Everything Else

It was Chris Kunitz‘s 1000th game, it was Valentine’s Day, there was so much to distract from the fact that it was two crappy teams both trying to bounce back from particularly crappy losses. But in the end, the fact that Cory Schneider is horrendous and Cam Ward was, well, really good, made the difference. To the bullets…

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

– This game looked like it was going to get real ugly early on. The first period ended with shots at 14-13 Devils-Hawks, but the Hawks only caught up late in the period so that figure really masks how badly they were outplayed. A more accurate reflection is the 44.7 CF% at evens that they managed that period. In what will come as the least surprising statement of the night, the defense looked like total shit, with Erik Gustafsson being particularly putrid. He lost his man along the boards (or more accurately, stood there watching as he skated away) leading directly to the first goal by Damon Severson, he made multiple awful passes, and was generally useless. But it wasn’t just Gus. Everyone looked terrible except Cam Ward, who was lucky to keep it 2-0 for a while, and Patrick Kane, who just said fuck it and scored to make it 2-1 with just a couple minutes left.

– OK, it actually wasn’t just all Patrick Kane on that first goal; Dylan Sikura set up the play by winning a board battle with LOCAL GUY Nick Lappin and getting the puck to Kane in the first place. Sikura ended the night with a 68.4 CF%, and his line with Saad and Wide Dick had a 75 CF%, and I really wish Coach Cool Youth Pastor would see the value in the actions and numbers just described and play him for more than 10 minutes (or let’s just start with keeping him here instead of Rockford).

– Why would that possession matter so much? Because the Hawks were positively schizophrenic in their control of the puck tonight. They got domed in the first as described, then bounced back with a strong second period and managed a 60.5 CF% at evens, only to suck pond scum again in the third with a 34.5. They managed a paltry 8 shots in the third against the 19 they gave up to the Devils (yes, that’s right, 19 in the third), and it was really just Ward standing on his head, occasionally without a mask because of some bizarre wardrobe malfunction, that kept them in the period.

– And to that point, Ward was really good tonight. You know I don’t want to admit that, but I have to. There were flurries of shots he faced in both the first and third periods where it could have absolutely gotten out of hand. His positioning was excellent and rebound control was solid. Ward finished with a .953  SV%, and like always faced an obscene number of shots (43). Conversely, Cory Schneider is so bad I actually FEEL bad for him. He basically hasn’t won a game since the first Obama administration, and his total lack of rebound control led to Anisimov’s insurance goal in the third, which basically put the game away. At the end of the day, I’m glad the Hawks won so whatever, fuck him, but it’s actually kinda depressing at this point.

Brandon Saad got his 300th and 301st points tonight, and on this Valentine’s Day this guy FUCKS. A shorthanded goal, a 76 CF%, be still my heart.

– Kane and Toews continued their Fuck You tour. Kane had three points, including the first goal which arguably changed the entire trajectory of the game because it came late in the first, and it seemed to energize them since they dominated the second period. Kane to Koekkoek to Toews in the second was probably the prettiest goal, but Caligula’s was no slouch either and set the tone for the second (namely, that the Hawks were going to kick their ass for 20 minutes). All around, a good night for the top line.

Slater Koekkoek actually didn’t play terribly tonight. Again, you know I don’t want to admit that, but it’s true. He had an assist and a 68 CF% (SO CLOSE to making the joke), and generally was not offensive to the eyes or causing your face to melt in horror.

– Look, he’s not an important part of the organization nor does he have much history (or much future) here, but it’s cool that Chris Kunitz has played 1000 games, and the Hawks did their best in marking the occasion and being generally nice about it. Thumbs up all around.

So it was a good bounce-back game after the ignominious end of the streak against Boston. There’s some more shitty teams coming up over the next week and a half, and the conference remains a weird clusterfuck so who knows! Onward and upward…

Photo credit: NHL.com

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Devils 21-27-8   Hawks 23-25-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

MR. MEPHASTOPHELES PLEASE: In Lou We Trust

We used to have a joke in my family, it was as old as I was. I think it sprang from my father and brother doing college visits on the East Coast and having to spend some time in New Jersey (a fate worse than death). Anyway, they came up with this thing where no matter what you’re talking about, if someone from New Jersey overheard you they would proclaim that whatever you were talking about was the best in New Jersey. “Hockey in Jersey? It’s da best!” “Pizza? The pizza in Jersey? It’s da best!” “Lighting your ass-hair on fire in Jersey? It’s da best!”

