade, representing the NHL.
Ultimately in the end it’s a third jersey. Thirteen games a season feels like too much, but if they don’t touch the primary jersey in the end it’s whatever for me. So long as it’s not totally repulsive like the Stars’ old Mooterus jersey or totally self-owning like the Isles’ fishstick jersey, knock yourselves out. After seeing all the dopey Met and Jet alternate jerseys the last several years (and a few decent ones) I’ve become more desensitized to the whole concept of alternates.