If you were just going by the quality of play in the last two games on this road trip, the Devils didn’t end the trip quite as convincingly as they started it with a flat early performance against the lowly Sharks in San Jose on an early afternoon holiday extravaganza, and a not-so-surprising one step behind game in Seattle at the tail end of a four-game West swing against a good Kraken team. However, just as in prior years bad Devil teams would find ways to lose games they should win, this year’s team is finding ways to win (or at least get points) in games they should lose. Just in the last two weeks alone there’ve been multi-goal comebacks against the Rangers and Carolina, along with the last two games against the Sharks and Kraken which also saw gutty late comebacks.
Granted, things actually started well in San Jose when Ryan Graves scored on the first shift of the game to give the Devils an early lead, but playing essentially a third road game in three and a half days (Friday and Saturday nights followed by Monday early afternoon in San Jose) the Devils were bound for a flat performance and this certainly was one. A Monday afternoon start time is weird enough, but having the first period end due to technical difficulties with a door along the boards turned this game into surreal. Just after the teams came back onto the ice for a twenty-three minute second period the Sharks struck twice quickly, with Timo Meier and Erik Karlsson’s goals both counting as ‘first period’ tallies.
After being outshot 13-4 in the first period though, the Devils did pick the pace up after, outshooting the Sharks 37-19 the rest of the way. Still, they went forty minutes between goals until Nico Hischier finally tied the game eleven seconds into the third period after a sweet turnaround assist from Ondrej Palat found a streaking Hischier going to the net for a one-time wrister. It looked as if it wouldn’t be our game when Nick Bonino gave the Sharks the lead back a few minutes later, which held up through the final seconds of regulation until lone All-Star Jack Hughes showed why he’s going to Florida in a couple of weeks:
There was some question at first as to who tipped the puck in front, turned out Hughes’ shot glanced of Karlsson, but there was no question that goal salvaged at least one point for the Devils, which turned into two when Tomas Tatar scored the only goal in the shootout, just the second skills competition for the Devils all year (and the first win in one). New Jersey’s win gave them an astonishing 4-0 record on the trip to that point and seven straight on the road overall.
Seattle however, proved to be a tougher nut to crack. In a mild surprise, Mackenzie Blackwood was in goal for the second time on this trip (and against two of the three tougher matchups on paper, to boot). It certainly was more of a reward for Blackwood’s game in LA – and perhaps managing the workload of both guys, neither of whom have started more than 43 games in a season – than any kind of slight on Vanecek though, especially after he won the other three games of the trip and only got nosed out of being an All-Star rep himself because of having two of the three or four best goalies in the NHL also playing in the tri-state area.
In any event, Blackwood acquitted himself well enough to give the Devils a chance to steal a game they were outplayed in against the biggest surprise contender in the West (with the Devils being that in the East). Maybe in another year the Devils would have mailed in a game at the end of a long road trip where they fell behind 2-0 in the second period after a pair of goals by Ryan Donato, but not this year’s team. Damon Severson pulled one back for the Devils midway through the period, and Erik Haula shockingly tied the game at 6:04 in the third with a shorthanded goal, just his fourth goal overall on the season. However, the Kraken showed their mettle and re-took the lead less than two minutes later with man of the match Donato adding the primary assist on a Brandon Tanev goal.
Proving that deja vu actually exists, again the Devils were down one late with the goalie pulled for an extra skater, again it was a young, franchise center – this time Nico – who tied the game dramatically with just over a minute remaining.
Unlike in San Jose however, there would be no dramatic win after regulation last night after Andre Burakovsky ended a back-and-forth game seventy seconds into OT giving the Kraken a hard-fought 4-3 win, ending the Devils’ trip just shy of perfect with nine points out of a possible ten. Overall the Devils’ road record ‘dropped’ to 18-2-2 more than halfway through the season, still a lot of insane work and goals accomplished though. Now come the final four games before the All-Star break, with two home tilts coming up against the Penguins and Golden Knights, then the team goes back on the road to Nashville and Dallas.
At least one win out of those two home games would be nice, if nothing else to restore some form of control over home ice. After a tense atmosphere at the Rock through December and early January, they’ll again return home as conquering heroes Sunday afternoon when they host the Penguins. Hopefully this time they are able to channel the crowd support to maintain their winning ways.
Potpourri: I usually leave the Around The League stuff to Derek here, but a couple of things happened this week I did want to comment on, especially since I didn’t see much of the last couple of Devil games to begin with. I don’t want to dwell on the Ivan Provorov mess in Philly much, the cliff notes version being that on the Flyers’ Pride Night (which each team has one of around the league to celebrate diversity and inclusion), Provorov sat out warmups because he didn’t want to wear the custom practice jersey of the night.
To me it’s just more silly than offensive, you can be offended or baffled by his choice but it is ultimately his to make, a point reinforced by the Flyers not punishing him. I just don’t see the point of why you won’t wear a jersey to skate around in for fifteen minutes, nobody’s asking you to openly advocate for human rights. He cited religious concerns but as agnostic as I am with religion, I know of no religion that prohibits wearing symbolic jerseys one time for fifteen minutes during warmups. Nor will his little protest actually lead to any change, so it’s symbolic protest for the sake of it. In some cases that’s fine and necessary even, in this case he just gave himself and the organization an unnecessary headache.
What actually annoys me even more is the shameful way the Vancouver Canucks are treating Bruce Boudreau with open speculation on and off all year long about his job security coming to a head this week, with rumors abound that Rick Tocchet will be the next head coach, just as soon as he can get out of his TNT contract (which ostensibly requires four weeks’ notice for him leaving their studio to take an NHL job). Given that the rumor is now public knowledge and Tocchet is widely speculated to be taking over Monday, it led to this astounding end of Bruce’s daily presser in Vancouver:
If you want to fire Bruce for being five games under .500 because he isn’t meeting your – perhaps grossly inflated – expectations fine, if you just want your own guy in there that’s also fine…but to do it this way and leave the poor man twisting in the wind publicly knowing he’s dead man walking is a great injustice to not only one of the good guys in the sport, but also a longtime coach who deserves better than to have possibly his last ever job end in this manner. If you knew you were going to fire him weeks ago and wanted Tocchet, then fire him at that point and have an interim coach take over with the announcement of a search for a permanent coach, then install Tocchet when he can take the job.
I have nothing against Tocchet or Canucks fans, but it would serve the Canucks right if he failed miserably and they didn’t even get a top pick for the trouble of a lost season.