In talking with several Devils and head coach Pete DeBoer after their 2-1 loss to Toronto on Saturday, it’s patently obvious that they are playing well enough to win.
“We’re a confident team, we believe in ourselves,” forward David Clarkson said. “We have to continue to keep pushing and working hard every day.”
Still, six-straight losses– three straight in regulation– have left the Devils searching for answers.
One thing is clear, they’re not playing badly. New Jersey’s outshot its opposition 17 of the last 19 games but is 5-9-5 in those games, having scored only 40 goals in that stretch.
“We’re doing our share defensively,” goalie Martin Brodeur said Saturday. “Offensively, it’s just tough on guys. We’re getting the chances, we’re just not putting the puck in the net.”
Still, putting pucks in has proved problematic. New Jersey’s netted just two goals in its last three.
“We’re repeating ourselves here for the past few games,” forward Patrik Elias said. “It’s tough to win with one or not scoring any goals.”
“It’s frustrating,” forward David Clarkson said. “You’re there, you’re making the plays, you’re winning battles, we just seem to be on the other end of the bounces … we know what we’ve got to do, and we’ve got the leaders in the room to do it.”
Falling behind has exacerbated the problem. The Devils are 3-13-5 when allowing the first goal and are 12-1-4 when they score first.
“We’ve got to find a way in that first period to get the first goal,” DeBoer said Saturday. “The table was set for us, and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Obviously, losing Ilya Kovalchuk– for a team that struggled to score when the star winger was healthy — has been devastating. But the club isn’t feeling sorry for itself, nor can it. New Jersey needs points and it knows that it must get them without No. 17.
The word “frustration” spread around New Jersey’s dressing room after Saturday’s loss. Not only were the players irritated, but the fans are losing their patience too. The sellout crowd booed New Jersey’s hapless power play, especially while the Devils failed to set up during a first-period five-on-three.
“We’re not winning games, we’re not scoring,” Elias said. “We’re not playing bad hockey, so it’s more frustrating.”
As the Devils’ PP has gone, so has gone their offense. New Jersey has not scored in its last 11 man-advantage tries and is 2-for-19 over their last seven games.
“When you’re not scoring, you focus on … getting more pucks to the net, getting more bodies,” DeBoer said. “We had to cash in on our power play … you’ve got to make hay this time of year.”
DeBoer’s tinkered with lines, he’s changed lineups, he’s benched players, and thus far nothing has worked. Still, Clarkson believes in the team’s resilience because he’s seen it.
“Last year, we had some bumps in the road as well,” he said. “It’s being a good hockey team, you learn how to guys being injured, you learn how to deal with pucks going your way and not going your way. That’s something we’ve always been good at as an organization. I think we’ll be OK.”
But with the Devils sitting in 10th place in the East, a mere three points behind the Islanders for eighth with 10 games left, it’s time to start making things work.