If Last Night's Win Over The Penguins Is Any Indication, The Devils Aren't As Dead As They've Looked Of Late
First, let's start with an unfriendly reminder. The Devils were coming off a seven game road trip in which they went 1-6 and were outscored by no more than 17 goals in such a lopsided fashion that it seemed like no less than 170 goals. One single win, no matter the context or the competition, can undo all that went disastrously wrong during their tumultuous travels. Winning in the welcoming confines of their own building hasn't been the issue, so all the Devils really accomplished last night was not bringing their problems home with them like a hostile husband who hit 'Happy Hour' so hard that it became extremely sad.
All that being said, after falling far too close to rock bottom for comfort, they had to start somewhere in getting back on their feet and last night was a stand-up victory. I tend to think that Thursday in Philadelphia will say more about this team than last night did, but overcoming multiple suspect calls that directly and negatively effected the scoreboard is something that even last year's Devils struggled in doing.
Phil Kessel erased an insurance goal off the stick of Jesper Bratt after inviting All-Beef as an infantile reaction to the protein deficiency he procured by going without his pregame hot dog...
...and, according to a league that still has a problem defining goaltender interference through the lens of their own anus, a love-tap is all it takes to allow for one of world's strongest and most technically sound skaters to kick an opposing keeper into the corner...
As a team whose confidence appeared shaken by the insult that had been getting added to their own injured play by bad breaks, either one of those proverbial kicks in the groin could have had them taking their balls and going home. The excuses were Hot-N-Ready to be made, but instead a lineup who was without its number one center and has been nothing short of marshmallow soft finally decided to be harder on the puck in not only gutting out a much-needed win, but gutting out a much needed character win.
Keith Kinkaid helped to make up for a performance that wasn't always pretty, though putting an end to the sloppiest of slumps rarely is, and they needed Taylor Hall to expend every beat of his Hart in dragging their ass to the finish line. However, there was a familiar resilience amongst a group that was assumed to have misplaced it somewhere during their terrible, awful, no good, very bad two week tumbling trek to the bottom of the standings. If nothing else, it was an encouraging step in the right direction, though they'll need to piece a few of those together before this one is considered anything other than the step a baby might make before stumbling ass-first back to cold, hard linoleum.
Metaphorically Speaking, The Devils Are Being Towed Back From Their Road Trip With Four Flats And A Faulty Transmission
"Fun" fact: Somehow, someway, that -17 stat includes a lone 5-1 win. In essence, make that outscored by 21 in their last 6 losses.
Welp, road trips don't go any worse than that. Seriously, there is a cult classic called Road Trip with the entire plot revolving around unforeseen, if not seemingly impossible, ways in which an extensive period of travel can go comically wrong, and even those half-witted, down-on-their-luck college kids wouldn't trade places with the New Jersey Devils as they embarrassed themselves up, down, and all around multiple countries.
Now, I can sit here and say that I don't think a young roster that, after last season, no longer has the benefit of taking teams by surprise isn't anywhere as bad as they've looked outside of their own building, but with each passing uncompetitive effort even their confidence has to be shaken by questioning whether or not that's true. To be clear, it's not the 1-6 record that is the most discouraging, as no one should have expected such an unforgiving stretch to go smoothly. Rather, it's the type of lopsided scores that leave all the room for overreactions while making any and all optimism sleep outside in the cold.
It's typically unfair to compare teams from year-to-year considering the average amount of roster volatility. However, with the lack of offseason moves made and, in turn, the abundance of trust shown by Ray Shero, the only thing that's changed considerably between the end of last season and the start of this one is the color of the leaves on all 6.5 trees that stand within Newark's city limits. Therefore, I'm not sure how you go about judging this team's woes without wondering what kept them from being, well, so goddamn woeful during a season that, even at its worst, was objectively encouraging.
Ruts of bad penalties, bad calls, bad breaks, bad bounces, bad decisions, bad positioning, bad depth, and bad goaltending made for sizable losing streaks just 8-12 months ago, but none of them appeared anywhere near as hopeless as the Devils did in dragging ass all over North America the last two weeks. Luck certainly hasn't been on their side, but - as much as I hate cliches - there's definitely something to be said about creating your own luck and that something probably isn't "eh, just keep trying the same crap and odds are it'll start working in a way that keeps things close past the second period".
From Cory Schneider to Keith Kinkaid and then back again, the goaltending has been absolutely brutal. There's no way around that, and yet a team defense that's fallen apart at the seams in leaving open all the ways through it just might make the play directly in front of the net worse than the play in the net. The Devils cumulative GAA (which, given the overall product at this point, is as much a team stat as it is an indictment of the two guys who have failed in covering for its mistakes) is trending dangerously close to looking like the price of an in-arena hot dog, and yet I'd rather pay double to deal with the indigestion caused by soggy, low quality pork products than watch third periods that have become nothing more than formalities as of late.
The Devils, for all intents and purposes, have been pathetic away from Prudential Center. If that doesn't change soon in a big, big way then they'll have both a Head Coach and a General Manager that were rightfully beyond reproach just weeks ago answering to both a stark change in play, a lack of change in personnel, and - most disappointingly - not only a half-assed halt in progress but the hapless reeling of a regression.
They say that winning cures all, and with the Devils not doing much of that these days each hiccup has grown louder and more pronounced. None the least of which being a devastating shock to the immune system from the hands of the Senators, of all opponents, that exasperated each and every vulnerability within a team that looked like it turned the lights off, cuddled up in bed, and decided to just sweat out a vomit-inducing defeat instead of actually doing a single thing to combat it. Simply put, playing the right way and getting back on the right side of the scoreboard with some consistency is the only thing that will truly nurse New Jersey out of their state of nausea.
That being said, the return of a player whose absence has been felt through both sickness (this miserable 2-6-1 stretch) and health (their 4-0 start) isn't the worst prescription I could think of. Now, I'm not putting the entire hose on the slender shoulders of Jesper Bratt and asking him to extinguish the raging dumpster fire that the Devils were on Tuesday night. However, if you ask Marcus Johansson during a moment of weakness what it's been like trying to coax goals out of the cluster of mediocrity that's joined him on the second line then he'd almost certainly tell you he's been longing for the season debut of the second year Swede. Other than Cory Schneider, who apparently only starts on nights in which his team experiments with pregame Ambien, no one on the roster has had their performance more stifled by their surroundings than MoJo. Conservatively speaking, he should probably have about 3x as many assists as he does, and if he were flanked with just a little bit of finesse then it's a distinct possibility that the Devils wouldn't be leaning on their first line more shamelessly than Jesper Bratt leaned over his toilet while "eating" during his liquid diet...
