Sunday, February 12, 2012

Devils' winning streak finally ends as scoring dries up

Amazingly, the Devils have only been shut out once this season - on Opening Night against the Flyers. I say amazingly because despite the team's improved offense and slowly improving power play they still go through stretches (like the three games before the All-Star break) where the offense looks like it's lost in a dark forest without a clue on how to get out. After a fortunate 1-0 win over the Rangers where I missed the entirety of the third period where we were outshot 15-1 and still hung on, the Devils did get Jaroslav Halak chased on Thursday with a couple of early goals.

Then the offense dried up again. I was out Thursday with my friends having my seats for this game and almost totally forgot about the contest until I saw the Facebook updates after I got home lol. Fortunately we were still up 3-2 despite Facebook not updating when we get scored on, but that's another story. In the inverse of Tuesday, this time I got home in time to watch the third period - not quite in time to see Kurtis Foster's five-minute major that was apparently a hosejob, and he didn't even get fined for the play! That tells you someone screwed up.

And yes, everyone including Patrik Berglund himself thought his stick was high on the tying goal late, but it's a tough call to overturn unfortunately. We were the benficiaries of that late last season when Evander Kane scored an apparent tying goal, but it was ruled out because of a high stick near the faceoff dots. Despite this one being much closer to the goal and Berglund's stick being high enough to 'make our 6'4 defenseman (Mark Fayne) duck', there still wasn't going to be enough video evidence to overturn the good goal call on the ice.

So, instead of a 3-2 win the Devils went into overtime and eventually their 12th shootout of the season. At this point it seems like we've been in too many shootouts for our own good as teams seem to be catching on to what our shooters and goalies like to do. For the first time all season it seemed, Ilya Kovalchuk got stopped by Brian Elliott and Johan Hedberg let through a crappy goal off his pads. In a disturbing trend, one-time shootout ace Zach Parise missed again to end the game, and hasn't been the same in the skills competition since missing that late penalty shot against the Habs - failing to convert on every single shootout attempt.

After Thursday's loss, the Devils still had a streak with points in every game since January 21, but that ended Saturday as they suffered a regulation loss to the Panthers, and split the season series against a team many Devils fans have dismissed as being 'inferior' and a 'one-line team'. Maybe they can be a one-line offense at times (with actual offensive firepower from the blueline to help, something we can only dream of), but not a one-line team as they proved again Saturday.

First of all, any Devil fan that thinks we're going to the playoffs for certain now just because we're five points up in early February is delusional. This league is too closely bunched together, one bad week and you're back on the bubble - as what happened to us right before the All-Star break. Not to mention this Devil team, despite its terrific start to the post-All Star portion of their schedule, is still a team with its problems. Inconsistent offense, a defense prone to giving up the big mistake and goaltending that's been spotty equal a playoff bubble team.

Yet, so many Devil fans treated the Panthers like an afterthought before, during and after the game it's mind-boggling. No, they're not Boston or even the Rangers but let's be honest, the Panthers' record would be as good as ours if they had better luck after the first sixteen minutes (with a whopping eleven OT/SO losses, to be precise). And the Panthers, once they got the lead against us early in the second put an absolute clinic on how to protect a lead. One in which I hope the Devils were taking notes. People can say the Devils were flat all they want, the Panthers knew what they were doing out there too. Every pass we missed by a hair they were right on it for the turnover.

Yes they did gum up the works by slowing down the game (as Scott Clemmensen admitted to doing) and stacking four guys up at the blueline, making it hard not only to enter the zone but get the puck once you dump it in...but isn't that what you're supposed to do with the lead against a team that has the firepower of the Devils? After some of our hideous performances with a lead this season - including nearly blowing a six-goal lead in Philly - it was almost refreshing in an odd way to see a team that knew what to do up a goal. They weren't sitting back either, sitting back is getting outshot 24-1, or 15-1 in the third period. That wasn't the case yesterday, and the Devils lost their only real chance to tie the game when they failed to convert on their lone power play opportunity late in the third.

So now the Devils' giant home stretch concludes unconclusively. People can point to the 5-1-1 since the break, but what about the 1-2-1 before the break (with three straight losses at home)? Even the overall 6-3-2, you can't complain about it, but you'd still like to see better than 4-3-2 at home. And you definitely want to see the Devils keep the wins coming the rest of the month before Hell March and seventeen games in thirty-one days against tough opposition.

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