The Sharks Attacked A Hell Of A Lot More Than A Vulnerable Goaltender In Their Beatdown Of The Devils
I want you to envision a scenario in which you walked into a dinner party only to be greeted by an unkempt apartment. You pour yourself a glass of red wine, plop down in the only remaining seat in a crowded living room, and begin to engage in introductory banter. Not too long after, you get overly involved in the telling of a story, start talking with your hands, and - due in part to you having no place to set it down in the first place - that merlot spills from the glass causing a huge blotch on an un-vacuumed carpet. You end up vehemently apologizing, because - well, what else are you going to do? But, deep down, there's a small part of you that really wants to say that all you did by being a graceless guest was make a bad, unwelcoming situation that much worse.
In case you haven't figured it out by now, you are Cory Schneider in this hypothetical scenario.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the Devils goaltender wasn't absolutely awful in quickly wearing out his welcome last night. To say the performance of a player who is being paid like a high-end starter was as easy to stomach as a half-price app would be far, far, far too kind. If goaltenders who are at the top of their game are said to have short memories then Cory Schneider should theoretically have a long memory, but that didn't stop him from starting the game by giving up a bad angle goal that was nearly identical to the one that cost the Devils any sort of momentum in what's now proving to be a huge loss to the Panthers in early March...
It only got worse from there, and by the time he ended up getting yanked - which was probably an intermission too late - he had provided his team nothing more than a scapegoat in what would have almost assuredly been a lop-sided loss regardless.
That being said, the all-too-familiar circumstances in which a struggling goaltender failed to succeed were anything but helpful. Forget about the win-loss record on the road trip, because - for the fifth time in five games - the Devils were outclassed in the first period. For the second time in two games, Damon Severson and John Moore looked like they were introduced to each other during warmups and downed a bunch of shots together immediately afterwards to ease their social discomfort. Five-on-three power plays should be the gift that keeps on giving, but for the second straight game the Devils somehow tied themselves in to a hostage situation while trying to remove the bow. The defensive zone breakouts? Well, they have become about as bumpy as the 'Before' pictures in a Proactiv commercial. The offensive zone pinches? As intimidating and easy to sidestep as a grandmother's show of affection. Sure, the Devils had some moments where it looked as though an offensive flurry (that proved fruitless) might get them back in the game, but it was too little, wayyyy too late against an opponent that predictably continued to score in bunches shortly thereafter.
By giving up 4 goals on 14 shots, Cory Schneider didn't give the Devils a chance to win, but - by focusing solely on those disastrous numbers - it becomes pretty easy to forget that the 18 guys in front of him didn't come anywhere close to deserving that chance with how shitty they started off yet another game that they - more or less - needed to win. Cory Schneider might be a stain on the Devils' dwindling playoff hopes but the Devils' dwindling playoffs hopes were already a relatively unattractive tapestry of recurring problems. His pathetic performance just happens to be the ultimate eyesore as of now, but it shouldn't be one that's used to let the rest of the team off the hook because simply starting Keith Kinkaid isn't cleaning up all their issues.
If, after losing a game in which they thoroughly dominated the Winnipeg Jets to absolutely no avail, you had told me that the Devils were on the verge of going 3-1 during the start of a hellish, season-defining road trip that included playing two of the best teams in league in the two most difficult buildings in which to get a win then I'm not sure I would have been able to withhold side-splitting laughter. Hell, not only would I have taken this start to their pre-postseason if it were offered to me on March 9th, but I would have placed it atop it's own shrine and tried to bow it into existence on an hourly basis.
Simply put, as much belief as I had in the Devils to put forth max effort in their bipolar quest to put an end to a 5 year playoff drought, I had just as much disbelief that it would be enough to end the 10-game win streak of a juggernaut, overtake the overwhelming house odds in Vegas, or rebound against a tough, heavy team who was just as desperate for points. The Devils got quacked back to reality by the Ducks, but that seemed like a more of an inevitable letdown than a huge disappointment after surviving in Nashville, catching a heater in Sin City, and silencing LA in a way that gave true Kings fans flashbacks when half their season ticket holders thought 'Kopitar' was the name of the newest magical weight loss pill. It may not be reflected in the obnoxiously unforgiving standings, but what the Devils have done in the last week and half is more than could have possibly been expected of them prior to embarking on thee most daunting stretch of schedule.
Now, that being said, there's still a hell of a lot they need to improve on if they still want to be sitting pretty as they come out of it. First and foremost, the slow starts need to speed the hell up, because a lot of fortuitous bounces have kept them from biting the Devils in the ass. There's something to be said about weathering the initial storm while on the road, but damn near drowning under a monsoon of shots seems like a dangerous game to play when you're a team who statistically (5 wins when trailing after the first) has issues swimming upstream. Even in winning efforts, a couple of the first periods as of late have been hard to watch, and that includes those that have ended with them in the lead.
The defensive breakdowns are inevitable when the quality of competition is high, but I don't think it's too much to ask that they be limited to forced errors. Some of the failed clears have been the result of nothing more than a lack of focus, and the same can be said about opponents left unchecked in front of the net. I don't want to single any one play or player out, but if I were to do so I'd probably choose one of the 15-20 times that Damon Severson and John Moore looked as though they rested up for Anaheim by partaking in Southern California's finest of homegrown herbal remedies. They haven't been the only mistake prone defenseman but they have been the most disaster prone, and that doesn't bode well for a team whose recovery time consistently falls a bit short.
While it would be insanely easy (damn near necessary) to argue that it made very little sense (debatably zero) not to give a start to Cory Schneider on the ass end of a road back-to-back when his services will - like it or not - eventually be needed, the goaltending hasn't been a problem as much as it has been a reflection of what's in front of it. There have been stretches where Kinkaid has stood on his head, but what you should probably expect out of him is what you saw in the last two games. The Devils made the Kings look harmless for the final 40 minutes and Keith Kinkaid posted a shutout. They made the Ducks look like world beaters, and they rocked Keith Kinkaid's world. Considering Cory's struggles (that have been wildly overblown, mind you), a repeat of the former would go a long ways into getting him back on track if is in between the pipes tonight.
