It has been 357 days since fans last watched the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center. That day March 10, 2020, was the last day before the world stopped spinning. COVID was in the air, and the crowd was smaller than usual whispers of a shutdown loomed. The New Jersey Lottery section was giving away its prizes without a wheel. I chose the cellphone charger. There were haphazard protocols in place as the pandemic was here, and few knew what to do. That night the Devils lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2. The following day Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID, and the NBA paused their season. The NHL and MLB would follow within 24 hours, while March Madness became March Sadness.
The NHL and NBA resumed their seasons in bubbles; MLB played 60 games as the Pandemic dragged on longer than anyone could have believed. The NFL made it through their season, while the NBA and NHL began their new seasons late. As the numbers go down and the COVID vaccine makes its rounds, things are opening up again, and fans can finally see the Devils at the Rock again.
The Devils only sold tickets in pairs as I took Rone to the game. The Devils debuted their reverse retro jerseys as they took on the New York Islanders. The Devils have not played well over the past two weeks, as their special teams have especially been bad, from the league's worst penalty kill to a power play with no power. Parking in the deck was a breeze, but the elevator was out of service, which meant a five-floor walk down. The entry for my ticket was on the other side of the Prudential Center, so I had a nice walk around the arena.
The Devils had temperature checks and gave out a cloth mask, saying they did not want me to wear a gaiter. From there, it was time to find our seats. My tickets were in my usual section 101, though I did not see any of my usual seatmates. I ran into several fans and got ready for the game. Only a few seats in each row were open, as the Rock was just at 10% capacity for its first game. Concessions were limited, Hot Dogs at the Prudential Center are terrible, the Chicken Tenders are somewhat edible. I wish they had the popcorn stand and nacho stands open. I tend to go between those when I go to games. Food was given out in bags as you could only eat at your seat. Arlette did her usual terrific rendition of the National Anthem, and the game was underway.
The Islanders outplayed the Devils in the first period, but there was no scoring as Aaron Dell stopped all eight shots for New Jersey. The Devils flipped the ice in the second period and did everything possible to take the lead. However, it would be a period of missed opportunities for the Devils. They had three chances on the power play and came away empty, including a 5-on-3 and one power-play where the Devils did a penalty suicide holding the puck behind their net for what seemed like 30 seconds. The power play is sponsored by PSE&G but should be sponsored by New Jersey Transit as it goes backward and stands around and takes the team off the rails.
The Islanders finally broke through early in the third period on a goal by Oliver Wahlstrom. Anders Lee scored six minutes later to make it 2-0. The Devils would not get shut out, but by the time Miles Wood scored with 12 seconds left it was too little too late as the Islanders won 2-1.
Overall it was a nice night out; nice to be back at a sporting event, if only the Devils can play better.