As I’ve gotten older and actually had my own experiences of meeting New Jersey natives, I can tell you this is absolutely true. Anyway, I tell you this story because there’s absolutely nothing about this game tonight that makes it stand out in any way. These are two bad teams hurling at each other for no reason other than they are scheduled to do so, though they will both claim otherwise. And in the Devils’ case, they’re missing a good portion of what wasn’t an impressive bunch to begin with. Anyway. let’s rummage through the rubble.

We’ll start with the Hawks. Chris Kunitz will play his 1,000th game, which I guess is the headline. The Hawks will give him a pregame ceremony, which is nice and necessary because 1,000 games is a landmark and all. But it feels like this duty just fell on them instead of being a shared experience. They signed Kunitz and then a day or two later someone in the front office said, “Oh shit, he’s going to play his 1,000th game here. Guess we’ll have to do something for that, huh?” And then everyone just kind of nodded and went about their day. He’ll replace Brendan Perlini, who is running out of time to blow our skirt up. Soon our skirt will just be fight-strapped to our legs when it comes to Perlini. That’s some metaphor work, huh?

Elsewhere, Slater Koekkoek comes back in to save us from the chore of having to watch Gustav Forsling for a night. This is the hockey abyss. Cam Ward starts.

To the Devils, who are sitting just above the Senators in the East and seem intent on pile-driving themselves lower. They are beat up, as Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Miles Wood (not a pornstar), Blay Coleman (or Blake Olman, or Blake Coleman, it doesn’t really matter which) are all missing tonight. Without Hall, this is a lineup of whosits and whatsits aside from Nico Hischier and King Of Who Gives A Shit Style Kyle Palmieri, who has tossed another 24 goals into a pit of anonymity. There’s just not much going on here.

Both Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider have returned from injury, sending Lord Blackwood to the AHL again, but neither have them have returned to being good. Kinkaid just gave up eight to the Blues on Tuesday, and Schneider has been swatting and imaginary butterflies for at least two seasons. Now you know the big reason the Devils are where they are.

All that said, none of this has kept the Devils from slapping the Hawks around in their last three meetings, including last month in the swamp. The Hawks simply have not been able to live with the Devils speed, which even without Hall, Wood, and Coleman they still have a lot of. And the Devils use it, simply getting up the ice with banks off the glass or chips out of the zone to streaking forwards, ignoring all the tiki-taka shit the Hawks are still insistent on using to exit their zone. And because the Hawks defense is also balloon-handed as well as slow, the Devils have also forechecked them into psychosis. That will be the plan tonight. So maybe the Hawks adjust and try some of their shit, just get it out and get it up. But we keep saying that.

“Bad hockey teams from Jersey? It’s da best!”

 

Game #58 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

@HellBlazerViace is yet another creature we pulled out of the bin marked, “Unmentionables.” We took him home and fed him and now we can’t get rid of him. We did this a month ago when the Hawks were in Newark, and really nothing has changed much with the black and red outfit since. 

It’s been quite a comedown for the Devils from last year. Is it just the goaltending that’s landed them here?
I’d say it’s mostly the goaltending- they’re virtually the same team as they were last year with regards to their possession and expected goal numbers, but they’re losing a lot because no one can make a stop. Their horrid goaltending combined with John Hynes trying to get the Devils to play a faster style like the Leafs has generally put them in a tough spot because most of the time they’re down 3-0 early and they stop playing aggressively because they’re too worried about putting themselves in a deeper hole. They’ve also had a really tough schedule to start the season- they’ve played a third of their games against legitimate cup contenders or elite teams in Toronto, Tampa, Nashville, Winnipeg, San Jose, Washington and Vegas so that’s not helping either. They’re doing surprisingly better without Hall this year mainly because in at least half of the games where Hall’s been hurt, they’ve gotten strong goaltending from their top goaltending prospect MacKenzie Blackwood, which has given them the confidence to play a bit more aggressive. Outside of Zacha, Butcher, and Wood most of the skaters have met or are exceeding expectations so it’s probably safe to say that the goaltending is the issue.
Is Cory Schneider permanently broken?
 