As for the offense, it truly is crazy how quickly things change. It feels like no more than one extensive morning seat on the toilet ago that Taylor Hall was futilely dragging his team to the finish line. Now, in the most unfair sense of the word, it's "fair" to argue they could stand to see more out of him. That's not a knock on his play as much as it is an acknowledgement of how stellar it was prior, but - as the old saying goes - you need your best players to be your best players come playoff time, and if this isn't being treated as playoff time then their playoff time is ticking. The rise in secondary scoring has been awesome. From Blake Coleman and Michael Grabner beating the monkeys off their backs, to Pat Maroon being a seamless fit in a once unfilled role, to Brian Gibbons reminding everyone that he's the rare case in which his presence makes the heart grow fonder, to Nico's flashes of brilliance. They've ironically showed a bit of depth as injuries continue to test it. That said, there's a reason Taylor Hall is a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate, and it's not because this team is at it's best when he looks like one of the guys as opposed to thee guy.
With only ten games left, it goes without saying that every single one of them is vital to their playoff hopes. The next three certainly don't get any easier, but it's not so much that the Devils need to worry about playing harder as it that they need to concern themselves with playing smarter. Luck was on their side throughout their three game win streak, but they're going to need more than luck if they want to stop that all-too-familiar transition into what would be a fateful losing streak.
After 26 Straight Games Played With At Least A Point, It's Time To Fully Appreciate Both Taylor Hall And His Streak
What a ride. What a fucking ride. Let us, for the sake of the journey's significance, forget that it carries an asinine asterisk, endured more valleys than peaks, and came to an abrupt halt in a head-on collision with the drunken, swerving reality that is the Devils' dwindling playoff aspirations. What Taylor Hall has done all season, and specifically since the turn of the calendar, is thrown a young, inexperienced team on his back and dragged them to the doorstep of the postseason in a way that not only makes me question how much he can squat, but also a way that has never been seen before in New Jersey. Of all banners that hang amongst the Prudential Center, I can comfortably say that none of them are the result of such an extensive period of heavy lifting by one player, and that's why said player is the first in franchise history to have a legitimate shot at winning the Hart Trophy.
Now, the fact that it took something as fragile as a historic point streak (blow me, Bettman) - that he was about a half inch away from continuing - for his name to get legitimately included in the conversation probably says a lot about how much emphasis the simple-minded voters put on statistics. Regardless, whether or not he wins it, the man that leads the Devils in scoring by a margin that's so laughably large that tears would form in your eyes before you were able to double check it has been as/or more important to his team's unexpected success than anyone in the league since the first puck drop of opening night. If numbers are the barometer then consider that throughout the streak Taylor Hall had a hand in 38 of the 77 (an outrageous 49.3%) goals the Devils scored. That would be impressive enough, if - and only if - it didn't include the three games in which he wasn't even dressed.
But, you know what, fuck the numbers. That's a weird thing to say about a run that was contingent on them, but there's been nights where that 50% figure felt like a disservice to the Taylor Hall's relative value to his team. The more eyes that have been on him as he's dominated alongside a teenager - and for a majority of the time, two - the more often he's left them clouded with dust from the wheels of a one man breakout. Every time he's taken the ice he's been the best player on it, and he's needed to be for a group that often doesn't know it's ass from it's elbow without him.
If I absolutely had to offer an analogy, I would say that Taylor Hall taking it upon himself to go streaking saved the rest of his teammates from looking more hopelessly vulnerable than 'Frank the Tank' trying to hunt down a 24-hour KFC with his dick flapping in the early morning winds. The only difference is that most of them have been a bit more noticeably cold, if you know what I mean.
Tallying thirty-eight points (18 goals, 20 assists) in twenty-six games - with no shortage of those games ending in a way that left even the most agnostic of Devils' fans saying "thank fucking heaven for Taylor Hall" and the most god-fearing of Oilers fans burning crosses while tearing into an empty tub of ice cream - is unreal. What they have meant to an organization that's trying desperately to put an end to a five year playoff drought, however, is truly something that can't even be quantified.
Scott Stevens (Yes, THAT Scott Stevens) Offered Taylor Hall His Endorsement For The Hart Trophy And Much, Much More...
Be forewarned, the following is NSFW if you root for the Devils. I'm not sure if it's best classified as erotica, but you're going to feel some feeling that might have you going hard while watching what amounts to soft-core porn for fans of New Jersey's finest. Hopefully you're working from home during this blizzard, because this is best viewed behind the privacy of closed doors...
What a difference a year makes. The 26 (and counting, Lord Stanley willing) game point streak has forced the conversation, but the transformation of Taylor Hall's reputation would be a hell of a talking point regardless of his steady climb amongst historical company. From getting condemned for your lack of leadership and scapegoated as Patient Zero for the losing culture that - wouldn't you know it - still plagues the Edmonton Oilers to having the legendary leader of a franchise that was damn close to being a dynasty offer to lower his number from the rafters on your behalf. Have Drake put together the score for what's legitimately become a cinematic story line that most of Canada can get behind, because only in movies do you start from the bottom and get here this quickly.
Now obviously, the proposal to take the number '4' from New Jersey Devils' lore and place it on the heavily weighted back of someone who is leading their resurgence in more ways than just scoring was one that was halfheartedly made in jest. However, since there has never been anything comedic about the times in which Scott Stevens has stood up, anything said prior to his rare attempt at humor was far more sincere than any set-up. I'm pretty sure it took two decades of appreciating Patrik Elias for someone who's almost as difficult to impress as he was to intimidate to admit that even the most gifted forward is anything more than a moving target, so the praise he just heaped on Taylor Hall is no laughing matter. Simply put, this isn't your "average" endorsement from a former player whose career now makes a home out of the 'Hall Of Fame'.
If you meet Scott Stevens' standards of maturity, versatility, leadership, courage, and toughness then not only do those traits undeniably represent you, but you undeniably represent those traits. So, how can you not consider Taylor Hall in contention for the Hart Trophy when the most dominant defensive presence of a generation who exemplified heart and was the first to raise no shortage of trophies just waxed poetic about him in a way that leaves every Devils' fan in need of some alone time?
