Black Friday: Devils non-compete their way into second straight blowout loss

Stop us if you’ve heard this script before…Devils look overmatched and noncompetitive in the first two games of a playoff series, with their starting goalie getting blown up twice and the team being outplayed in all facets of the game. Of course, there are two main differences between the first round of this playoffs and the second round. We were embarrassed at home against the Rangers, in this series at Carolina – which would be better in a normal situation – but, given the Devils’ strength on the road this year and at times struggle to maintain the same level of play at home, maybe it isn’t in this case.

Of course, the main difference (unfortunately) is this Carolina team is just better. You likely aren’t getting away with pulling the same crap you did in the first round by needing two games to realize this is a step up in competition and speed now. I’m not going to say this series is over the way I did against the Rangers, in part because getting blown up on the road is still psychologically different than doing it at home and in part because so many of our key players haven’t played their best game in this postseason yet. You’d think they’re due to step up at some point…but time is running out on this postseason.

Also unlike the Ranger series, there isn’t really one area of optimism you can point to and say well if they just improved this, we can make some hay. Everything needs to improve, well everything besides the fourth line (which has our only two goals of the series!). When the fourth line is the only one that looks ready to compete, that’s a problem. Yeah they had the excuse of a missing Timo Meier in Game 1, what’s been his excuse for a grand total of zero points in eight playoff games otherwise, including last night? If you want big money this offseason it’s time to shine…same goes for your fellow RFA Jesper Bratt. Not everyone who bets on themselves becomes Aaron Judge, but Bratt hasn’t even shown a pulse for much of the postseason with one lousy empty-net goal and four total points in nine games.

Not that our RFA’s are the only big-name MIA’s in this postseason. Dougie Hamilton – one goal and three points in nine games, not good enough for a guy who had the most points in history by a Devils defenseman, and it’s not like he’s generally going to have a big impact defensively when his offense goes MIA. Nico Hischier, love the guy but one goal in his last twenty-one games (including regular season) isn’t good enough. Not anymore, considering you had 31 goals and 80 points in the regular season. Dawson Mercer’s breakout of 27 goals and 56 points in his second season looks a long way off in a postseason where he’s had just two goals and one assist. Even Jack Hughes has gone quiet again after a brief spasm to life in the middle of the Ranger series – just three goals and five points total for him, including the one meaningless penalty shot at the end of Game 1. When Erik Haula is still the only guy on the team with more than two open-play goals in nine postseason games, that just isn’t good enough.

Unlike the last series where you could attribute some of the offense’s ineptness to great goaltending by Igor Shesterkin, they’ve barely made Frederik Andersen break a sweat in the first two games apart from our three minute-long double power play in the first period yesterday, where our PP pretty much fired blanks after the first thirty seconds or so anyway. What happened to Andrew Brunette? He was supposed to be the genius who led our power play into the 21st century, and with almost as much talent on the first unit as anyone else could have but they look flat out lost with the man advantage. Particularly against Carolina, against whom they’re 0-for-the season in seven games including the regular season (about twenty or so chances), giving up four shorthanded goals in the process.

Now that I’ve taken a meat cleaver to the offense, that’s only half the problem unfortunately. Where is the vaunted D that shut down the punchless Rangers in the last two games in New Jersey? Nowhere to be found on most of these second-period goals, that’s for sure.

Twice in the second period, Jesperi Kotkaniemi made fools of us by getting so wide open he had seconds – minutes, it seemed – to pick out his shot and beat Akira Schmid. You’d probably like a save on one of those two goals (especially shortside), but you’d like better coverage as well. I don’t know where the D was on goal #3…it was a brilliant feed by Jack Drury to stay onside and spring Jordan Staal for a breakaway but why are the two guys closest to the play Hughes and Ondrej Palat? Neither one is a defenseman obviously. At least on the second breakaway in this package it was Hamilton and Damon Severson who were closest to that one when Martin Necas sprung Seth Jarvis, but the puck was just out of his reach for him and Schmid got to it first. He played it weakly though, and it resulted in second and third chances, where the Canes finally scored their fourth – with Necas finishing off an offensive zone sequence he started.

With our D being a total non-entity, it’s hard to kill Schmid but it does look like the clock is about to strike midnight on him, for this series anyway. Problem is, unlike the first round when Vitek Vanecek got blown up we had Schmid who hadn’t been used yet – in this series, both goalies have been blown up with Vanecek turning in his second straight bleh relief performance. Schmid is still the better bet to get it going in Game 3 (especially since his last two home games were shutouts), but in normal circumstances guys who get pulled two games in a row generally don’t start the game after that.

