At each of the past four games, I have stressed the importance of that game because of placement in the standings, in addition to the confidence they need to build as the season quickly comes to an end and the playoffs sit in the not-to-distant future.
In each of these instances the Devils have found a way to lose. The number one problem: scoring. The Devils are averaging .75 goals in the past four games. That’s not even in the ballpark of what you need today to win games. Long gone are the days of 1-0 victories the Devils were so famous for. In fact, 35 of the Devils victories this season have come when they have scored 3 or more goals.
That’s 7 games where they have won with less than 3 goals.
I’d read the above line over a few more times. As of right now, the Devils do not have a secured spot in the playoffs. Sure it isn’t likely they won’t make the playoffs, but it is not mathematically impossible at this point.
Now sure it’s possible to claim that the loss of Patrik Elias in 3 of the last 4 contests the Devils played in was a factor in their previous losses, but on Tuesday when they finally saw the return of Elias, they were shut out by the Penguins.
In fact the Devils have been shut out 10 times this season, nearing a franchise (not team) record. Meaning the Devils have been shut out more this year then any other year in which they’ve been known as the New Jersey Devils.
I trust Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello. He’s built competitive teams year after year. But looking at a statistic like this must be disconcerting, especially since the only trade you made at the trading deadline was for a defenseman. It appears to me that a good shooter or at least a good play-maker would have been on his to-do list.
You could also look at coaching. I like Brent Sutter a lot. I will stick up for him because he’s the first coach who has gone in and tried to change the Devils obsolete system around. But lately their fore-check has become lazy. They are not nearly as aggressive as they were earlier in the season. The proof? Compare Tuesday’s third period with any other period of any other game in the past 2 months. They were playing desperate hockey for that third period, but they were going after guys with the puck, not just sitting back waving their sticks hoping to block or deflect a pass or shot. Sure maneuvers like that could put you out of position and leave a potentially vulnerable hole open in the ice, but that’s where you need to have proper positioning of your players where they recognize when you are moving up to make such a move and can cover your spot in the event of such a catastrophe.
Again, looking at the third period of Tuesday’s game showed players doing just that, as well as having better positioning around the Penguins’ defense to find open shooting lanes.
This has quickly turned in to a rant, so I will finish with what I started with: the past four games I have stressed the important of the game both as a whole with their positioning in the NHL and on an individual basis for the teams confidence and needs before the playoffs begin. Since that obviously didn’t work, play 60 minutes of desperate hockey in which you are looking for one thing: offense. Without it, 35 games wouldn’t have been won.
Thursday night the Devils will see the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. This will be the seventh time the two teams will see each other; the Devils have yet to win a game against them this season, and have only scored 5 goals. For all we know, the Rangers may be the first team the Devils see in the playoffs. They need to generate offense, and they need to be desperate for the win. A victory by the Rangers Thursday will tie them with the Devils and, as of right now, the Ottawa Senators for fourth spot in the Eastern Conference.