Even though the Devils lost two in a row going into today's Martin Luther King alleged showdown with the Hudson rival Islanders, there wasn't really cause for alarm other than maybe the fact the team's gotten off to slow starts lately. Especially given the Devils' comfortable division lead (still four points up on the Penguins with three in hand). Over their last thirty-five games they'd need to play significantly below .500 to be in any danger at all of missing the playoffs.
All that said, this afternoon's massacre by the Isles at the Colliseum - incredibly if there's no score change it would be our third straight four-goal loss there! - might prompt Jacques Lemaire to get stern with his troops for one of the few times all season. As I type, the Isles are outshooting the Devils by a frightening 41-17 margin late in the third as it looks like Rick DiPietro will get his second straight win in his comeback, and a shutout at that. Clearly there was no effort or passion on this afternoon, at least not from the team in white.
To be fair, the Devils have kept such games to a minimum this season, really it's the first total no-show I can recall other than maybe New Year's Eve in Chicago. And you have to expect at least a few over the course of an 82-game marathon that can be more like a sprint at times during an Olympic season. Plus the first-place lead has become a bit of a albatross in that as I said we're in no real danger as far as making the playoffs or even losing the division lead just yet, while all the teams we've been playing lately are in desperation mode just to get a playoff berth. Continually playing teams more desperate than you was one of the main reasons for our six-game meltdown in the stretch run last season. In that respect at least this slump is pretty well-timed, not too close to the playoffs for concern but not too early in the season so that you have to struggle to make up points later on.
And let's be honest, the injury situation is once again at critical mass and now with the team more than halfway through the season all of the effort expended may finally be starting to catch up with us. With Patrik Elias on the shelf for the forseeable future (personally, I don't buy the ten days thing especially with talk of him seeing a specialist and the whispers he suffered a concussion. I don't think we'll see him before the end of the month at least), that only adds to the talent in the trainer's room we have to compensate for. Andy Greene may finally be starting to show the wear of filling in Paul Martin's shoes and with the Zach Parise and Travis Zajac duo continuing to struggle, they miss the secondary scoring of Elias, David Clarkson and even Danius Zubrus.
Of course I could talk about travel too being we've played six games in eleven days, taking the ice seven times during that stretch with five road games but let's be honest, every team's gotta go through travel at some point with this condensed schedule. Western teams have it far worse than us on a night-in night-out basis, though it is telling that while the Devils did just fine with seven games in eleven nights during a mostly home-laden stretch in December, it's been a little different with all the traveling this month. While the schedule itself doesn't ease up with three games in four nights after an off day tomorrow, at least the first two are at home while the other will be another beatdown, er matchup at Long Island on Saturday.
And now the final horn's mercifully sounded with the Devils losing 4-0. Was there any good news today? Well, no new injuries at least none that I heard of. Plus Brodeur actually got a whole period's worth of rest after being lifted for Yann Danis in the second intermission...whoopee. Of course he got a game's worth of work in two periods, facing 32 shots but only stopping 28. Being outshot 46-20 overall just adds to the ignominy of this afternoon.
Still, there's no reason to panic. To reiterate, it's January, a lousy three-game streak and we're on top of the division. If anything makes me nervous it's the overplaying of Brodeur and the checking line along with the misuse of Parise. However it's not totally fair to form a final judgement on the latter two until (if?) everyone is back in the fold.