Saturday, November 6, 2010

Brothers in suffering



After Friday’s disheartening 3-0 loss to the Rangers I was going to write another piece on how unbelievable the injury tally was getting with Martin Brodeur and Colin White both missing that contest, and complain for the hundredth time this season about our lack of offense – particularly the $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk, who was in lala land on the third goal and pretty much the entire evening. Not to mention David Clarkson yet again getting stupid against the Rangers (memo to Devils’ management: Prozac might not be a bad thing here). Even before the game began I was annoyed that Brodeur was going to miss this all-important tilt after being assured from both he and GM Lou Lamoriello that Brodeur would definitely play Friday.

It’s all starting to reach a point of saturation for me though, there’s only so much complaining and banging your head against a wall you can do. All I want at this point is the team to keep giving effort no matter how big the hole gets (channeling former Jets coach Herm Edwards and his famous ‘you play to win the game’ speech), our health to improve and Brodeur to be behind the pipes Wednesday. Sure, you couldn’t fault Johan Hedberg on any goal Friday but if Brodeur does miss Wednesday’s game against Buffalo a week after getting a ‘bruised’ elbow, then it seems like proof we’re either hiding something – or worse, our doctors are missing something in the diagnosis, which wouldn’t be a first over the last few seasons.

Still, it’s not like we’re the only team that’s struggling…you only need to look toward Western New York to find a fanbase that, if anything might be more disappointed in its team’s recent start than we are, if only because the Sabres have more die-hard fans than we do plus they don’t have our history of winning the ultimate prize three times. Thinking of our teams’ upcoming matchup four days away – which seems like a month when you’re struggling – I’m half hoping Henrik Tallinder goes into the wrong locker room Wednesday (since he came from the Sabres) and stays there. For me, Tallinder’s basically become what Patrick Lalime is for our Sabre blogger, you expect bad things to happen when they’re on the ice and are seldom proven wrong. Maybe the affable but ineffective former Sabre defenseman wasn’t wrong when he said his main assets were ‘height and reach’.

Then thinking about how both our teams are cousins in a way with our close proximity, being competitive but not bad-blooded rivals plus the Tallinder-Lalime comparison with me and Brian it hit me…the Devils and Sabres actually do have a lot in common on the whole. First of all, as fanbases we share a collective disdain of the Rangers, Flyers and Maple Leafs – particularly the latter two in Sanborn’s case. We both have beloved announcers with the ultimate professional Doc Emrick behind our mike and the always entertaining Rick Jeanneret for the Sabres. And on the ice, both our teams’ fortunes have taken a collective nosedive since that weird ending to the regular season last year at the Prudential Center where Jamie Langenbrunner's empty-net winner gave us the second seed and neither team the playoff matchup it wanted. Of course, things played out the way we both feared it might as the Devils got pounded by the Flyers in five and the Sabres were shut down by the Bruins in six.

Our teams’ disappointing play last April has carried onto this season where neither team’s off to the start it wanted, in fact two division winners last season are both in the basement this season. Both our Vezina-winning goalies have missed time recently and both teams have players who shined for Team USA last February that have had disappointing starts to their seasons so far with Ryan Miller not playing as well as he did last year when he could have been the Hart Trophy winner. For us, captain Langenbrunner’s overall play has bottomed out since the Olympics and Zach Parise is of course on the shelf for three months after a slow start to this season and bad playoffs last year. And we both have big-money dissapointments as well – Kovalchuk for us and Thomas Vanek for the Sabres, who has had some good years but never quite lived up to the big offer sheet from the Oilers that Buffalo felt compelled to match after losing Chris Drury and Daniel Briere in the same offseason.

Can either team turn it around? I’m already on record in pronouncing us dead, but doctors’ diagnoses can be wrong, so can mine. That said, if we’re six feet under already then the Sabres are on life support. Clearly both teams have the talent to turn it around, actually part of the reason our starts have been so shocking is that much more was expected from both us and Buffalo. In a normal season, we’re fighting for first place and the Sabres are competitive, usually at least on the borderline of a playoff spot even in a bad year. Neither is the case this season, far from it (in fact, both the Devils and Sabres are the ony two teams in the league without a home win) and it’s certainly been a struggle to deal with on my end.

It’s not that I thought the Devils would never bottom out, I just didn’t expect it to happen this year. Plus when you’re a season ticket holder, it’s a little different going through a bad season than ‘just’ watching the games on TV when you can. You can always turn the TV off and with the Mets I basically turned them off period after July. Baseball is the worst sport for meaningless games though, even when you’re in the playoff race the motivation really isn’t there for me to watch every inning of 162 games but when you’re playing out the schedule it really gets boring, especially considering the sport.

Baseball is far worse boring than hockey or football (especially since the NHL season’s ‘only’ 82 games and the NFL is a mere 16). In fact, hockey’s probably the best sport to watch period when you’re watching one or two bad teams play out the string but I don’t have much personal experience in this. I can maybe count the number of meaningless games I’ve seen on one hand since becoming a Devils fan – most of them involved the final home game of the season when we’re already locked into a seed.

Granted I’m probably going to cut down on my games attended and watched a little later in the season if this keeps up, but even in a worst-case scenario I’ll probably wind up going to around 20 games (so far I’m at four), whereas in a normal year since becoming a sth at the Rock I’ll go to 27-28 in the regular season plus playoffs. In comparison I went to about three Met games each year for the last two seasons. And my blogs might become more a once-a-week type thing later on…but I’m not in the mood to concede either point yet. In early November with sixty-seven games left is too much time to start getting apathetic about the season.

If you’re looking for some inspirational message at the close of this blog, I got nothing. Except that it’s November and we both gotta keep plugging away. Buffalo as a team never seems to give up on Lindy Ruff and hopefully our team doesn’t give up on Johnny MacLean. Eventually you have to figure talent will start to show and one or both of us will get back into it, especially with mediocrity being more and more the norm in this post-lockout NHL.

Hopefully we start our turnaround Wednesday and they start theirs Thursday at the Garden. Although it’d be nice to see them beat the Leafs tonight as well.

2 comments:

Derek Felix said...

Great title. It's funny you wrote about both teams cause I was thinking last night how similar they are right now. Almost eerie. If you're looking for any advice on dealing with a potential bad season, I've been to plenty of games that meant little over the years. All this time later, I still don't know how I tolerated it. Except that there was always gallows humor in our section which continues because the team has only won 2 rounds under Slats. And he keeps his job.

Hasan said...

Well at least you have a sold-out arena or close to it - ergo, people to commiserate with. Other than the season ticket holders in the first few rows of 208 I'll probably be surrounded by crickets soon enough, especially since we're papering (giving away) tickets already. In November!

That'll probably be the subject of my next blog but for now suffice it to say the Devils aren't doing themselves any favors by devaluing their season tickets - which are already overpriced in several sections given the lack of demand for them on a night-in, night-out basis.

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