Hell, even if you find other candidates just as deserving, the last person I'd want to argue stats and semantics with while determining the definition of 'value' is the coldblooded bad ass that made the absolute most out of his. Right, Scotty?
As someone that has gone all-in on getting Hall in the Hart Trophy conversation, I suppose I should have been a bit more careful in what I wished for. What the Devils have done - or more accurately, haven't done - throughout the last three games is give a performance enhancing shot in the ass to the relative value of their most dynamic player. What it's come at the expense of, however, is their once likely opportunity to play well into April. Taylor Hall hasn't just remained historically consistent* in providing offense during the most recent rendition of what's become a bipolar trend of giving themselves some breathing room only to almost immediately work themselves back into a situation where everyone's left holding their breath. He's been the offense, in a "give him the puck and pray it somehow ends up n the back of the net" sort of way that's only as oddly sustainable as their playoff spot if things don't change quickly.
For a team that somewhat surprisingly chose to scoop some formidable forwards at the deadline, the soreness of their leading scorer's back tells a much different story of depth. Obviously it's a bit early to expect Michael Grabner and Pat Maroon to have achieved full comfortability in an unfamiliar system. But the rest of the lineup - sans #9 - has only made that transition period seem more tedious with an inability to seal the deal that compares favorably to your friend that's high on charisma and low on alcohol tolerance.
It's not time to panic quite yet because - as hot and cold as they've run - they've still been a forgiving post or generous puck away from picking up points in tightly contested defeats. Still, timely goals should theoretically be harder to come by as they are about to face one of the more difficult schedules in the league down the stretch, and if they don't somehow make them happen then they'll end up on the outside looking in.
Rebuild or not, there's no more excuses. No matter what the ill-informed might dwell on, Cory Schneider has kept up with the trend started by Keith Kinkaid and made more than enough saves to give this team a chance to win. The defense, for what it lacks in top-end talent, has done a decent job limiting opposing forwards. It's their own forwards, that are now as plentiful as ever, that need to get the job done if they don't want to leave a glaring hole in the resume of the player that serves as their heart and soul while letting their General Manager's faith go unfulfilled.
Despite being sloppy at times, the Devils haven't necessary been bad throughout the last stretch of games. They have, however, been highly, highly dependent. I hate to say it, but if this Oscar-worthy one man show continues then the Hart Trophy is the only trophy that a Devils' player will maintain even the slimmest odds of getting his hands on, because it's going to require a team effort to ward off those fighting for their playoff spot.
*If the concept of a jinx had legs then Taylor Hall would easily be able to slide the puck through them, but I'm still not writing about the streak until it's over out of superstition.
John Hynes Reportedly Played Jason Kelce's Speech From The Eagles Super Bowl Parade To Inspire His Team
For everyone that's been living under a rock, dig this...
Let's be honest, the only thing that was not to like about Jason Kelce's slightly drunken, half coherent, and fully explicit ode to the odds that were overcome by the Eagles was that it was delivered in front of the city of Philadelphia. So, the fact that it was appropriated as an inspirational means to push the New Jersey Devils to the illustrious end they are somewhat miraculously in a strong position to battle for helps to dilute from the idea that the people of Philly don't deserve happiness. A speech that strong was in need of an audience that doesn't feed on the feces of farm animals, so I'm glad that it was finally able to benefit a dark horse instead of facilitating a fist fight with one.
And let's be clear, the fact that John Hynes presented his players with a video of an inebriated football player wearing his heart on his sleeve, a chip on his shoulder, and a brewery on his breath while pushing the "us against the world" mantra is proof that he has his finger on the pulse of what makes this young team tick. You'd have to some type of curmudgeon not to be prepped for wall-running duties after listening to Jason Kelce belt out "NO ONE LIKE US, WE DON'T CARE!", and the Devils can't even go see an R-rated movie without three of their top five scorers getting carded, never mind being old enough to have a pessimistic view on life. There's a reason the 'New Jersey Devils Vs. Everybody' schtick worked, and it's not because there's even a sniff of doubt in that locker room as to whether they are all in this thing together.
Simply put, John Hynes gets it, and that should really go without saying since you absolutely cannot praise a Devils team that is successful beyond its years without also acknowledging their coaching. Whatever you may think about him, Hynesy has the eyes and ears of the entire room. Considering the wide range of ages, backgrounds, and professional trajectories of a team that is merely a year removed from being an abject disaster, demanding attention and - more importantly - respect is no small feat. From the most encouraging of victories to the most dispiriting of defeats, the one thing you can't say about this Devils team is that they have lacked effort. What you see on the ice is a direct reflection of what's been facilitated off the ice, and what we've seen on the ice is a cohesive unit that - win or lose - consistently sticks to a system that's allowed for a superstar to be born, rookies to flourish, young players to come into their own, and fringe NHLers to carve out necessary niches for themselves in the lineup.
It's no coincidence that the vast majority of a rebuilt roster is playing the best hockey of their respective careers. So say what you want about the influx of talent, but not without crediting the man who has both maximized it and motivated it...
NJ.com- Leading up to Monday's 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline, the Devils seemed to be set after making their one move on Thursday to acquire forward Michael Grabner.
But general manager Ray Shero continued to talk, and the price on one of their targets dropped -- allowing them to acquire forward Patrick Maroon from the Edmonton Oilers before the closing bell.
"This was more of a 'last 10 minutes' basically," Shero said. "Patrick Maroon we know well, he was on our list. But with any player that was available, there's a certain price point asset-wise that we're comfortable with. That price seemed to come down, and that third-round pick is in 2019, so we have 16 months to recoup that, or if Anaheim re-signs Adam Henrique, we can get their pick."
Perhaps I am giving Ray Shero a little too much credit for doing his job. After all, monitoring the market, weighing risk versus reward, finding value, and keeping in mind future ways in which assets can be recouped all pretty clearly fall under his umbrella as General Manager. He deserves praise for keeping himself dry as almost all of the moves made under said umbrella have made for brighter days, but he's not exactly going above and beyond the call of duty by tossing a bunch of lines in the water to see what bites on trade deadline day.
