Despite the Devils' perfect record against the Penguins, they haven't been able to stay on top of the Atlantic for very long post-Olympics. For every win over Pittsburgh, there's been at least one bad loss to follow it, and in a nutshell the Penguins are just playing much better against the rest of the league than we are. New Jersey's had their opportunities to regain control of the division but when you lose to crappy teams like the Islanders twice, the Leafs twice, Edmonton and last night another non-playoff team in the Blues - well you get your just desserts.
Everything was right there for the Devils last night after the Canes' overtime win against Pittsburgh. With two games in hand, all the Devils needed was a win at home to get back atop the division. Over the last few months, the Prudential Center has been very beneficial to the Devils, but last night that didn't matter. Neither did the inspired fight between Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond and fan favorite ex-Devil Cam Janssen. It's sad when a first period fight that's an even draw turns out to be the most inspired moment all night for the home team, but that's not to take away from the bout between those two. It was one of the best hockey fights I've seen in quite some time, with both guys landing shots, not giving an inch and it lasted over two and a half minutes, finally ending when Janssen got his helmet knocked off.
Still, emotion was lacking for the Devils once again at the start of the game and the one and only goal last night was evidence of this as a bad (and idiotic) line change with under twenty seconds left in the first period led to a two-on-one opportunity and Alex Steen roofed an unscreneed slapshot that quite honestly I felt Martin Brodeur should have had. As Jacques Lemaire said after the game though, you don't really deserve breaks when you don't work hard.
You have to work all the time. If you work all the time, you’ll get the bounces.
As soon as we started to work, we didn’t get the bounces and the guys got
frustrated...It’s the excitement to play, the life that we don’t see. You want
to finish first. You want to finish as high as possible. You get a chance to win
a game here. Just play hard. Get excited to play. And we didn’t see that.
Quite frankly I'm at the point where I'm tired of excuses too. Seventh game in eleven nights, playing a team that's more desperate yadda yadda yadda. I don't want to hear it, not when we've given away so many points against the dregs of the league. When you beat your main competitior in the division six straight times you should be leading the way no problem, instead the Devils are fortunate they've been so dominant head-to-head, otherwise the division would be long gone and we'd be fighting just to get home-ice. Especially when you consider every one of the Penguins' 90 points came against teams other than the Devils while New Jersey only has 74 in non-Penguin games, so clearly they've played much better against the rest of the league than we have.
It's not entirely a coincidence that the team's struggles started when the power play blew up. For the first half of the season the Devils actually had one of the better power plays in the league (haha) and were a machine at that point. Since then, the team's floundered and having the worst power play in the league is a main reason why. Things have gotten so bad that last night Zach Parise of all people criticized the sellout crowd for booing the power play. Now personally I find it hard to boo lack of execution but when you don't shoot the puck at all then yeah, I get as frustrated as anyone. You can't score if you don't shoot after all, though by most accounts - I only got to see about half this game - the power play was actually better last night at taking and creating chances which is all you can ask at this point.
And yeah, Blues backup Ty Conklin made some good saves but come on now. Ilya Kovalchuk had yet another maddening near miss when he got stoned on the doorstep of an open net by St. Louis forward Brad Boyes. Travis Zajac also hit a post, among other opportunities the Devils almost converted on but the bottom line is if you can't do any better than one goal in two games against the lousy Leafs and Blues defenses and you think you're going to do anything in the playoffs, well guess again. You can't play the Penguins every round after all.
In fact, the Devils' first-round opponent right now would be the Flyers, who they're 1-3-1 against this season. Goaltending issues or not, they've played very well against us this year and as the last three nights have shown you don't need a great goalie to stop a below-average offense and horrendous power play. What gnaws at me about this team is we should be better offensively, there's no two ways about it. With Kovalchuk, Parise, Zajac and Patrik Elias, among others, there's no reason at all we should still be struggling to score goals against bad teams and have to fumigate the arena after every power play.
Next up for the team is Tuesday's home matchup against Columbus, and there will be no schedule excuses after two days off at home. I would say we have to lay the lumber to the Blue Jackets, except quite honestly we don't blow any team out - at all. Most of the Pittsburgh games came closest to being laughers but really two and three-goal games aren't usually routs. Even our 6-1 win over the Islanders in November couldn't be classified as a laugher since it was 2-1 with ten minutes left.
With only eleven games left now before the tournament, it's about time to show some consistency and shape up around here.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Ty Conklin (29 saves)
- Alexander Steen (goal, +1)
- Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond (fight, 4:35 TOI)