Devils not ready for prime time in Game 1

I said before this series that Derek would likely handle most of the nuts and bolts analysis while I chime in here and there with my own thoughts, but really there wasn’t a whole lot to analyze about Game 1 regardless. At least not from a Devils standpoint. Quite simply, the team who knows what the playoffs were about played like it and the team that didn’t, got a major reality check this evening. Tonight’s ‘effort’ – if you want to call it that – simply wasn’t anywhere near good enough, pretty much from the coaching and Vitek Vanecek on down to the rest of the skaters. This game was pretty much a worst nightmare from a Devils fan perspective, everything that you feared might torpedo us did so tonight and then some – timely scoring from the Rangers, their goaltending edge, experience and special teams.

Vitek is an easy target after giving up two crappy goals but I’ll start with our not-so-special teams, which was really the first sign of a team-wide system failure tonight. Having four power plays fail to even get a SHOT on net, including two in the first eight minutes was frighteningly incompetent. And a general indicator of how the team continually got overcute with everything on the night, looking for the extra pass rather than taking good shots, then hurrying bad shots. And our penalty kill? Forget it…if you’re going to allow two PP goals a night then you have no shot. Our vaunted assistants need to get the heck back to the drawing board, cause you really couldn’t have gotten worse out of either part of the special teams barring a short-handed goal allowed.

And those two PP goals weren’t even the clunkers Vitek gave up – an unscreened floater from Vladimir Tarasenko beat him shortside less then five minutes into the game, and another unscreened shortside goal by Ryan Lindgren late in the second pretty much sealed our fate with the Rangers game managing their way over the finish line after dominating the first twelve or so minutes of the first period. They didn’t create much the rest of the night but they didn’t need to, with the way the Devils imploded from pillar to post. I wanted to buy the narrative that hey, the Devils have a bunch of guys who do have playoff experience, this belief that their experience will beat us is a bit overplayed but it sure as shooting was the case in Game 1.

Vitek was so bad though, that I would have him on a short leash in Game #2. Especially since the Devils finally smartened up enough to make Akira Schmid the backup. Maybe Schmid will be Cam Ward to Vitek’s Martin Gerber (circa 2006 Carolina). Not that I think we’re winning a Cup, especially after tonight but you have to give yourself the best chance to win. And if Vitek is going to spit the bit in the playoffs, then it’s time to see what Schmid can do. He’s arguably played better than Vitek down the stretch as it is.

It’s not as if Vitek torpedoed a good Devil performance though, really you could name the number of people who showed up for the Devils on one hand. It looked like a total regression to the first two games of the season, if not to 2020-22 entirely. I was tempted to think maybe the Devils needed us to boo them off the ice to motivate them. The shame of tonight is the Devils wasted one of the more legitimate home-ice advantages of Devil-Ranger playoff history. Maybe not quite as good as 2012, there was still a sizeable Ranger presence behind the defending net and in the clubs, but that’s about all there was – it was almost like a soccer stadium where all the visiting fans get bunched in one area.

Will they still have the same home-ice in two nights, or will there be more blue in the arena? Maybe it would help if there was more blue in the arena, this team has played better on the road all year. Which is one reason why I don’t necessarily think the series would be over at 0-2 (the other being my confidence in Schmid). You don’t want to get in that position if you don’t need to be though. More than even winning or losing, this team needs to get back to competing. Cause tonight, that wasn’t a good enough effort, never mind all the tactical issues with the special teams, and goaltending-specific issues.

Watching this team botch pass after pass for some reason reminded me of that moment in the third Mighty Ducks movie when the coach screams at the kids, ‘your stupid little Duck tricks won’t work at this level!’. That’s what tonight felt like, a reality check that whatever fancy style the Devils thought could win in the playoffs wasn’t good enough. You could throw 50+ wins, a team record and all that along with every individual record out the window. Now it’s time to put up when it matters.

And if you lose the seven-game series that both me and Derek predicted would happen (with different outcomes), fine. I can even accept that against the Rangers this year, as much as I’d hate it, because the preseason goal of being competitive and bringing hope back to the fanbase again was long since reached…but you better not go out like this with an easy five-ish game series a la 1997 and 2008. This isn’t 2018 where we’re up against a vastly superior Tampa team, we should be able to at least compete this time. If you’re going to get clowned in four or five games, then you might as well have missed the playoffs by a point instead of all of these records and individual accomplishments that’ll look even more meaningless after the fact.

Whether this team is ready or not, the playoffs have already begun. Now it’s time to be ready. They might be able to afford another loss, but they absolutely cannot afford another game like tonight, especially with the likelihood of losing at least one game they actually play well in due to Igor Shesterkin’s goaltending, plus the Rangers’ even more massive than feared edge in special teams. This team showed a lot of regular season resiliency all year, now it’s time to translate that into the big boy hockey of the postseason.

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1 Response to Devils not ready for prime time in Game 1

  1. Derek Felix says:

    Excellent insight. I expect a lot more from the Devils in Game Two. We agree on Schmid. We’ll see what happens.


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