The 2013-14 New Jersey Devils season opened with many new faces up front as well as in net. With Cory Schneider starting for the Devils on Opening Night in Pittsburgh it ended Martin Brodeur’s streak of eighteen consecutive Opening Night starts. Brodeur was slated to be the starter but the passing of his father delayed his opening act until the following evening, an eventual 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on home ice. Besides Schneider, Damien Brunner, Jaromir Jagr, Ryane Clowe, and Michael Ryder also made their Devils debuts in the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 victory. The Devils rebuilt squad lacked chemistry and consistency in their opening pair of games and Coach Peter DeBoer hoped the Devils would find their stride as they embarked on a five-game Canada swing that would span the next two weeks. Instead, the experiment failed north of the border and the Devils never recovered.
Here are the five reasons the Devils will be bound for their second consecutive playoff-less spring:
1) Blown Leads
The Devils opening three games on Canadian soil had a common theme. The Devils built leads and then helplessly watched their opponents rally to a victory. The Devils opened the trip in Edmonton with Jagr scoring his first goal as Devil. A short while later Brunner picked up his third goal of the season to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. Ryder scored his second of the season to give the Devils a commanding 3-0 lead that they would bring into the third period. Then in a span of 7:47 the Oilers washed away the Devils advantage and had a lead of their own. The Devils would eventually fall in a shootout 5-4.
Watch the Edmonton Oilers storm back and hand the Devils their worst loss of the 2013-14 season:
The next evening the Devils went up 2-0 in Vancouver as Patrik Elias and Jagr continued their hot start to the season. Once again, the Devils collapsed and the Vancouver Canucks defeated New Jersey in overtime 3-2 and thus spoiled Schneider’s return to Rogers Arena. A two-day rest did little for the Devils as their inability to hold leads continued. The Devils opened the scoring in Calgary in their third game of the road trip when Adam Henrique picked up his first of the season. The Calgary Flames tied the score but the Devils went ahead 2-1. The Flames eventually prevailed 3-2.
Throughout the season the Devils ability to shut teams down while ahead has been a difficult task. Later in the month on October 24 the Devils were ahead of the Canucks twice in their battle at the Prudential Center before falling in a shootout. On December 4 the Devils battled the Montreal Canadiens and were 1:06 away from two points before surrendering their late lead. The following week the Devils held a 3-1 lead early in the second period against the Columbus Blue Jackets and in what would turn out to be an important contest down the home stretch of the season, the Devils failed to come away with a single point as they fell 5-4 in regulation.
The Devils blew a one-goal lead against the Philadelphia Flyers on home ice on January 7, Brodeur’s last start at the Prudential Center until nearly two months later. The Devils managed to vanquish an early 3-1 lead during the 2014 Coors Light Stadium Series when they watched the New York Rangers score six unanswered goals at Yankee Stadium in a 7-3 loss. In a stretch from January 30 through February 3 the Devils blew a lead in the final two minutes in three consecutive games. They survived with an overtime win against the Dallas Stars but left a point on the table when they fell victim to the Nashville Predators the following night. In their next home game the Devils fans left heartbroken as the Colorado Avalanche erased a 1-0 deficit late before winning the game 2-1 less than half a minute into overtime in a shocking finish. In the game that all but ended the Devils faint hopes to make the playoffs, the Devils blew another 3-1 lead to the Florida Panthers on March 14 in Sunrise and left the Sunshine State after a 3-0 loss the next night in Tampa Bay without even securing a single point in the standings.
2) No Goals
When the Devils managed to score goals, holding leads became an issue. The easiest solution to avoid that problem is simple; do not score any goals. The Devils managed to get blanked ten times this season, one off of their season record of eleven set in 2007-08. Schneider was in net for seven of those contests while Brodeur suffered through the remaining three. The Devils were also held to one goal in thirteen games (including their 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators after being eliminated) and won just two of those with Schneider picking up his own shutout victory in each.
Worse yet are the games in which the Devils net minders hold the opponent to two goals or fewer. This occurred 42 times but the Devils only won 26 such games. They lost four shootout games while allowing just two goals during the 65 minutes of actual hockey and another five (including the OTT loss) while allowing one goal. The Devils won 17 of 20 games in which they scored four or more goals with one of those losses coming in the dreadful game in Edmonton. Despite solid goaltending and defense, the Devils offense failed them more times than not this season and especially so when Schneider was between the pipes.