Shero is just as tight lipped as Lou so it’s hard to tell what Schneider’s status is, but I remember seeing a quote in 31 Thoughts which said that there was some concern about Schneider’s injury being career ending- and I think that might be the case. He just can’t move the way he used to and over the past few years he’s been dealing with a lot of core muscle injuries to go with the hip problems he’s had so that’s going to affect him. He turns 33 in March so the chances of him returning to form are minimal. They can’t give him game time to work out his issues because they’ve got to try and win games in order to have a better chance at keeping Taylor Hall around. His days as a Devil are numbered and he’s probably going to get an amnesty buyout after the inevitable lockout in 2020.
What are the Devils going to do with Taylor Hall? He has one year left on his contract…
The good news is that unlike the Sens or Isles with Karlsson and Tavares, the Devils don’t exactly have the same issues those teams have. Unlike Mean Gene Melnyk, Josh Harris isn’t a cheapskate and the Devils lack of spending has more to do with Shero showing a ton of restraint and not overpaying for mid-tier free agents. Not only do they have the cap space, but they’re probably more than willing to give Hall the money to stay in New Jersey. Unlike the Isles, the Devils have a good GM and aren’t going to replace him with a ghoul like Lou and so far there isn’t a can’t-miss free agent destination like the Leafs- Nashville would fit that bill but playing with Nico and Kyle Palmieri is probably more enticing than playing with Kyle Turris and Colton Sissons on a contender. Re-signing John Hynes should help their chances as he seems to like playing for Hynes. They’re also in a good spot to retool the current roster given that Shero’s trade record is excellent, they might be able to get one of the really good free agents in this year’s class (or alternatively, his good buddy Jordan Eberle) with the $30+ million in cap space they have going into next season and they’ve obviously got a lottery pick with a lottery ball specialist so maybe they end up with one of Hughes, Kakko or Cozens. My guess is that they’ll offer him a blank cheque on July 1st and either he takes the money or waits to see if a contender emerges while having the Devils massive offer in his back pocket as a contingency plan.
At least there appears to be a step forward from Nico Hischier?
The thing about Nico is that you have to watch him closely to appreciate what he brings like someone like Patrice Bergeron or Patrik Elias. He’s not going to be lighting the scoresheet up with four-point games or hat tricks but the Devils have been winning the possession battle when he’s been on the ice. Considering he doesn’t get power play time and Rick Kowalsky has no idea how to run a power play his numbers there aren’t great, but he’s scoring at a better rate than he did this year and that’s probably going to go up once Hall returns from injury and Kowalsky gets his head out of his ass.
The Devils were a rebuilding team last year that spasmed a playoff spot. Is it possible for them to be much worse in the standings but actually moving forward as a team?
If you ask me, moving forward means moving away from the chickenshit conservative style they had towards the end of Lou’s tenure and moving towards the kind of style that teams like Toronto and Tampa play. While they’re trying to do that and it’s not necessarily working, it’s better they do this than go back to playing the chickenshit style they played under DeBoer where the games would be much closer but they couldn’t win because they lacked the skill to win. The thing is with the way they’re playing, it’s going to be much easier to insert difference makers than it would be while playing a conservative style that relies on bad, risk averse players. This is important because they’ve done a better job drafting and most of the guys they’ve drafted are smaller, high skill guys. Someone like 2018 1st rounder Ty Smith- a 5’10”, 175-lb defenseman with great puck skills, is now much easier to play in a system where his puck skills matter rather than one where his puck skills have to be toned down to fit into the safer style. As long as they’re not going back to the ineffective conservative tactics that have failed them in recent years I’m fine with them losing while trying to play a more effective style.

 

Game #48 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

 

Game #58 Preview Suite

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

@HellBlazerVice is yet another creature we pulled out of the bin marked, “Unmentionables.” We took him home and fed him and now we can’t get rid of him. 

