The New Jersey Devils are heading back to Newark down 2-0 in their round one series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils have given up 10 goals in their first two games, while managing to score just five. While the scoreboard makes it seem like the Lightning have been the utterly dominant team, the stats tell a different story. The Devils were only outshot 32-31 this afternoon, while outshooting Tampa Bay in game one 44-26.
Not only are the Devils getting pucks on net, but they’re doing a good job shutting down Tampa Bay’s top unit of Steven Stamkos, JT Miller, and Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov does have two goals and four points this series, but scored on an open net, while the other deflected off a Devils defenseman. Although Stamkos has two assists, him and Miller have both been held without a goal as the series shifts to Newark. Obviously, Tampa hasn’t had a problem finding other ways to score goals. The line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson have combined for four goals and 10 points the last two games, while third line center Alex Killorn leads all team players with three goals— two of which he scored this afternoon.
These observations circle back to what is perhaps Tampa Bay’s biggest advantage over the Devils this season, something they strongly possess that New Jersey lacks— forward depth.
From a talent-based perspective, New Jersey’s second and third lines of Pavel Zacha Centering Miles Wood and Patrick Maroon, along with Travis Zajac between Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen, are third and fourth lines on most other playoff teams. On the contrary, anyone on Tampa Bay’s second and third lines could easily become the Devils 4th-6th forwards. New Jersey’s current lineup not only reveals how much the absence of left wing Marcus Johansson is hurting right now, but how costly the risk wound up being of acquiring forward Michael Grabner to provide supplementary scoring. This isn’t taking anything away from players like Zajac and his line mates, who have done an excellent job shutting down Tampa’s top line. Having said that, the team still needs ways to get more chances so they can score those extra one or two goals needed to keep themselves in these particular games.
Tampa’s overwhelming offensive units aren’t just reflected in the amount of goals they scored with their top line having been neutralized most of the series, but also in the number of goals the Devils have scored. The Devils scored just once on the power play, while their four other goals occurred at even strength. New Jersey’s top line of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri have combined for just two goals five-on-five, while Blake Coleman is the only other Devils forward to score at even strength. New Jersey’s top line has been dominant when together all season, and the driving force of what little success the team has achieved this series. However, the Lightning have been successfully exploiting New Jersey’s steep drop-off in offensive talent that I mentioned in my series preview.