For so long, Rangers-Devils dates were worth circling the calendar. That was true even through all those years when the Blueshirts were a drag and New Jersey’s team hoisted the Stanley Cup three times in nine seasons.
But not now. Not with the Devils circling the drain before the end of the season’s second month, even with marquee names dotting the roster. Of course, not one is living up to his billing and that would go most specifically for Taylor Hall and P.K. Subban.
It was 4-0 for the Rangers in Newark on Saturday afternoon, with the Blueshirts extending their point-streak to five games (4-0-1) while extending their longer run to a mighty impressive 10-4-2 over their past 16 matches. And though the Rangers were good and committed themselves for the most part to defensive-zone detail while somehow conspiring to skate shorthanded for 15:00 through eight different Devils power plays, this one wasn’t so much a show of New York dominance as it was New Jersey submission.
Those throwback Christmassy uniforms the Devils wore evinced memories of the 1983-84 squad that endured the Mickey Mouse Game in Edmonton, started the season 2-20 and got Billy MacMillan fired as coach by general manager Max McNab when the record had sunk to 2-18.
Et tu, Ray Shero?
The record this time around is a much less odorous 9-12-4, but it remains to be seen how much longer the GM will stick with John Hynes behind the bench of this team that is so much less than the sum of its parts, even given the squad’s blue-line deficiencies (Did anyone say P.K. Subban?) and the since-demoted Cory Schneider’s implosion in nets.
This is the kind of game that the Devils played when MacMillan was coach and when Tom McVie succeeded him. This is the kind of game the Devils played when John MacLean was behind the bench the first three months of 2009-10. This is the kind of game the Devils have played too often for Hynes, whose New Jersey teams have already missed the playoffs three times in his four years behind the bench.
This is the kind of game, one in which the Rangers scored once on the power play and twice while shorthanded, that gets coaches fired.
“There’s not too much to be said,” said Hall, the pending free-agent rental property. “It was a huge specialty teams game and we get outscored by two. It’s unacceptable. It was a terrible, terrible performance by our power play.”
Hall, who in 2017-18 accomplished something that Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Patrik Elias and Zach Parise never did by winning the Hart Trophy, will almost certainly be on the move, and sooner rather than later as the GM begins to field preliminary offers that could offer a significant reset to the roster.
But Shero could wait to pull the trigger on getting a haul back for Hall and dismiss the coach instead, perhaps providing No. 9 with a reason to stay and sign an extension if the new man behind the bench could ignite the team.
No, not in that way.
Because unless the idea is to become Edmonton East, how many No. 1s do the Devils, 29th overall, intend to collect before they get this hockey thing right?
Speaking of which, Jack Hughes missed his first game as a pro, sidelined after blocking a shot in Montreal on Thursday. But the 18-year-old’s absence can hardly suffice as even part of the explanation for this languid performance. Just as his presence has not provided enough cover for the Devils to establish themselves as anything more than bottom-feeders. Three two-game winning streaks constitute their best work of the year.
“You never get traction as a team and it’s hard to get traction as a player,” said Hall, 4-17-21 with two five-on-five goals overall. “[Consistency] is something we can control but it hasn’t been there this year from player-to-player.
“That’s on the leadership group and the players.”
Now, following as poor a performance as you will find in the Battle of the Hudson — all right, not counting that 9-0 game in the Rangers’ favor 100 years ago when Sam St. Laurent was in nets for New Jersey — it’s likely on the management group to figure out how to reverse this trajectory.