Of course, it will probably take him a little while to get acclimated to the game speed having not yet participated in a contest with actual consequences this year, and the line of him, Seney, and Johansson is probably better in theory until they work in some more practice. Still, the puck skill, creativity, and ability to go for an extensive skate on a frozen puddle that Jesper Bratt brings to the lineup is sorely needed on both the second line and the second power play unit. Despite his struggles to end last season, that much has been made blatantly obvious this season. His absence has made the heart grow fonder, if only because it's cooled everyone on the Devils' offensive depth.
The Only Uber Disjointed Team That Looked Like They Were Along For The Ride In Ottawa Last Night Was The New Jersey Devils
To be honest, the phrase "compete level" is already growing pretty old. There's only one thing I hate more than cliches, and it's overused cliches. I hardly see him as the problem, but John Hynes has been so aggressive in going to the well of effort-based adages that he doesn't even have to be the one to bring them up in trying to explain his team's otherwise inexplicable struggles anymore...
Unfortunately, I'm just not sure there was anything more apt to criticism than their effort last night. The Devils spent the first half of the first period creating the type of contrast that has drunkards covering their eyes and squinting away from the sun when they walk out of dive bars mid-day, as the lopsided beatdown that followed was only made all the more painful to watch by what preceded it. Never mind the flipping of a switch, it was honestly as if someone cut the power lines to their pulse the second the first line continued their torrid tear in jumping out to a two goal lead. There are ebbs and flows to every game, but there are also drug addicts that would have a hard time comprehending how rapidly the Devils went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in having a withdrawal from working hard.
It's John Hynes' job to play exterminator in coaxing out whatever crawled up the Devils' ass twelve minutes into a game they had already proved winnable, but I too might be at a loss for an original answer if my team randomly decided to toss a working arrangement directly in the trash. Against an opponent that was still saying its our father's and hail mary's after going full Taxicab Confessions in roasting its coaching, New Jersey turned into the team that looked like it had gone comatose during the last three weeks of film study. Whether it was following the puck like a pack of first graders or getting bent over backwards in just about every board battle, the Devils were somehow left more desperate for a reliable Lyft than the Senators were a week ago. After putting forth a masterpiece against the Penguins a night earlier, a young team whose only success has come when they've out-worked opponents didn't even have the decency to conjure up a cough before clocking out early.
Of course, there were some obvious flaws at fault. The first line was creating just about all of the offense. The team defense was about as brutal as the actual defense was expected to be this season. Drew Stafford literally stinks on ice. Miles Wood finds the confines of the penalty box far too friendly. Damon Severson has been a stud as of late, but - as evidenced by the game-tying goal - his wires still get crossed whenever he steps foot in the blue paint and the glitch results in him momentarily forgetting that goals are scored with sticks. That said, as has been the case far too often, no one thing sabotaged the Devils' hot start more so than their own collective lack of competitiveness. The following opinion is definitely influenced by recency bias, but it already seems as though the Devils have completely lost focus and checked out of more games this year than they did all of last year, and the embarrassing amount of blown leads turned blowouts reflects just that.
In theory, that should be a more fixable problem than a lack of speed or skill, but it's also one that's hard to repeatedly answer to without sounding like a broken record of overplayed hits.
As it pertains to Cory Schneider, I don't want to hear it. It was always going to take him some time to get comfortable following hip surgery, and - by playing two of their worst games of the season in front of him - his teammates have afforded him absolutely none of it. I don't know that he'll ever get back to being the backbone we saw in the playoffs, but I do know that it'll be impossible to tell if five players continue to stand around mesmerized by the puck (much like below) while he's in net. For whatever reason, the Devils go braindead when backstopped by #35, but - while he hasn't been good - I have hard time blaming him for the type of mental block that teams who are worth a damn can bust through. I've accepted that Cory Schneider might, in fact, be done, but I decline him being anything close to the main reason they lost a game in which they appeared to misunderstand the meaning of the phrase "quit while you're ahead".
Brian Boyle Netted His First Career Hat Trick On 'Hockey Fights Cancer' Night, Because Of Course He Did
815. Prior to last night, that's the amount of times Brian Boyle had stepped on NHL ice for a meaningful game as the type of big man who is expected to create room for the scorers as opposed to doing a heck of a lot of it himself, before later leaving it having not tallied at least three goals on the afternoon or evening.
There was really no inclination that 816 was going to be much different, except for the fact that he was already living proof that sports have this weird way of making absolutely no sense by finding the perfect times to make all the sense in the world...
I don't want to imply that this is some sort of Angels On The Ice situation, as Brian Boyle was simply rewarded for doing the type of dirty work that's helped him find his niche in a younger, faster NHL the last few seasons. However, there's just something surreal and cinematic about that reward coming in the form of his first career hat trick on a night devoted to the ongoing battle against the deadly disease he recently sent packing into remission.
It's only right for Brian Boyle to be on the front lines as Hockey Fights Cancer, but the odds of him fully flexing his muscles on the scoresheet while his strength as a person was on everyone's brain are only reasonable if you see them as slightly fixed by fate. On a night where the 4th line showed out in a desperately needed dominant win over a quality team, it's heart and soul put forth a performance to remember. Not that we'd ever forget what he and others like him has been through in trying to kick cancer's ass, but it's tough not to be inspired by someone delivering it a knockout punch by repeatedly lighting the goal light at the end of the tunnel.
As for the game itself, a lot to like. Just as the whispers regarding Will Butcher's scoring slump and possession struggles were starting to pick up some volume he almost instantly silenced them, and the Devils finally cruised to a comfortable victory in a building other than their own. I can't say that the 4th line putting up a bunch of points in the process was a direct result of Kurtis Gabriel not being on it, but I'll settle for it being a reason that he's never, ever on it again. Regardless, it was a solid team win ahead of a second half of a back-to-back that provides them plenty of opportunity to build on it, assuming they kick the nasty habit of playing down to their less intimidating competition.
I suppose it's par for what's become a bumpy course to start the season that reading through the list of moves made in response to it elicits a somewhat manic set of emotions. Therefore, let's cut through the crap and get down to the feeling that best encapsulates each players' demotion or promotion...
