NJ Devils Need to Keep Pace in Playoff Push After Stadium Series Setback

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NJ Devils Need to Keep Pace in Playoff Push After Stadium Series Setback
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Hockey game. Baseball stadium. Football score.

After Sunday's 7-3 outdoor loss to the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium, the New Jersey Devils will have to get back on track quickly. They're only one point out of a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, where they sit in sixth place, tied with Carolina and just behind Philadelphia and newcomer Columbus—but Sunday was a big chance to put some pressure on their cross-river rivals, though.

The Rangers now sit four points ahead of New Jersey, although the Devils have a game in hand. Now, St. Louis looms again tonight for the Devils in Missouri after the Blues were thrashed in New Jersey last week. There will also be back-to-back games at Dallas and Nashville.

The Stadium Series was a missed opportunity and a chance to keep momentum going after two straight wins and three victories in their last four outings.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press/Associated Press
The Devils allowed six unanswered goals on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

After taking a 3-1 first period lead in the Bronxthanks to two goals by Patrik Elias, two assists from Jaromir Jagr and a goal by Travis Zajacthe Devils looked like one of their hapless squads that played at the Meadowlands following the franchise's shift from Colorado in 1982.

The ice at Yankee Stadium may not have been great, but the Rangers looked like they had a lot less trouble playing on it than the Devils did.

Maybe it was the throwback Christmas-color uniforms, but the Devils didn't look like they do when they're winning. There were too many breakdowns, too many lost pucks, too may ill-advised pinches from the point and too many odd-man rushes allowed.

Add to that the fact that starter Martin Brodeur wasn't able to come up with a spectacular save or two to stem the tide of six unanswered goals by the Rangers over the first two periods of play before he was pulled for Cory Schneider, and it was a tried-and-true recipe for disaster.

Though the Devils have looked good in spurts this season, maintaining consistency has remained a maddening endeavor, as it is for a number of pro sports teams every season.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press/Associated Press
Patrik Elias scored two of the Devils' three goals, but it wasn't enough.

New Jersey's special team efforts have actually been decent so far this year. The power play, often anemic in previous seasons, is functioning at around 20 percent, putting it in the top third of the NHL. The Devils' penalty-killing prowess has been hovering at almost 18 percent and has been ranked in the top five teams in the league in that respect.

The 41-year-old Jagr continues to lead the Devils with 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points in 53 outings. The next closest player to him on the scoring scroll is Elias (29 points), while Michael Ryder is tied for the team lead in goals. Can Jagr keep his scoring up all season long, especially with the Olympics taking place next month? Or will he burn out? Will anyone else step up if he does?

If there's one place where the Devils are definitely losing points, though, that would be in the oft-maligned shootout. Two seasons ago, the Devils parlayed 12 shootout wins (and 12 extra points in the Eastern Conference standings) all the way to a Stanley Cup Final berth. So far this season, the Devils have gone 0-8 in the extra-extra session. That ranks them dead last in league annals, along with the one goal they've scored in 25 attempts—and that one was by rookie forward Reid Boucher, who has since been returned to Albany (AHL).

The Devils won't have to deal with any more outdoor games in 2014—but they will have to deal with shootouts and just playing their normal game. That includes taking advantage of whatever offensive opportunities they can initiate and playing defensive hockey with few mistakes. They're not a run-and-gun squad—never really have been—and it showed on Sunday afternoon.

The Devils are much better at playing tight games decided by a goal or two—and with the Olympic break looming, they're going to need every point they can muster when the season resumes in late February for a mad-rush finish.

Sunday's game would have been nice to have. Tuesday night's is one the Devils need to pick up points.

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