To a degree today’s Devils game felt like Opening Day II, given the fact we only had one game in the previous ten days due to what’s hopefully the tail end of our COVID outbreak, and Canada building postponements. Plus the fact that the league announced their revised rest-of-season schedule today means at least now there’s a clear path going forward. A path towards what is another story, for the Devils it’s clearly another lost season – especially given the separation between the top eight and everyone else in the East. I was hopeful that a home game against Arizona with the team pumped to be back on the ice would at least lead to a big performance for one night, hence my second appearance at the Rock in the last month (and likely my last for another few weeks after the events of tonight’s game).
If today was another Opening Day it would go right smack along 2010’s meltdown against Dallas and 2019’s even more epic meltdown against Winnipeg in Devils opener infamy. There’s no other way to describe a game where the Devils outshot a bad Arizona team 20-2 yet only were able to get a 1-0 lead out of it, and within the next four Coyote shots on net they found themselves behind 3-1. I admit, I wasn’t all that concerned after the end of the first period when we outshot the Yotes 12-1 and only gave up the one shot on net in the final two minutes of the period. Normally that kind of period without ending the game is death to a hockey team, but silly me I actually still had a good feeling about this game. Call it Opening Day-esque optimism, I suppose. Maybe it was also due to the fact I actually saw a power play goal from Nico Hischier – what a novelty!
When my fatalism really started to kick in was when the shot total mounted early in the second period without us getting so much as a second goal. That’s when I half kiddingly started to wonder what the biggest negative shot disparity was from a team that actually won a game. For a while it looked as if I may get my answer after another brilliant performance from Mackenzie Blackwood, giving up three goals in the seven and a half minutes it took the Coyotes to get four more lousy shots on net. Seeing his performance against some random dude who I never heard of before today, who’s now stolen more games in one night than Blackwood has all year, just sheds further light on our short and long-term goaltending question mark.
Almost as bad as Blackwood’s performance was the fact Lindy Ruff didn’t even think about pulling him in a situation that’s pretty much an automatic goalie pull – three goals allowed on six shots in a game that was being dominated till then. I only briefly resisted the temptation to self-hook myself out of the arena – though it was only to stay long enough for the second intermission to give the team well-deserved boos off the ice after their early ineptness and their team-wide no-show following the first goal allowed – before I peaced out for the night. I got home just in time to see the final buzzer of a 4-1 defeat where predictably, nothing good happened in the third period.
I’m tired of harping on this but I need to keep harping on it until it actually changes…the lack of accountability anywhere in this organization is mind-boggling. From Tom Fitzgerald’s cliched nonsense about ‘the answers being in the room’ to the coaching staff continuing to run an ineffective Blackwood out there without so much as putting him on notice that this kind of lousy play can’t continue or we’ll find someone else out there to replace you. I’d have loved to hear something from the head coach after tonight or any number of dead-fish efforts akin to Sheldon Keefe eviscerating the Leafs tonight after their loss to the Rangers.
It’s not just Lindy though, the players have been for the most part coddled around here under John Hynes and Alain Nasreddine too. Other than Jesper Bratt anyway, and he’s only been the team’s best player this year. So I guess tough love was good for him but not anyone else. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising though, given ownership cares more about its next gambling sponsorship than the product on the ice, and there’s pretty much no independent local media to hold the team directly to account either. As distasteful as the confrontation between Jim Matheson and Leon Draisatl was (see Derek’s previous post), it would be nice to at least have some line of tougher questioning of the players and head coach after games like this. If nothing else at least have smarter questioning, like why do your two defensemen frequently jump to the same side of the ice in your own zone? At least smarter questions would make the fanbase more educated but this franchise – which doesn’t seem to worry about the product on the ice – gets a bit thin-skinned toward any form of criticism.
What might be the most worrisome is that I’m pretty much through giving a crap about this team, my reaction to the meltdown in the second period was literal laughter at all three goals. Tonight may well have been their last chance to re-engage me for the season, but now it’s back to being a ticket liquidation sale for whatever pennies I can get on the dollar and turning on something else. Having a dead team isn’t exactly going to help the atmosphere in the second half of the season, regardless if you just want to watch hockey for the sake of watching it. Neither is having half the concession stands closed, which made the lines at the other half ridiculously long considering there were barely 10000 people announced in the building. But hey you can bet on PlayUp from anywhere on your phone!