Disappointed, which is not be confused with angry. It may have been a half dozen or so games ago when he was playing a productive brand of puck despite being allergic to putting it in the net. The way in which Marcus Johansson and Pavel Zacha gelled in the early going was basically the best case scenario realizing itself, but - as is the case with a kid who wears his confidence both in his body language and on the tape of his stick - each passing night in which he didn't grace the scoresheet resulted in a more passive version of a player who struggles with the game being played in his head more so than the game being played on the ice. John Hynes made himself abundantly clear on Behind The Glass, you don't have to keep a running tally like Taylor Hall, but to stay in the lineup - especially as a 2nd line center - you need to have a handful of moments throughout each game in which you're creating your own offense. In a way that's become all-too-familiar, Pavel Zacha struggled in doing just that, so hopefully some time in Binghamton will do him good.
Ecstatic. No offense meant to Kevin Rooney, who is too "meh" of a move to deserve its own paragraph, but - in theory - Brett Seney is the type of prospect that fits this team and system perfectly. I don't know that the term 'piss-ant' can be considered a compliment, but - given his size, skill set, attitude - I think it fits and I mean that fondly. By all accounts, he's feisty, tenacious, and an absolutely prick to play against. We will see how that translates for a 6th round pick at the NHL level, but you don't need to squint too hard to see the combination of him and Blake Coleman agitating the hell out of the opposition.
Disgusted, and - if I'm also speaking for my intelligence - then insulted. I don't get it. I don't like it. And as much of a John Hynes apologist as I am, nothing he can say will make me change my mind. Consider this, a professional production team edited together scenes with the main goal of making Kurtis Gabriel look like a sympathetic figure, and all it made me do was finally think long and hard about cutting the cord...literally. For a team that can't stay out of the box and a 4th line that can't stay out of its own way, I don't see how he helps anything, at anytime or anywhere. His "best" "skill" is instigation, and - in case you forgot - there's a two minute timeout that comes attached to that.
I'm sure he's a nice, hard-working guy and all, but I can already taste the vomit in the back of my throat and we're still minutes away from seeing how he looks in a New Jersey Devils' jersey when it matters. Honestly, his insertion into a lineup that's struggled getting depth scoring as of late is a forehead slap waiting to happen, as I'd much rather he be sitting next to me on my couch punching me in the face then waiting to be deployed by John Hynes as the type of big dumb animal that I could have sworn went extinct due survival of the skill...est(?).
Motivation. If nothing else, it's the one thing a Devils' team that got embarrassed and emasculated in Tampa Bay absolutely, positively should have had going for them. Throw in the fact that they were supposedly "playing for" a goaltender who had finally overcome offseason tail reattachment surgery after working it off in relief throughout a playoff series that was as short as the statement he successfully made throughout it, and the well of excuses they have to go to for another uninspired performance becomes bone dry. John Hynes routinely preaches being a "self starter", but players that haven't put together a single win in an NHL building other than their own shouldn't exactly have had to rub two sticks together inside their stall to get a fire going under their ass last night.
Of course, there's always ebbs and flows throughout any 82 game schedule, but the Devils starting off their first extensive road trip of a season that's still young relatively to the rest of the league shouldn't have them looking like they've grown tired of putting in the effort necessary to make up for an average level of skill. It's not that the losses are piling up and erasing what was a bullish sprint out of the gates, but rather how and why those losses are piling up. Occasionally you're going to get humbled by some of the more complete rosters in the league, as was the case against the Lightning, but New Jersey got put on their heels like they were walking a plank by an inferior team in Detroit. The Red Wings outworked, out-skated, and...well...out-Devils'd the Devils. Assuming Little Ceasar himself isn't in charge of ice maintenance at the arena that's named after him, they looked like they were trying to manually juice goals out of their sticks while doing so. However, it's not them having "one of those nights" that's most concerning, but rather the lack of urgency in battling through it.
Whether they were winning or losses in bunches last season, the Devils were pretty consistent in being a pain in the ass to play against. Unfortunately, while the inclination to go streaking has apparently carried over into them looking nudely vulnerable for stretches, being non-circumstantially competitive has not.
Teams that are difficult to play against don't repeatedly give up third period leads. Teams that are difficult to play against don't repeatedly take untimely penalties. Teams that are difficult to play against may get beat, but they don't beat themselves. Teams that are difficult to play against don't look like a shell of themselves on the road. All those things happened last night. Whether it be sitting in the box immediately after giving up a PPG or sitting in the box immediately after scoring a go-ahead PPG in the third, the Devils are finally being scolded for a defeatist lack of discipline. The most careless pass of Will Butcher's career stands out because it led to the unofficial game-winning, shorthanded goal, but it's only the most egregious example of the self-destructive ways in which they've costing themselves points in arenas in which those points are harder to come by.
John Hynes, as per usual, is right. It's up to the players - who are professionals, mind you - to find whatever confidence they might have lost over the last week and a half, and playing the way they fully embraced in earning a playoff spot last year is the most tried and true way to do so. If you look up and down the roster, there are definitely some problem areas (2nd line uselessness, a thrown together 4th line), but a brighter light gets shown on those problem areas when you start deviating from a system that makes everyone look better.
Those first four games weren't anymore of an aberration than the last six have been, so it's both disingenuous and premature to say that they don't currently have the horses to place in the playoff race at this point. They just need to get back to running together in lockstep, because the Devils are exponentially better as a team than they are as talents. Thus, when they don't play like the former it becomes harder to see the latter.
We're talking in baby steps, because Cory Schneider should be somewhat nurtured in his return to NHL action, but I feel comfortable in saying he made it out of the crib last night. The start was predictably rough as, if not for a fortuitous whistle, the first relatively pedestrian puck he "stopped" probably should have resulted in the first bad goal he let up, and him being two inches off the goal line while slow to the one-timer that breezed right past him was nearly as discouraging. That said, he definitely appeared to find his footing as the game progressed. He didn't look like it was his first appearance of the season for the last 45 minutes or so, and that's about as much as you could have asked for from a guy that gave his team more than enough of a chance to get a win for him while still getting acclimated. They are the easiest things to blame in times of crisis, but - much like the coaching - goaltending has most certainly not been the problem as to late.
I'll be honest with you, regardless of the source, it's refreshing to read a nuanced and (pun intended) calculated take on advanced analytics and their usefulness in coaching professional sports. While I look at just about half of the graphs and charts that get disseminated with the hopeless intensity of a far-sighted third grader trying to stare his way into solving a magic eye poster, I understand that they can be very chatty in telling people smarter than myself what it is that they are actually watching. They aren't the end all, be all of relating or relaying a message to the inherently emotional beings that are professional athletes, but they can definitely help craft that message. Unfortunately, as is the case with just about everything nowadays, the numerical study of sports has largely become something that people either loathe or love, as opposed to facts that can/should be paired with feelings.
