Saturday, December 24, 2011

Devils' roller-coaster ride continues into the holiday

Even when I'm not spending my days coughing up a lung as I have been this week, I've never been fond of roller coasters. Just don't have the stomach for them, never have and never will. Even a small, kiddie roller coaster and a big pirate ship rocking back and forth scares me to death. When I see my friends ride the twister at Coney Island and the ridiculous rides at Great Adventure I wonder how the heck they do it.

Perhaps that's why games like last night drive me up a wall, when the Devils were in complete command after two periods against a struggling Caps team, then melted down in the third...blowing a 3-0 lead before eventually falling back on their one saving grace - the shootout - to finally win a game that should have been a coast job. Before last season's tale of two halves, most Devil regular seasons over the last fifteen years have been smooth ferry rides to the playoffs with few choppy waters. This year has been a whole new animal though. Not only don't you know what you're getting game to game, you don't know what you're getting period to period with this team. Which leads to the ultimate emotional roller-coaster.

Of course my present condition isn't helping my mood much, although I was happy with what I saw the first two periods last night. Unlike most of our recent matchups with them (and goalie Michael Neuvirth, unbeaten in five starts against us before last night), we took it to the Caps early and often. Early on though it did look like Neuvirth was doing his best Henrik Lundqvist impression, stoning us on several terrific chances. It took us until early in the second period to finally break through when an Ilya Kovalchuk slapper cracked the forcefield on the opposition net - on a power play, to boot! Minutes later, Kovy factored into another goal, feeding rookie defenseman Alex Urbom with a sweet pass, and Urbom deked out Neuvirth to double the Devils' lead.

Things were going so well last night, even Chico Resch was adroitly ad-libbing out of his mistakes. After Urbom's goal, he said 'There's nothing like scoring your first NHL goal....pregnant pause upon realizing or being told that it was actually Urbom's second....except following that up with a beauty for your second NHL goal!' When Adam Henrique tipped home a Matt Taormina shot to make it 3-0 midway through the second, I'll admit it, I thought the game was on ice. I've seen enough Devil games this year that I should have known it wasn't the case but it wasn't so much that I had confidence in the Devils. Instead, it was seeing the Caps pack in the tents time and again when they get behind big - like Game 7 against the Pens or any number of games against the Rangers the last few years where they went down 5-0, 6-0, 7-0.

Maybe I should have known we were in for it when Deb Placey made a comment during the second intermission about Martin Brodeur working on a shutout. Considering Marty has only had one game where he's even allowed one goal this year, and our late-game defensive woes, it's a little premature to start counting down to the shutout. Sure enough, the Caps got the memo about how we wet our pants in the third period of games and started coming. After a narrow miss seconds earlier, the Caps executed a beautiful tic-tac-toe play with Brooks Laich getting open in the crease and slipping one past Brodeur to get the Caps back in the game.

Although the Caps dominated the third, outshooting the Devils 9-4, we still had our chances to put it away. After narrowly escaping serious injury when a shot deflected to his chin earlier in the game, Anton Volchenkov nearly scored his first goal as a Devil (in his second season!) when he ripped one that just clanked off the post. When Jason Chimera - who also beat us with a crucial goal in the teams' last matchup here - outmuscled Brodeur to stuff in the Caps' second goal at 12:48, you could just feel the balloon deflating. With time ticking down, the Caps executed a blind backdoor play, and it was Chimera - again (when the hell did this guy become a Devil killer?!) - that tied the game with just 1:42 left. I was so disgusted I was half hoping they'd lose in regulation at that point. The last time that happened though, it took the team a while to recover from a 3-0 meltdown in Florida.

It was all the Devils could do to hang on for the seemingly inevitable shootout. If we've been consistent in one thing this year (besides our inconsistency), it's been the skills competition. And again, they came through with Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias getting the goals, while Brodeur made a highlight-reel stop on Alexander Ovechkin to thwart the Caps. While you can look at the Devils' record of 19-14-1 and say good job, the fact is they're 8-1 in the shootout, which means only eleven non-shootout wins (ten in regulation). What you hope for if you're a Devils fan is that these shootout wins are giving them a stay of execution until the defense gets healthy, then hopefully team straightens out its play late in games.

For now I guess I'll just be thankful it's not a disaster on par of last year, though I'm not kidding myself thinking things are all hunky-dory right now.

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