Tonight’s New Jersey Devils game against the New York Islanders was a night of two goodbyes. Both were known going into the event, but they were quite different.
The first goodbye was for a legend. Patrik Elias put on his #26 jersey one more time to skate in the pre-game warmups. The crowd definitely came early to see the legendary forward skate around and fire some shots at the goalie one more time. The end in the lower bowl where the Devils traditionally warm-up was packed with Devils fans. I, for one, took plenty of photos from my seat as a helmet-less Elias skated his last lap. The love the fans had for him at the Rock was only a portion of the love the Devils fans all over the world have for Elias. He was the last to leave the ice in warmups, but it would not be his last appearance in a Devils uniform.
Prior to the national anthem, Elias came out one last time for a ceremonial puck drop. His wife and two daughters came out to perform the puck drop at center ice. It was a moving moment that after acknowledging the standing ovation he received, he welcomed his family on the ice. Travis Zajac and Andy Greene brought his family flowers and hugged their former teammate. Then, Stephen Gionta was announced to take in the faceoff as he was Elias’ former teammate. It was a lovely moment and the perfect snapshot to end Elias’ career as a Devil. That was well done. Goodbye, Patty. We’ll see you next season when #26 is raised to the rafters.
The second goodbye was for the Rock for the 2016-17 season. Tonight’s game was the last time Prudential Center would host a Devils game until preseason in late September. For the fifth straight season, the Devils entered this last game with nothing to really play for. I get why. I get how. I wrote a whole lot about both. Regardless, as a season ticket holder and passionate fan of the team, it still feels down to know that this is the end. Yes, it means not paying more for parking or tolls or food. Yes, it means more evenings where I’m not writing until close to or past midnight. Yes, it means saving hundreds on playoff tickets. But I would gladly do all of that because that would all mean that the Devils have a Cup to strive for. They have something to win for. Six of the last seven years of going into this last home game knowing it doesn’t matter within a day of the game being over means I’m used to this feeling. It doesn’t really make me like it anymore than it did in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, or 2016.
This particular goodbye featured a throw back to those Peter DeBoer-coached teams from 2013 through 2015. I may be over-simplifying those squads, but it was a game where the Devils’ performance was quite good but managed to lose anyway. The Devils definitely enjoyed the better run of play. The Isles needed to win this game to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. Yet, they sleepwalked through the first period. They figured that neutral zone play was optional and that they didn’t need to pressure the Devils skaters. The Devils, whether wanting to win one for Patty, win the last home game, or just take advantage of a poor Islander start, just swarmed all over the visitors. The Devils made Jaroslav Halak earn his paycheck tonight with multiple one-on-one opportunities, loads of shooting attempts from right in front, and just lots of shots in general. We’ve seen Devils games this season where it would take well over two periods for the Devils to get to sixteen shots on net. The Devils were at sixteen shots just ninety seconds into the second period. Meanwhile, the Isles sat at a mere four - even with the Devils conceding two power plays to the visitors. The Devils did a whole lot right on the ice. They just didn’t score. I know, story of the DeBoer Devils after 2012.
The Isles broke through on their fifth shot of the game and their first of the second period. As far as plays go, it was a real good one. Nikolay Kulemin was able to get into the zone with a long pass. Kulemin delayed until Anthony Pelech joined the attack from the center of the zone. The pass was made and Pelech was all alone in the high slot; he finished it to make it 0-1. The Devils’ attack didn’t really stall until after the Islanders’ second goal. Shortly after a power play ended, Nick Leddy flung the puck towards the net. It hit off Anders Lee to beat Kinkaid and make it 0-2. At that point, the game was more even as the Isles started to impose more of their will on the Devils. A few more possession shifts, plenty of shots (eleven in the second), and keeping New Jersey from going off. The Devils did manage to get plenty of choice chances on Halak and make the Isles sweat. But Halak was on fire and stopped everything from one-on-ones with Kyle Palmieri and Miles Wood to close shots at his crease.
In the third period, the Devils amped up their attack again, storming through the Islander defense to get rubber onto Halak. But the Isles struck again. Alan Quine took a puck from Damon Severson at the blueline and charged up ice. As Severson and Greene converged on Quine, Quine flung a lovely cross-slot pass to Jason Chimera. He may be on the wrong side of 35, but he’s still fast. He slammed in the puck to make it 0-3. Not long after that, the Devils would finally beat Halak. More accurately, the Devils would benefit from Halak making a mistake. Beau Bennett fired in a sharp-angled shot and it snuck through his pads and stayed in the crease. Halak accidentally moved his skates such that he kicked the puck over the line. Still counted as a goal; but it was the sort of night Halak was having - only he could have beaten himself. While the Devils pushed to make it a game, they would pay the price for Miles Wood taking a hooking call that was a retaliatory act after Pelech hit him along the boards. During said power play for the Isles, Josh Bailey faked a shot and found Lee down low and all alone. Lee roofed the puck to make it 1-4. At that point, the Isles were more than comfortable enough to be on cruise control.
The Devils tried get back on the scoreboard, trying to solve Halak once again. They would with less than three second left in the game. Dalton Prout fired a slapshot from the left point and Bennett tipped it in front. It was a consolation goal. It meant nothing for the result other than a different number on the scoreboard. It was still something to cheer for the Devils before the season at the Rock ended second later. Something to smile and be happy to see before walking out of the arena one more time of another loss and knowing that you won’t be back until the Fall.
