The New Jersey Devils hit rock bottom Tuesday night.
They dropped their sixth straight game Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, continuing a free fall from the top of the Eastern Conference standings. The loss left them just one point ahead of the eighth place New York Rangers and two ahead of the ninth place Philadelphia Flyers.
The most recent setback left Devils head coach Peter DeBoer hopeful the streak will quickly end.
“This is our adversity. Every team faces it at different points in the year,” DeBoer said after Tuesday’s loss. “This is ours. You hope you get to the bottom so you can start playing up.
“I think we’re at the bottom, and we’re going to get off the mat on Thursday and start climbing up here.”
The Devils will look to prove its coach right and break the losing streak tonight against the Buffalo Sabres at the Prudential Center. It’s looking to avoid the first seven-game losing streak since 2011.
New Jersey has won just twice in its last 11 games, erasing any cushion gained from an 8-1-2 start. That has them afloat in the standings, but a few more losses could put them on the outside of the playoff picture.
“I think a stretch like this can define a team,” Devils captain Bryce Salvador said after Tuesday’s loss. “You don’t want to be going through these, but I know last year we had stretches like these too. I think it’s how we’re going to respond, how we come out of it. Adversity is a character test, so we’re going to put this one behind us and we have a big game against Buffalo. It’s going to take a good effort to come out from this. We’re definitely learning we don’t like being in this position.”
The Devils once again allowed the first goal in Tuesday night’s 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay. Things came apart in the second period, as New Jersey mustered just four shots on net while allowing two goals on odd-man rushes. They rallied to score twice in the third period, a short handed tally from Adam Henrique and a power-play goal from Patrik Elias, one of the few positives from the loss.
Johan Hedberg allowed three goals on 11 shots, losing his seventh straight start. DeBoer pulled Hedberg after allowing the third goal, replacing him with rookie Keith Kinkaid. The rookie stopped 12 of 13 shots in his first NHL appearance.
This is the second of three meetings between the Sabres and Devils. Buffalo won the first meeting, 4-3, in a shootout Saturday in Buffalo. Steve Bernier, Adam Henrique and Andrei Loktionov scored for New Jersey, who failed to hold a third period lead. Jason Pominville scored two goals and Cody Hodgson finished with two assists. Hedberg failed to stop both Buffalo attempts in the shootout, falling to 0-2 in shootout games this season.
Buffalo has improved from its early season struggles, winning three of its last five games (3-1-1). The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Sabres, 4-3, Tuesday night. Alexander Semin and Eric Staal recorded three points for the Canes. Hodgson and Pominville collected two points in the loss.
Henrique echoed DeBoer’s statement, believing it’s only a matter of time before New Jersey breaks the streak.
“We have a confident group in here,” he said after the loss. “We’re not panicking. We know what we have to do to win here. We just have to keep going and we’re going to be alright.”