Now, the idea that said source happens to be the first time NHL head coach tasked with continuing what he started in turning around a proud franchise that finally fell on hard times should make that answer all the more exhilarating to each and every Devils' fan. Never mind the current state of a team that got both humbled and embarrassed in Tampa Bay, because - win or lose - they've undoubtedly got the right type of open-minded attitude behind their bench. John Hynes has already proved his worth (and then some) as a mentally in-tune motivator of young men, but him both understanding and appreciating math basically makes him the coaching equivalent of the type of miraculous mixed-breed that would make a dog-lover mortgage their house.
To the dismay of those that have dug their heels in on treating underlying statistics like gospel, you can't simply coach hockey with a calculator. On the other hand, to the dismay of those that treat their belly like a crystal ball, you can't simply coach hockey with your gut. That answer above was a rarely seen rational take that did the unthinkable by taking into account both the sums and subtleties of a sport as covertly complex as hockey. Personally, I couldn't be made any more comfortable by the quoted individual being the man with which my emotional investment has been made, as John Hynes isn't just doing his homework, but also putting its purpose into one hell of a practice.
The Devils Faced The Perfect Storm In Tampa Bay, And Skated Away With Their Tails Between Their Legs
Prior to the third period, I probably would have told you that the score at the time wasn't entirely indicative of the competitiveness of the game to that point. After the first 40 minutes, I may have argued that just about all the issues the Devils have largely gotten away with failing to correct, due in large part to both Keith Kinkaid and an excellent PK, got exposed by a better team playing within the friendly confines of their own building. That might seem like a stretch, considering their quick 2-0 lead got counterpunched with fistful of answered goals. However, between starting the second period in a mindless malaise (goal 3) and looking as though they were intentionally testing the depth of their own penalty kill by refusing to stay out of the box (goals 4 and 5), the Lightning were more opportunistic than they were discouragingly dominant.
Unfortunately, the third period happened, and from the first drop of the puck it looked like just about every player in the Devils' lineup was wishing it didn't have to. Credit to the top notch talent up and down Tampa's roster for capitalizing, but - as evidenced by the pass Damon Severson ripped so hard off Pavel Zacha's skate that you'd swear it was wearing a stick costume (goal 7) - New Jersey didn't even force them to approach the door before tossing away pucks like they were Halloween candy. Hell, they might as well have slapped a sign on their bench that said "Take One", because the bell was simply not something they were interested in answering throughout the final frame.
Unsurprisingly, one was not taken, as the same team that ended their season in unceremonious fashion put up three during a period for which the Devils appeared to prepare by going on a 'Trick or Tequila' run. Everyone, from Brian Boyle and Kevin Rooney (goal 6) to Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri (goal 8), was left falling all over themselves in a way that was all too fitting of what was essentially a 20 minute face-plant.
Every regulation loss counts for the same amount of points, whether you lose by two or you lose by five, so this could easily be seen as a "scrap the tape"-type wake-up call for a team that really shouldn't need it this early in the season. Hopefully it is in theory but not in execution, as there are a lot of persistent problem areas that were finally picked apart. Every season has its stinkers, but how the Devils respond to this particular one will say a lot about a team that has yet to prove capable of putting forth a winning effort on the road. Kind of important to make that statement a positive one as, even after this road trip, they won't be spending too much time at home this month. Though, I guess the good news is that their next appearance can't possibly be more negative than one in which they looked like they forgot how to hockey during the final intermission.
Only One Team's Killer Instinct Prevailed, As The Devils Had Their Chances To Put Down The Predators
The truth is that a back-and-forth game that, from a Devils perspective, probably saw a bit too many chances going each way when considering the skill level of their opponent can't be dumbed down to a highlight or two. However, in the interest of keeping things succinct, I can say that the following saves tell the short-form version of last night's story...
In case you have a problem taking a hint and instead need it spoon-fed to you, the point is that the Devils had their chances to put away a team that became more and more bound to tie things up with each failed opportunity. Of course, by absolutely crushing one off the tee and into the top corner of the net, Filip Forsberg did just that...
It's tough to be too upset, as New Jersey went toe-to-toe and tit-for-tat with one of the most complete rosters in the NHL, but taking one on the chin after whiffing on multiple knockout punches was a reminder of how opportunistic they need to keep pace when they aren't the more talented team. Outside of an anomaly of a first goal, Keith Kinkaid continued to give the Devils more than enough margin for error. That was especially true during an early going in which the rest of the lineup was late to get going in turning over multiple pucks at their blue-line, but even as the game worn on he was visually swerving through to traffic to gobble up pucks. Unfortunately, Juuse Saros was equal to the task in doing the same to a Devils team whose effort was of the winning variety but whose execution fell short in the one aspect that literally counts the most.
Injuries are a bullshit thing to bitch about, as everybody has them, but they are definitely felt more sharply when you're playing a team with as many weapons as the Nashville Predators. Marcus Johansson would never say as much, but he began to miss his fellow countryman in Jesper Bratt more and more with each passing 2-on-1 in which Jean-Sebastien put forth a Dea-grade attempt to score. Eric Gryba, as much as it's his role to play things a 1976-style of safe, gave the Ben Lovejoy haters a good look at what a slow, plodding defenseman with limited puck skills really looks like in being a noticeable downgrade next to Will Butcher.
All in all, despite losing in a coin flip of an extra period, there were quite a few positives throughout a game in which they Devils played their way to a point with something much closer to the brand of hockey they displayed in jumping out to a 4-0 start.
Nico Hischier looking like a wide receiver in outwitting and outworking P.K. Subban to the front of the net for his second goal on a night in which he unsurprisingly looked every bit of a #1 center was definitely one of them...
...as was Damon Severson somewhat quietly continuing his growth into the trustworthy player the Devils have been praying on the potential of by padding his stats...
I can probably think of about a dozen or so, but that's already two more than the Devils put forth in Philadelphia, so the important thing is that they are once again headed in the right direction. Hopefully that direction leads to the win column tomorrow afternoon, as another season of streaks is not something my heart (or likely John Hynes' voice box) can handle.
Brian Boyle's Cancer Is Officially In Remission, Which Is Fantastic News That I Didn't Even Know I Needed
NHL- Brian Boyle said his cancer is in remission after receiving the results from his most recent blood test on Monday.
The 33-year old New Jersey Devils center, diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia on Sept. 19, 2017, was originally told by doctors that it could take up to 18 months before the disease went into full remission; it took 12 months and 33 days.