Well, that is, unless you compare him to a bunch of his peers who basically went fishing in a shallow pond with a stick of dynamite by lighting the fuse on their first round picks in a deep draft. I thought Ray Shero paid a pretty fair price for two rentals However, relative to what other executives desperately shelled out, he basically left a couple pity draft picks next to the bodies after clubbing opposing negotiators over the head and nabbing two guys who have scored a collective 93 goals since the start of last season. Proactively getting Grabner for a second and a player who is years away from seeing American ice was a good deal, but beating the clock to reel in Maroon for a third and someone whose most notable attribute is a warm body was a great deal. The Devils can admittedly afford to tread more lightly seeing as they are still rebuilding, but an ability to avoid getting swindled has become as much of a rarity in NHL front offices as it has become a staple of Ray Shero's management strategy. That bodes well for the future of a team that went from hopeless seller to bargain buyer in the span of no more than one year. Their architect is a shark, and - considering how poorly some NHL teams are being run - there's a lot of blood in the water.
This summer was the first time I was given the opportunity to write a best man's speech, and the most common piece of unwanted advice that I kept being given despite my best efforts to avoid it was to keep it short and sweet. Needless to say, I didn't and I have no regrets about it, because the length of a public address doesn't really matter as long as both the addresser and the addressees are fully engaged.
I say that to say this, I'm glad that Patrik Elias threw that same type of caution over the clock when he stepped to the microphone during his jersey retirement. While he ran a bit long, his words spoke of a bond between himself, New Jersey, and the Devils that was too deep to be considered anything other than familial. That level of mutual loyalty has become such a foreign concept in the business of professional sports that he could still be up there discussing how it all came to fruition and the only reason I wouldn't be on the edge of my seat is because I would still be standing.
At the risk of comparing legends, there were even moments when it felt as though Elias' indoctrination into the rafters was a bit more special than that of the company he'll now eternally keep. Part of the reason for that is obviously recency bias and part of it is the fact that the most decorated scorer in Devils' history has a personality that's as timeless as his place in franchise lore, but it's not just his ability to get a laugh that makes him a bit more relatable to fans.
You see, in a lot of ways, Patrik Elias' never-ending struggle to be properly rated and recognized for his greatness parallels his team's struggle to shed themselves of baseless and largely undeserved labels. I don't even want to get into numbers that are Hall Of Fame worthy. A resume full of all sorts of franchise records that currently seem as unbreakable as the media-fueled inferiority complex of Devils' fans speaks for itself. Plus, it takes seeing beyond the statistics to realize just what the player who became fondly referred to as 'Patty' meant to a franchise that never truly got the reverence they deserved throughout his 20+ year tenure.
It's not just the unforgettable memories of clutch performances gone by or the undeniable chemistry he created as the lone constant in the two most successful lineup solutions in the history of the organization. It's that the entirety of Patrik Elias' career spits directly in the face of every lazy and nauseatingly repetitive narrative that's been used to discredit the Devils' prolonged success. "They play slow, suffocating hockey"...except for the guy that flirted with a 100 point season for the highest scoring team in the league during the peak of their supposedly dismal defensiveness. "No one wants to play in New Jersey"...except the two-time Stanley Cup champion that literally picked up the phone and placed the call to a GM who I imagine to be a less than cordial conversationalist when it came time to make an official decision about his future.
Every hockey fan knows that Marty Brodeur revolutionized the goaltending position. Every hockey fan knows that Scott Stevens was the preeminent leader and the most intimidating presence of a generation. Every hockey fan knows that Scott Niedermayer was a transcendent talent that long predated others of his ilk, and that Ken Daneyko was the heart and soul of the team he grew up with from the beginning. The legacy of Patrik Elias, on the other hand, somehow isn't as clear to those that didn't witness it first hand. In a weird way, I think the idea that having a full appreciation for the sacrifices he made to remain in New Jersey is something that's as exclusive to New Jersey as his NHL career made celebrating that career feel like a more exclusive experience for Devils' fans.
The immediate success of the first overall pick and a Hart Trophy-caliber campaign from a former first overall pick have finally opened the minds of outsiders to the possibility of Devils' players producing offensively. So the recently elapsed time frame that's stitched across the bottom of that #26 banner doesn't just represent the playing career of someone who defeated a life-threatening illness without losing a single step as he went on to add another illustrious decade to said playing career. It also represents the era in which the person it canonizes was thee two-way, all-purpose player with endless creativity that Devils' fans could point to when dismissing the notion that Lou Lamoriello was keeping Jacques Lemaire locked in a basement to draw up offensively offenseless blueprints for success since the mid-90's. On behalf of a proud fanbase that's long been forced to rally around a lack of respect, I can't thank Patrik Elias enough for staying in New Jersey and consistently performing in a way that absolutely demanded it from anyone who was actually paying attention.
In much the same way that a curbside dealer of three card monte has a stronger affinity for repeat costumers, I refuse to believe there's anything Ray Shero relishes more than his opportunities to sit down at the negotiating table with Peter Chiarelli. For that reason, you probably could have told me the Devils flipped a first round pick for an industrial-sized garbage bag filled with all the blue Oilers jerseys that became irrelevant when they opted to dress as poorly as they are run, and I'd hesitate to criticize the exchange. With how flawlessly the Taylor Hall trade has aged, I've come to look at a matching of wits between the GM's of Edmonton and New Jersey as one that makes the odds of David versus Goliath look even. Never mind that the latter has been batting damn near 1.000 since taking over the Devils, because the former is more likely to toss shit at the wall and see what sticks than find himself within a stone's throw of outsmarting a more accomplished adversary.
But let's put aside the fact that Peter Chiarelli could ruin a wet dream, because - in adding Pat Maroon to a group of forwards that's starting to rival Milan Lucic's pockets in depth - Devils' fans will be Glad to know that Ray Shero did far, far better for himself than acquiring another team's trash. While another rental at left wing was just about the furthest thing from being an organizational need, it makes total sense that a sizable winger who can bang bodies during the time of year in which it becomes much harder to simply speed past them was a want. Add to that physical presence a nifty set of hands that would make a widdler jealous and a complementary scoring touch, and the recurring nightmare of cluttering the power play with a human parking cone - sorry, Jimmy Hayes - becomes a counterproductive concern of the past. New Jersey didn't just get another finisher, they got one who is built to do so in the tough areas that have proven torturous to the team down the stretch of close games.
