If there were any believers out there that the Devils could still turn things around, the last three games should have proved otherwise beyond any doubt. Successive 3-1, 7-1 and 5-1 losses at home to Nashville and on the road against Atlanta and Washington drummed home to the point to everyone that this is a lost season. Certainly the team's played like it is now a lost season the last couple of games. Thankfully I saw none of tonight's loss in Washington as I was out to the movies. And Saturday's game in Atlanta I shut off after the first period, though I did tune back for a few minutes too many in the third period.
Only one of those games really annoyed me though...I thought we gave effort against the Preds even though we only managed to get nine shots on goal in the first forty five minutes of the game. Our accuracy was particularly bad that night and we were facing a good defense. No shame there. However it seemed like that game was finally the tipping point for vets that have known nothing but chasing division titles who are now staring down a long, black abyss.
Specifically two things annoyed me in Atlanta, the first was starting Martin Brodeur over ex-Thrasher Johan Hedberg. Is it really neccesary anymore to play a 38-year old Marty in the second end of a back-to-back on the road? When we're more than double digits under .500 and hopelessly out of it and Brodeur's just coming off a major injury?! Typical of this organization, even now we're letting Marty dictate playing time. Just give Hedberg an opportunity to shine where he played a few years for crying out loud. Our esteemed head coach gave Mike McKenna, a career AHL goalie more respect than he has Hedberg all season...case in point Hedberg being pulled after less than two minutes against Montreal.
Of course by the time he did get in it was 4-0 and the horse was out of the barn. Even Chico Resch was saying that Hedberg should see the ice at the beginning of the second period, when we'd given up three in the first but Johnny MacLean stubbornly left Brodeur in until the fourth goal went by. Granted, Hedberg was no better when he got in but really, what's the difference? Either way the offense stinks and the defense isn't much better regardless, so why run a 38-year old into the ground?
As a team, the Devils hit rock bottom in Atlanta - not only by losing 7-1 but also for the coup de grace, giving up a hat trick to Eric Boulton (yes, really), the career enforcer who'd never so much as had a multi-goal game. At that point I was mad at myself for turning it back on late in the third period, just to get a head start on the postgame. I tuned it on right in time to see Boulton's third off a misplay from Hedberg behind the net. If that isn't rock bottom, I'd hate to see what is...losing 10-0 to the Rangers? Actually falling into last place below the ECHL-quality Islanders?!
I never would have thought the latter possible but it just may happen now. When you have a veteran team who's known nothing but success (in the regular season at least) that is in a hopeless situation, that's the worst kind of season you have to endure as an organization. At least if you have young kids you've got hope and they're learning how to play at the NHL level. The only neophyte we have with any promise - Mattais Tedenby - has basically been given the shaft by MacLean. Heaven forbid he actually score some goals and create some excitement.
Our other rookies, including defensemen Matt Corrente and Mark Fayne just flat can't play at this level. Early-season revelation Matt Taormina has all but dissapeared after having a setback from a high-ankle sprain suffered more than a month ago. Same for teen center Jacob Josefson, who hasn't been cleared to practice yet after his wrist injury was supposedly a 6-8 week prognosis. He's been out for two months now.
At least we will find out whether MacLean can truly coach at this level, cause even if he manages to coach another fifteen years after this odds are he'll never have the kind of challenge he's facing now - to get a veteran team to play for pride when all is lost, and to develop the youngsters (supposedly his trademark last year) when they do come back into the lineup. Though I wanted him fired earlier in the year and still don't like what I've seen from him, really it wouldn't have been fair to can him after 20-30 games. Even in professional sports nobody gets just 20-30 games. I know Barry Melrose got 16 for the Lightning a few years ago, but that was a dysfunctional organization and he was already a known quantity as a coach with prior NHL experience anyway.
And who knows, maybe down the road once this team's shaken off the depression over missing the playoffs they'll play for some pride down the stretch. Surely, not all of them will be here - maybe a couple or more will move on just before the trade deadline and maybe it'll be a full youth movement by the end of the season. That would at least add energy to a lifeless team, though it doesn't help matters when MacLean continues to do nutty things like putting career AHL'er Tim Sestito on a line with Kovy and Tedenby. Can we just once have a coach that doesn't pick his lines out of a hat?!
One thing I want to make clear though, I'm not for an outright tank...I don't think your players learn anything by constantly losing (at least some of them have to be here next year, no matter what) and no draft pick is a sure thing anyway. And I'm just flat tired of losing, it's now been a full calendar year of it. With four games coming up that I have to attend I shudder to think of what the crowd will be like for those games - especially with one of them being a Ranger game and at least another being a near-sellout around the holiday weekend.
Oh well, at least my football Jets have meaningful games in December and hopefully beyond. And there's still plenty to watch hockey-wise for entertainment, specifically HBO's 24-7 series on the Penguins and Caps leading to the Winter Classic. I'll probably have thoughts on that at a later date though.