Fluke Goal Haunts Devils in Loss to Wild

The Devils just can’t get a lucky break this season. Even if bookies pitted the Devils as winning against the Wild on Tuesday night, they erred by looking at the history of the match-up instead of looking at the Devils record this season.

With 22 points, the Devils are dead last in the league. In the last five seasons (post-lockout), they have never seen less than 46 wins. With only 43 games remaining, they would have to win at least 36 games in order to muster in a chance at the playoffs.

Sound ridiculous? So does only ten wins just two games away from the mid-point of the season.

That’s just the reality of the situation for the Devils right now.  Luck has not been on their side this season. They’ve lost numerous players to injury including their star forward Zach Parise.

The latest reports have Parise returning to the ice in March, after he meets with his doctors. That could mean that he will miss the remainder of the season.  That in itself is a serious blow to the Devils.  His last game was during the last leg of the California road trip back on October 30th against the LA Kings. His absence since October has shown just how important he has been to the franchise.

But the Devils problems do not end there. Each individual has been taking a hard hit as the losses continue to build up.

Martin Brodeur’s frustrations have led to his decision to share the net with Johan Hedberg this season for the first time in his career. Brodeur has prided himself in being a winner and wanting to play in every game. After all, he is the most winningest goaltender in the history of the league. To be on the losing end, posting a 5-18-1 record this season, starts to wear down the confidence he has in himself.

The fact that the face of the franchise has decided to take a step back after this dismal season is an indicator of just how bad things really are for each individual on the team.  In his career, Brodeur has only had one season with 30 losses (1995-96). During the ’95-’96 season he played 77 games and posted a 34-30-12 record.

The last time the Devils performed this badly was back during their first few years in New Jersey. They were 17-49-14 with 48 points in 1982-83. Their sophomore year in Jersey they were 17-56-7 with 41 points. So far this season, they are on their way to matching that 1983-84 season in what was the Devils worst performance in franchise history. That, to everyone, was not something anyone ever imagined seeing happen to this team.

They’ve advanced to the playoffs in each of the first five years since the lockout. This will be the first time that they have sat dead last in the entire league. Even back during their worst years, they were not the worst team in the league.

From sticks breaking, pucks not bouncing their way, to injuries, the Devils have not had a good season at all. It was evidenced even further on Tuesday night when the Wild defeated them for the first time in New Jersey.

From Cal Clutterbuck’s breakaway in the first period to the fluke goal from rookie Clayton Stoner at 1:14 in the final period, the Devils just couldn’t get it right. Ilya Kovalchuk’s goal at 3:07 in the second stanza gave the Devils an opportunity to come back, but when Stoner’s attempt to dump the puck into the Devils zone ended up bouncing off the red partition by Brodeur’s seat on the bench and wound up in the Devils net, the game took a nose-dive for New Jersey.

“Marty [Brodeur] told me it hit the red dasher there right by the bench,” Hedberg said of Stoner’s goal. “I lost it for a second.”

“I was kind of supporting Marty [Havlat] up there on the ice,” Stoner said. “I was just going to get a rim around and offer a chance, so I dumped it in and turned my back, and I was headed for the bench.  Then I heard the team celebrate.  So I was pretty much celebrating from the bench there.

“I had a feeling,” he said of whether he knew he got the goal. “I heard everyone. I’m like, ‘well, there’s no way that somebody could have got the puck by then.  It must have went in.’ I had a hunch.”

He never saw his first career NHL goal scored. He said he’ll have to watch it in the replays. Being as this was his first goal, Martin Havlat skated down to grab the puck for him.

The Devils registered only one shot on goal during the first 20 minutes. Watching the way each line came out onto the ice, it was like watching a train wreck. You want to look away, but you can’t. That has been Devils hockey this season.

“It’s hard to come out well when you don’t make good passes to each other,” Patrik Elias said of the team trying to start off on the right foot.

After the first period, the question was what did Jacques Lemaire say to them to come back after registering only one shot on goal to making fourteen attempts in the second period.

“Wake up,” Elias said of the coach’s message. “We know we could have played a lot better. [He told us to] just start making passes to each other a little better and just get going a little better. Like I said, it’s not like in the first period we weren’t ready or something.  t’s just we never made a good pass to each other.

“We never really got a good support. We were spread out too much. Even that team was on top of us. When you don’t have a good support, you’re not going to have the puck too much. You’re going to look like you were never in the game.”

Wild forward and former Devil John Madden did not want to comment on what he saw on the ice against his former team like other former Devils before him have talked about when visiting Prudential Center.

“You know, it’s really not fair for me to comment on anything,” Madden said about his former team. “I don’t play here. It’s my second year away from the team. You know I have good friends over here. So you know I really don’t feel like analyzing any of it. Obviously, I feel for them. Their season is not going well at all. I know those guys personally on a level other than a working relationship. I know they take it personally and I know things are going better for them.”

So do the Devils just give up now or go for it?

In the best interest of the team and their fans, they need to go for it. The playoffs are everything for every team in the league, but right now, the Devils need to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. You build off of what is going right, fix what is going wrong, and push forward, no matter what the result.

It’s more important right now to re-build this broken team and just give the fans something to cheer about. Any team can have a bad latter half of the season.  The Devils could have a good last half and regain their rightful place in the standings. The playoffs are still a possibility, but they have to take one right step in the right direction in order for that to happen.

There’s a huge gap between them and the playoffs right now. They shouldn’t even be thinking about that. They should be thinking only of getting their next win.

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