Despite their insistence they have ‘three’ choices at goalie there’s no way Mackenzie Blackwood should even be a consideration to start Game 3…but only because he literally hasn’t played since the end-of-regular season fiasco, which was a little more than three weeks ago. Honestly, I could see a scenario where he plays in this series now – which is alarming enough. That scenario would likely be him dressing as the backup in Game 3 and coming in if Schmid gets blown up again. You can’t really put him in cold with the season on the line though, especially since he’s your third best goalie by a mile.

Strangely I don’t have a lot of issues with Lindy Ruff now considering they got blown up 11-2 in the first two games. When you pick the goalie who’s clearly playing the best right now and your fourth line is the only one who’s ready to play this series then this series doesn’t really fall on coaching, it falls on the players. Granted, you’d like to see this team better mentally prepared for the quick turnaround from the Ranger series – especially with all the adults in the room like Ruff and players like Palat and Haula. Post-Ranger letdown is becoming a very real concern, I know you shouldn’t compare past postseasons to this one but I’m gonna do it anyway to make a point.

2006 – sweep Rangers, lose the first three to Carolina off a fifteen-game winning streak and go out in five games

2012 – beat Rangers in Conference Finals, lose the first three to LA in SCF

This year – beat Rangers in seven-game first round and look non-competitive in the first two games at Raleigh.

As much as anything else that happened in this postseason would have felt like gravy on Monday, it’s still annoying that we can’t – shall we say, consolidate – beating the Rangers in any postseason yet with an actual good performance in the next series. Also concerning is that the Hurricanes have historically had our number in the postseason, again I know you can’t compare what happened in 2002 to this year but there is one actual common denominator in the Hurricane hex – Rod Brind’Amour. He was a key player on Canes teams that beat us in 2002, 2006 and 2009 and is now the well-respected coach for a team beating up on us this year.

Overall, the Devils are 3-11 in Raleigh in the postseason dating back to 2001 (where they went 2-1 and beat an up-and-coming Canes team but even that series proved to be a moral victory for them as they took us to six games from down 3-0). So we’re 1-10 in whatever they call that pit of an arena since 2001, but somehow coming back in this series would require us not only to hold serve at home but also win a Game 5, or a Game 7 on the road.

That highlight above was from our only playoff win in Raleigh since 2001 – a Travis Zajac OT winner in 2009. Maybe they should have him be the designated towel waver before Game 3 to fire up the crowd in New Jersey. Not that Devil fans should need much help to get going, even down 0-2 in the series you have a Sunday afternoon start with a crowd that’s going to be almost 100% Devil fans for the first time this postseason. It might be the only sellout of Devils fans in this playoff if things go sour in Game 3 though, with plenty of open seats for Tuesday night at inflated prices.

Much like when the Devils went down 2-0 against the Rangers, I’m no longer asking them to win the series (although it would be nice to have an opportunity in a season with a wide-open bracket after Boston, Colorado and Tampa all lost in the first round). Win Game 3 at least and give us at least forty-eight hours of hoping we can make it a series again, and also let’s see our big names at least put up some highlights in the rest of this postseason. As much good as the Devils have done this year, their big names struggling is going to be a thing now, even after guys like Schmid, Haula and Palat dragged them through the first round.

It would also be nice not to get blown out every other game…our five playoff losses this year have been by a combined score of 26-6. As much as people drag unexciting teams like the Islanders, at least they were able to stay in most of the games with the Canes, and can stay in games in general when they’re not playing at their A level. If we take one lesson out of the postseason, it’s that we need to learn how to start series better and stay in games when you’re not playing your best. Granted, our only two close games of the entire playoffs they did that against the Rangers in Games 3 and 4, but they haven’t done it enough and have let too many games get away from them.

I also said after the last round that we beat the Rangers in large part because they couldn’t figure out an answer when their stars went missing, while we did. This time, we’re the ones who can’t figure out an answer for our missing stars while the Canes are raining in goals despite missing three key forwards. Maybe they are the real-life itineration of the ‘interchangeable flock of forwards’ Colin Campbell once called us. We’ve certainly made them look that way. Hopefully over the next few games of this series, we show the fight we have all year and don’t go down this way.

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1 Response to Black Friday: Devils non-compete their way into second straight blowout loss

  1. Pingback: Uh, the Hudson River Rivalry isn't the Stanley Cup - New York Sports Nation

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