Yesterday, we talked about the Devils had to stop worrying about what other teams were doing and just win a game. Well, that didn't happen. They didn't even get an overtime point and now likely have to go 6-1 the rest of the way to make the playoffs, which includes a two-game sweep of the Rangers in the final week.
So tonight, the Devils have no choice but to sit back and root for the other teams. The Senators are off tonight, but they're completely out of reach. The Islanders are not "untouchable" but they're a pretty difficult team to catch.
(Editor's note: Buffalo and Philly are only pictured because they haven't been mathematically eliminated -- yet. We'll see ya in October, fellas.)
The Devils were in rough shape entering play Thursday night. Then the Senators, Islanders and Jets won in regulation, making the six and seven seeds basically unreachable and adding yet another ROW to Winnipeg's already impossible number. Those wins, combined with New Jersey's regulation loss Wednesday, put the Devils hoping for a Jets collapse and a sweep of the two-game mini-series against the Rangers in the final week of the season. That of course assumes the Devils keep pace with the Rangers until that point, which brings me to my next point.
If you had to pick a word for tonight's game, it would probably be disappointing. On a night they could've put six points between themselves and the Islanders, the Devils came out of the gate so sluggish someone joked they thought the game started at 7:30. Is it the end-all, be-all? No, but it's not a good sign after being unable to finish off an opponent the past two games. Some thoughts...
10-minute warning: How many times have we talked about the Devils taking 10 or sometimes 20 minutes to show up in a game? Once again, the Devils seem to have tremendous difficulty generating energy to start a game, something coach Pete DeBoer seemed totally flummoxed by. He admitted after the game that the slow start (a trend all season long) was disappointing and said the Devils didn't take the Islanders lightly. OK, fair enough. DeBoer also didn't seem to have an answer for why things started off so sideways and said that he actually tried to be calm in (yet another) first-period timeout. Think about how differently this game goes if the Devils are at least somewhat present for the first half of the first period. I mean, how many timeouts does DeBoer have to call in the first period? Matter of fact -- does anyone have that stat? The bottom line is I shouldn't have to ask that question. This is a veteran team with leaders galore that has been through the ringer. Their coach knows what it takes at this time of the season; everyone from the goalie out knows what it takes. So why are the Devils still having the same problem in April they had in January? One theory is that there's no one in the room willing to overturn a table or kick something across the room. I'm starting to think that might have some merit. Even listening to the few Devils talk after tonight's game, you get the sense that things are too even-keel for a team that's on the edge of the playoff picture. The problem is that's not something you add at the deadline. That's something you need from the get-go, a player that's been through training camp and the dregs of the season in that room. I just don't think they're suddenly going to "figure out" these slow starts and that's going to cost them, either at the end of the season or in the playoffs.
Not so special: Safe to say, the Devils were dominated on special teams -- which is nothing something you say often with this team. Usually the Devils are extremely strong on the penalty kill and their power play has been coming along. Tonight, they ran into an Islanders team that is extremely dangerous a man up and it showed with
three two power-play goals. Two of those goals you might be able to blame on bad bounces or bad luck, but like Marty Brodeur said after the game, the Devils create their own luck to a certain extent. As for the power play, I said it on Twitter a lot as the game went on -- way too passive tonight. After games against Boston and Montreal in which it seemed the power play was really starting to morph into a nice mix of last year's system and this year's shoot-first scheme, the Devils were incredibly hesitant to shoot tonight. They were constantly looking for the perfect play, particularly of the backdoor variety, and Evgeni Nabokov knew it. Every time the Devils went backdoor on a power play, Nabokov was there waiting for the shot. The Devils' offense may have gotten a boost from Adam Henrique's return, but it's still not good enough to blow five power plays, including one at the end of regulation and into overtime that pretty much encapsulated everything that was wrong with the man advantage tonight. Also, Marek Zidlicky's penalties are a serious problem. I understand what he brings to the game from an offensive perspective and on the point during the power play, but for crying out loud. He killed them tonight with sloppy, stupid penalties.
John Tavares: No fancy pun for this kid after the game he had tonight. While the Devils did a really good job of shutting him down at even strength, he showed how special he was when the Isles were on a power play. His second goal in particular was immensely impressive in a couple ways. For one, Tavares isn't exactly known for being a speed demon, but to borrow a phrase from Marty, he's got "deceiving speed." When Tavares gets a step on you, he'll keep it and he's able to do that because of how strong he is in his legs. His legs were the legs and strength on the puck on that goal were also impressive. Despite having Bryce Salvador leaning on him and Marty coming out to challenge, Tavares controlled the puck and snapped a perfect laser around Brodeur and just inside the post while never breaking stride. The kid's a treat to watch and you can see watching him play why DeBoer is such a fan.
Who: New York Islanders at New Jersey Devils
When: 7:00 p.m. ET; Pregame show at 6:30 p.m. ET
For a team that probably had half of its players not playing hockey the last three months, that was a fairly textbook win over the Islanders. There's obviously some things to work on, but all in all, the Devils and their fans should be pretty satisfied with the way they came out of this one. Some thoughts:
Stick to the script: There will be a formula to a lot of the Devils' wins this season: an aggressive attack, timely saves from Marty Brodeur, a solid penalty kill and at least one role player will have to contribute on the score sheet. The Devils got three out of four tonight and were able to overcome some obvious midseason rust for the win. The thing that has to be most? encouraging is when the team needed each of those, they got it. The Devils came out of the block aggressive and immediately put the Islanders back on their heels. Although it didn't equate to any goals in the first, it was directly responsible for the Tallinder-to-Kovy-to-Zajac beauty that got the Devils on the board. Then, when the Isles came out of the second intermission with their skates on fire, Marty made some very big saves, including one on the penalty kill. And just about a minute after the Isles capitalized on a PK breakdown by the Devils to tie it, who else but David Clarkson (whose second line was stellar tonight) came through with a big goal to turn the tide back in favor of the Devils.
If you add together various reports for season openers so far, in East you have OTT@WPG, NYR@BOS, PIT@PHI, WAS@FLA, TOR@MTL.
? Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) January 10, 2013Which, as Gulitti points out, leaves the Devils, Islanders, Sabres, Lightning and Hurricanes floating in the wind, so to speak. Due to the East have 15 teams, either one or three of those teams will have to be idle Saturday and given the NHL's apparent attempt to blow the speakers out the box, we'd put our money on the former. Which leads one to think...