I’m beginning to think I’m bad luck for the New Jersey Devils. They are now 1-3 in games that I’ve attended, including tonight’s 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. And because I have yet to collect my thoughts about the game itself, I’ll delve into the Ring of Honor ceremony, recognizing and inducting Dr. John J. McMullen first.
It was a truly beautiful induction. They played a video in which Devils alumni who played for and worked with Dr. McMullen spoke about him and what he did for this team. They invited a few of those alumni to join Dr. McMullen’s family on the red carpet and unveiled a banner in Section 103 of the Prudential Center, honoring Dr. McMullen’s hockey venture in 1982. Among those alumni were Ken Daneyko, Chico Resch, John Maclean, Jim Dowd, Claude Lemieux, Bruce Driver, Stephane Richer, Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan, and Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello. Peter McMullen, Dr. McMullen’s son, participated in a ceremonial puck drop with New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri and Toronto’s James Van Riemsdyk, both Jersey natives. Fans also received commemorative pins and many alumni jerseys were on display. However, my favorite moment of the night was when Patrik Elias was announced as one of the Devils alumni and the crowd completely lost it, chanting “Patty! Patty!” in what may be my last time seeing him live (he doesn’t have to be playing, it’s okay). It was such a nice moment and his arrival took me by surprise. And while I will never forget this ceremony, I would like to forget the game.
The Devils had a rough start and it didn’t get much better from there; if anything, it got worse. Toronto took an early 1-0 lead on Nazem Kadri’s 15th goal of the season, and also a power play goal; Toronto was 2/3 on their power plays tonight and the Devils’ penalty kill has been decent but took a massive hit tonight. Connor Brown scored his 9th of the season less than four minutes later to double the lead. This was a shorthanded goal (Devils were on the PP); New Jersey has now given up six SHGs this season. Auston Matthews scored his 21st goal of the season to tie Patrik Laine for the rookie lead and Tyler Bozak scored his 8th to extend the Leafs lead to 4-0. The entire second period and most of the third remained scoreless.
At 16:36 in the third, P.A. Parenteau scored his 12th goal (team-leading) to ruin Frederik Andersen’s shutout bid and Jon Merrill (surprise, surprise) scored his first goal of the season to cut the Leafs lead to two; however, too little, too late. Despite outshooting the Leafs 14-0 in the third period, and 32-14 overall, the Devils were unable to complete the comeback or even stay in the game long enough to stand a chance. They had a few, not many, very good chances to score, especially in the second on Miles Wood’s breakaway, but the puck could just not find its way to the back of the net. Talk about bad breaks and not having puck luck. Might be time to plead to the Hockey Gods.
The Devils had a much better night at the face-off circle, winning 59.3% of them. They took more shots than they normally do (32) but got off to a really, really slow start in the first period. However, they only killed one of Toronto’s power plays (out of three) and failed to score on their own power plays (there were four of them). And again, just to reiterate, they allowed yet another shorthanded goal. Specials teams was the key to tonight’s game. Yes, their defense had to step up. Yes, they’re missing both Captain Andy Greene and John Moore. We didn’t see the defense play as well as they did on Tuesday at Carolina but the offense had no excuse. The only player producing consistently is Parenteau; he has seven goals in his last 12 games.
The entire team seems lifeless and they play without energy. It was a rough game to watch. It’s a lot easier to watch games at home and yell at my TV screen in peace without having to hear it from hundreds of other fans sitting next to you. I lost count of how many times either myself or someone else yelled to “shoot the damn puck”. The Devils’ shots/GP average is 27.6, which is dead last in the NHL. You don’t have to be a hockey expert to understand just how bad that number is. It might be a different story if the Devils were shooting that low and scoring goals but they’re not. Their power play remains a huge problem as well but I’m getting tired of saying the same things over and over and over again.
The two teams won’t see each other again until March 23rd when New Jersey travels to the Air Canada Centre and that will be their last meeting this season. Toronto is now third in the Atlantic and looks primed for a playoff spot. New Jersey is next-to-last in the Metropolitan and is still hypothetically six points out of a playoff spot but there’s still plenty of hockey left.
The Devils takes on the Edmonton Oilers in Adam Larsson’s homecoming Saturday night at The Rock.