If you didn’t watch the Devils game Monday, you didn’t miss much. Jersey’s team lost to a subpar and depleted Florida Panthers squad that didn’t even have the services of their starting goaltender. Just to pour a little salt in the wound, the Devils lost in overtime. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Devils had the lead in the third period.
The Devils pathetic record in overtime brings back memories of the 2013-14 season, which was marred by two negatives for the Devils. First, there was the unceremonious “retirement” of a profile scorer named Ilya Kovalchuk (remember him?). And then there was the Devils NHL worst shootout record. The Devils went 0-14 in the skills competition. If they won half of those, they would have snuck into the playoffs.
Move into the 2015-16 season and the tides looked like they turned. The ascension of the John Hynes to the Devils head coaching position in 2015 perfectly coincided with the NHL adopting a 3-on-3 overtime structure instead of the previously used 4-on-4. This put the Devils at an immediate advantage, as Hynes was the only coach in the NHL at the time with experience with the 3-on-3 format from his AHL coaching days.
And for the first quarter of that season, the Devils were unbeaten in overtime, with the exception of a few shootout losses. Up until the calendar changed to January if you had to play a 65 minute game against the Devils, the odds seemed to be in their favor. Of course, as that season went, the Devils faltered and their overtime record took a turn for the worst.
While an overtime loss usually isn’t the worst case scenario for a game, the 2018-19 Devils are something else. Almost all of their overtime losses follow the same pattern. They go into the third with a little bit of a lead in a low scoring game, usually 2-1 or 2-0. Then the other team ties it up. Once the score is tied, the Devils act like they have zero chance of winning that game and might as well hand over the win.
Let’s face it, the Devils surprised the NHL last season, but they’ve played decent enough first and second periods that going to the locker room after 60 minutes isn’t a rare occurrence. When they come out, they’re tired, slow, and ineffective. That’s the perfect combination for the opposition to come back and blow open the lead the Devils once had.
When you go into the third period with the lead, you can approach the game in two ways. First and foremost is to maintain control of the game and grow that lead. The second is a more conservative method often used by less skilled teams: make the sure the other team doesn’t score. That, and only that becomes the team’s focus. Instead of a normal period, they play like it’s a 20-minute penalty kill.
That’s the strategy the Devils have been leaning towards in one or two goals games. It would be effective if they had a strong defense, but it’s painfully obvious they don’t. For example, I still have Lovejoy’s defensive snafu that leads to a second Detroit goal a few weeks ago at home haunting my nightmares. Little to no offensive effort, mixed with an obsessive defensive effort manned by players lacking skill is a recipe for disaster.
No team wants to blow a lead, but when they do, they go into overtime with the common goal of leaving that night with two points. Players and coaches get tired, but the Devils need to find some way to get the mental stamina to not throw away a game after sixty minutes. Otherwise, expect this season to be full of one point nights that could have been easy wins.