It’s been quite a comedown for the Devils from last year. Is it just the goaltending that’s landed them here?
I’d say it’s mostly the goaltending- they’re virtually the same team as they were last year with regards to their possession and expected goal numbers, but they’re losing a lot because no one can make a stop. Their horrid goaltending combined with John Hynes trying to get the Devils to play a faster style like the Leafs has generally put them in a tough spot because most of the time they’re down 3-0 early and they stop playing aggressively because they’re too worried about putting themselves in a deeper hole. They’ve also had a really tough schedule to start the season- they’ve played a third of their games against legitimate cup contenders or elite teams in Toronto, Tampa, Nashville, Winnipeg, San Jose, Washington and Vegas so that’s not helping either. They’re doing surprisingly better without Hall this year mainly because in at least half of the games where Hall’s been hurt, they’ve gotten strong goaltending from their top goaltending prospect MacKenzie Blackwood, which has given them the confidence to play a bit more aggressive. Outside of Zacha, Butcher, and Wood most of the skaters have met or are exceeding expectations so it’s probably safe to say that the goaltending is the issue.
Is Cory Schneider permanently broken?
 
Shero is just as tight lipped as Lou so it’s hard to tell what Schneider’s status is, but I remember seeing a quote in 31 Thoughts which said that there was some concern about Schneider’s injury being career ending- and I think that might be the case. He just can’t move the way he used to and over the past few years he’s been dealing with a lot of core muscle injuries to go with the hip problems he’s had so that’s going to affect him. He turns 33 in March so the chances of him returning to form are minimal. They can’t give him game time to work out his issues because they’ve got to try and win games in order to have a better chance at keeping Taylor Hall around. His days as a Devil are numbered and he’s probably going to get an amnesty buyout after the inevitable lockout in 2020.
What are the Devils going to do with Taylor Hall? He has one year left on his contract…
The good news is that unlike the Sens or Isles with Karlsson and Tavares, the Devils don’t exactly have the same issues those teams have. Unlike Mean Gene Melnyk, Josh Harris isn’t a cheapskate and the Devils lack of spending has more to do with Shero showing a ton of restraint and not overpaying for mid-tier free agents. Not only do they have the cap space, but they’re probably more than willing to give Hall the money to stay in New Jersey. Unlike the Isles, the Devils have a good GM and aren’t going to replace him with a ghoul like Lou and so far there isn’t a can’t-miss free agent destination like the Leafs- Nashville would fit that bill but playing with Nico and Kyle Palmieri is probably more enticing than playing with Kyle Turris and Colton Sissons on a contender. Re-signing John Hynes should help their chances as he seems to like playing for Hynes. They’re also in a good spot to retool the current roster given that Shero’s trade record is excellent, they might be able to get one of the really good free agents in this year’s class (or alternatively, his good buddy Jordan Eberle) with the $30+ million in cap space they have going into next season and they’ve obviously got a lottery pick with a lottery ball specialist so maybe they end up with one of Hughes, Kakko or Cozens. My guess is that they’ll offer him a blank cheque on July 1st and either he takes the money or waits to see if a contender emerges while having the Devils massive offer in his back pocket as a contingency plan.
At least there appears to be a step forward from Nico Hischier?
The thing about Nico is that you have to watch him closely to appreciate what he brings like someone like Patrice Bergeron or Patrik Elias. He’s not going to be lighting the scoresheet up with four-point games or hat tricks but the Devils have been winning the possession battle when he’s been on the ice. Considering he doesn’t get power play time and Rick Kowalsky has no idea how to run a power play his numbers there aren’t great, but he’s scoring at a better rate than he did this year and that’s probably going to go up once Hall returns from injury and Kowalsky gets his head out of his ass.
The Devils were a rebuilding team last year that spasmed a playoff spot. Is it possible for them to be much worse in the standings but actually moving forward as a team?
If you ask me, moving forward means moving away from the chickenshit conservative style they had towards the end of Lou’s tenure and moving towards the kind of style that teams like Toronto and Tampa play. While they’re trying to do that and it’s not necessarily working, it’s better they do this than go back to playing the chickenshit style they played under DeBoer where the games would be much closer but they couldn’t win because they lacked the skill to win. The thing is with the way they’re playing, it’s going to be much easier to insert difference makers than it would be while playing a conservative style that relies on bad, risk averse players. This is important because they’ve done a better job drafting and most of the guys they’ve drafted are smaller, high skill guys. Someone like 2018 1st rounder Ty Smith- a 5’10”, 175-lb defenseman with great puck skills, is now much easier to play in a system where his puck skills matter rather than one where his puck skills have to be toned down to fit into the safer style. As long as they’re not going back to the ineffective conservative tactics that have failed them in recent years I’m fine with them losing while trying to play a more effective style.

