Are the Devils in crisis mode after one game?

I decided against recapping last night’s dud of a season opener, in part because I didn’t feel like a rant after the first game of the season when there’s still an element of anticipation for the home opener tomorrow, and partly because as horrible as last night’s ‘effort’ in Philly was…it still is only one game. Or at least that’s what I thought before the last eighteen hours starting with the postgame when coach Lindy Ruff got a bit testy towards a valid question over Jesper Bratt’s icetime:

Sorry coach, sixteen minutes for your leading point-getter last year is still not enough icetime in a game you were trailing by multiple goals from midway through the second period on. Especially when we are talking about the first game of the season and not some travel back-to-back in December. For context, last year Bratt averaged about 17:30 ATOI per game. Maybe this organization feels that Bratt with his stature can’t handle too many 20+ minute nights. Or maybe they’re trying to keep his point totals down before the next contract negotiation lol. It’s also odd that Bratt was on the second power play unit though I can actually understand trying to split up Bratt and Jack Hughes since both are play drivers.

Maybe the coach is feeling some heat after two poor seasons on a lame-duck deal with a likely in-season replacement (Andrew Brunette) on the bench next to him. Some might say he’s lucky to still have a job after the last two years. He certainly didn’t do much to help his own cause last night, shuffling the lines and again looking like he wants to ride the Mackenzie Blackwood roller-coaster straight into the unemployment line. While I wouldn’t say the team’s effort was good enough to win regardless last night, it certainly doesn’t help when you give up a soft goal twenty-three seconds after the Devils actually took the lead on a PP, with Alexander Holtz’s first NHL goal.

Last night you basically saw everything in a nutshell that was wrong with the Devils for the last five years – questionable effort and intelligence, horrible goaltending and mind-boggling coaching decisions, with an overrated finesse offense as usual dominating the analytic stats with nothing to show for it other than a lot of harmless perimeter shots. If it wasn’t for Carter Hart coughing up two soft goals of his own, last night could have been even worse than it was with a 5-2 loss to Team Torts.

A coach on the hot seat getting testy is one thing…but when you hear Miles Wood making the comments he did today (YouTube clip above), alarm bells start to go off. I can’t say I disagree with him calling the team soft up front, this has been a problem for years. It would have been nice to have Fabian Zetterlund in the lineup last night instead of Jesper Boqvist, for example. I didn’t even realize Boqvist played to be honest, which isn’t a good thing when you’re a forward. It’s a little unusual to hear a player call his own team soft, but even more unusual for Wood to say tomorrow’s home opener was a ‘must-win’.

I won’t lie, I do think it’s imperative this team gets off to a good start with eight of its first ten games against non-playoff teams – though even I wouldn’t go as far as to call tomorrow a must-win. It’s certainly a must-compete better than last night though, especially considering the crowd’ll probably be antsy after a poor effort last night. Having a slow start overall with a tough schedule looming after October isn’t exactly conducive to proving things are different after two of the worst seasons in franchise history. As a fan, I heart Wood putting his emotions on his sleeve but the pragmatist in me knows that usually only fans (like me) put exaggerated emphasis on the second game of the season, hence why I avoided blogging after last night, I didn’t want to do that myself. When a player does it then you start to wonder what the heck is going on here…pressure from management? Lack of confidence? I mean it would be nice to start holding people more accountable for years of losing, but when you’re feeling the heat after one game then that’s a problem in itself.

On a certain level I’m glad they are feeling heat now though, if GM Tom Fitzgerald wants to give lip service over the team being ready to contend then let’s go…I don’t want to hear any more excuses about the goaltending, COVID, the team’s age, the coaching, etc. Start showing me and the other home fans tomorrow that we are actually building toward something here.

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