The New Jersey Devils emerge a winless team out of the weekend, but gained nor lost any ground in the standings. Last night’s game was the latest instance of the Devils failing to capitalize on a winnable opportunity against a team they’re neck-in-neck with. Had they won both contests this weekend, the Devils would only be one point behind Detroit and Philadelphia. Last night’s 3-2 regulation loss to the Carolina Hurricanes was due in part to one of the team’s most common enemies during games – themselves. The Devils committed five minor penalties throughout the first period during which Carolina scored twice, just 36 seconds apart from each other. Although the Devils scored their own pair of back-to-back goals by Bobby Farnham (8th) and Travis Zajac (13th) the following period, their efforts were ultimately hapless. Don’t blame rookie goaltender Scott Wedgewood, who suffered his first NHL regulation loss after giving up just one goal in the first 180 regulation minutes of his playing career. The 23-year old faced 23 shots, 14 of which came in the first period.
Aside from their lackluster offense (an obvious demeanor of the team), the Devil’s spurt of undisciplined play factored instrumentally in yesterday’s defeat. Although Carolina only converted once on four power play opportunities, both their first period goals came during New Jersey’s stretch of shorthanded time (Devils took four minor penalties from 8:51-13:22 of the first period, Hurricanes scored back-to-back goals at 9:10 and 9:46 marks). While yesterday’s loss can be initially dismissed as an isolatable instance that ultimately cost the Devils another must-win game, New Jersey’s first period parade to and from and penalty box is part of a more cumbersome issue that may have been just as (if not more) costly to the Devils missing the playoffs than their subpar scoring depth.
In terms of the number of times New Jersey was shorthanded this season, the Devils have the 11th-most (242) amongst teams in the NHL. The first five of the ten teams above the Devils (Arizona, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Anaheim, St. Louis) play in the Western Conference. The 6th-10th (Columbus, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Florida) are all Eastern Conference teams.
Among the Eastern Conference, the Devils have the sixth-most shorthanded times this season. Teams 7-10 are Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Washington.
On the road, the Devils have had the 5th-most shorthanded times in the NHL, and third-most in the Eastern Conference behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins. The ten teams with the most shorthanded times on the road in the Eastern Conference his season are Columbus, Boston, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Montreal, Washington, Florida, Toronto, Detroit and the Rangers.
The Devils have succumbed to a Darwinian-like trend, developed amongst the teams that spent the most time shorthanded in the Eastern Conference.
Out of the top ten teams in the eastern conference with the most shorthanded times this season, seven (Columbus, Detroit, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal) on the cusp, or out of the playoff race. The same trend exists on the list of eastern conference teams with the most times shorthanded on the road. Six out of those ten teams (Columbus, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit) are outside, or on the edge of the Eastern Conference playoff bubble.
We all know that goals are extremely meaningful to the Devils, perhaps more than any other team in the league. Considering how 40 of their 76 games were decided by one goal, how the Devils special teams perform and how often they play in each game has weighed in considerably on these outcomes. That one goal the Devils PK units try to keep from going in has truly become a game-breaker, especially considering how New Jersey’s scoring cap typically hovered around the two-goal mark in most of their games. The numbers clearly allude to how different things could have been for New Jersey if the team had a better grasp of their disciplinary game this season, and that it’s something general manager Ray Shero and Coach Hynes need to collaboratively address this coming offseason.