 

Game #48 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

There was probably no bigger surprise last year than the New Jersey Devils making the playoffs. Or it would have been if anyone outside of Newark and maybe Hoboken remembered the Devils existed for more than eight consecutive minutes. And looking it over, the Devils might be the most unlikely team to make the playoffs in years. They basically had a guy and a half scoring. But one of those guys was Taylor Hall, who put up 93 points with the half-guy, Nico Hischier. They only had two other players break 40 points. The top line of Hall-Hischier-Palmieri accounted for a full third of all the goals the Devils scored. Which seems sub-optimal.

So you’d probably think that Cory Schneider freaked the fuck off in net and that’s how they goofed their way into the last wild card spot. Well tough noogies, shithead, because that’s not what happened at all. The Ginger was awful last year, and was replaced by Keith Kinkaid who wasn’t even league-average over the whole season. Kinky went off in March to the tune of an 8-2-1 record with a .923 SV% and then basically spotless in three April starts that locked it down for the Devils.

But yeah, needless to say this was a really weird team that probably can’t be weird in a good way again. They have fully transferred from the aggressive interrogation method era under Nosferatu Lamiorello to an up-tempo, exciting team under John Hynes. But there are still many steps for this team to take.

Let’s get into it.

Goalies: Well, this would have been a murkier question, given that Schneider has struggled for two seasons now, matching a .907 SV% last year with a .908 from the year before. But The Ginger had hip surgery in May, and it’s unclear if he’s going to make an appearance in camp or preseason. He may not be ready for the season. The Devils have to hope that hip’s health was the reason that Schneider’s peak was lost to the abyss. On the other side, “hip surgery” is to goalies what “shoulder surgery” is to pitchers. Sure, you can come back from them but the likelihood of being the same is not all that high, especially when you’re 32 as Schneider is. This is dicey, dicey stuff for the Swampside Hockey Club.

The contingency plan again is Kinkaid, who spasmed something of a career season at 28. And even that overall was a .913, and without that incredible March it’s a lot worse. A hot month-plus is not something you’d call a foundation, so the Devils can only have more questions than answers about their goalie situation. And in case it all goes to pot, Eddie Lack is next in line. That’s a sentence you’d see scrawled on the wall of a rubber room.

The best case for the Devils is that Schneider is back early. But even that could be anything. This is not a good start.

Defense: This is a more intriguing unit than it appears at first glance. It’s led by longtime-servant and oh-that-dude Andy Greene, and including him the rest of the likely group is pretty nimble. That doesn’t mean that they’re any good, but they can get around the ice and given how the Devils want to play now, that fits perfectly. John Moore has departed just before he was egged and TP’d by Devils fans, which should see Will Butcher slide up the lineup. I still contend Sami Vatanen only helps you on the power play and gets utterly mullered at even-strength, but he looks to be serving out the top pairing with Greene.

Butcher is the one to watch, as last year he was able to dominate as a third-pairing bum-slayer while bum-dragging Ben Lovejoy over the ice every night. Damon Severson, while not making really doing anything that you’ll remember, is a huge upgrade in partner. Mirco Mueller and his hilariously long neck will now be on the third-pairing with Steven Santini, who are both pretty mobile themselves. Santini was thrown into the deep end at the beginning of last year with Greene, and the results were so horrific he was exiled to Binghamton, truly a hellish fate, in January and never heard from again. He’s much better suited for the third pairing, and this unit could actually be more dynamic than you’d think, and is clearly the big hope the Devils can surprise again.

Forwards: It starts and ends with Hall. When you beat out that season from Nathan MacKinnon (which he shouldn’t have but it’s hardly scandalous) to win the Hart, you’ve really done something. Hall dragged this team by the dick into relevance, even though he was the only threat anyone had to pay attention to. It mattered not. It’ll take that season again for the Devils to come anywhere near the playoffs again.

Hischier could improve in his second season, though that’s a mark that has seen some stumble. There won’t be any hiding this time, as he’s the #1 center from jump street. He’ll be flanked by Palmieri again, who I’m fairly sure I can’t identify what he does and yet he keeps ending up with 25 goals, so what do I know? Also, a guy named “Palmieri” playing in New Jersey is just about as perfect as it gets. HEY! GABBA-GOUL!

