Despite the Devils’ three-game winning streak before last night’s tilt in Boston, I wasn’t getting all nuts about what it meant for our playoff chances (playoffs…playoffs?!) even though in theory a matchup against the current second wild card in Boston would be big given the fact we were only three points behind them. I mean after all, with a team like Boston you have to count on them getting at least 5-6 extra points with all those games in hand – plus they’re flat out better than us anyway so running them or any of the other current East playoff teams down would be extremely unlikely even in the best of circumstances.
Of course we didn’t play the Bruins last night in the best of circumstances with a storm of injury news marring what in theory should have been a big game. From the fact that Dougie Hamilton had surgery on a broken jaw and will now miss a few weeks, to Nico Hischier missing last night’s game with a swollen ankle after his stirring OT winner in Washington plus the news of Pavel Zacha and Yegor Sharangovich going into COVID protocol, our lineup was drastically changed over the last week. Not to mention the confirmation that Jonathan Bernier had hip surgery and is all but confirmed out for the season just added more gloom to a busy injury news dump on a Tuesday afternoon, and a reminder of how screwed we are in net with Mackenzie Blackwood’s play going to crap and no other realistic option to threaten his job.
So no, the playoff race wasn’t exactly my biggest concern last night although if you had any delusions about the Devils making a last-ditch surge for the second wild card (cough MSG cough), their 5-3 loss in Beantown should have pretty much ended that. What was annoying about last night is in spite of everything, this game was eminently winnable too. After a shocking win in Washington – their first win over the Capitals since before the pandemic (including an 0-8 last year) – the Devils were right on the cusp in Boston despite our depleted lineup. Unfortunately two familiar themes came back to bite us yet again – Blackwood’s continued decline, and Ty Smith’s continuing series of meltdowns defensively. Blackwood gave up two, possibly three soft goals yesterday alone while Smith cutting behind the net and oleing the puck as David Pastrnak cut in front of the net on the winning goal late in the third was a braindead decision on the par of Zach Wilson’s QB sneak Sunday afternoon.
It was because of the latter that I couldn’t bear to watch Devils-Capitals on Sunday afternoon right smack after my football team’s blowup in the final two minutes. Even as the Devils got out to a 3-1 lead in Washington I feared the collapse, which eventually came in the third period as Blackwood’s horrible puck management (a more charitable way of saying it was a late Christmas present) handed the Caps their tying goal. Fortunately some #1 overall magic between Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier led to the Devils’ OT winner and a third straight win, tying their longest streak of the season.
Last night we weren’t so fortunate, except with Nico off the ice as a rumored fracture turned out to be just a bruise and the captain’s expected to play tomorrow night. Essentially my only goal from the rest of the season is to see more of what we’ve seen in the last four games – production from our #1 overalls and other younger players we hope can be a part of the future. Not to mention our improving D outside of the Hamilton injury and Smith concerns. A normally inconsistent Damon Severson seems to be responding with increased icetime the last few weeks, with two goals and five assists in his last seven games with an even plus-minus in spite of the goaltending woes, while playing 25+ minutes in six of them. While we’re not looking for point production from Jonas Siegenthaler, he’s certainly responded as well, the way he has all season with solid work in his own zone and giving us quality minutes pretty much all year.
Despite those two, PK Subban and Ryan Graves holding down the fort for the most part defensively, there’ve been too many mistakes around then in recent games. As bad as the Devils’ defense has been at times, there’s no reason other than shoddy goaltending that Blackwood should have allowed 28 goals in his last seven starts (exactly four a game). Once again GM Tom Fitzgerald finds himself in between a rock and a hard place in net with their supposed 1B again being out of the equation early in a season while the 1A looks far less worthy of it by the season. As much as I didn’t really care about losing Scott Wedgewood early on, post-Bernier injury we could sure use a guy like that now. Or really anyone that this coaching staff will deign to play enough to give Blackwood some deserved pine and needed rest, even a scrub at this point would give you the level of play Blackwood has lately. I don’t want to hear the he’s playing through injury excuse…it goes back to the famous Jimmy Connors line, if you’re injured don’t play, if you’re playing you’re not injured. We’ll need more from Blackwood in the second half, and he needs more too, otherwise Fitzy may be doing more than just looking for another 1B this offseason.
Tomorrow night, the Devils return home to the Prudential Center to play Columbus. Also returning will be the black jerseys, for my first game in attendance to see ‘Jersey’ play. Despite the fact I haven’t been to a home game for about three weeks now I’m not looking forward to tomorrow night, particularly with COVID cases still spiking across New Jersey and the new mask mandate in effect. I’m only going because A) I’m picking up my long-sleeve t-shirt giveaway, and B) I’m expecting a spaced out crowd and can get a drink with my free f/b card to give myself a mask breather. Not to mention C, tickets aren’t selling regardless of A or B. I can’t promise I’ll stay for all three periods either, that’ll depend on both the crowd around me and the game itself. While I may be there tomorrow, I don’t know when my next game will be after that even if I can’t sell my pairs for certain games.
Hopefully the Devils at least give me something to watch going forward, wherever I am for games.