You know the feeling you get when you initially move into a new place? That feeling of wonderment. That overwhelming sense of freedom. That exciting belief that a world of possibilities are open to you? Oh, the light from that window would look great reflecting off the super awesome painting that you don't have! That extra room on the backside of the apartment would be a great place for an office that you haven't even thought about furnishing yet! The extra counter place will be great for the food prep you won't be doing while you're running around getting takeout in between trips to 'Bed, Bath, and Beyond'! It's a beautiful, euphoric state of mind, and I can't help but think that it closely resembles what the Devils experienced last year when they outperformed meager expectations in the first official year of their rebuild.
Unfortunately, what most realize after awhile is that starting over doesn't just create endless possibilities, it also creates a laundry list of responsibilities. The bare ass cupboard might provide promise, but it's also quite the fucking burden. You see, a complete renovation might be the first step to making a house a home, but it also requires an amount of money, effort, and - most importantly - time that periodically makes the entire process seem hopeless. This stretch of games that has netted the Devils wins in just three of their last seventeen is one of those periods, and it should serve as a moment of clarity. It's become pretty obvious that a season that was bouyed by All-World goaltending, an all-too-reliable defensive pairing that was used as a crutch, and career years from two young players has given us all (myself included) false hope. Turns out that reconfiguring the entire foundation of what was a broken franchise into something that can stand on it's own and breed success takes a little longer than a year and a half. Who knew?!?
I'll be the first one to tell you that watching this team find ways to lose during the rare occurence that they aren't completely outmatched from the opening faceoff has been demoralizing. Love might be a battlefield, but having my mood determined by the Devils has felt like tip toeing an emotional minefield as of late. The final 15 minutes of last night's game against the Rangers truly felt like I was defenselessly witnessing a knife being shoved into my abdomen. Each point blank chance that was botched started making that extra inch seem like a mile and added a little twist to the proverbial stab wound in my stomach. A six game losing streak that was "highlighted" by getting one measly point out of a game against division rival that they led throughout? How could the situation not seem so dire that it would have fans calling for someone's head?
Well, let me tell you. As bad as this stretch has been, it hasn't transformed Ray Shero from a shrewd genius to a visionless buffoon. Even in retrospect he would have flipped Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall and walked away laughing maniacally. I don't exactly agree with John Hynes' decision to "shake things up" by icing his most offensively incompetent lineup like he did against St. Louis and Ottawa. However, a disasterous slump that has all but proven that his team isn't playoff bound in a Metropolitan Division that would now require a Mt. Everest-esque scaling hasn't turned him from a young, hungry Head Coach to an overwhelmed jackass. A look at their record might have some thinking that the Devils took one step forward to take two steps back, but this team isn't any further from competing for a Stanley Cup than they were last year. This style of play - that has their rotation of parking cone defenseman getting piled on seemingly nightly - is much closer to the style of play they'll need to adopt to personnel wise before they even consider postseason play.
That doesn't mean that turning a 2-0 lead into a 5-2 loss is acceptable in any way, but it is probably a hiccup that we should have expected to encounter along the way with a team that is trying to compete in a league that is as young and fast as it's ever been while being only 18 months removed from being old, slow, and void of any and all potential whatsoever. Suffering through the last month and a half has felt a lot like walking into IKEA on a Sunday afternoon with no plan of attack, but all we can do is trust that when all the shopping is done and all the construction is completed that we'll be able to sit comfortably on the couch and watch this team breakout of the zone without breaking out in nervous hives. This rebuilding effort isn't all that different from most architectural endeavors in that it's apparently going to take a little longer than we originally thought, but changing the plans mid-blueprint isn't going to aide anything but the fans blind appreciation of the unknown.
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