Before I get into what our 1-3 start on the trip of doom and expected loss of Parise for at least one game and probably more might mean, I might as well start with our only good news of the weekend – the two points in Anaheim in front of former Devils and Ducks’ captain Scott Niedermayer, who was in attendance at the Pond talking with Devils' GM Lou Lamoriello about a possible number retirement at the Rock later in the year. My advice to Lou? Please wait till next year and announce a date before the season to create demand, Nieds was a great Devil no matter what you want to say about his leaving…he deserves more than having 11,000 in the building for what feels like kind of a rushed ceremony due to the fact our attendance already stinks and will get to Met-like levels if this losing keeps up.
As far as the actual game, well I watched the first period and the early portion of the second and it took the character of one of our standard two games. Either we get blown out or we put a bunch of shots on the other goalie and still can’t score. This game seemed like it was headed for the latter conclusion after Jason Blake beat Andy Greene in front to stuff in a rebound from his own shot, giving the Ducks a 1-0 lead in a game we were dominating. At that point I’d had enough, I shut off the TV and hit the record button planning to go to sleep. I did shortly thereafter, but not till I found out we’d tied the game which was at least good news.
I didn’t know till the next morning that it was actually Jamie Langenbrunner who had tied it with his first goal of the season, a surprisingly soft goal against Jonas Hiller who was otherwise a wall for the Ducks. The only other time we would beat him Friday night was early in the third period when a nice play from rookie Alexander Vasuynov resulted in a Duck turnover and subsequent pass to Patrik Elias (who showed life for the first time in months playing back at center) for a one-timer that also got him off the schnied for the season.
While I was happy to watch the rest of the game on replay in the morning, I knew scratching out a low-scoring win against a bad team wasn’t going to go a long way toward solving our problems. Especially with much better opposition coming up in the Kings last night, even if they were missing stud defenseman Drew Doughty for a sixth straight game with a concussion. I was not watching this game for the most part, since I was at a Halloween party last night though it was on in the other room for long stretches during every period. Clearly all you have to do is look at the shot total to know it was another disappointing night for our $40 million offense, Johnathan Quick or no Johnathan Quick. At this point there’s really no excuse for our continued 1-2 goal output every game - which includes a power play every bit as bad as the one that ended the season last year, if not worse. With supposed power play guru Adam Oates behind the bench, this wasn’t supposed to happen.
Then again you could say the same thing about all of our supposed offensive stars and their performance this season. While it’s early, LA is getting the last laugh on Ilya Kovalchuk aren’t they? Feeling spurned by Kovalchuk's dalliance with the Kings before signing his $100 million deal with the Devil(s), the Staples Center crowd gave him the kind of over-the-top boos you never hear from LA fans. It sounded like our boos for Sean Avery and Scott Gomez, although it's a bit unprecedented to hear that level of booing for a guy who never played there or was any particular rival of your team beforehand.
Since Zach’s UFA crisis is still two years away though, a more pressing concern is his current injury – which has already forced him back to New Jersey and the team ruled him out of Monday’s game in Vancouver, which might be another of the butt-whippings we’re getting accustomed to. Of course the ultimate concern right now is the overall state of the team, which is now 3-8-1 with two tough road games left (our second being in Chicago Wednesday) followed by tough home tilts against the Rangers and Sabres. If anyone thinks we’re scoring at all against Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist or Ryan Miller you’re looking at our forwards’ salaries and not current performance, or our injury list.
For at least a decade we were spoiled as Devil fans, not just with winning but with a team that never seemed to suffer key injuries. Maybe losing Bill Murray as trainer put more of a dent in our medical team than we thought, since we’ve had a myriad of injuries the last three seasons now. This year alone, we’ve had five defensemen on the shelf already including key free agent signing Anton Volchenkov for most of the season, contributing to our daily lineup of three rookies (two of whom really shouldn’t be up here including recent call-up Tyler Eckford). Volchenkov may be back Wednesday, but given the Devils’ penchant for medical mysteries we’ll see. Up front we’re currently without Brian Rolston and Jacob Josefson, with the potential absence of Parise looming as yet another storm cloud on the horizon. Things are so bad I may actually start to count down the days until Rolston’s return.
Then again maybe this just isn’t going to break our way no matter who eventually returns. This season incredibly already feels like the Mets from two years ago after a mere eleven games, with our combined underachieving (to a historic degree) and insane MASH injury list. Unlike the Mets we can’t blame the underachieving on the dimensions of a new rink either. It might not matter if Parise’s out four games or forty games at this point, with how dire our situation is even four games could be too much to overcome.
Assuming losses in all of them, (and why shouldn’t I given our level of performance and the opposition?) we’d drop to 3-12-1, and in that case you’re talking about a team almost ten games under .500. Considering the playoff cutoff in this new NHL is usually 92 points we’d have to go realistically from nine under to ten over. This team’s gonna play nineteen games over in its last 66 games when we have the worst record and goal differential in the league now? Extremely unlikely. People bring up the ’05-06 season where we were borderline to even make the playoffs as late as March as proof a run can still be made but my response to that is we were never worse than two games under that year, had a big winning streak in January and were still on the cutoff line with about a dozen games to go. How much harder is it going to be to dig out of a hole as big as we’re digging now?
The only other time since this run began that I had fear of a long, cold winter was two seasons ago when we started November 1-5 after Martin Brodeur’s four-month injury but even that Devils team had far more talent and desire than this year’s version, whether Brodeur or feel-good story Scott Clemmensen was playing. While effort hasn’t been a problem for this year’s team in the last couple of games it’s sad that it even has to be brought up as a positive. Plus there are plenty of veteran guys who have won Cups on this team that are going to be even more disinterested in the second half if this becomes the type of en masse rebuilding year it’s starting to look like (a la the Flyers of a few seasons back). Too bad we don’t have a second or third-round pick in a year it actually looks like we’re going to draft high.
What chaps my hyde the most if it does turn out to finally be the season where everything blows up for the Devils is it provides proof positive to all the negative nellies who feared signing Kovalchuk would be the worst thing this franchise could ever do. It doesn’t help that Kovy himself is underachieving thus far in his Devils tenure. I don’t think he’s a diva as some do, but being late to team meetings doesn’t exactly help you win the players’ player award. Is Kovy’s presence also a reason for Parise’s struggles this season? Zach’s been normally pretty consistent with 30+ goals in each of the last four years, including 83 in the last two but he was even off to a terrible start with three goals in eleven games (one that came several minutes into the season and another was a stat-padder late in a blowout loss to the Sabres).
I guess all that’s left to do is wait and hope everything turns around and fast…guys start getting off the IR, performing up to their contracts and stop worrying about the cap, who’s getting paid what and who the marketing campaign is centered around. Actually having a decent power play would help, too – since our struggles last year really began when our power play went to crap in the second half of the season and neither our losing or the historically bad power play has abated since then. Even if we turn it around though, will an older team have to gas itself just to make the playoffs?
At this point I can’t believe I’m channeling Met owner Fred Wilpon, but I just want meaningful games in March (as opposed to Wilpon wanting meaningful games in September). Otherwise it will definitely be a long, cold winter at the Rock. Well, maybe not for our new co-tenants the Nets who already have two wins there…two more than us this season. For the coup de grace just as I was finishing typing this article I read an article on TSN with a report that the Devils fear Parise could have a 'serious knee injury'.