Like a move that was relatively frugal in comparison to the rest of trade deadline day or not, the Devils are unquestionably a more skilled and intimidating team than they were a couple hours ago. Admittedly, I'm not entirely sure how the lineup shakes out since it's more heavy on left wingers than Hollywood, but there are worse problems to have than too many options. The Devils gave up a 3rd round pick and someone who is really only considered a prospect because he's too young to be completely written off for the type of versatility that typically - and statistically (See: Maroon's 26 points in 42 postseason games) - pays dividends in the playoffs. Ray Shero made it clear that's what he had his eyes on when he scooped Michael Grabner, and he doubled down on his faith in this Devils' team by picking up Pat Maroon. With the Peter Chiarelli's farce-driven fate on their side and their young roster starting to appear rather alluring, I have a tough time envisioning a scenario where it doesn't pay off...
Pray for the well-being of every NHL talking head that only recently stopped neutral zone trapping the Devils in an incredibly outdated box by calling them "boring". If the topic of Taylor Hall's Hart Trophy candidacy didn't blow their minds than New Jersey becoming a desirable destination will certainly finish the job...
For The First Time In Their History, The Devils Made A Deal With The Devil In Nabbing Michael Grabner From The Rangers
At the same time I picked up my phone to the notification that Michael Grabner was a New Jersey Devil I got a call from my brother telling me that Michael Grabner was a New Jersey Devil. Yet, as we quickly talked our way through Ray Shero throwing caution to the trade winds, I still couldn't help but think that I should find a third source. I blame the decades I spent drunk on the Kool-Aid for my delayed reaction time. Clearly watching a young, dynamic player who was drafted ahead of a more prototypical prospect and wears the dreaded number '13' across the back of a recently altered jersey wasn't a stark enough reminder that Lou Lamoriello has taken, among other traditions, his endearingly relatable hatred for all things Rangers across the border. It appears I shouldn't have kept putting off my system upgrade, because hearing that the Devils made a cross-river transaction had my wires crossed in a way that is typically followed by an error message.
After that update did finally go through, however, I found myself giddy at the idea of the Devils adding a proven scorer that does most of his damage at even strength, is a constant threat on the penalty kill, and has the speed to put up his pink slip against the wheels of Miles Wood. I didn't think that Ray Shero was even considering the option of renting, but he certainly checked all the boxes in shopping for a short term fit.
You can pretty easily make the argument that, despite their recent 4-game winning streak, the Devils have played some of their most dominant hockey in losing efforts as of late. Questionable goaltending and defensive gaffs aside, that has a lot to do with them being overly reliant on Taylor Hall to will the puck into the net. Their ability to grind out chances has only been made infuriating by their inability to finish them when the chips are down. Michael Grabner is just one flatfooted defenseman away from a breakaway at any given time, and - needless to say - the Jimmy Hayes/Drew Stafford/Nick Lappin/Blake Pietila combination that he'll likely push out of the lineup is only that dangerous to their own job security.
If absolutely nothing else, what this deal cost them in the future pales in comparison to the message it sends now. Whether or not you've elected to believe in the Devils' ability to compete in a postseason run, this is a vote of confidence from the only person that matters that they'll be there when the gun goes off. I didn't see it coming this early in the rebuild, but Ray Shero just declared it "playoffs or bust" for a team that's outperformed expectations. Never mind reinforcing the depth of the lineup, because that should go a long way in reinforcing trust with a player like Taylor Hall who might legitimately need to spend another long offseason in a padded room if his sensational season ends in early April.
So buckle up Devils' fan, both literally and figuratively. the organization just hit the gas on turning this team into a contender. Whatever "house money" they may have been playing with just got pushed to the center of table, so - regardless of what the forecast was in the fall - they can no longer afford to fold. Especially since letting their heated rivals win the first trade they've ever made with one another would feel almost as shitty as losing the franchise's forward momentum.
Taylor Hall's Endorsement Of John Hynes Is The Only One I Need To Consider Him The Right Man For The Job
So, I guess it goes without saying, but this isn't exactly the greatest of looks for the anti-Hynes contingent. To be quite honest, I'm not particularly sure why that contingent even exists considering that the Devils' head coach has consistently gotten a strong effort out of an oft-depleted roster that's ahead of schedule despite being made up largely of young players that have achieved more this year than anyone could have possibly imagined. Regardless, they might want to rethink the planning of their next meeting after having their mission statement shot straight to hell by a player whose blossomed into someone that's legitimately capable of capturing the franchise's first Hart Trophy under the tutelage of their scapegoat. At this point in the rebuild, the Devils will go as far as Taylor Hall can take them, and if you believe anything he said to be true then it's John Hynes that will be sitting shotgun giving directions.
Of course, there's a reason that athletes - no matter how important they may be - don't typically influence staffing decisions. However, when one who knows a dysfunctional locker room better than the back of his hand partially credits his first postseason push to the mutually beneficial relationship that he has maintained with the head coach then it's probably safe to assume that head coach is doing a good job. Especially when that head coach just so happens to be the same guy that has gotten relative consistency out Damon Severson and the rest of an admittedly suspect defense, confidence out of Pavel Zacha, trustworthiness out of multiple teenagers, and significant contributions from role players like Miles Wood, Brian Boyle, Brian Gibbons, and Blake Coleman. Lest not we forget that Will Butcher is a New Jersey Devil - at least in part - because John Hynes is the coach of the New Jersey Devils, and it's tough to think it a coincidence that the latter has gotten the most out of former despite his limited minutes.
As is the case with most coaches, he comes not without flaws, but the fact that John Hynes has gotten the entirety of the team to buy in by pushing all the right buttons at all the right times (See: the overwhelming positivity following the backbreaking loss to Boston that preceded the current 4-game winning streak) more than makes up for the occasional odd lineup decision. The 'New Jersey Devils Vs. Everybody' mantra - by either dumb luck or timely inspiration - has paid dividends, and the coach deserves just as much credit for introducing it as the team does for running up the standings with it. The resilience they've shown in refusing to let a handful of undeserved outcomes derail their season has been impressive, but - with how often trust, accountability, and togetherness has not only been preached but also practiced from the top on down - it's far from a surprise.