"A test (BCR-ABL1) looks for the leukemia cells in your blood and when I was first diagnosed, it was at 75 percent," Boyle said Wednesday. "At the end of last season, it was at .08 percent, and in July I was .04 percent. The results showed all zeros on Monday. It's full molecular remission, and I feel really good. It was kind of the way the progression was happening the last few tests. When I told my wife, she was excited and got emotional.
"The game plan has been working well, and now I'm just going to continue with it. It was good news, but it doesn't change a whole lot for me and I'll continue taking the medicine."
You're going to have to excuse my ignorance here, but I had absolutely no idea I was still waiting to hear that Brian Boyle's cancer was in remission. I probably should have known, as his form of the dreadful disease was rare in that it could be contained in a way that allowed him to play through it, but I'm pretty sure the medically uneducated moron in me just assumed that the cancer eventually took off running when he got back to skating. That's on me (and a credit to him), obviously, though I do think that even the most relentless of conditions probably should have been able to take the hint that it picked the wrong damn dude when he had already potted 10 goals against professional athletes just three months after receiving his diagnosis. In my personal opinion, cancer wasted a hell of a lot of time sitting around doing absolute dick if only now has it realized it was time to pack up its shit and got to steppin' from the blood cells of Brian Boyle.
In all seriousness, this is fantastic news for a guy whose been as good of a story off the ice as he has been an addition on the ice over the last year and change. You wouldn't know from his performance as a player or his persistence as a person, but I'm sure there was still quite a bit of anxiety lingering prior to him getting the conclusive report that he's cancer-free. It's no surprise that he basically busted the original timeline over his knee in kicking the crap out of every last percentage point, as it certainly seemed like he never wasted a second in working his way back into his routine. Much like the rest of the hockey community, I'm glad to see that determination paid off in giving him and his family some premature peace of mind.
If the Behind The Glass series taught us anything, it's that there is quite a bit to like about John Hynes as a leader. That said, if you absolutely had to pick one single thing to appreciate the most about him then it's probably the fact that what you hear is what you get. The concept of "coach speak" is highly dependent on the use of lip service, but that is certainly not considered a native tongue in or around a Devils' locker room in which their commander and chief is the furthest thing from fluent.
There's just something refreshing about actions mirroring words, and any Devils' fan who's been paying attention was well aware they would do just that when John Hynes made this promise following the Devils' disheartening loss to the Flyers on Saturday...
As it predictably turned out, it didn't take too long for that reflection to come to fruition...
While knowing full well that bag-skating your team's testicles off is an approach that probably proves impotent amongst professional athletes if taken too often, I do love the idea of wasting no time in giving a young Devils' team a damn near traumatizing reminder that any complacency whatsoever is unacceptable. Consider that John Hynes normal practices are more merciless than most and "the most unforgiving" is anything but a liberal label for a team employee to throw around in reference to what sounds like a punishment that pushed them past their lung capacity.
It would be easy for the Devils to make some pretty compelling excuses for as to how the current state of their overall health has coincided with the cooling off of their hot start. However, John Hynes didn't do so after their last game so you could be damn certain he wasn't about to leave them any room to be at all self-satisfied in preparation for their next one.
As is the case with most things in life, the Devils' dispiriting performance against the Flyers was much easier to predict in retrospect. Afternoon games have long been the bane of the franchise's existence, and heading into the most unforgiving of environment for their first road game of the season while shorthanded (without Zajac, Lovejoy) only made that trend all the more likely to continue. Add in the fact that the Flyers, despite all their failures, have proven capable of offsetting the offensive excellence of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri when they have the benefit of the last change, and a second straight loss wasn't a totally shocking outcome.
I say none of that to let them off the hook, for my eyes are still recovering from what was their most unsightly showing of the season, but to bring some perspective to a game they played the vast majority of with five defensemen after Steve Santini's stint in the lineup lasted mere minutes before he left with a broken jaw.
The truth is, the Devils' execution was about as god awful as their face-off percentage, but the same can't exactly be said about their effort. The Flyers had about as many shots on goal as they did powerplays halfway through the game, so at the very least New Jersey was dominant in damage control...
When you're sacrificing your body at such an alarming rate it typically means you're trying, and the Devils - led by the black and blues of Andy Greene - did just that in attempting to make up for their inability to create any offense whatsoever or stay the hell out of the penalty box (the latter being an extremely discouraging recurring theme just six games into the season).
That effort, however, was just a step slow in almost every other facet of yesterday's game. I hate to do it to Nico Hischier, because he almost always makes up for his slight stature in working his balls off in his own end. Unfortunately, his half-second of air-headedness that allowed Nolan Patrick to make a weak case that he's anywhere near as good as the player selected ahead of him in the draft is the perfect example of the lack of focus and was much fewer and further between during the Devils' 4-game win streak...
As Brian Boyle was quick to note, there's no room for complacency as the Devils' talent level doesn't allow them much margin for error...
That's especially true when that error is as inexcusable as getting caught flatfooted in allowing a 2-on-1 while mere minutes away from picking up a (largely undeserved) point...
The most noteworthy positives of yesterday's game were that Pavel Zacha, the first round pick who is still looking for his first point, was incredibly active defensively, and that the second powerplay unit finally got on the board with Damon Severson's first man-advantage tally in 546 minutes of trying...
I say that to that to say this. Even a desperate search for the good in their game returned bad reminders, which is perfectly fitting of a performance that made Philadelphia look a lot better than they've been prior to yesterday.
There's no reason to overreact as they are still 4-2 and circumstances certainly didn't help their cause yesterday, but it would be nice if they end the series of hot and cold streaks that made last season a bi-polar test of my blood pressure. It's encouraging that their coach knows exactly how important it is nip it in the bud, so hopefully heed is taken to his words during what is sure to be a couple loud practices prior to their game against Nashville.
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I suppose it was a matter of time before it caught up to them. If only because the start to their season was nothing short of stellar, the Devils play has been trending in the wrong direction as of late. That might seem like a weird thing to say about what was the last remaining undefeated team in the league prior to last night, but Keith Kinkaid and quality puck luck were quite helpful in covering up any holes in their game. Of course, neither the former (Kinks played well) or the latter (Boyle's ankle put them ahead in the 3rd) worked against them last night, which really speaks to how undisciplined - in play and penalties - they were throughout a contest that, score aside, predominantly felt like an uphill battle.
The beauty of starting 4-0, as opposed to 2-2 or the like, is that coming away from a game you led halfway through the 3rd period can be viewed as a reality check instead of an abject disaster. Not to overreact, but the Devils probably needed to leave the ice looking at a scoreboard that reflected a relatively ugly effort as they head outside the friendly confines of the Prudential Center for the first time all season.