You could look for a breakout year from Marcus Johansson, as it just so happens to be his walk year. The Devils are going to need it, because it gets awfully thin awfully quick. Pavel Zacha is the #2 center, and his name has been a definition of flattering to deceive since he walked into the league. Jesper Bratt flashed at times last year but found consistency hard to come by. You can throw Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen, Miles Wood, and Joseph Anderson in a bag, toss them around, and empty it in any order and none of you would be able to tell which is which.

Whatever the skill-level here, the Devils have packed this lineup with speed everywhere. So they could overwhelm some teams simply by putting cayenne pepper on their balls and turning up the volume to a point where the opponent couldn’t live with it (they did it to the Hawks twice). More teams are trending this way and the Devils won’t be able to catch as many by surprise. They’ll have to hope they catch enough napping in the doldrums of January and February to rack up the points they’ll need.

Outlook: Well, the Devils are kind of in between the different strata of the Metro. They’re not really all that close to the Penguins, Caps, or Jackets (as long as Bob is interested). They’re far better than the Rangers, Islanders, and almost certainly the Hurricanes if they continue to try and turn themselves into rock people.

That leaves them with the Flyers in the middle, possibly the Canes if they find goaltending. With the Panthers expected to compete hard for a wild card spot as well, there might be only one wild card spot for the Metro. A lot went right for the Devils, but given their youth and that growth is not always linear, along with the questions in net, it could be a lot rockier trip for them this time around. Likely they miss out while still taking steps forward in their development. Which could make things ultra-tricky, as Hall enters the last year of his deal next year, and he’s going to want proof that it’s worth sticking around New Jersey. Otherwise, next summer could be filled with Hall trade rumors, which would definitely set the Devils back a ton.

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Everything Else

 vs 

Schedule:  G1 Thursday, G2 Saturday, G3 April 16th, G4 April 18th

After a serious push and some back and forth from the Bruins in the Flortheast division, ultimately the division and the top record in the east were held by the favored, well-rounded, and supple Tampa Bay Lightning, doing what they were supposed to do during the regular season. Their opponent, however, is somewhat unexpected in the New Jersey Devils, who managed to fall ass backwards into a playoff spot after a hot streak that saw them leading the Metro division even around Christmas time even in the middle of a supposed rebuild.

Everything Else

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Corsica

Not exactly how you begin a road trip. While I didn’t think the Hawks were particularly bad on Thursday, certainly not to the point with which they were unlucky, they needed a response tonight before a break and the rest of this trip. And they got one… it just came 20 minutes too late. And when you cough up a division game before this, you kind of lose your right to mail in one right before the Christmas break. The Hawks seemed to realize that in the 2nd, but that’s not good enough. You’re not going to claw three back against Cory Schneider the way he’s playing. And you’re especially not going to do it when Sharp and Sbarro can combine to do perhaps the worst Stadler And Waldorf On Ice in the history of time (a competition I would like to judge one day).

Let’s run through it:

The Two Obs

-Especially in a sport as closed off as hockey, it’s probably impossible to get to the middle of how a team that kind of needed this one tonight can come out so rotten as the Hawks did in the first. There must’ve been eight to ten turnovers in the first five minutes in their own zone. “highlighted” by Gustav Forsling with a beautiful centering pass to his own crease and then Panik with a layoff to Brian Boyle.

The easy way to go here is to lay it at the feet of Joel Quenneville, because obviously it’s the coaches job to get a team ready to play. If it is with him, it certainly not all with him. It’s a whole leadership thing. And this is where you’re free to wonder with the three lettered players–Toews, Keith, Seabrook–basically producing dick (except for Keith, really)–how much influence they might have right now. They have veteran cache, sure. But someone’s gotta take the blame for how often, on the road usually, this team just isn’t at the races. But we’ll circle back to this in a moment.

-What I can hang Q out to dry for, and frequently have and will continue to do so, is these bewildering lineup and deployment choices. How does Patrick Sharp go from a deserved healthy scratch to the second line with Toews with no in-between? Players notice that, and I’m sure a couple are wondering what they have to do to get such treatment.

