Devils’ roll hits a bump in the road

I wouldn’t say the Devils’ good ship lollipop has quite sprung a leak just yet, in spite of their three-game losing streak. Perhaps if they lose again to a poor Flyers team tomorrow night staring down a gauntlet of a schedule the remainder of this month, then it’ll at least be time to go to DEFCON 4. Not anywhere near DEFCON 1 territory just yet, especially with the Devils’ cushion our long winning streak bought us. Still, perhaps this week has served as a reminder to not get too comfortable just yet, there’s still a long road left to travel.

It’s hard to tell who had a rougher week, the Devils or me suffering through flu-like symptoms (particularly the post-nasal drip that cost me a few nights’ sleep). Perhaps it’s a fitting comparison in that neither of our ailments are exactly fatal, but still annoying and not going away as easily as I might hope. Heck maybe my IL stint is responsible for the team’s losing, after all my last pre-sickness game was the shutout against the Hawks on Tuesday where I wrote an unusually optimistic blog.

Since then, the Devils no-showed in the first two periods of a 6-4 loss to the Islanders on Friday which wasn’t really that close, then handed away their game against the Rangers in craptacular fashion – blowing a 3-1 lead in just seven seconds on Monday and eventually losing in OT. I guess we can end our fantasy of the Rangers spiraling out of the playoffs and firing their coach eh? Both games were successful revenge outings from our rivals, followed by another revenge game of sorts against Dallas last night when former coaches Pete DeBoer and Alain Nasreddine returned to the Rock with former Devil goalie Scott Wedgewood being a Wedgewall and shutting down the Devils, allowing only a Miles Wood deflection goal in the second period of what became a 4-1 loss after two late empty-net goals allowed.

At least one good thing came of my illness, not wasting my time and energy going to the Isles and Stars dud performances. I was hoping for my return to the Rock to be tomorrow night but then saw this on my Twitter:

Oh joy, about two weeks after we had spring in late fall, looks like we’re fast-forwarding right to winter. Typically, prices on the secondary market plummeted by about half in a matter of days due to the weather report. After a not-so-pleasant drive to and from Newark during an all-day rainstorm the night of the Blackhawks game, I’m not trying that again with freezing rain this time following a slight snowstorm. Fortunately, I get buybacks and exchanges on my season ticket account so I usually will have some wiggle room to get out of games last minute when I need to.

Which I have, a number of times already this season. It did surprise me when I figured out I haven’t gone to ten of the seventeen home games so far, including tomorrow – that’s inordinately high for me early in the season. Sometimes late in our lousy seasons I’ve had that kind of ratio of course. I guess two different sicknesses, an NFL game conflict, some social outings and just normal schedule breaks (not wanting to go to more than two games in a week) with now a weather day off will do that I suppose. At least there’s still over twenty left and I’m not anticipating missing many of those barring winter snowstorms or more sickness.

So I guess I partially have myself to blame (with an assist from mother nature) if the Devils do not break their recent skid tomorrow, hah. Actually, to be honest tomorrow’s game worries me regardless because we haven’t been playing as well the last couple weeks after the streak – even in certain games we won like the illusory Caps blowout where Vitek Vanecek stole the show in the first two periods, or our second game in Philly where Akira Schmid did the same with an even worse team effort there. Still, other than the Nashville fiasco where we gave up two early goals and blew a last-minute lead en route to an OT loss, it really hadn’t hurt us, until these last few games.

Not to mention in our two games against the Flyers this season, they mauled us on Opening Night and then manhandled us in Philly a couple weeks ago where only goaltending saved us on both ends (Carter Hart giving up at least one or two bad goals, combined with Schmid’s dominance). Of course both games were in Philly, but still the saying once is an accident and twice is a trend might apply, Philly’s physicality just might be a bad matchup for us. Things don’t get any easier after tomorrow either, with our next seven games including two against Florida, Carolina and Boston each along with one against the Penguins. Hence why tomorrow’s game might have hidden importance. Losing three or four in a row is bad enough, you don’t want to start a potential death spiral and blow through your cushion.

I’m not gonna get into the weeds over potential concerns just yet…that might come with another loss tomorrow, but in general these crucial mistakes late in periods have got to be nipped in the bud. Giving up the eventual winning goal against the Stars in the final moments of the second period is just the latest example of how momentary lapses of focus have cost us dearly. Scoring slumps happen but memo to Jesper Bratt, if you and your agent want a Mitch Marner contract you’d better get back on a perpetual heater soon.

Another potential flashpoint is the impending return of Mackenzie Blackwood, playing his first rehab game in Utica tonight. Things didn’t start out good for him, giving up three goals in his first period. He’s certainly going to have to play better to earn icetime with both Vanecek and Schmid performing at a high level for the most part. Of course, once Blackwood is healthy then Schmid will likely be undeservingly sent down (solely due to his waiver-exempt status and the unviability of playing three goalies). Assuming no setbacks for Blackwood, looks like we’re about two or three weeks away from things coming to a head there.

That’s a down the road problem though…for right now, the Devils have to get back to playing at a high enough level to win games without needing their goalies to do it (who would have thought we’d even utter that sentence last year?)

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