Monday, March 26, 2012

Devils' spring hibernation continues

I admit, I've been as guilty as anyone thinking the playoffs were a given for the Devils since their 9-1-1 record after the All-Star break distanced themselves from the bubble. And since the Devils beat the Caps a few weeks back they have done just enough to keep the bubble teams at bay. Problem is, you're not going to win a lot of games at this time of year with flat performances the way we did against Colorado and Ottawa last week when the other team was tired and our goalie played well. As Sherry Ross said on the radio in the pregame, the Devils are in a bit of a rut since they seem locked into the sixth seed.

Problem now is, the bubble teams (Washington and Buffalo) never seem to lose anymore and for the last two weeks the Devils have been sloppy and uninspired. As a result, the Devils are now just six points up on each with six games to go after yet another loss to the Penguins last night where they again looked least in the parts of the game I was paying attention to. Ottawa's within four points after - surprise, surprise - they actually beat the Penguins on Saturday. What a novel concept, a playoff team beating another playoff team. Maybe we should try it sometime before the postseason begins.

Yes, the Devils did manage three wins against the Pens earlier in the season but that was without Sidney Crosby, and even in a couple of those games we gave up 40 shots, but Martin Brodeur played well. Last night he wasn't as fantastic, giving up a clunky opening goal. Funny how these bad bounces only seem to happen to Marty now and not Johan Hedberg - who seems to pitch shutouts every time he comes in. While there aren't any back to backs the rest of the season, it's become obvious you can't play Marty every single game between now and the end of the season. He's given up a bad goal a game for about a week it seems, since he had two games' worth of work in the St. Patty's Day massacre last Saturday and for Marty's last three games he's surrendered thirteen goals. In Hedberg's last three games, he's given up one goal total. When you have a useful backup, there's no crime in actually using him.

While the Devils are in no real danger of missing the postseason yet (they still need 'both' Washington and Buffalo to pass them, as well as other teams), it's now to the point where they need to win soon before this gets any closer and it starts becoming a mental thing. I saw this all too much with the Mets when they were actually relevant a few years back, I don't need a repeat now. Especially since a massive choke would entail wholesale changes - re: Zach Parise being gone, maybe Marty and other guys getting traded. Ironically now as the Devils' path to sixth gets murkier, the picture is getting clearer as to who the third-place opponent would be after Boston won its last two on the West Coast and the Panthers have struggled to close out the division with their so-called easy schedule.

For those reasons and just the fact they need to get back to being more efficient, they need a big performance Tuesday against the Blackhawks. With just six games left before the postseason, the NHL isn't kind to hibernating teams. Or as coach Pete DeBoer likes to say, 'It's an unforgiving league'. While he couldn't exactly bag skate them when they were playing seven games in eleven days, it might be time for the coach to put his foot down now. Really, all the Devils need to clinch the postseason - and likely sixth place - is a couple of wins, but the longer they wait to get them the harder it'll become. Even given the fact our next three games after the Blackhawks are Tampa at home, at Carolina and home against the Isles. We didn't exactly take care of business Friday against a horrid Maple Leafs team, despite outshooting Toronto 46-17 we still managed to lose a shootout and drop a point.

Even if the Devils manage to beat a couple of those teams and limp into the postseason playing .500 hockey, how long can they last playing like this, Florida or no Florida in the first round? I've seen too many times in recent years where the Devils have coasted into the postseason and their opponent has come in hot and beat us as a result.

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