I suppose shutting down superstar after superstar wasn't a habit that had all that much staying power for a defense that doesn't have much firepower, but the Landeskog-McKinnon-Rantanen line gave them an undeniable reminder of the consistency and structure they need to play with to control the damage done by the more dominant offensive players in the league. Sometimes you have to tip your cap (or in Gabriel Landeskog's case, throw your hat) to the talent, but - contrary to what the game-winning goal might have you believe - you don't have to trip all over yourself in awe of it.
As far as specific players are concerned, it's the one that wasn't on the ice when it was at its most tilted that is easily the biggest story. It's probably not much of a coincidence that the (potentially prolonged) absence of Travis Zajac coincided with a sloppy second and a disappointing third, as him being at the top of his game at both ends of the ice has been a huge boost in having the Devils a step ahead coming out of the gates. His injury certainly looked like the type whose recovery would require a hell of a lot more than an ice pack, but fingers crossed it's not as long term as it appeared, as he's about as irreplaceable in the lineup as his dumbass detractors think he is replaceable in the lineup.
To end on a positive note, the Devils' first two goals, that not-so-coincidentally came off the sticks of those who were far overdue for them, were gorgeous displays of the type of puck movement that this franchise wouldn't even dare dream of just a few short years ago. Both Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall capped off passing plays that just make you sit back, smile, and appreciate the trajectory of the team's talent, even having come on a night when it didn't put forth its peak performance.
A little sore? A LITTLE SORE?!? After approximately 36 hours of the type of painstaking silence that'll lead you to believe the result of your precautionary STD test is HIV positive, I was half expecting him to have already undergone a Frankensteinien (shoutout Doc Emrick) upper body replacement surgery.
Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic that the player who has been poised beyond his years in quarterbacking the Devils' powerplay from his first day on the job and is blossoming into a quality top-4 defenseman is good to go. I just think a little reassurance that our eyes were lying to us would have been nice. I didn't need a full diagnosis, but maybe a heads up that Will Butcher's rotator cuff is still rotating as opposed to keeping me emotionally cuffed by the worst case scenario? Perhaps a postgame wave to the crowd, or literally anything other than leaving a very fragile fanbase in the lurch?
After the way he skated off the ice with one arm dragging ass and the other pinned tightly to his body, you could have convinced me that Will Butcher wouldn't be able to raise his hands in celebration of a perfectly placed assist on a Kyle Palmieri one-timer for the foreseeable future, never mind play two nights later. I didn't need an MD to tell me that stunned skate to the locker room looked bad, but I could have benefited from one prescribing me something stiff to take the edge off since Tuesday night.
I'm glad the Devils' first loss of the season wasn't of their most promising puck mover. While being an absolute revelation thus far, their defense is much like their fanbase was after watching Butchy take a spill in being 6-deep. It might as well come with a Kardashian disclaimer in that it's visually appealing now, but it's what you don't currently have to see that's loathsome. So, Willie baby, don't go scaring us like that again, okay?!?
SOS: The Stars Were In Over Their Heads As Kyle Palmieri And Keith Kinkaid Stayed Hot To Keep The Devils Undefeated
Maintaining a blemish-free record this far into the season for the first time in 23 years is a nice little footnote, but historical feats - as obscure as they may be - take precedence and Kyle Palmieri has blasted his way into a (somewhat random) league of his own...
I'm not ready to start pacing out season-long stats in mid-October, as the seven goals we've seen come off his stick (or skate) in the last four games is the most torrid example of what Kyle Palmieri tends to do, which is go streaking like his ass is on fire. However, health pending, you can safely pencil him in for 30+ and gnaw off the eraser, because he was looking this good last September before injuries almost immediately derailed his season. Eventually his linemates will start cashing in on their absurd amount of chances and spread around the scoring wealth, but it's definitely nice to see Kyle Palmieri get the opportunity to hit the ground running in record-setting fashion on a top line with which the chemistry is undeniable.
As for the game in which that record was set, a three goal differential probably doesn't tell the whole story. That's due, in large part, to the fact that Keith Kinkaid took it upon himself to pen the final chapter with point-blank save after point-blank save, but it's also because the Devils are currently getting the bounces needed to win with consistency in a league as fickle and unpredictable as the NHL. Not to kill everyone's buzz, but Jason Spezza missed a wide open net on a breakaway, a loose puck appeared to have a mind of its own as it danced through the crease and over the awaiting sticks of both Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin almost broke the damn post, and Nico Hischier literally fell ass-backwards into stopping a sure goal. The line between cause and effect is blurred, but the hockey gods have a way of working in your favor when you're playing well as a team so it's to the Devils credit that they've full taken advantage of their mercy.
Now, the main reason why that advantage has, more often than not, been a comfortable one is Keith Kinkaid. He's been far better than anyone could have hoped for. I figured him to be a highly capable stand-in for Schneider, but he's been much, much more than that in proving that the second half of last season was no fluke. I'd imagine it being due to an improvement in positioning, but he's started making difficult saves look casual in a way that's reminiscent of the guy whose crease he's co-opted. He hasn't stood on his head as much as the numbers make it seem, but that's as much due to him looking as though he's relying less on his athleticism as much as it's due to a defense that's playing within well themselves.
If only because of the Devils' decisively dumbass puck management in the final minutes, Keith Kinkaid earned every second of last night's shutout and he's earned every ounce of trust among his teammates. To put it in his language, to start a contract year he's been...
Amazingly enough, so has a defense that, despite not being all that talented, is performing well above the standard set by the rest of a league that appears to have forgotten the meaning. Great goaltending certainly helps, but the Devils have gone against some of the most intimidating talents the NHL has to offer throughout their first four games, and it's been rare that they've looked overwhelmed in doing so. Without much flash or finesse, their blue line has quietly put up far more points than they've allowed, which is certainly something to hang their hat on considering both the level of competition and the amount of times they've been put at odds by stupid penalties.
