When I left for Newark just after four to partake in some pregame festivities (meeting up with friends, getting a mystery puck and seeing the pregame skate) I never could have imagined I'd be sitting here seven hours later with so much to type up in what won't be a recap as much as it will a rant, and a timeline of this bizarre day which saw the Devils lose to the Sabres at 6-1 to stay winless for October at home, turning $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk into a healthy scratch due to a 'coach's decision' and Kovalchuk buddy Johan Hedberg into Devils' fans version of Luis Castillo after less than half a hockey game.
My first clue that something rotten was in the air came at about 6:45 when I was told by one of my friends that Kovalchuk was a scratch and Alexander Vasuynov was brought up to take his place. I was like, geez we kept that secret pretty well and figured this was some minor injury that the Devils didn't want disclosed. I didn't find out the truth till much later...but the funny part was I actually watched several minutes the pregame skate and didn't notice Vasuynov there or Kovalchuk missing. I mean geez, I don't actually think to take a roll call of who's on the ice, except maybe for who the starting goaltenders are. Plus with all our new players it's still hard to adjust to the guys we already have on our roster - like Matt Taormina wearing #20 or even Tim Sestito wearing #14.
Maybe I should have thought I was in for it when I was one of the last people to buy a mystery puck and wound up with the aformentioned Sestito. I can't complain though, all the proceeds from the mystery pucks (either $20 or $25) go to breast cancer research anyway so at worst it's a charity giveaway. And last year I did wind up with Patrik Elias as one of my other mystery pucks - though I already have his signature on a jersey anyway. Regardless, I was still looking forward to the game and thought geez, what if we win this game without Kovy - then all the people who were complaining he was bad for the team would have more ammo.
Well, soon after the game started I stopped worrying about that...around the time I saw the first bad goal go in off of Hedberg when Drew Stafford floated one in from just inside the point at 6:57 on the Sabres' first shot of the game. Combined with Hedberg's bad preseason and hideous relief appearance against the Caps I wasn't in the mood to see that. Especially considering he was supposed to be able to play 15 or so games to give Martin Brodeur some relief at last this season. Pretty much Hedberg could do nothing right after that, allowing goals in rapid succession to Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis and finally Patrick Kaleta for the coup de grace 8:17 into the second period.
How bad was the crowd? Early in the second period I noted that the Bronx cheers when Hedberg finally made a save were the loudest the crowd got all night. That is, until the boos which followed Hedberg's fourth goal followed by the standing ovation when MacLean finally pulled the veteran and threw Brodeur in the mix on what was supposed to be his day off. While I'm sure Hedberg's been pulled a number of times before, it's doubtful it was ever his first game for a new team, not to mention in front of an angry crowd just over 14,000 (which included a fair number of giveaway tickets) that wasn't in the mood for him to stink when the whole team's been bad for much of this season.
Following Brodeur's entrance into a game we were trailing 4-0, a funny thing happened...the crowd actually got into the game big-time. To the point where you would have seriously thought we were 1-1 in the third period of a playoff game. I personally don't get it, you would like to see more of this from the fans when it actually mattered. I mean come on, we were not coming from four goals down against Ryan Miller of all people, and Brodeur was not going to shut down the suddenly hot Sabres coming in cold. It's the oddest crowd metamorphisis I've ever seen and it came during a second period where we got outshot 14-4, with Thomas Vanek scoring on a power play late in the period to finally send people heading for the exits at 5-0 including me.
Not that I normally would bother leaving early but considering the difference in train time (I could get out of Newark 9:30 by leaving early in the third period as opposed to 10:30 if I stayed the whole game) I quickly determined it wasn't worth it to waste an hour watching a car wreck when the passenger was already dead. As I was walking back to the Broad Street train station though, it was then I received the shocking news via a text from my friend Scott - better known as CRASHER on the NJDevs message board - that Kovy was in fact, a healthy scratch with Lou Lamoriello not commenting. My response at the time was simply...'ruh roh'.
Now, I'm all for a coach scratching stars to send a message to prove anyone isn't above the team and Kovy wasn't particualrly effective in Thursday's shutout win over the Canadiens, to put it mildly. Still, a part of the scratch left a bad taste with me - cause it seems like Kovy was punished for trying too hard and not listening while other players (I'm looking at you Jamie Langenbrunner, and you David Clarkson for starters) get to skate by on the rails for not trying hard enough and not listening. If Kovy is a healthy scratch, fine...at least fifteen other people better be healthy scratches after this disgrace of a performance tonight.
If you've read my blogs for any period of time you know my issues with Jamie, and I won't rehash them here except to say that with each pointless game - pun intended - I'm just that more certain that Lou made the wrong decision giving him a second chance after he quit on the team last year. With Clarkson I personally think his problem is that he signed a big contract and now thinks he has to be a 30-goal scorer to justify it instead of doing what got him to the NHL in the first place...playing with grit and starting fights when the team needs a momentum shift. And they're not the only ones that have struggled for a long time. As much as I love Elias, I'm not entirely sure he's alive right now.
One of the few people I actually would not want to punish after tonight is Rod Pelley, who took a puck to the face in the first period, broke his nose but still came back to play in a hopeless cause during the third period. That I didn't find out until I managed to catch the tail end of the postgame on the radio, since I didn't see a minute of the third period. If we had twenty like him, hell if we had ten we'd be a lot better off. I'm seriously getting to the point where I'd rather watch a talentless team of gritty players (better known as the New York Islanders) than this talent-laden disgrace.
About the only good thing you can say about tonight's fiasco is that we are already at DEFCOM 1 in record time...if certain high-priced players don't respond soon, it will at last be their heads that roll and not the head coach's. Aside from the fact that even being at DEFCOM 1 eight games into the season is frightening in itself, you have to think Hedberg's not going to play a game at the Rock the rest of the season. Which means we're once again in for Brodeur playing 77 games and wearing out come April, even if this sorry excuse of a team manages to straighten itself out.
To think, the Jets are the mature, steady team for me right now and my sports salvation with the Devils being a mess. Usually it's the other way around, I'm not sure how I can handle this bizarro world. All I know is it couldn't be better timing for the Devils to get out of dodge for this six-game road trip that can either make or break their season.