Let’s go to the Devils 4th goal, and what was a back-breaker. The Hawks have some juice from the second, a two-goal deficit is at least doable, and then you get this from Sharp and Seabrook. While watching this, make note of where Murphy is and where Seabrook ends up:

Murphy is up on the play, as he should be as the Hawks push for another goal. And you want your defense to be active, but you don’t want them to be aggressively stupid, or suicidal. Seabrook is all the way up with two Devils behind him. Murphy is the one who’s pushing here and Seabrook has to play the free safety.

Of course, maybe this doesn’t matter if Patrick Sharp doesn’t execute the Ozzy Osbourne “Drop Pass To Nowhere” (leads to me). Good thing he was on the second line tonight.

-How does Jordan Oesterle go from four games in two months to the power play? Given what led to the penalty shot, this seems an even more valid question.

-Let’s keep going. Gustav Forsling sucks in his own end. I can’t put it lightly anymore. I’m not sure Jan Rutta is any better. So why are they starting a penalty kill you kind of have to have when you’re already down one? The one thing a kill can’t have is passes that go through the box. So of course it took Forsling all of six seconds to completely lose Palmieri behind him, and then be completely pointed the wrong way to turn into a goal-scoring bumper for the Devils.

-Right, so let’s circle back to the leadership thing again. Obviously, this blog and this writer has a complicated relationship with Patrick Kane. So the following is strictly on-ice. But if you had told me say even three years ago that when the Hawks are struggling and need a boost, it would be Kane who consistently provides it and Toews would just sort of have a vacant look on his face most of the night, I would have called you a filthy liar and then asked the bartend to cut you off if not outright remove you from the premises.

But that’s been the story. On a night where he could have easily chucked it, Kane spent the second period trying drag his team back into it. And this is hardly the first game, either this year, or last year, or the one before that, where he’s done it. Sure, there’s the whole difference of center-vs-wing, and the competition each play, and where they start. But this team needed a jolt and for someone to say “fuck this” and to try and come up with inspiration. Only one half of Daydream Nation did it.

-Remember when Brandon Saad was noticeable? Good times, those. Many laughs were had. A libation shared. I’m sad these are things we just reminisce about right now.

-Ok, that’s enough heading into the holiday. From all of us here, have a wonderful Christmas. And we’ll pick it back up when the Hawks land on the West Coast.

 

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN Ch. 9, WGN-AM 720
Bullying The Jukebox: All About The Jersey

One of the odd offshoots of there being no more Circus Trip for the Hawks (because there is no more circus for anyone) is the Hawks are now taking one of their longest road trips of the year over the Christmas and New Year holidays, depriving all of us of the traditional Boxing Day (or thereabouts) game at the UC. Stop two of said trip brings them to Newark tonight after Dallas to face a surprisingly competent Devils team that’s still managing fight for the lead of the Metro.

Everything Else

We still don’t know where @HellBlazerVice came from. And we don’t want to know. Luckily he was once again able to string some sentences together about the Devils for us. And now we run. 

Last time we did this we asked you just what the hell the Devils are doing at the top of the standings. Well, they’re still there, it’s still supposed to be a rebuilding year, so what the fuck?

Outside of their star players playing like stars, they’ve continued to get contributions from nearly everyone in the lineup. Brian Boyle has been absolutely scorching of late with 7 points in his last 3 games and is on pace to shatter his career highs despite missing the first 10 games of the season and playing himself back into game shape. For Boyle’s sake I hope it lasts because if there’s one person who deserves that kind of luck it’s him. Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen have managed to chip in some offense as well and Brian Gibbons has continued to be an effective player. Cory Schneider having a bounceback season also helps seeing as if they were going to be good again, having great goaltending would help seeing as they’re not a great puck possession team. It also helps that everyone in the metro is flawed in some way- the Rangers are pretty similar to the Devils (good goaltending, lots of skill, get badly outshot), the Pens, Isles and Canes can’t get a save when they need it, the Caps are top heavy and the Flyers insist on giving Andrew MacDonald significant minutes. The Jackets are probably the best team in the division but they’re one John Tortorella meltdown away from pissing the division away. The Devils haven’t as good as they were at the start of the season but they’re still atop the metro because everyone else can’t seem to string together some solid play or they’re digging themselves out of a hole.
How has Sami Vatanen looked so far in the swamp?
He hasn’t been their best defenseman but he’s been a workhorse who can play in all situations and they need that with Andy Greene slowly declining. The only complaint so far with Vatanen has been his lack of offensive production (1 assist through 10 games) but it’s excusable to some extent. He was playing himself back into game shape with Anaheim and got traded from an old, slow, physical team to a young, fast team built around skill so there will be some adjustment. It also doesn’t help that the Devils don’t have the same quality of defenseman as the Ducks- going from playing with Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler to a declining Greene and John Moore is like trading in your Ferrari for Ricky’s shitmobile. Adding Vatanen has been nice but there’s still a lot of work to be done on the roster so he’s really just another piece of the puzzle as they try and move away from ultra-safe defenders to guys who can move the puck and dictate the pace of the game.
 
