I wanted to boo at the end, but I was to disgusted to make a sound.
Last night, I attended my first hockey game in nearly two months. The last one was a bad 1-5 loss to Tampa Bay, arguably the best team in the NHL. This one was easily worse. The New Jersey Devils hosted Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers, and lost 3-4. With Tampa Bay, a beatdown was at least sort-of expected given their quality and dazzling array of attacking players. The Rangers have proclaimed they were re-building since last February, so they're not in the class as the Bolts. Yet, I saw a Devils team go up 2-0 on them and proceed to let that lead slip away. I saw a Devils team respond with a quick equalizer after that lead was fully gone - and those same Devils gave up a late goal that ended up being the winner. I saw a Devils team play with the intensity and intelligence of a head of lettuce and they still blew a winnable game. At this point of the season, I'm not expecting much and yet the Devils found a way to really disappoint me.
Maybe I shouldn't feel this way. After all, I've been stating that this is a Bad Team for months now. I see the numbers in my posts, I see how the performances have went, I see how ugly it has been month-to-month. I know full well the team is badly missing Taylor Hall. Having Sami Vatanen might have helped too. Yet, despite the injuries and how bad the season has been, the Devils put themselves in a position to succeed. They blew it - at home to Our Most Hated Rivals.
They were up two goals. And not just any two goals. Two heads-up plays on power plays for goals. First, Pavel Zacha used his big frame to body a Ranger down such that Nico Hischier could get a loose puck and rip it past the False King of New York. Second, the Ringless Wonder was beaten in front by Brian Boyle only to be bailed out by the post. The puck rebounded out into space. As you would in a video game, Marcus Johansson dove forward to poke that loose puck into the net. It was invigorating stuff. It showed heart, moxie, guts, and all of those other romantic words fans tend to elevate over things like observed talent or performance. The Rangers barely had any shots on goal.
But then the 2018-19 Devils showed that they are who many have said there are. Not that the Rangers put up a ton of shots, but the Devils were abysmal in their own end of the rink. They were lollygagging upon zone entries by the Rangers. They were lollygagging on zone exits, allowing the Rangers to keep pucks in play and force the Devils to be stuck in. They were lollygagging in pursuit of puck carriers. They weren't even lollygagging as plenty of skaters were puck watching instead of looking for open men or passing lanes to cover. By the way, the Devils record is 19-24-7. I'm amazed they even have 19.
But seriously, the off the puck play was terrible. Wingers like Miles Wood and Kyle Palmieri were floating on like an indie rock band. Defensemen like Andy Greene and Steve Santini were as strong as a wet paper bag at protecting their zone. The centers needed to help and arguably faltered at that. Penalties taken by Johansson (you need to be subtle on throwing picks off a faceoff and he wasn't with his hip) and Blake Coleman (who was uncharacteristically bad last night) added to the woes and the Rangers made them pay for it. The 5v5 stats at Natural Stat Trick listed that the Rangers out-attempt the Devils 46-31, out-chanced them 22-8, and out-high-dangered them 9-4. I'm surprised it was that close. You didn't need to know those numbers. If you saw the two shifts that ended with Rangers' even strength goals in the third period or any stretch of a few minutes in the second period, then you saw how bad the Devils' defensive effort was. What goaltender can do well with *that* in front of him?
That said, Keith Kinkaid should have stopped that third goal against. That was a terrible goal to allow. Cory Schneider has allowed goals like that this season, leading to outcries that he's done by way of being old, hurt, or some such I'm sure Kinkaid will get similar responses that he won't see.
The frustrating part is that even with all of that, the Devils could have won the game! Egor Yakovlev torched Henrik Lundqvist off a rush play led by Johansson. That's often-scratched non-sniper Egor Yakovlev. Lundqvist made a few tough saves but he was hardly a wall last night. Had the Devils put up more than 22 shots on the overhyped netminder, maybe the fourth goal would've been there. And maybe NY doesn't spend shifts after shifts in the Devils' half of the rink. Yet, the Devils went back to being lazy, they conceded the hat trick to Mika Zibanejad after another garbage-level shift on defense, and that was the game. The many Rangers fans at the Rock were jubilant. The Devils fans who didn't sell these tickets either left or were like me, watching it all in disgust.
By the way, Devils season ticket holders, renewals have opened up. The organization has decided to set up members in an auto-reneweal system since expensive hockey tickets are the equivalent to a subscription to a streaming system. You have to opt-out by February 13 to avoid the renewal that you committed to for the 2018-19 season. A loss like this one made me want to remember that to pass that information along to you, the reader. I haven't seen what the 2019-20 prices are. I'll save that and any reaction for another post. Back to this awful game.
Truth be told, I don't think I would say this was one of the five worst losses the Devils have suffered this season. They've been blown out and sonned by so many teams this season. But this one hurts because it is a rivalry game. With nothing else to play for, at least show up for the rivalry games, do your jobs, and get a win. Even without Hall, even with a coaching staff who is performing at MacLean levels, even with a roster that many say lacks talent and yet few want major changes to it beyond removing their scapegoat, the Devils could have won this game. They could have mustered something out of this one. They not only failed but
This choke job is on the players for their crummy performance. The blame is also shared the coaching staff, led by John Hynes, who couldn't stem the laziness; and the management, led by Ray Shero, who has put together this roster that went from making the postseason for the first time since 2012 to currently having a worse record than the Edmonton Oilers. If you're not a fan of The Rock being half-plus clad in blue and the Devils-Rangers being priced so high that they aren't full houses like past seasons, then thank Hugh Weber and Scott O'Neil too.
I don't set out to be negative. But I'm not sure what you want me to be positive about. The Devils are on pace to having one of their worst records ever. They blew a lead and a game to a hated rival. Suffice it to say, there is a lot to be critical of from management all the way down to guys like Jesper Bratt. who was owned in the run of play. It's not like the pig-lipstick applicators on the MSG broadcast is going to say anything more than that the Devils are "struggling a little bit." It's not like professional reporters Abbey Mastracco and Chris Ryan will ask any tough questions. I may be a longwinded fan, but at least you know I'm keeping it real. And this Devils team was real bad and really disappointed last night. I don't see how I should defend this 3-4 loss as just a result of injuries or bad luck or one player. The Devils franchise owns this chokejob. Only Rangers fans, Sherman Abrams, and the most pollyannish fans could see much good in last night's game.
One last thought in this belated recap/rant (sorry for that, real life got in the way): Burn those stupid throwback jerseys.
Please leave your thoughts about this loss in the comments. Thank you for reading.