Of course, Ray Shero's latest pluck from his Pittsburgh pipeline deserves a tip of the cap after notching his third goal in as many games. In the later years of Lou Lamoniello's tenure in New Jersey, familiarity typically bred contempt, as a blind loyalty to players he knew turned the Devils into the NHL equivalent of a nursing home. With Ray Shero, familiarity has bred bottom six beauties, as Jean Sebastien Dea has basically gone about his business as a right handed Brian Gibbons in immediately adding depth scoring. I don't know that we should expect him to visit the back bar like he knows the tender all that often, but - much like almost everyone Ray Shero has brought along with him - he certainly fits the system.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn't the most ridiculous moment of last night's game, which somehow wasn't Anton Khudobin waving hopelessly for his teammates to get a stoppage so he could replace his broken stick, bur rather Taylor Hall intentionally flipping an opportunity for a lengthy 5-on-3 powerplay over the boards to earn himself a 'Delay Of Game' call. The reigning MVP has about 500 miles of leeway after last season, so I don't think I'm allowed to single out anything he's done less spectacularly until at least the All Star break, but playing dumb after making a...umm...less than smart play was absolutely hilarious in retrospect. Mostly because it barely served as a tap of the brake pedal as the Devils have continued rolling...
Now everyone put in some QT with your rabbit's foot as the status of Will Butcher and his shoulder(?) doesn't look like it'll be made available until tomorrow.
Will Butcher Says He's Never Known Keith Kinkaid As Anything Other Than The Devils' Starting Goalie, A Comment That Will Surely Be Overreacted To
Will, no. Will, why? Will...you please choose your words more carefully?!?
I got to say, the soft spoken twenty-three year old defenseman really Butcher'd that response, as I didn't expect him to be the first person to publicly make mention of what's proving, in all the best ways, to be an inevitable goaltending controversy. I was quite enjoying watching Keith Kinkaid pick up where he left off at the end last season in not-so-quietly taking command of the crease while Cory Schneider was still physically exempt from competing for it.
A fanbase that, like most, loves bickering on behalf of the back-up was eventually going to have its panties bunched by the return of a player who is, at least theoretically, superior in skill and inferior in availability. Amongst fans that have absolutely been made spoiled by two decades of the type of dominant goaltending that gets immortalized in bronze in the middle of their route to the arena, nothing has proven more polarizing than who is between the pipes as of late. That's totally fair, as Cory Schneider's brilliant relief performance in the postseason was largely a standalone success during a season that was as discouraging as his team's was encouraging. Going under the knife at the end of it certainly hasn't comforted anyone's concerns about a foreseeable future in which he's still bound by contact, but I was really, really hoping to put off the circular debate revolving around what they should do with someone who could range almost anywhere between a top 5 goalie and a bottom 5 goalie in the league when healthy as long as humanly possible.
To be fair, Will Butcher is absolutely right in his assessment that Keith Kinkaid has primarily served as a consistently improving last line of defense during a majority of his most memorable moments throughout the past year and change, but he's oh-so-wrong in his timing of a statement that might as well serve as a quick fix to a fanbase that's currently going through worry withdrawals after a 3-0 start. The optimism surrounding this team, as currently constructed, is palpable and the only thing that could ruin it is rehashing a redundant argument about a question that will, sooner or later, get answered on the ice anyway.
Given his early season excellence, it's definitely Keith Kinkaid's net until his play proves otherwise. I'm certain that everyone in that locker room understands that, which is really all that matters. Still, just about the last thing Devils' fans need offered to them is an avenue to discredit someone like Cory Schneider, who is probably not going anywhere anytime soon after gracefully spending far too much time as the lone bright spot on the bleakest of rosters.
Three games is what it took for the Devils to turn in their first mediocre performance of the season, but - thanks in part to Peter DeBoer's familiar inability to get his teams to turn possession into production - it'll be at least four before they have to head back to the locker room as losers. The experiences of Switzerland and Sweden seems to have done a lot for the Devils, and none the least of which is set their schedule back so that their 3-0 start makes their record the only flawless one remaining. That means next to nothing in mid-October, of course, but the same can't be said for toughing out a victory in the 3rd period of a game in which they didn't play close to their best against one of the most talented rosters in the entire league.
Labeling a win as "gutsy" sometimes feels disingenuous when all it really means is that a couple bounces went your way during a game in which you were otherwise underwhelming. However, I'm not sure there's a better way to describe concluding a come-from-behind win by killing off two separate penalties in the closing minutes against a powerplay that strikes as much fear into the hearts of its opposition as the apex predator that's stitched across its chest.
No one would argue that the Devils played great, or even good for that matter. The only reason they had to desperately throw their bodies in front of a barrage of pucks was because they made no adjustments in continuing to shoot themselves in the foot with their slingshot-style powerplay and passed up on a golden opportunity for an insurance goal as if it were an impromptu meeting with a door-to-door insurance salesman. As praiseworthy as the ensuing PK was, requiring it's services for a 'holding the stick' penalty and a 'too many men' penalty is simply inexcusable in the late stages of a one goal game against a team that's armed to make you pay in that situation.
Add to that the fact that the Devils' pinpoint passing on the afternoon was about as precise as a back-alley acupuncturist and that their execution was particularly off throughout a second period in which the Sharks seemed to be swarming with the current, and you get the type of performance that becomes defined by nothing more than its outcome. Be they lazy offsides, careless turnovers, or dumb penalties, there were no shortage of mistakes from a team that appeared vulnerable for the first time all year.
Fortunately, those mistakes were largely covered up by the scorching hot stick of Kyle Palmieri and the continued early excellence of Keith Kinkaid, so we can look at the Devils' effort yesterday as resilient as opposed to reckless. For what's it's worth, which is two points in the standings, the Devils' effort never waned. The same can't be said for their focus, but it speaks volumes of their construction that they can beat a team like San Jose while playing through the blunders that tend to bubble up during a long season.
- I suppose you could consider it concerning that Kyle Palmieri currently accounts for nearly 50% of the team's goals. However, while he's as hot as someone could possibly be three games into the season, both his linemates are as cold as you could possibly be three games into the season. The chances have consistently been there for all of Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri, so whatever drop-off the latter might experience from his historical pace should be more than made up for by a positive regression in pucks going in for those skating alongside him. Everyone has made contributions in some form or fashion, so let's just enjoy the Devils' ride on Kyle Palmieri's back as he does what he does best in pocketing goals in bunches.
- As fantastic as the Johansson-Zacha-Noesen line looked against Washington, they looked just as lost against San Jose. Plus/minus can be a misleading stat, but it's no coincidence that it's one that didn't favor them yesterday. It looked like Pavel Zacha's remote control shut off mid-game as he gave away the puck that eventually ended up in the back of the Devils net to make it 2-1, and when Stefan Noesen wasn't waltzing his way offsides during odd-man rushes like he was in a bad way with his bookie he was sitting in the box for the fourth time in three games. Marcus Johansson may not have done anything equally as egregious, but he also wasn't anywhere closer to the difference maker he was prior. I don't think Thursday's chemistry was an aberration, but it just might have been the high to yesterday's low, as well as a reminder of why the spot on the right spot of that line is ripe for the return of Jesper Bratt.