I don't want to make it seem like the kid whose offensive instincts got him selected first overall in the NHL Draft somehow magically discovered his shot in a "ut oh, Happy learned how to putt!" sort of way. For a shooting percentage to undergo a positive regression to the mean it must reach a negative extreme, and that wouldn't be possible if Nico Hischier simply wasn't gripping and ripping the puck on occasion.
What he has found, however, is confidence in said shot, and it's made all the difference in the world in turning him from a solid two-way player to a consistent two-way scorer. Not every tricky release on a wrister that is far more well-placed than overly powerful is going to fool the opposing goalie into looking stupid, so - in all likelihood - his four game scoring streak is just as much of an anomaly as the 8 goals he had in the 55 games prior. Still, it's impossible to watch this set of highlights and not see a much more bolder player than the one that would previously rather have had a tooth pulled than be the slightest bit selfish on an odd-man rush...
Admittedly, those four shots are more memorable because they actually went in, but I'm having hard time recalling a single other significant instance in which Nico Hischier was given the option between shooting and passing and opted for the former without hesitation. Even if you discount the unsustainable way in which it's manifested itself on the scoresheet, the maturation of both the player and his poise are becoming clear as day. That's great news for a team that's maintained a playoff position due in large part to the comfortability of their teenage center whose first line work has steadily been in progress. He's found a knack for scoring goal scorer-type goals, and that should make life exponentially easier for him as a playmaker.
The Taylor Hall Trade Has Become So Absurdly Lopsided That It Has 'Hockey Night Punjabi' Speaking My Language
As someone who is only bilingual in the sense that I can say "bye" (and "hi") in a language other than my own, I'm not at liberty to translate exactly what was said by a presumedly critical anchor for Hockey Night Punjabi. Luckily, the beauty of common sense is that in the most obvious of cases it knows not a dialect barrier, and the results of the one-for-one swap that - with all due respect to Adam Larsson - was always known as the 'Taylor Hall trade' have only become more and more transcendent of culture and opinion with each passing day. So no, I may not be able tell you what my favorite line of a seemingly thorough takedown of the Edmonton Oilers was, but that's only because I can almost guarantee that I wholeheartedly agree with all of them.
If I had to guess, I'd say there was probably something in there about a laughably underachieving team that's now short of speed on the wings selling low on someone whose transition into one of the most dynamic and versatile forwards in the sport wasn't exactly unforeseen. There was likely a mention that, despite a region-wide scapegoating, the player in question wasn't "the problem" when they shipped him out of town for a high-end second-pairing defenseman whose value - through no fault of his own - has exponentially decreased relative to that of the person he'll forever be linked to. Maybe I'm giving him too much credit, but given the length of the rant, I'm inclined to believe he even addressed the alleged "lack of leadership" shown by someone that's now dominating on a nightly basis while spending most of those nights alongside two teenagers.
Unfortunately, I can't say whether or not this upstanding employee of Hockey Night Punjabi adheres to the NHL's definition of a "scoring streak" or if he recognizes the entirety of 18 (and counting) straight games with a point, but I can confidently say he's well aware of how masterful with the brush Taylor Hall has been in painting New Jersey's playoff picture. I don't care if he only did so to take a big fat dump on the organization that's currently wasting one of the prime years of Connor McDavid. By way of international spite, Bhupinder Handal almost assuredly spoke of the Devils' undeniable MVP's outside shot at the Hart Trophy as if it were inside the realm of possibility, and that's how you speak my language.
Taylor Hall straight up for Adam Larsson was initially a tough sell locally, but now that the sun has set on last season's honeymoon period, it's become more impossible to sell globally than the Presidency of Donald Trump. Don't believe me? Then believe the two minute critique that you didn't even have to understand to interpret. Don't need the closed captions to get a read on that story, and that's before the main character wrote yet another chapter...
It Probably Could Have Been Worse, But The NHL Made The Right Call In Issuing Miles Wood A 2-Game Suspension
If that hit were delivered by anyone other than Miles Wood, I might be singing a very different tune in regards to how many unpaid games off it was deserving of. I say that not only because this is the first time he's drawn the ire of the Department of Player Safety, but also because the endless ball of energy that the Devils' roster as a middle-6 winger is basically the NHL equivalent of a golden retriever that just heard the front door to a house with newly polished hardwood floors crack open. If his biggest assets are his speed and physicality then his biggest liabilities are his inability to harness that speed and physicality.
Having the instincts of an excitable labrador doesn't allow for him to be held less accountable when he torpedoes himself into the numbers of a defenseless opponent who somewhat miraculously peeled himself off the ice to continue playing. However, I can say with relative confidence - and I admit this will sound stupid to those unfamiliar with his game - that Miles Wood didn't have evil intentions when he tried to put a vulnerable player through the boards before splitting open the face of the teammate that came to the defense of his victim. Miles Wood has a tendency to forget how big, fast, and strong he is. That absent-mindedness was probably as guilty for what was undeniably an incredibly ugly display as anything else.
So, in sticking with what I find to be an incredibly fitting analogy, a two-game suspension that gives him time to absorb the teachings of obedience school should prove as effective as a rolled up newspaper to the snout. As is usually the case in these situations, you could definitely argue that it was deserving of more, but - keeping in mind that Namestnikov got up fairly unscathed - I'd argue that a couple games for something that was mostly the result of him thinking less was pretty fair.
Also, huge shoutout to the consistent inconsistency of NHL officiating. In no world should that sequence have been deemed punishable by anything less than a 5 minute major and a game misconduct that would have served as a death blow against a team as dynamic as Tampa Bay. Instead, both the hit and the botched facial reconstructive surgery that followed left the Devils shorthanded for no more than two minutes...
...and allowed for Miles Wood to come back and redeem his abject stupidity with a game-winning goal...
The Lightning should definitely feel as though they are owed an apology after the way in which the game played out, but - as the Devils have learned far, far too many times this season - it's not their job to offer it up...
