If you'd asked me before this stretch whether I'd have taken a 3-3 record playing the Caps in a home-and-home followed by four road games against Boston, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Florida I would have signed up for that absolutely. That said, these last few games have seen some troubling signs for the Devils. Even before blowing a 3-0 lead tonight in Florida and losing in regulation 4-3, you could see this coming for about a week. After all, the Devils gave up three third-period goals in Boston, including one in the last three minutes, getting no points out of a game they otherwise played well. In Tampa, the Devils came perilously close to blowing a 3-0 lead that game before Dwayne Roloson's late puck blunder finally gave the team breathing room late. And even a game where the Devils won somewhat comfortably in Buffalo, they leaked away a couple of unneccesary goals late and made the final few minutes more anxious than they needed to be.
Of course, none of that compared to tonight's disaster. This is one where I'm glad I wasn't watching the whole game, in fact I was out and didn't have my phone on me so I didn't know what was happening the first 50 minutes. When I saw the early third period score of 3-2 Devils, I was like great. It was only later that I realized we'd actually been up 3-0 after blitzing the Panthers in the first period before giving up the two to make it a nail-biter. Of course I cringed when the Devils surrendered a 4-on-3 shorthanded goal (yet another power play of doom) by Stephen Weiss. And after giving up yet another late goal in the final three minutes to lose the chance to even get one point, I was ticked. I would have been better off just seeing the score and not knowing what happened. Of course I couldn't have stayed away from the 'how' forever.
Adding to the bad news, the Devils lost Anton Volchenkov early in the game to an upper body injury and had to play with five defensemen for most of the contest. At times in the third period, they were playing with four given our continuing parade to the penalty box. Henrik Tallinder and Bryce Salvador both took delay-of-game penalties, with Salvador's proving the killer as Tomas Fleischmann scored the winner. Florida's top line of Fleischmann-Weiss and Kris Versteeg abused the Devils all night, which is a bad sign going forward. If you can't shut down a one-line team, how are you going to stop good offenses? As good as Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg have been, even they can't survive long behind defensive 'efforts' like this.
I use the word effort loosely, as even coach Pete DeBoer admitted after the game the team stopped playing after the first period. It was a game that the coach definitely wanted to win in his 'homecoming' after being fired by the Panthers last year. Instead, it was the new-look Panthers who walked out with the two points and a win that signaled they would be a pain in the neck all season. If you assume that the Penguins, Flyers, Sabres, Bruins and Capitals make the playoffs, that only leaves three spots for the other ten teams in the conference. Florida's showing they want to be one of those teams, perhaps pulling a surprise season out of their hat the way their in-state rivals Tampa did last year. Certainly the Rangers have gotten off to a good start as well. It's going to be nip and tuck just to get in and the Devils won't get in with more fiascoes like tonight or the third period in Boston.
Oh and one more thing...a message to the captain. Now it's time to stop sulking and pick it up. I was perfectly willing to write off Zach Parise's start to the fact he only played one game in eleven months - until I saw Sidney Crosby's line of two goals and two assists tonight (memo also to Alex Ovechkin, who's been stinking it up for my fantasy team the last two years: that's a real superstar). While Crosby lit it up in the first game, the captain's going backwards with a -2 and two shots on net tonight, and a -1 and one shot on net two nights ago. If you're sulking about Ilya Kovalchuk getting the big money and you not, or mentor Jamie Langenbrunner leaving under bad circumstances then maybe we shouldn't be giving you the big money after this year. With each passing game, I'm buying the Parise's gone hype more and more and it looks like he's counting down the days too. When David Clarkson looks 100% better than you as a hockey player, that's bad.