Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter wonderland (for the Flyers anyway)


Can I just not talk about this game and yet another blown two-goal lead tonight? Personally I'd rather break down the particulars of the biggest snowstorm in the history of Western Civilization. Or at least the biggest in the state of New Jersey this winter. I knew the minute I got up I wasn't going to this game tonight, the snow started in Morris County before I woke up and didn't abate until about game time, and it still hasn't ended in Newark. Even leaving out the weather, the uncertainty of when and if NJ Transit would be running postgame would have been enough to keep me away. Perhaps the bad weather is fitting for a team who's surrounded by storm clouds right now.

Okay I suppose I have to talk about another on-ice debacle but before I get to that, at least off-ice the Devils did more than what I thought they had to for the fans by allowing people who couldn't attend this game to trade in their tickets for half-price seats to one of three other games (3/15 or 3/30 against Boston as well as 3/23 against Columbus). For me it means I can get an extra pair for about what I pay for season tickets now, maybe upgrade my seat for a game. Maybe some sth's wouldn't consider that much since they already have tickets to those games but quite honestly I didn't expect anything from this game. It's not like the snowstorm was the Devils' fault, unlike the power failure a while back.

As far as the amazing number of people who were there (announced attendance: 5,580) the Devils let everyone come down not only to the lower level early in the second period but also the Fire and Ice lounges as well with access to the free food and soft drink there. Personally I did think those people deserved something for basically risking life and limb to attend a hockey game. Granted, I'm really not sure whether to think of these people as the biggest fans out there or just plain nuts. Maybe the truth's somewhere in between. As much as I wanted to go to this game, it wasn't worth a ten-minute ride to the train station up and down a hill on bad roads, as well as dealing with NJ Transit delays and cancellations.

Now that I've gotten all that out there, let's break down yet another meltdown by the Devils, who amazingly got out to a 2-0 lead with Zach Parise a sudden last-minute scratch and of course proceeded to blow that lead yet again, eventually losing in overtime. Unlike most of the other games since the New Year though I really can't complain about lack of effort. Certainly the undermanned defense did their job for the most part, allowing only fifteen shots to the Flyers - this in spite of already being without Paul Martin and Anssi Salmela and then losing Bryce Salvador midgame to the contagious upper-body injury virus. It would be nice if Andy Greene stopped doing a Mike Mottau impression (on-ice for all three goals including Arron Asham's opener that deflected off his stick) but the only Devils who need the Olympic Break more than Greene are currently on the IR. His offense has died on the vine for a while and now his defense is following suit, but what can you really expect when he plays an insane 32:37?!

There was some good news in relation to the D though, besides the low overall shot total they had twenty-four productive minutes from Mark Fraser, who even added an assist and was a +1. Makes you wonder why he couldn't play earlier in the season when we were running four and five D into the ground? Even the aforementioned Mottau managed to play nearly thirty minutes without incident, though he was a -1. All things considered, the performance from our top four D wasn't bad (recent call-up Rob Davison only played 3:59, if he was going to get those minutes we might as well have called up Tyler Eckford who would at least have added mobility to the D).

I can't say I was that encouraged by the offense's showing though, even the early two goals were more a result of good fortune than anything else. Travis Zajac scored one of the weakest goals I've ever seen from inside the blueline when his floater of a wrist shot squirted through Michael Leighton's five-hole and in for Zajac's eighteenth of the year just 45 seconds into the game. Fraser and Brian Rolston tacked on the assists to a goal that I would have been tempted to go Mike Keenan on and pull Leighton right then and there. Turns out Leighton wouldn't have much to worry about the rest of the night although Rob Niedermayer managed to bank in another goal off a Flyer defenseman's skate at 8:01 with Rod Pelley getting an assist on Niedermayer's seventh goal of the season, which gave the Devils a dreaded two-goal lead.

Before I could even think that the Flyers had us right where they wanted us, boom Asham scored right off of Greene's skate, which annoyed me twofold. Asham has what I call Brian Rolston syndrome, be a useful player for everyone else's team except ours. Even more annoyingly Jeff Carter owned us again on the second goal, after a mostly quiet end of the first and most of the second period. Carter's wrist shot at 13:47 of the second on a three-on-two was a masterpiece and proved once again that the Devils should have made him feel a bit more uncomfortable after his brutal takeout of Salmela Monday night. Repeatedly during the pregame and intermissions Ken Daneyko couldn't hide his dismay at that fact.

For the rest of the night, the Devils basically sacrificed offense for defense and despite outshooting the Flyers 7-1 in the third period really never threatened the Flyer goal all that much themselves. This despite an extended third-period power play which saw Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle take back-to-back penalties and predictably Jacques Lemaire called timeout before the twenty-five second 5-on-3 and just as predictably it failed, despite Ilya Kovalchuk hogging icetime once again (26:27 in the game, including 3:04 consecutively on both power plays). Color me slightly concerned now about Kovalchuk, who it seems the Devils are going out of their way to have him play his style instead of trying to fit him in the team game. It would be one thing if it was working but after the two assist game in his first game he's been pointless in his last three. If I didn't know better I'd swear the Devils are trying to grease the skids to re-sign him after this season by letting him have free reign up to this point.

Unlike Parise, who never sacrifices defense for offense, it's always been a problem for Kovalchuk. Particularly during the overtime when he again stayed on the ice too long during a shift and wound up sprawled on the ice trying in vein to keep Simon Gagne from getting off a wristshot that beat Brodeur at 3:27, giving the Flyers the sweep of a home-and-home and us a 1-4 record overall against one of our biggest rivals. Somewhat generously Lemaire said it wasn't Kovalchuk's best game and attributed it to him being tired (ya think?!).

To be honest we were fortunate to even get a point, for Scott Hartnell looked like he scored in the first period but the NHL ruled the replay was inconclusive, despite it looking obvious to me that the puck had fully crossed the line from FSNY's various camera angles. Currently that point is the only thing keeping us in first place for despite losing two in a row over the weekend themselves, the Penguins pulled to within a single point after their win over the Islanders tonight, with each team having two more games left before the Olympic hiatus. This season feels like a combination of the 2007 and 2009 Mets, '07 with the fact that despite playing poorly for a prolonged stretch we've somehow remained in the division lead (until the very end) and '09 with the injury bug.

Will two games be enough to finally turn the tide before the break? Somehow I doubt it, I wasn't even kidding when I said I hoped we'd forfeit the last four games to avoid more injuries and now it looks like that's exactly what's happening. We're still losing and getting more injuries. No word on how serious Salvador's upper body ailment is. Speculation is that Parise has a neck issue, either incurred late in Monday's game or after a collision with Mottau in practice before tonight's game. Hopefully it won't keep him out too long but at this point with first place slipping away and the team's malaise growing by the minute even two games seems like a lot.
BoNY Three Stars:
  1. Simon Gagne (game-winning goal)
  2. Jeff Carter (goal, +1)
  3. Travis Zajac (goal, +1 with 22:52 TOI)

1 comment:

Derek Felix said...

love the picture. it's a classic.

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