3) Consistently Inconsistent
The Devils managed to have one winning streak of more than two games and it ended at three games. It lasted from November 16 through November 21 with victories over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings. The Devils missed out on ten chances when they won two games in a row to extend their streak. On the positive side, since opening the season winless in their first seven games, the Devils have not had a losing streak of more than three games since then either. The Devils had a season-high seven game streak in which they secured at least one point in the standings from their March 23 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs until they fell in regulation to the Calgary Flames 1-0 on April 7. The Devils, however, won just four of those games and lost in the shootout in the remaining three. The Devils also had a six-game streak in January that started with the January 7 loss in overtime to Philadelphia. The Devils won just half of those six games and lost two in the shootout.
4) The Shootout
When looking at the standings there is one simple yet glaring reason the Devils are missing the playoffs and that would be their shootout record. They participated in eleven shootouts and lost each one before they were eliminated. They had 39 shot attempts and scored just three goals. After their elimination they fell to the Senators in the shootout 2-1 and went 0-4 on offense.
The Devils longest shootout of the season netted them two goals but another loss in their nine-round loss to the Buffalo Sabres on April 1, 2014:
In five of their eleven pre-elimination shootouts the Devils had a lead at some point during the game but could not hold on including the aforementioned 3-0 lead they choked away in Edmonton. Brodeur went 0-4 in shootouts and surrendered five goals on thirteen shots. Schneider allowed 13 goals on 29 shots in his 8 shootout losses. Elias had the most shootout attempts with eight and Travis Zajac had the second most with six shots. Neither one registered a goal. The only goal scorers for the Devils were Reid Boucher against Montreal, Jacob Josefson against the Buffalo Sabres in his only shootout attempt this season, and Jagr also against Buffalo.
5) Simply Not Good Enough
The bottom line is the Devils 2013-14 roster simply wasn’t good enough. This year’s squad has a few holdovers from their 2011-12 Eastern Conference Championship team but some of the largest contributors to that run have not been adequately replaced. Ryder was signed to help replace some of the goal scoring the Devils lost but he did not live up to expectations. He battled through a 23-game goal less drought from mid-January until mid-March and has scored just 18 goals on the season after scoring 35 goals with the Dallas Stars during the 2011-12 season.
Steve Berner last scored on December 2 at the Montreal Canadiens and has not scored in the 48 games since that contest. Brunner, in his first full-length NHL season, had goal scoring slumps of 11 and 17 games and has only put up 24 points on the season in 57 games after notching 26 points during the lockout-shortened 48-game campaign last season. Clowe averaged 20.5 goals from the 2008-09 season through the 2011-12 season but only scored 7 goals during his injury-filled 2013-14 season. Entering the final two games of the season Dainius Zubrus has 26 points, his lowest point total in a season as a Devil. He only notched 27 points during the 2009-10 season but he played just 51 games due to injury. Henrique has 25 goals on the season but only scored 14 goals before the Olympic break and at one point had just one goal in 23 games.
Jagr, the team’s MVP during the 2013-14 season, has a +15 +/- rating while no other Devil is higher than a +3. The only Devils defensemen on the positive side are Andy Greene, voted the team’s unsung hero, and Anton Volchenkov. This will be the Devils first season (excluding 2012-13) without a 30-goal scorer since the 2002-03 season (with old-NHL rules regarding offense). Also, for comparison’s sake, the only Devil who played in at least 20 games that season and finished with a negative +/- was Sergei Brylin with a -2.
The Devils will not play a game beyond their season finale for the third time in four seasons. They will miss out on postseason hockey in back to back seasons for the first time since the Devils came to New Jersey and missed from 1982-83 through 1986-87. From blown leads to their abysmal shootout record, Jersey’s Team struggled out of the gate and never recovered. They didn’t pick up a winning streak beyond three games except for that one stretch just prior to Thanksgiving. Despite many holdovers from their Stanley Cup Final run two springs ago, their roster simply wasn’t good enough this season to push the Devils into the postseason.
Leo is in his second year with THW. He covers the 3-Time Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils and the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League. You can follow Leo on Twitter, @LeoScaglioneJr.