A funny thing happened last night. I was sitting there watching a 1-1 game between the Devils and Hurricanes when all the sudden the non-stop activity of Stefan Noesen caught my eye. But wait, because - seeing as he's a fairly workmanlike player - that's not even the weird part. You see, just seconds later, before I could even had the chance to foreshadow his fortune by way of social media, it was his forecheck that resulted in a fairly harmless shot on net that - by the grace of the hockey gods - was left sitting inches from the goal line as if the person who received it had inserted "Scott Darling's kitchen" as the shipping address on Amazon Prime...
In retrospect, maybe it doesn't seem all that strange that a noticeably energetic shift resulted in a goal against a struggling goaltender, but the Devils' inability to make their own puck luck - despite their best efforts - has played a massive part in their struggles as of late.
Now, regardless of prying open and maintaining a three goal lead that allowed their fans to breathe an in-game sigh of relief for the first time in 2018, they didn't even come close to playing as complete a game in victory as they have in some of their recent defeats. However, if yesterday's much needed win over the eternally annoying Hurricanes was even a small sign of serendipity to come and Keith Kinkaid can continue providing the occasional timely stop then the 'New Jersey Devils Vs. Everybody' isn't nearly as much of a handicapped match as it was when the world seemed to be against them.
As for Nico Hischier, it's not only his constant improvement that leaves me with a shit-eating grin on my face, but also how expedited that improvement will become when he's carrying ten more pounds of muscle and a full year of experience. Whether it be his innate ability to slip the grasp of opponents, his willingness to go to the tough areas of the ice, or the ease with which he can turn defense to offense (all which he displayed last night), the kid is hockey-wise beyond his years. As dependable as he's been all season, that trait is starting to show itself more and more frequently.
It's fairly ridiculous that a teenager who was immediately thrown into the fire of first line duties has maintained a flame retardant confidence that's apparently harder to shake than the defense of Justin Faulk. With someone having finally convinced him that selfishness isn't always a bad thing, there's no telling what new tricks he might learn down the stretch. What is for certain is that the Devils are going to need see every one of them from a rookie whose skillset is somehow highlighted by a veteran-like savvy.
In Their War Against Everybody, The Devils Finally Toughed Out A Much Needed Battle Against The Flyers
Admittedly, it's unoriginal and over-adopted, but as derivative as the "_________ Vs. Everybody" mantra is, I can't think of a team that's currently more filling of that blank than the New Jersey Devils.
Other than it ending in victory, last night's game against the Flyers was much like many in what's been a frustrating stretch of bad luck and worse losses. The bounces didn't go their way, as evidenced by the two goals that redirected off them into their own net. The officiating didn't go their way, as evidenced by the uncalled high stick that drew blood that was closely followed by an absolute ghost of a penalty that was shamelessly drawn by Gostisbehere. The bumps and bruises didn't go their way, as evidenced by Taylor Hall spending a vast majority of the second period in concussion protocol. Hell, even their own style of play didn't go their way, as it seemed as though Keith Kinkaid might never be able to save his team from falling victim to what felt like the 41st stretch pass that Travis Konecny has received while streaking down the right side of the ice into the Devils' zone in 2018.
Now, every team - at one point or another - has to work harder for their puck luck, kill off shitty penalties, battle through uncalled penalties, overcome injuries, accept the fate of the fickle video replay, and absorb the self-inflicted blows that result from playing the best competition that the hockey world has to offer on a bi-weekly basis. The difference between those teams and the one that has - albeit dramatically - declared war on "the world" in the hunt for a playoff spot is that it seems as though all those factors are working against the Devils on every given night.
Throughout the last month it feels like they have needed to fight for every inch while their opponents have frequently been collecting foot after foot of undeserved slack. Even in what ended up being a come-from-behind shootout win over a division rival, New Jersey had created more than enough opportunities to tie it before Taylor Hall broke the spell and stopped the leaking with a rebound roof job. Point being, taking on "everybody" might be a bit excessive since occasionally their most daunting opponent is themselves, but - considering almost all of their underlying numbers have been better than they were in the beginning of the season - it feels like the house is rolling weighted dice at their expense.
If embracing just how often the odds have mistakenly blown their whistle, or obliviously turned their head during a scrum, or been 1/12th of an inch offsides, or blindly viewed a video replay, or bounced over their stick, or almost maliciously taunted physics, or tripped important players onto the IR, or mockingly rung off the post is what it takes for this team to throw caution to the unrelenting wind and continue to pick up traction in the postseason race then I'll gladly support an overdone cause. 'Devils Vs. Everybody', if only because nobody will feel bad for them if their hot start gets iced into a cold finish by factors that are outside of their control.
One battle down, 26 more to go. Given the way things have been going, to expect them to get any easier would be a fool's errand.
If you've still only got one foot on board the 'Taylor Hall for Hart Trophy' train then I suggest you take the leap because - with the way he's been playing - there might not be another stop in the near future. If not because he managed to post the following numbers along with these two goals while playing only two and a quarter periods in his 15th straight game with a point...
...then because his teammates, themselves, were quick to admit how much of their weight he's been carrying on a nightly basis all year...
There's honestly too many complimentary things that need to be said about what he's been able to accomplish while showing the ropes to the two teenagers he's spent a majority of his ice time playing alongside, so instead I leave you with an objectively hilarious joke...
"The trade is one for one."
While a bunch of overeager hockey fans wouldn't be my preferred company when offering the rest of my mortality to another human being, I can't help but feel extremely happy for these two lovestruck Devils' diehards.
I just have one question. Was having Miles Wood, of all people, deliver a puck that says "Tracy, will you marry me?" to your soulmate really the most promising way to get her to agree to eternal monogamy? I mean, look at this fucking guy...
Kid's got a jawline that appears to have been chiseled from granite in the mold of Ashton Kutcher's, eyes you could lost in, and a smile that's only made more seductive by the fact that it's not even remotely meant to be. I thought you're supposed to limit the risk of the proposition during a marriage proposal? This dude is lucky the maintenance crew didn't need to be called to remove his long time girlfriend from the leg of a 22 year old speedster whose play leads me to believe he might be willing to do a little grinding off the ice as well.