The effort and on-ice performance - by the numbers and by the eye - was much better than so many other games this season. But it didn’t go the Devils’ way, much like so many other games this season. So it goes for another year. Goodbye, Rock.
1 game left.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Shift Charts | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Leaving the Rock, I figured the Islanders kept hope alive for another day. Toronto beat Pittsburgh so it died a little after the Isles prevailed. Hence, the sentiment in Steven E. Smith’s recap at Lighthouse Hockey.
The Standout Devils: With 39 shots and 67 shooting attempts, you better believe that many Devils skaters had great nights regardless of the result. First and foremost, take a bow, Beau Bennett. Bennett has been a CF% leader for this team but was often without any points to show for it. Tonight was different. In addition to being rather good in the run of play, he got a lucky one tonight and a tip at the very end of the game to add two goals to his totals. Hopefully the boost to his ‘G’ totals will help him get a new deal this summer.
Second, as much as I complained about in the last two previews, Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall thrived on separate lines. Each received one-on-ones against Halak. Each were bombing pucks on net; they badly wanted to score. Hall had five shots on net out of eleven attempts tonight. Palmieri was more efficient with six shots on net out of seven attempts. What was remarkable was how each received good support from different linemates. Pavel Zacha and Michael Cammalleri were just slicing through the Isles with Hall. While Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac weren’t as dominant with Palmieri, they definitely made their marks with plenty of chances. Zacha and Zajac did not register an official shot on net tonight, but they both made plenty of passes and plenty of plays to have their linemates have the shots that they did have. The top six showed up to play in addition to the good support provided by Bennett and Stefan Noesen.
Third, I never thought I would type this, but Jon Merrill and Dalton Prout had excellent games. I thought Prout initially scored the last goal at the Rock this season. It capped off a solid night from him where he didn’t take any dumb penalties, he didn’t commit too many stupid turnovers, and he wasn’t often caught out of position. Merrill had a similar night too.
Fourth, John Moore got his Marek Zidlicky on with six shots on net and a penalty that wasn’t so necessary. He was a point away from the ZidTrick (apologies if I mis-remember what was necessary for it).
Kinkaid’s Ender: I felt bad for Keith Kinkaid. I don’t think he had much of a chance on the goals he allowed. That said, he was not as good as he was against Philly. Granted, he was amazing and effectively stood on his head on this past Tuesday. Expecting that again is foolish. Still, it wasn’t the best final game for him as Cory Schneider will start the last game of the season in Detroit. I do hope that Kinkaid’s showcasing will help his cause for a new deal this Summer.
The Fan Appreciation?: So tonight was Fan Appreciation Night. This meant that only part of the fanbase received novelty mini-sticks as the usual only 9,000 were given out. This meant that members (a.k.a. season ticket and plan holders) could receive a free poster - if they knew to go to the Membership Lounge by the arena restaurant. This meant there two t-shirt tosses, although only a handful of shirts were actually tossed (the second run had only two thrown in our end). I think there was a discount on merchandise; I’m not sure for what and how. Oh, and there was a Jersey Off Our Back event after the game where various members were picked and received a game-worn jersey from the players. No idea how the people were picked and for who (was it at random)?. I have to keep telling myself that the Devils owners are rich because this was a fairly cheap fan appreciation night. It felt lacking, similar to the Devils’ performances throughout the season. You’d think an organization going through a big rebuild would want to do plenty to keep the current fans still willing to pay money to see a rebuilding team quite happy. Alas, I just keep being proven wrong there too.
The Sherman Abrams Section: Mr. Abrams was worried after the first period. The Devils rolled through the Isles and it was all on Halak to keep the game scoreless. He was relieved that the Isles struck with their goals against the run of play and ultimately won the game. He doesn’t care that it was all for naught, the Devils stay at 70 points going into the last game of the season.
He does care about Arizona and Vancouver. As of this writing, Arizona is down 1-3 to Minnesota, and Vancouver is tied 1-1 with Edmonton in the second period. Arizona’s season is done tonight. A regulation loss for them means the Devils can’t finish below them due to ROW (Devils lead 25-24). Any point earned by Arizona means the Devils have a chance to finish below the ‘Yotes in the standings. As for the Canucks, they have one more game. Tying or surpassing the Devils in points means the Devils fall below them in the standings. You and I know what Sherman Abrams wants. We’ll see if it happens.
11:47 PM Update from Mr. Abrams: Minnesota beat Arizona 3-1. Drat. Devils can’t finish below them. It’s all up to you, Vancouver.
This will likely be the end of Mr. Abrams for this season. Thank you all for taking to this fictional character that I have created for the pro-tank perspective. I’m kind of hoping not to have to use him again next season.
Thanks: For over 30 games this season, I was in Section 1, Tweeting, texting, chatting, lamenting, praising, complaining, hearing, snarking, laughing, sighing, and cheering throughout the Devils games. I thank everyone who was around me, whether it was for a game or all season, who have endured. I plan to be back in 1/16/5 again next season. I know some will not; I will miss you. For those who will be around again, I’ll see you in the Fall, hopefully with a more hopeful outlook for next season.
Your Take: The Devils lost to the Isles 2-4 in a game where they did a lot right but just did not score. I’ll take that over getting dominated or struggling to play competent hockey. There’s one game left and it’s the last one ever at the Joe Louis Arena. We know what Mr. Abrams wants from that.