The first 20 games haven’t been kind to the New Jersey Devils.
Plagued by a lack of scoring and defensive issues, the Devils are off to the second-worst start in franchise history. Several key players, including Ilya Kovalchuk, failed to meet high expectations placed on the Devils. The team lacks a double-digit scorer and averages a league-worst 1.80 goals per game. Most players are underperforming, and Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello wants to find out the reason for their inconsistency.
“Right now, my feeling is our best players have to be our best players every night and we have not seen that,” Lamoriello said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “We’ve seen some nights where we’ve got a couple and other nights (when they don’t) and I’ve got to find out why.”
Despite the poor start, the Devils still only nine points out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. To get back in the mix, New Jersey needs a turnaround. They draw the difficult task of starting their revival tonight against the Washington Capitals.
On paper, this game looks like the classic David vs. Goliath matchup. Washington enters tonight’s game with the hot offense, scoring 74 goals in 21 games. The power play, which has an abysmal 10.2 percent success rate for the Devils, is one of the Capitals strengths. Washington connects on almost 24 percent of their opportunities on the man-advantage, and has scored at least one powerplay goal in eight of their last 11 games. With the Devils penalty kill hovering around 80 percent, special teams could doom New Jersey.
It’s not just New Jersey that’s struggling. The Capitals dropped their last two games, their the second two-game losing streak of the season. The Caps have allowed nine goals over those past two games, and only earned one point. The Philadelphia Flyers handed the Caps their most recent defeat, a 5-4 shootout loss. Down 3-1 in the third period, the Capitals used two straight power play tallies to tie the game. The teams then traded goals, ending regulation in a 4-4 tie. Danny Briere scored the lone goal in the shootout to give the Flyers the win.
The Devils return home after a winless three-game road trip. The team was outscored, 9-3, in the three games on the road. The St. Louis Blues were the latest to add to the Devils’ woes, beating New Jersey, 3-2, Saturday night. Tied 2-2 in the third period, Brad Winchester scored the game-winner, deflecting a point shot past Mike McKenna for the 3-2 lead. The Devils couldn’t solve Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 35 shots for the win.
Even with the Devils struggling, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau refused to dismiss New Jersey. To do so, the coach acknowledged, could help the Devils begin their turnaround.
“I think at the beginning of the year they were Stanley Cup favorites and, quite frankly, if you look at their lineup, and you think they look like a last-place club you’re in real trouble,” Boudreau told the Washington Post. “If they ever just get on a roll they’re going to lop off eight or 10 straight [wins] and everything could be different.”