I don't even mean this as a low-blow towards her now fiancé because you can probably count on one hand the amount of people in the world that aren't comparatively made to look like gremlins by the mere presence of James Franco's long-lost-inside-a-gym brother. It's a good thing this guy knew the love was true, because if Tracy had cold feet about her current situation they would have been hot on the tail of Miles Wood. Shit, I might jump the fence and kick down the door of the closet if I knew he was inside, never mind receiving a souvenir proposal that didn't have a 'From:' attached.
Congrats to the happy couple. I'm sure they overcame a lot throughout their relationship, but nothing was more of a test than the split second in which Tracy thought she had caught the alluring eyes of her favorite team's heartbreaker. Thankfully they passed!
As I walked out of Prudential Center following a game where the Devils inarguably outplayed the Bruins in a losing effort - for the second straight time this season, mind you - I couldn't help but keep telling myself that it's impossible to win in a league as competitive as the NHL when you give up two shorthanded goals. I'm not sure what the stats are on that, but - when you consider the fashion in which three of Boston's four non-empty netters ended up behind Eddie Lack - it's tough to consider last night's loss anything other than self sabotage. Between stopping one step short of picking up two pucks and throwing them in their own goddamn net as well as their backup goaltender's carelessness around said net, the Devils, themselves, made sure that a dominant performance against one of the league's most complete teams went all for naught.
I say that to say this, if you absolutely need to point to one thing that's cost the Devils' throughout this losing streak then this team isn't for you, because there's been no shortage of situational issues that could be used to fill in the following blank as of late "you don't win games when you ___________". That mind-blowing concept might not appease the narrow-minded fans that think all it takes is one reliable scapegoat to start betting the farm against them, but it doesn't make it any less true.
Whether it be the goaltending coming up lame when the Devils need a big save (Ottawa, Calgary), the scoring being less opportunistic than a gastric bypass patient at a buffet when it's needed the most (Calgary, Boston), an inability to do even a mediocre job paying close attention to the most prolific members of the opposition in their own end (Ottawa, Calgary), the power play and/or penalty kill being about as timely as a rumbling stomach during a road trip (Ottawa, Calgary, Boston), or the migraine-inducing combination of all the above (Columbus). A Devils team that honestly isn't playing anywhere near as bad as coming up empty in four straight games would lead you to believe is doing that annoying thing that most young, inexperienced teams have to do before they achieve the consistency necessary to compete down the stretch. They are learning just how much the little things matter, and - as is the case with most difficult lessons - that education comes with the type of frustration that Devils fans had become desensitized to over the last couple of hopeless seasons.
So I could tell you that the Devils need Cory Schneider in net, can't rely on Taylor Hall for all of their offense, and have a talent deficiency on the blue line, but - seeing as they've remained the case all year - you already know those things. What has yet to be seen is if this team can eliminate the mistakes that turn promising performances into disappointing ones, because the difference between making and missing the playoffs is likely to come down to avoiding something as stupid and self inflicted as we saw last night.
As a Devils fan, I've been beaten down by so many bullshit calls as of late that I found it difficult to work myself into a frenzy over what appeared to be anything but a conclusive goal, but I will say that you'd need a pretty high prescription on your yellow and black x-ray glasses to tell me this puck is for sure in the net...
Also, someone get Brad Marchand a tight black dress and a corsage, because Taylor Hall took him for a spin like he was his date to prom...
...before Damon Severson exacted what little revenge could be appreciated in defeat...
Not for nothing, but it's certainly something I hadn't considered. You know, when you see a guy lying face-first on the ice under the body weight of an opponent who is flailing each and every one of his limbs in the direction of his head, you tend to focus on the discomfort of the victim.
That's why I'd like to thank Alex Burrows for opening his closet to the world and letting us take a lap in his shoes, because - upon further review - I can now see how he might not have been all that snug as a referee tried to forcibly remove him from the back of a defenseless opponent mid-temper tantrum. Aging cheap shot artists whose value have deteriorated quicker than their morals are people too, and - as such - they should be entitled to remaining cozy while carrying out their belated and cowardly retribution for the type of physicality that's inherent to contact sports.
Say what you want about the excessiveness of delivering multiple knees to the skull of someone who did nothing more than hit him cleanly, because we've all put ourselves in awkward positions that we would do anything to get out of immediately. Fortunately there's no pesky officials there when you wake up hungover on your couch with a massive hangover and a cramp in your thigh, because - shockingly - the Department of Player Safety doesn't see violent fidgeting as a viable excuse for on-ice assault...
Paging Player Safety: Alex Burrows Is Facing Suspension After Kneeing Taylor Hall In The Back Of The Head As Retaliation For His Bruised Ego
The NHL's Department of Player Safety has proven that they can make even the most obvious of decision look like a difficult one, so I won't say that the following suggestion could make their job easy. However, I will say that having a representative follow the New Jersey Devils around from city to city could give them a live, instantaneous, non-TBD look at what appears to be a conspicuous, league-wide attempt to literally knock them out of a playoff spot.
Seriously, would it kill the rest of the Eastern Conference to at least thinly veil their conspired effort to send the entirety of the Devils' active roster into concussion protocol? I'm mad at about the elbows, sticks, and knees to the heads of New Jersey most dangerous forwards, but not as disappointed as I am in the lack of effort that has gone into insulting their intelligence.
I mean, first Brad Marchand...
Then Radko Gudas...
And now Alex Burrows?
Have they no shame? That's legitimately the unholy trinity of soulless scumbags on skates, and they have all taken aim at one particular team within a two week span. Am I really to believe that's just a coincidence?! Hell, even if there's not a price tag on the heads of Devils' players, with the increased focus on head injuries can the NHL really be too safe in regards to protecting players whose skulls are apparently super susceptible to blunt force trauma from any and all parts of their opposition's anatomy?
They'd probably screw up the sentencing anyway, but for once it would be nice if the team that's consistently on the ass end of shit calls could actually benefit from a punishment that fits the crime. On a night in which the Devils sucked their way into needing a couple breaks by remaining complicit in soaking the panties of every fan that's bought into the Mike Hoffman trade rumors, an additional two minutes for throwing enough punches and high-knees to fill an in-home workout DVD doesn't feel like justice. Even if Taylor Hall immediately did his best to carry it out...