- Face-offs usually go overlooked in their impact on the game, but the Devils marked improvement in the dot has created so many chances that's it's almost been impossible to ignore. This time it led to the game-tying goal, and even if their numbers (that are nothing short of shocking, mind you) regress they should still continue to benefit what's sneakily been the most surprisingly aspect as of their hot start.
- This one was predictable. Damon Severson is far too often treated as the whipping boy when things go wrong, but there's something about having more room to make plays that really brings out the worst in his instincts. I tend to think his spot on the second powerplay unit, that hasn't gotten any better than it was last year, was inevitably going to be taken by a 4th forward at some point anyway, but it's clear I wasn't imagining his hesitancy in moving the puck while he was acting like one yesterday.
- I don't know that any Devils' fan still needed closure to the Peter DeBoer era in New Jersey. While it ended poorly, he wasn't exactly given much to work with as that Finals appearance crept further and further into the rearview and the franchise finally floundered its way towards a rebuild. That said, it's tough not to appreciate the irony of John Hynes passing him in games coached for the Devils while out-coaching him in New Jersey.
- Holds breath...
...annnd let's out with a gasp...
- Bravo. Just, bravo...
First, some context. The Washington Capitals were on the ass end of a back-to-back. If you weren't aware of that when the game started then you should have easily been able to infer so by the end of it. That's not to take anything away from what a fast and unrelenting Devils' team was able to accomplish by running ragged a team that's given them absolute fits in recent years, but you typically don't skate laps around the reigning champions, who've been on an absolute heater to start the season, without some other factors working in your favor.
Another one of those factors was the Devils having fresh legs on familiar ice, as it can't be discounted that they were chomping at the bit to return home after being out of the country for nearly two weeks. I don't really think doing so against a back-up goalie helped their cause, as Pheonix Copley made just as many saves that he shouldn't as he let in goals he shouldn't. However, for the sake of the cold shower I'm in desperate need of after watching the Devils play near perfect hockey against the best the league has to offer, I'll also include the fact that they were shooting on someone I've never of in the disclaimer. Anyway, that about concludes my list of reasons to keep it in your pants while immediately penciling the Devils into a playoff spot after watching them top off the whole 6-pack in sobering up the Stanley Cup Champs...
The truth is, not even the most annoyingly delusional fan that thinks every player and/or prospect will play to their potential could have scripted such a stellar start to this season. Never mind the lopsided outcomes, because you can go up and down the entire roster, position by position, and the only concern you'd come up with is that not one of the offseason concerns has reared its ugly head as of yet. I'm generally a glass half full kind of guy, but the most worrisome thing about how great the team, as a whole, has looked is that water eventually finds its level. Until it does, however, it's important to drink in the overflowing optimism being spilled by a group that's performing like it wholeheartedly disagreed with the notion that they were in desperate need of reinforcements over the summer.
Mirco Mueller appeared, well, unnoticeable, which is just the biggest compliment you can give to a defenseman that went from in and out of the lineup to first pairing responsibilities in a few short months. Damon Severson, as I live and breath, played positional defense with a marked physicality of which I have to assume is the result of either Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Kuznetsov threatening to tag team his mother...or his comfortability next to Andy Greene. After two games, that pairing has returned encouraging results that lead you to believe that neither was nearly as bad as the cards as they were dealt last season. I would have told you that Marcus Johansson and Pavel Zacha were playing off of each other in dominant fashion before the former embraced his inner Joe Sakic to cap off a perfectly set play, and - regardless of the latter's inability to do the same on multiple glorious occasions - I definitely would have given him a 5-star review before seeing this eye-popping statistic...
I suppose you can include Keith Kinkaid in with the pleasant surprises, as - other than some Cory Schneider-esque expeditions outside the crease - he's picked up right where he left off in backstopping the Devils down the stretch, though I don't think that he was anywhere near as much of a question mark as others.
Regardless, just two games in, all those question marks have been responded to with exclamation points, and all the "givens" on the roster (the 1st line, the 3rd pairing, Travis Zajac, etc.) have lived up to that title and more. Add to that the powerplay seeming in sync and that the penalty kill being flawless against a unit that doesn't need a full tank of gas to make you look stupid, and there's almost too much positive not to be paranoid. After all, these things can, and will, surely change as the season wears on. Still, if only until Sunday, there's just not even one single solitary reason to believe that the Devils are going to fall victim to the funk that has haunted young, first time playoff teams before them.
This team looks just as energetic and even more attentive to detail than they were to start last season. The type of focus they displayed in doing so is just as encouraging, and even more important to sustained success, than the one-off emasculation of a tired team that got their reality fully checked, fore and back.
Miles Wood Contends That He's Always Had Good Hands, He's Just Had To Figure Out How To Use Them In The NHL
I can't believe I'm about to say this about a Miles Wood response, but that actually makes a whole lot of sense. It's easy to assume that, after two full seasons of working on them, a professional athlete's hands just don't have what it takes to fully catch up to the speed of the game...until you consider the speed of the particular game in question. Hell, those mitts probably need a re-palming after being run absolutely ragged in coming anywhere close to the dust kicking up behind the middle-6 muscle car they've desperately been attempting to tail.
Prior to the preview he gave us overseas, I had admittedly resigned myself to Miles Wood remaining a relentless, rough-around-the-edges battering ram whose points would primarily come from either bullying his way to the net or a sheer volume of breakaways. After watching him put the puck on a string only to yank it away and leave Adam Larsson looking like he feel victim to a Swedish street prank, however, I'm actually starting to believe there's something to the idea of his speed simply lapping his skill in beating it to the NHL level.
For whatever reason, this scene from The Fast And The Furious comes to mind...
...and if you think of the puck as the car then I think a young, naive Paul Walker compares rather easily (on the eyes) to the Miles Wood we saw throughout the start of his career. After watching the international trailer, you can definitely envision the improvement of the latter's vision and stickhandling becoming a sizable subplot during this sequel of a season. That's something I can't say I saw coming when he ended his holdout, but it's something that, in retrospect, was never all that far fetched given how many blazing quick quarter miles he now has on his NHL odometer.
Sidenote: Far, far, far too many Devils' fans (somehow still) need to listen CLOSELY to what he had to say about Travis Zajac, because it's no coincidence it's echoed the sentiment of almost anyone that's played alongside him for any extended period of time.