I’m not going to lie, we - as Devils’ fans - kind of had this coming.
By “this”, of course, I don’t mean a disastrous defeat in which the team treated a 4-0 second period lead in the home-opener as if it were a 4-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final, nor am I referring to back-to-back, uncompetitive no-shows in which a revamped roster switched on-and-off between relying too much on skill and aimlessly searching to figure out where they misplaced it.
Instead, I am talking about the inevitable crash following what was the offseason equivalent of an unadulterated opium drip. Not to excuse what’s been a nightmarish start to an insanely important season, but our wildest dreams - and they were a bountiful with how shamelessly optimistic the pandering was at all levels of the organization - never stood a chance of being immediately fulfilled. With a hell of a lot of new talent comes almost an entirely new team, so these growing pains, and the despondent disappointment that's come right along with them, were unavoidable.
That being said, the instantaneous timing and abrupt sharpness of them all but force at least an initial conversation about the elephant in the online echo chamber. Personally, I think John Hynes is a great motivator and a good coach, but what’s really scary is that the most deafening argument against that idea isn’t being made by irrational people on the internet. Rather, it’s come by way of dispirited efforts and desperate decisions. It was always going to take time to gel, as chemistry can't be created on paper, but to call the New Jersey Devils “a work in progress” three games into the season would be offensive to the term ‘progress’.
You need not look further than another team’s trash, in John Hayden, being promoted mid-game as some foolproof fix-all to defensive woes in an obvious act of over-coaching.your way out of a 3-goal, third period lead. However, if you did you might see a 36-year old Andy Greene opening the season in a first pairing role that even his agent wouldn’t argue he’s still capable of filling. Speaking of agents, Mirco Mueller's probably highlighted his ability to get his client a job on his resume while in search of a gig with a semblance of security, and yet it still took said client two whole games post a pathetic preseason to get him relegated to a luxury suite.
I typically don't like to overreact to line combinations, because there's not a soul that can definitively say what will eventually end up working for a young group that's in its infancy when it comes to playing together. However, any soul belonging to someone who has watched them play prior to this season could confidently tell you that an improvisational offensive threat, the likes of Jack Hughes, was the oil to the water bowl that Miles Wood always appears to be running towards when he plays the game with the spatial awareness of a dog chasing a tennis ball across a hardwood floor.
I'm all for experimentation, especially early on in a locker room full of unknowns, but I also don't need to dump ketchup on my spaghetti to know that it makes for a meal as unpalatable as the archaic idea of icing objectively worse players in the name of toughness. The Devils didn't line up across from Bobby Clarke in his prime last night, but they certainly made sure they were prepared in case the Broad Street Bullies took the ice, 'Field Of Dreams'-style, by benching one of the better defensive forwards on a struggling PK (Pavel Zacha) against a perennially dangerous powerplay in favor of bringing extra fists to the 4th line.
The truth of the matter is, short of pepper spraying their opponent in the pregame, there's not one move - made or left unmade - that would have changed the Devils fortunes thus far. To varying degrees, every player that has taken the ice for them has contributed to the pile of shit that has failed to stick to the wall and been left to form a heaping mound of crap so hilariously huge that it could be used as comedic relief in the next 'Jurassic Park' movie...
It just feels like everyone both on the ice and behind the bench is doing a whole lot of guessing, but it's more in the vain of "how many gumballs do you think we can fit on this sinking ship before Taylor Hall calls for a life raft?", as opposed to being a simple matter of unfamiliarity. It truly looks like less than nothing was learned throughout training camp and that's far more concerning than taking a couple of early L's.
Of course, it's psychotically premature to make any blanket statements about where this team is headed or who will be leading them when they get there. It's not too early, however, to say that it's too late in the rebuild to simply brush off the dumbfounding deployment of under-performing players. We've reached fine-tooth comb territory, and - as the Devils somehow stand more spineless than they are winless a week into what was supposed to be a transformative season - the fanbase is left feeling like a school nurse during a lice outbreak.
Things could turn around as soon as tonight and there is still a ton of hope to potentially be had, but the ease with which everyone in the locker room pissed away the unprecedented amount of excitement that Ray Shero built up over the summer has expedited enraged overreactions as much as it has humbled expectations. I'd prefer to say that's not fair, but almost everything about the hockey they've played thus far has been inexcusably foul. The extremely early returns of this 'New Era' has the fan base pulling their proverbial hats down over the eyes in familiarly fatalistic fashion, and - from the top down - I can't see that being tolerated for too long.