NEWARK, NJ – The hip bone is connected to the leg bone, and the leg bone is connected to the ankle bone.
Just like the structure of the human body, the anatomy of a losing streak is all connected and sometimes has a mind of its own.
After a 2-1 loss, the first of the season after taking a lead into the third period, the New Jersey Devils find themselves in the midst of a four game losing streak (0-3-1), matching the longest downturn of the season.
What has happened to the once machine-like team that compiled 22 of 28 available points in January and recently won 11 straight at home?
The first place to start is special teams. The Devils have allowed 60 power play goals this season, and have only scored 55 while on the advantage. In the past five games, New Jersey has scored just two goals in 20 power play opportunities (10% success rate).
Not to mention, the teams they are facing are buckling down and taking fewer penalties, while the Devils find themselves more and more in the sin bin.
Against the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night, the Devils found themselves on the penalty kill for most of the first 15 minutes of the game. The Hawks scored the first goal of the game while on the advantage, and went on to win by one.
The Devils were called for 17 minutes of penalties compared to the nine called against Chicago.
With the playoffs fast approaching, teams are becoming more disciplined to ensure wins for post-season positioning and in some cases for a final playoff spot.
But the Devils, known for most of the club’s existence for its disciplined, defensive-minded game, have been making mental mistakes that would be expected in pre-season, tolerated in the first thirty games and absolutely unforgivable in crunch time.
With just under seven minutes left against Carolina, up 1-0 and in control of the game, it seemed the Devils lost concentration.
David Clarkson committed a cardinal-sin of making a cross ice pass in the Devils own zone. The puck caromed off the boards, and the Hurricanes’ Rod Brind’Amour picked it up and restarted the offense. Moments later, Sergei Samsonov had the puck in front of Martin Brodeur and found an opening to tie the game.
The tied game seemed to deflate the Devils, and three minutes later Paul Martin headed to the penalty box on a questionable hooking penalty. On a play off of the opening faceoff of the advantage, Tuomo Ruutu put a rebound over Brodeur’s blocker for the game winning goal.
After 53 minutes of controlled, smart hockey, the Devils let two points slip away in matter of two mistakes.
“You make that mistake in your own zone, we hadn’t done that all night. You do it in a 1-0 game. It’s got to be a learning experience for those guys. I hope they learn from it. You’re going to get in these one-goal games. You have to do the details, the little things, well. You look at last night’s game (at Chicago) and tonight – two mistakes cost us goals … I’m not blaming them, but they have to learn from it,” Head Coach Brent Sutter said after Saturday’s game.
Now the novelty of Brodeur returning from injury and reaching milestones, the unspoken thought is the team is depending too much on number 30 to bail them out in tight situations.
That attitude ended the Devils’ season without a Cup for the past few seasons.
New Jersey has allowed 40 or more shots twice in the past four games, a reversal of the minimal work Brodeur saw in his first few games returning from injury.
Despite the goaltender being the face of the organization, the Devils have preached, and proven, all season that they are not a one-man team.
That mentality seems to have left with Scott Clemmensen.
The fact that New Jersey has its playoff spot locked up, and the rest of the schedule is made up of teams fighting to get in, the difference in strategy may also be affecting the Devils’ play of late.
“You can’t go with that mindset, and unfortunately that may be a bit of the case right now that we are kind of resting on the way, but we have to keep battling because there are teams around us. The next two games are going to be an example of two teams battling for playoff spots that we better get our level back up,” Captain Jamie Langenbrunner said after Saturday’s game.
But New Jersey is not ruined by this losing streak. The Devils currently still sit atop the Atlantic Division, and six points ahead of the number four seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Devils also can right the ship Monday at Madison Square Garden for the final regular season meeting against the rival Rangers. New Jersey has won three straight against the Blueshirts, and the intensity of the rivalry as well as New York’s post-season push should be good for the Devils.
The way New Jersey recovers from the current losing streak could say a lot about the team’s chances for the cup.
Remember, the arm bone is connected to the wrist bone, and the wrist bone is connected to the hand bone. And it takes a whole body of work to lift a Stanley Cup.