Last night, The New Jersey Devils lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the third time this season. With that, they completed an unfortunate season sweep of the Devils, who seem to have reached rock bottom. In the words of every 90’s sitcom dad ever, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.
The result of the game was anything but shocking, especially considering how the past two Devils vs Lightning games have gone this season. What was surprising is how far the Devils have fallen. What was surprising was seeing Keith Kinkaid skate off the ice in anger the second after the first-period horn rang. What was surprising was the first emergence of “boos” from the Prudential Center crowd.
Let’s start with the first period. The first half of that period was as even of a matchup that Devils fans saw all evening. After a decent, but not good enough effort on their first power play of the game, the play was entirely dictated by the Lightning. Almost the entire second half of the first period was played in the Devils zone. New Jersey couldn’t manage to set up a scoring chance to break out of their zone, or even clear the puck and headed to the locker room staring at a 2-0 deficit.
The only high point for the Devils all night came in the second period when Yakovlev scored the first goal of his NHL career. He’s had a back and forth season between the AHL, NHL and rotating in and out of the lineup, mostly for Mirco Mueller. Yakovlev’s goal came at the hands of a weird, mid-air kick save attempt by Tampa’s goalie, but the entire team embraced his career milestone. Even though at that point the Devils still faced a 3-1 deficit, you’d think Yakovlev’s goal would light some type of fire under whatever little motivation the Devils had left in them, but you were wrong. The Lightning immediately responded to make it 4-1 before Kevin Clark was even finished with his goal announcement at the Rock.
Yakovlev’s goal was the Devils’ only offensive highlight for the night. To truly get a feeling for how bad the rest of the night was, the Devils next best scoring chance was a Blake Coleman shorthanded attempt in the second. Domingue may be the Lightning back up, and a shell of the goaltender Vasilevskiy is, but the Devil’s handed him an easy win last night. You could have put a lawn chair in Tampa’s goal and the Lightning still would have walked away with the win.
Also in the second, the Devils began to show a little bit of their physicality, and not in a good way. For example, after Stamkos took an initial slashing penalty, Miles Wood tried to initiate a scrum. That resulted in two minutes of 4-on-4 play, negating any potential man advantage the Devils could have had. Yes the Devils were down, yes you can say that he was trying to energize a team, but there is a time and place for that situation, and that was not it.
The third period began with one of John Hynes more puzzling decisions of the year: putting Schneider in goal to relieve Kinkaid. How did the Lightning respond? By scoring on Schneider 20 seconds into the period on their first shot. If there was a silver lining, it’s that this was the final time the Lightning found the scoresheet for the rest of the night. Less than 20 minutes later, the Devils lost a 5-1 game and the Lightning left Prudential Center with their season sweep.
While this is the latest chapter in the story of ugly losses for the Devils this season, this one seemed a bit different. We’ve seen this team blow leads, play sloppy, and look frustrated. We saw a team that almost predetermined its fate of a loss and did their best to disconnect and lay through the motions while their team’s winless streak stretched to 6.
Through it all, one thing caught my attention more than anything else. During the second intermission, Bryce Salvador put it bluntly when he said that “The Devils aren’t a team that can feel sorry for themselves.” I wish I could tell the Devils where to go from here, but I don’t even know what to say to them. The tools to win should be there for them, but for now, they’re doing anything but that.