Fortunately, I missed the last two Devils games on Tuesday and Thursday for the most part, other than being able to tune on the radio for parts of the Avs game Thursday. I say fortunately because the Devils didn't score a goal in either game, though a shutout by Martin Brodeur and another skills competition success enabled them to escape Thursday's game with the two points at least and keep up their place in the standings - if not their strong play of the previous week.
Today there was nowhere for me to hide though, as part of a sellout crowd on hand to witness Retro Night, or afternoon as it were with a 1 PM start. As in the past two years, the Devils wore their retro red and green jerseys on St. Patty's Day. Just like last year, old PA announcer Bob Arsena was on hand to announce the starting lineups, goals and penalties. And unlike last year, where there were no goals against the Caps - this time we actually scored a couple, giving us the nice suprise of this year's game...hearing the CAA goal horn again. After hearing rumors that the NJSEA held the rights to the goal horn and wouldn't let us use it, this was certainly unexpected.
However, those were about the only positive developments from tonight's game, which was an utter disaster even more than the 5-2 score would suggest. Yes, the Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL right now and look like a machine that's striking fear into the NHL the way the old Soviet teams loomed over international hockey in the '70's and '80's. Still, that's no excuse for being outshot 44-14 and basically showing up for five minutes of the game. The 5-2 scoreline made the game seem twice as close as it was. For giving up five goals, Brodeur actually had an outstanding game for the most part, making several spectacular saves including a Chris Kunitz penalty shot in the first couple of minutes.
In a sign of things to come however, the stop on Kunitz was followed immediately by a one-timer goal from James Neal off the ensuing faceoff. Apparently there's some clause in the CBA that doesn't require the Devils to show up for afternoon games, since they've stunk the joint out on more than one matinee this year and were outshot by a whopping 14-2 to start this game. Even Andy Greene's goal late in the first period that somehow got us tied at the end of twenty minutes did little to stem the tide that was coming.
Brodeur gave up his one bad goal of the game off a rocket from Pascal Dupuis from the boards midway through the second. Yes, that broke the game open but Brodeur had been the only thing keeping the dam from bursting in the first place. It was just a matter of time before the Pens broke through - one way or another. Within the span of two and a half minutes, it was 4-1. First, Matt Cooke's skate directed a pass past Brodeur and the goal call on the ice stood after review. Then on a power play, Evgeni Malkin got his fortieth of the season on a tap-in in front. Right then, it was already too late.
Our only legitimately good run of the game came in the first five minutes of the third, as the Devils briefly restored hope when Petr Sykora scored off a rebound to cut the deficit to 4-2. However, rookie Adam Larsson got beat like a drum - again - and Cooke cashed in his second of the game, sealing the deal at 5:56 of the third. Our dirty little secret is that right now Matt Taormina is a better defenseman than Larsson, whose play has regressed since getting whomped by P.K.Subban. However, sending Larsson down to the AHL at this point isn't possible, and healthy scratching him (apart from giving him a day or two off, which I would support) when the playoffs are all but assured anyway would be a bit counterproductive - now. I hope coach Pete DeBoer does what's right by the team if Larsson's still struggling in the playoffs.
Misconduct penalties by Eric Boulton, David Clarkson and Steve Bernier only served to crystalize the Devils' frustration. Even though the last ten games of the season are only going to be about seeding, since even home-ice in the first round is a longshot at this point, it would be nice if the team remembered how to score goals before the playoffs started. Not to mention getting their power play going again, after it had seemingly got on track with the acquisition of Marek Zidlicky, they've regressed back to early-season form of too much passing and not enough shooting in recent games.