The Devils struggles on the road reared its ugly head again Tuesday night in Columbus. Looking to build off two wins at home, the Devils were defeated 4-1 at Nationwide Arena and it was trouble from the drop of the puck.
Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner potted goals minutes apart in the opening 2:28 of the first period scoring on two of four shots to get an early lead. Artemi Panarin would add one more in the first 20 minutes as a defensive breakdown allowed the prolific scorer to get in front for a tip to make the game 3-0.
Pierre-Luc Dubois and the Blue Jackets took advantage of an early second period power play 1:45 into the second period to increase the lead to four.
Blake Coleman would add the lone Devils marker 18:24 into the second, but his team would go quietly–the rough start and fatigue from the second half of a back-to-back taking its toll on the club which is now a league-worst, 5-16-3 on the road.
With 24 games away from the Rock in the books, it’s a question that has been on the minds of fans all season. Why can’t the Devils, who won 23 times on the road last season, find ways to win in this situation?
First, let’s recap a bit:
The Devils enjoyed a home-friendly start to the 2018-19 season. After playing its season opener in Sweden (which technically counted as a home game and was a 5-2 win for the Devils), the club played six of eight games at home, going 4-1-1 and outscoring opponents 18-13. Even with an 8-3 clunker on Oct. 30, New Jersey had the apperance of a team poised to build off an impressive and surprising campaign from a season ago that saw the team advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Then came November and six-consecutive games on the road. The Devils went 1-5-0, were outscored 26-14 and veteran goaltender, Cory Schneider, who has continued to struggle this season with consistency, found the road detriment to any kind of success. In three starts during that stretch, Schneider faltered allowing three or more goals in each including getting the hook in Ottawa on Nov. 6 after allowing four goals on 22 shots. The offense shared in the trip’s frustrations–a healthy Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri combined for two goals and two points after enjoying October’s that saw them both score above point-per-game.
New Jersey’s troubles wouldn’t end after the difficult extended trip as the club picked up three of a possible 10 road points the rest of the month. In December, they’d open the California road trip with a win in Los Angeles, but responded two days later with a shootout loss in Anaheim, a game in which the team scored three own goals on Schneider, who nearly saw his year-long losing streak end.
Three more road losses followed that demoralizing 6-5 shootout loss to the Ducks before Mackenzie Blackwood started a three-game stretch that looked to briefly re-energize the Devils, beginning at TD Garden on Dec. 27, a 5-2 first career victory for the rookie goalie. But since then, two out of eight road points have been earned on the road.
So over that long course of games what’s been some of the more noticable trends? Again, let’s review.
Though the Devils have only been outscored 29-23 in first periods, that period has also seen the opposition score first 10 times. That culminating in the club’s 0-9-1 record when being scored on first, has made life difficult for the club when it’s out of its home comforts. While they haven’t snowballed often in the first, the poor starts in nearly half the games played away from Newark have had lasting impacts on the team’s ability to find ways to win while battling from behind.
Lack of Follow-through
In 14 away games this season, the Devils managed to draw first blood. But of those 14, nine saw them unable to finish things including seven of those early-lead games result in regulation losses. You’d be hardpressed to find a stat that would torment John Hynes more. Teams know come-from-behind win’s are partially necessary in any given season–but it goes without saying, maintaining leads on the road with some level of consistency is a boarderline prerequisite for any kind of success in the regular season.
The numbers are nearly mirror images. New Jersey’s power play is 12-for-73 (8.7 percent) while opponents faced sport a 13-for-73 (9.5 percent) efficiencey on the advantage. Even in the tightest of battles, the Devils aren’t finding an edge. Power play’s on the road can produce results and that’s what’s most important, but they can also quiet some noisy buildings.