I can’t even figure out where to begin with this blog. There’s so much I want to say about this franchise, and yet I have so little interest in saying it at this point. It’s sort of a dual personality between the angst this team gives me watching it, and the apathy of knowing this is just going to be another crappy year anyway, so what’s the point of even ranting? Clearly I was better off not watching the team (last week) than watching them (this week). Although it’s even worse that the one game they did win this week I wasn’t able to watch at all, while I was in attendance for both our desultory shootout loss to Ottawa on Monday and our infuriating loss to the Hynes Gang against Nashville tonight.
It also figures that two of the three wins the Devils have had in the last month have come against maybe the only other team in the league that’s more hapless than we are, the suddenly crummy Flyers who have lost ten in a row themselves and fired coaches Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien because of it. Wonder when there’ll be accountability for our continued losing? Take out the Flyer wins and we have one win in eleven games since November 11, when our season crested with a 4-0 shutout of the Islanders that upped our record to 7-3-2, eerily similar to the 6-3-2 start last year. Since then, the record’s basically been inversed at 3-7-3 – with only two wins over the lousy Flyers that they had to scratch out and a fluke comeback against Tampa Bay.
Even worse than the losing is how they’re losing…they’re losing with younger players regressing or not developing, more poor coaching despite an alleged upgrade behind the bench, still having defensive meltdowns despite all the souping up GM Tom Fitzgerald did with the blueline this offseason, and still not having enough physicality to handle teams going after their small, finesse players. Obviously Miles Wood’s injury doesn’t help with the latter, but regardless this team’s been soft for years. It’s partly why current coach Lindy Ruff bent over backwards to make Mason Geertsen a quasi-regular in the lineup but he’s not the answer either, he’s not even a viable enough goon to be a true enforcer let alone actually being able to play hockey at the NHL level.
It’s just difficult to know what to say right now, other than it’s just no fun watching this team at the moment…Monday was bad enough dropping a point to an Ottawa team ten points below us in the standings but tonight was the angriest, most apathetic I’ve been at a game since I don’t even know when. Obviously I wasn’t at any of the games last year and the 2019-20 season imploded so quickly I reached the apathy stage around the time John Hynes was fired and Taylor Hall got traded. Of course Hynes being behind the other bench tonight only added another level of annoyance, it’s like we’re really gonna get outcoached by this guy? We were supposed to have upgraded with Lindy, I still like the guy personally but let’s face it, the Devils had no answers for Nashville most of the night.
Our powerless play of course is what sent me over the edge in the first period, even before we gave up any goals. When you get three power plays in one period of hockey and can’t even manage a shot in any of them until the last few seconds of the final power play, that’s just unconscionably bad. As annoyed as I’ve been at Mark Recchi over the power play, it seems as if there’s plenty of blame to go around going by one of Corey Masisak’s last Devil articles before moving to the Sharks beat, where he indicated that ‘everyone on the coaching staff and even some in management’ have input on the power play. To me this is too many cooks in the kitchen syndrome, although I don’t really implicitly trust Recchi or even Ruff to fix our PP woes, there are actually some instances where sports teams are better served as an autocracy than a democracy.
You would think the multiple people working on the power play could come up with something better than just a lot of standing around, slow passing and hoping to thread the needle through two guys in front for the perfect cross-ice pass. When longtime penalty killing ace Dominic Moore says your PP is static, it’s static. Unfortunately, asking for even a competent NHL power play at this point seems to be a hopeless exercise, I’d have just as much luck asking Judge Smails in Caddyshack for anything
Not that our PK’s been that much better, of course they gave it up in the second period too but really it was just a horrible period all around, despite the Devils actually taking the lead when Jesper Bratt created a goal with a pretty feed from behind the net to Pavel Zacha, who scored his ninth of the season at 11:34 of the middle frame. You would think that goal might have given us some momentum, but really it was just a short-lived shot across the bow during a massive retreat of a period where the Predators peppered Mackenzie Blackwood with eighteen shots on net and eventually broke through with a little ‘help’ from Nico Hischier, whose failed clear and some other questionable defensive coverage from basically everyone on the ice – including our top defensive pairing – left Roman Josi wide open in front to pick his spot and score less than two minutes after Zacha’s goal. It was just a few minutes later where Eeli Tolvanen scored on the PP to put Nashville in front to stay, and if anything the Devils were fortunate the roof didn’t completely fall in that period.
Perhaps it was Nico’s turnover on the first goal, or his miss of a gimme chance off a feed from Jack Hughes late in the first period that originally built up frustration, but certainly he snapped late in the second period when Mikael Granlund speared him and the captain wailed on the offending player with a surprisingly…effective fight? Effective only from a fighting standpoint and a short-term crowd burst, the captain being in the box for the first five minutes of the third period on a matching major and with a possibly injured hand didn’t do anything to change momentum back. It was more of the same in the third period, with Yakov Trenin doubling their lead at 6:11 of the third after yet another Ty Smith turnover in the offensive zone led to a Nashville breakout, and Trenin scoring off a juicy rebound. I can’t really blame Blackwood though, by all rights the game probably should have been 4 or 5-1 late in the third anyway.
Finally when the game dragged onto the five minute mark with little life, that’s when I did something I never do – leaving a close game. Or as close as a 3-1 game is when you’ve generated very little offense the previous thirty-five minutes.
It’s not so much I really felt there was no chance for a miracle rally, as it was my own annoyance at everyone and everything just kind of boiled over by then – whether it’s Hughes making dumb, blind behind-the-back passes and trying to skate one-on-three in the zone, or Nico stinking up the joint aside from his frustrated fight, or $9 million man Dougie Hamilton stinking up the joint with a bad penalty and was one of many with horrendous coverage on the first goal. Other than Blackwood, and Bratt there really weren’t too many people that escaped my wrath tonight. Our sophomore jinxed group of Smith, Janne Kuokkanen and Yegor Sharangovich stunk it up again, Sharangovich’s late junktime goal be damned. He had another couple of open chances that he just shoveled toward the net earlier while Kuokkanen stayed invisible and Smith stayed awful. Not only does the organization not seem inclined to send him down, they don’t even seem inclined to reduce his role in the least. It’s just another example of the lack of accountability in general around here, the coach’s tough talk in recent pressers notwithstanding.
My reaction of hearing about Sharangovich’s goal and another illusory Devils rally was ‘but, of course’…I was so aggravated over the game I even left my long-sleeve shirt at the arena. Usually I’ll either wear long sleeves underneath a jersey or short sleeves (with a jacket during late fall/winter, obviously), but being mindful of my several-minute walk in cold weather I wanted to wear short sleeves inside and then long sleeves afterward so long story short, I took off my long sleeves in the arena and just forgot to pick up the shirt when leaving after. I guess I’ll find out if customer service still maintains a lost-and-found post-pandemic. It wasn’t really one of my favorite shirts so whatever, it’s probably just indicative as much as anything else of my mindset. Especially since I’m still more aggravated over the team and wasting another night with a dreadful game than forgetting my shirt.