The last month of hockey, if you want to call it that, has been chock full of frustration, misery, and woe for the New Jersey Devils.
5-9-1 in the last 15 contests, with only 28 goals scored in those 15 games. In the last seven games, they've lost three in which they, at one point, held two goal leads. The power-play is 4-for-41 during the month-long time span, and they haven't been able to hold opponents under three goals for the past six games. The negative stats go on and on, kind of like the Energizer bunny but nowhere near as lovable.
The blame falls everywhere. Blame the offense for not getting that extra goal that would've been so crucial in almost every one of these games, save the three shutouts in Ottawa, Toronto, and at the Coliseum. Blame the defense for sloppy plays in the neutral and defensive zones. Blame Brodeur for not coming up with a big shutout or one goal allowed performance to temporarily put a stop this skid.
Does the blame deserve to be evenly spread throughout? No. Some parties deserve it more than others, hence my article a few days back vehemently backing Brodeur when several people were claiming the weight falls squarely on his shoulders, which I have and always will disagree with. Never is one player responsible for a loss (exception: Luis Castillo).
Tons of negatives in Devil-land right now. Except for one that's coming up rather quickly, and I didn't anticipate a month ago I'd be so excited for:
The Olympic break.
I'm excited for a couple reasons. Number one, (these aren't in any particular order), is that I'll be covering the Czech Olympic team with B/R correspondent Jim Balint, which I'm absolutely stoked to do. This will be my first time actually paying attention to the Olympic games in my ten years as a hockey fan, and it will give me (and all hockey fans) a nice break from the daily tribulations of keeping up with the NHL news and standings.
Reason number two is this two-week break will give the Devils a prolonged break they desperately need. Mainstays such as Paul Martin and David Clarkson should be ready to go the first game after the Olympic break, which will definitely give a shot in the arm to this team which can have no real excuse of fatigue aside from the Olympic players after this vacation.
The Devils play of late has been one word: sloppy. Sloppy play usually means the players guilty of that play are worn out. It has indeed been a condensed schedule this year with the Olympics taking a two-week bite out of the season. Teams have been playing on back-to-back nights and three-of-four much more often than they normally would, and the Devils are no different.
The Devils aren't the only team to seem to have fallen back down to Earth with the Olympic break coming up. The Sabres, who once had a double-digit points lead over Ottawa, are now tied atop the Northeast Division with that same Senator team that seemed so distant just a month or so ago.
Calgary isn't too far detached from a nine-game losing streak which saw them plummet down the Western Conference standings that they are still trying to recover from.
At the same time, there are teams who are just plain sad to see the Olympic break come, such as the Capitals who, prior to last night's loss against Montreal, had won 14 games in a row, and the Senators that I mentioned before, who have magically sprung themselves back into the discussion for the Northeast Division.
Unfortunately, the Devils are anything but sad to see the Olympic break come, both from a health and psychological standpoint.
It's funny, because two months back you would never think the Devils would be in a dry-spell like this. In early December, many were confident this team would get to the Eastern Conference Finals without much of a problem.
Tough to say the same right now.
But when they come back on March 2nd in San Jose, expect a Devils team more like the one we grew to love in October and November, and less like the one that's been dropping opportunities right and left. Expect them to have legs, and expect them to want to come out and prove that this past month was little more than an aberration.
Understandable to not have the confidence in this team at the moment. With the way they're playing, there's not too much of a reason to believe besides the faith that they'll eventually come around, and they will.
But to think with the talent they have on paper that this team can't come absolutely storming out of the gate in the very short "second half", you'd be foolish. All NHL teams and fans take note, these are not the real New Jersey Devils.
But you'll see them soon enough.