Sunday, April 22, 2012

Devils' inconsistency continues in Game 5

I honestly don't know what to say about this team anymore, certainly nothing new that I didn't already say after Game 3. Last night's 'effort' in the last two periods of a swing Game 5 was an absolute disgrace. Other teams must look at our half-hearted play in the playoffs and sneer. You have teams like the Penguins (recent Cup winners) busting their rear end to come back from 3-0 down, Vancouver switching their goalie to try to change the momentum...and we just run in place. No lineup changes, no line changes, mistakes worthy of the District 5 hockey team - the kid Mighty Ducks from the movie that inspired the Anaheim name - and intermittent passion.

Yes, the first period was even in terms of play and fine in terms of effort but typically when the Devils took a penalty early in the second, they gave up a power play goal on a virtial 5-on-3 1/2 after the ill-fated Anton Volchenov broke his stick, and Kris Versteeg beat Martin Brodeur with an unscreened one-timer from the faceoff circle to again put the Devils behind the eight-ball. While once again the refs seemed to favor the guys in Panther shirts (as evidenced by the 'penalties' called on Parise and Ryan Carter), the Devils didn't do themselves any favors by remaining undisciplined. Even Adam Henrique took a penalty - the same guy who'd taken one minor penalty the entire season, minutes after a stupid double-minor infraction by Danius Zubrus.

For once the PK didn't completely crumble, killing off the last five chances. But that's also time you lose trying to establish offensive rhythm, especially after falling behind. With the Panthers losing two defensemen (including pointman Jason Garrison) and changing their goalie for the second time this series, the Devils still managed to produce nothing in terms of offense. Nada, zip, zero. Yeah they were credited with thirty shots, I demand to see video evidence of at least ten of them. Certainly there weren't a lot of quality scoring chances in the final two periods during the Devils' latest el foldo.

The difference between the two teams right now in a nutshell is this: We choke with the lead, they remain poised when behind. Our effort is on and off like a faulty light switch, their effort has been consistent. Even during the 4-0 Game 4 they were still busting their rear end trying to get a goal on the last shift. While we can't even be bothered to compete during a swing Game 5! Even Parise admitted as much during the postgame, that the team didn't work hard enough. Well, you guys don't have anything else left to wait for. We've been outcoached as well, with Kevin Dineen making changes that needed to be made (specifically in goal) and calling proactive timeouts, while Pete DeBoer has been...Deboring in terms of his inaction this series.

I'm not asking for Adam Larsson to be in the lineup over Volchenkov or one of the goon squad to replace any of our fourth liners (especially considering they've been our best line) but how about some line changes at the very least? Especially when you have a clearly gimping Ilya Kovalchuk being an anchor with Parise and Travis Zajac still getting his normal icetime despite clearly being limited physically. Even in the best of times, Kovy and Parise haven't shown the ability to coexist consistently on the same line. During one of their better periods they had Adam Henrique center them, but DeBoer hasn't even gone back to that line once - other than during our late Game 2 rally - and he hasn't even considered changing since then.

This isn't a coaching thing though, this group of players has to take ownership and say enough is enough. Before someone on high says it for them and shows them the door out of town. Whether that someone is Lou Lamoriello, owner Jeff Vanderbeek or someone else once the dust settles, there's a lot riding on the remainder of this series. Being on the brink of losing a series at home for the fourth straight time (every single one of them where they had more points than their opponent in the regular season) shows that something about this team is fundamentally flawed.

If what I expect to happen in Game 6 does, this team needs to be gutted. If that means Lou, Parise, Marty all go - so be it. Yes, things could get worse. I acknowledge the possibility exists we'll have five playoffless seasons in a row if we blow it up. There's also a possibility change will be for the better (look at the Flyers, after they blew up their team last offseason). But this team just cannot waste any more time running in place. You risk becoming like the Sharks, or the late '90's Blues, teams that are satisfied with just making the playoffs and are content hoping for things to be different with the same group even when too much evidence exists that they won't be.

When you have guys like Marty acknowledging that we 'didn't expect to be tested this early' or Parise admitting their effort in a swing Game 5 wasn't there, that should be enough of an indicator that this group is not and will never win anything of significance. If they're too stupid to give effort after three straight first-round defeats on home ice, following the shame that was their first half last year, there really isn't much left to say for them. They have one last chance to make things right, but to do that they have to win two consecutive playoff games, something that this team hasn't done since 2007. I don't expect it to happen now either.

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