So thankfully, it won’t be every night from now until the beginning of April that the New Jersey Devils will play a game that might contain squads equally appropriate for an AHL game, like we saw on Thursday against Ottawa. I may be exaggerating of course, but the point still remains. There will be some more interesting and compelling games to come, and perhaps today is one of them.
In a couple of hours, a rivalry game will ensue with the worst team from New York. In fact, the Devils have only played them once so far this season, a 4-3 loss back on the last day of January. That means that including today, there are still three games left against this team. And both teams, of course, are on a path to get as high of a percentage to win the lottery as possible. It might not be as interesting or exciting of a race, the race to the bottom never is as exciting as its opposite, but it is still a race nonetheless, and one not without consequence.
Heading into this game today, four points separate the two teams at the bottom of the Metropolitan. And with six points left to decide between them this season, overtime points not included, there is a big reason that this game today matters. The three of them do. If the Devils had won that game in January after taking a 2-0 lead early, both teams would be tied at 58 points at the moment. After today, if the game ends in regulation, it will either be 62 points for New York and 56 for New Jersey, or 60 for NY and 58 for NJ. That is quite the difference when both teams struggle to gain points on a consistent basis.
Of course, that discussion is a terrible one to have, I get it. Rooting for your favorite team to lose is not fun, and I do not recommend it, but when it comes to a rivalry game such as this, I personally think it is impossible. I could never actually watch the game today and root for the team in red and black to lose. And I mean that literally, like I don’t think it would actually be possible. I am sure that you feel the same way, even if it is a four point game in an important race.
However, it becomes an interesting dichotomy. Emotionally, as a fan, and properly, you want the team to win. You have to, especially if you are close with New York fans. And beyond that, a team as depleted and bereft of anything as Ottawa was the other night might have a great chance to win the lottery and get high draft choices, but how far away are they from even becoming competitive? How many years? On the other hand, cold hard intelligence says that if the Devils continue to put out a B-squad for games like these, those losses will lead to a bottom 5 finish for sure, and giving New York points will put them further away from better picks. NY was only two points out of 19th place before last night, and four out of 17th. At that point, you’re in the purgatory of draft positions: out of the playoffs, but still fairly close where draft picks are considered. You can still hit on a 10th-15th pick of course, and some hit big, but the odds are a fair good amount less than a top 5 pick. New Jersey isn’t anywhere near those purgatory picks, but New York certainly is.
The ideal is obvious, at least in my eyes: you want the Devils to win today, and you want them to win the next two times these teams face off as well. Otherwise, well if in the interim NY happens to string together some wins, and NJ not so much, that will stink to watch, but at least the rivalry games go right, and the picks might fall in a better way too. The Devils won’t lose every game the rest of the way (let’s hope not, can you imagine watching that?), and NY won’t win them all. However, that certainly feels like asking for your cake and eating it too, the scenario I was just describing.
So I guess that brings me back to the beginning. There is a rivalry game today, and it matters, a pretty good amount actually. The points won and lost in the next three rivalry games between these two teams can help to determine draft position by a few spots in either direction, for both teams. However, and obviously, it also matters for bragging rights and being able to live with the NY fans that you know in your life. Those two reasons seem contradictory, and they pretty much are; as I mentioned earlier, it is the dichotomy of looking at it emotionally vs intellectually. However you look at this game and at the rest of the season, as someone looking for the team to tank and lose most every game no matter what, or as a traditional fan who is always rooting for a win, today’s game matters, and these rivalry games will matter. At least it should be more interesting to watch than Thursday night, even if that was a 4-0 shutout for the good guys.