Will Butcher was the college free agent everyone wanted to wave their dowry at over the summer. The Devils got him. Impressions?
 
Every time I watch Butcher I come away impressed with his puck skills. He always seems to make the right decisions with the puck as opposed to trying to force things or wait too long and get in trouble. His defense isn’t great, but it has more to do with a lack of experience as opposed to being bad defensively. His production has dipped a bit since his hot start but that has had more to do with the Devils’ sticks cooling off than him struggling individually. The Devils haven’t really had a defenseman like Butcher since Brian Rafalski- which is honestly less of a compliment and more of a statement of how bad the Devils organization were at assessing defensemen in the twilight of Lou Lamoriello’s tenure. That being said, John Hynes has put a lot of effort into trying to keep Butcher away from defensive minutes, which has been good in that he’s been able to focus on offense as opposed to worrying about his defense. It has come at a cost seeing as Butcher doesn’t play a lot (averages around 16 and a half minutes) and they could use him more often considering how ineffective Moore is and how Greene brings minimal offense.
Is Pavel Zacha ever going to be a thing? Yes we know, only 20…
 
The toughest part about assessing Zacha is no matter what, there’s always going to be angst about passing on Barzal, Werenski and Provorov to take him. I think the toughest part about him is that he’s an incredibly frustrating player because he doesn’t look like he’s doing enough at times. Most of the good things he does aren’t things that show up on the scoresheet- gaining the zone, setting up passes and playing defense. He’s a very good skater so he can get by half assing it, which was a problem of his in juniors and something that Hynes hasn’t been too fond of (which lead to several healthy scratches). He could also be a bit more selfish at times too, considering he tends to be more of a pass first player as opposed to a shooter. The good news is that he seems to have turned a corner as of late and has looked much better in general, especially considering he’s been dragging around the lifeless corpse of Drew Stafford for the past couple of weeks. I’d have to imagine that if Travis Zajac continues to be a non-factor on offense he should get another shot at the top 6. If he does become a good player, his development path will be much closer to someone like Josh Bailey or Sean Couturier where they were solid players before having a huge breakout season. Which might be fine considering that the Devils aren’t built to win now, but will be painful as long as guys like Barzal and Werenski continue to put their teams on their backs and rack up individual accolades.
Miles Wood… that’s totally a name he took from a porn star, right? Or is he a porn star on off days?
 
His dad is former NHLer Randy Wood, who also happens to have a name that sounds like it’s been taken from a porn star. According to Eliteprospects, his grandpa was named R. Norman Wood, which kinda sounds like a porn star name from the 60s. He has a brother named Tyler Wood who I can only assume he changed his name from “Richard” because he didn’t want to be known as Dick Wood. It’s entirely possible that his entire family is full of people who have taken their names from porn stars… or they’re a family full of part time porn stars.
Everything Else

I’ll name it that because A) It’s true and B) I don’t know what the hell else we would talk about when it comes to New Jersey. Certainly not their hockey team, and certainly not the ambience. But I guess that’s our lot in life, so we’ll address Nico Hishier, Taylor Hall (for the 50 games he’s actually upright for), and whatever the hell else isn’t wearing green and red like they should be.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

’16-’17 Record: 28-40-14  70 points (dead-ass last in the Metro)

Team Stats 5vs: 47.8 CF% (27th)  47.4 SF% (26th)  47.7 SCF% (26th)  6.2 SH% (28th)  .924 SV% (14th)

Special Teams: 17.5 PP% (22nd)  79.6 SV% (23rd)