Although the Devils’ scoring woes in regulation have been bad enough over the last two seasons, it actually pales in comparison to the Devils’ woes in tie games once regulation ends. During the last two seasons, New Jersey has just two OT wins in their last seventeen extra-time games. That’s a lot of points left on the table. In fact, our last OT win came in January when Ilya Kovalchuk beat the Caps with a power play goal. Our last shootout wins came in March against Winnipeg and Buffalo. If our OT/SO record was bad last year, this year it’s been a total trainwreck with four shootout defeats and one OT loss in our first sixteen games, and even more alarmingly 0-14 in the entire season on shootout attempts (and 0-for-our last 21 dating back to last year). That futility just adds to the already horrendous record since mid-February where we haven’t had longer than a two-game winning streak, and our shootout/OT woes are a big reason why. People can mock it and say it shouldn’t be a part of the NHL, but it is. It was a part of the NHL when the Devils were dominant at it two years ago (bumping us from a #8 seed fighting for our lives to a comfortable #6 seed), and it’s a part of it now that we’re a total hot mess in it. Whether it’s talent, coaching or both the Devils need to find a way to start getting more points in extra time. You can’t solely rely on regulation wins, especially when they’ve been sorely lacking in that area too. Winning a bunch of shootout/OT games early in 2011-12 helped keep our heads above water until we started to play better. Losing a bunch of them is helping us stay under water now.
Yes, the Devils and Leafs put on a pretty good show for 65 minutes and really either team (especially us) could/should have had more goals, but didn’t. That’s been the story of our last two seasons, dominate in shots and fail to capitalize. With each game like this I sneer more at the advanced numbers which claim we’re due to turn this around, mostly based on shot totals. Really? When does that start happening? In fact we wouldn’t have had any goals at all if Johnathan Bernier didn’t comically misplay a harmless Michael Ryder shot on net off his own body with less than five minutes remaining and the Devils trailing by one. Toronto’s goal was also comical with Marek Zidlicky providing a clinic into how not to play defense, first flubbing a clear out of the zone. Then after Stephen Gionta needlessly pressured Phil Kessel and eventually got blown by him when the big winger got some speed heading into the neutral zone, Zidlicky screwed up again when he stood flat-footed letting Kessel blow by him too, and taking a futile penalty for good measure when Kessel scored on a brilliant move in front. We really can’t afford those kinds of mistakes unfortuantely with how bad our offense is. If not for Bernier’s early Christmas gift, we would have been shut out three of our last four games.
It’s easy to complain that we have a bad OT/SO record, but hard to figure what should be done about it. Let’s face it, most of our prowess at the skills competition two seasons ago was built off of star wingers Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. Without them, the Devils options in the skills competition are limited at best, especially with Patrik Elias missing his fourth straight game last night. Still, despite coach Pete DeBoer‘s protestation that he can’t coach the shootout…he does pick the order, no? Whoever’s picking the order I really don’t see the point of constantly throwing Ryder and his 6-37 lifetime record in the shootout out there again and again. Or the fact the staff seems to not realize you can use defensemen (Zidlicky) in the shootout. Zidlicky’s career mark in the skills competition is better than at least two of the guys (Ryder and Adam Henrique) we threw out in the shootout last night. Before last night I might have said it was nitpicking to get on DeBoer for the order or his choices, but when you do the same things over and over again that don’t work you’re usually doomed to the same results. Think outside the box, for crying out loud. If you’re not going to trust Mattias Tedenby in a regular game, can he at least get a shot in the skills competition? He’s not going to give up a goal 1-on-0 and really his backchecking hasn’t been terrible this season, the little he has been allowed to play.
Even in OT, we don’t think outside the box. I’m far from Tedenby’s biggest fan as a player but his one attribute is speed. In a 4-on-4 situation speed helps create chances. So what does DeBoer do? Bench Tedenby for the entire OT and run out plodding Danius Zubrus time and again. I love Zubrus but his skills are NOT suited for 4-on-4, he’s slow and doesn’t have a lot of offensive talent at this point in his career. If the entire game was played within two feet of the boards Zubrus would be the best player in the NHL but it’s much harder to get a good cycle going with just one other forward and the d-men playing back. Although Jagr and Elias are among the career leaders in OT goals, neither really has enough speed to dominate the extra session anymore. I know Tedenby’s not the best backchecker in the world but for crying out loud, what’s the difference if he makes a mistake in OT or you grind the game into a shootout and lose there anyway? You get the same result losing in OT that you get losing in a shootout…and getting into a shootout more or less etches that result in stone with our hideous offensive talent. So why not take a chance and try to win in OT? It’s been two seasons of the same approach with the same results.
And I heard that rationale again from Devils fans last night…’we got three points in two games, that was a successful back-to-back’. Well yippee, we beat a corpse team on Thursday and then left a point on the table against a conference rival who we’re going to be fighting with for a spot if we ever do make a playoff run. Not to mention our next eight games are murder. Tomorrow night’s game against Nashville (who lost 5-0 in Winnipeg last night playing their backup goalie while Pekka Rinne‘s on the shelf) is imperative to win while the Preds are in the middle of a long road trip. Especially considering the seven games after that…at MSG Tuesday, the Kings at home Friday followed by the Penguins on Saturday before a West Coast trip of doom at Anaheim, LA and San Jose from the 20th to the 23rd before we return home and face the Jets just two nights later, and they always skate circles around us even when we’re not trip-lagged. Oh well at least I’ll get to enjoy an ice cream suite tomorrow. Either I’ll be celebrating a rare win, or drown my sorrows in chocolate. Maybe we’ll actually hear the goal song this time.