The opportunity was there for the New Jersey Devils last night. Playing against the last-place Ottawa Senators, the Devils not only had the chance to get their record back to the .500 mark for the first time since Opening Night, but more importantly, to slim the deficit to six points in their climb towards a potential playoff spot. Still, label it however you like, but it's hard to say their 2-1 loss to the Senators doesn't feel like a sharp kick to the gut.
Is the shot at the playoffs now gone? Absolutely not, but if the target remains 90 points, the task certainly got much more difficult. With 64 points in 66 games, the Devils need 26 of their final 32 possible points to get in, meaning they need a 13-3 record. Winning Friday in Atlanta and Saturday against the Islanders could ease the pain a bit, but it still won't eliminate the thoughts of squandering at least one point on Tuesday night.
Tied 1-1 after a Patrik Elias goal early in the third period, the game seemed to be following an eerily similar script to many Devils games of the recent past—keeping it close and letting Ilya Kovalchuk bail them out with a late play (usually a goal). Perhaps the Devils went to the well one too many times because, on this night, there was no more magic from Kovalchuk to be had, and no other player was able to step up enough to fill the void.
With just 2:13 left in the game, a pass from Ottawa's Jason Spezza deflected off Andy Greene's skate and came right in front of the net, where it was deflected by Erik Condra past goalie Martin Brodeur to not only give the Senators a late win, but also deny the Devils at least a point for a regulation tie. It was only the third loss for the Devils in the last 25 games (20-3-2), but it still hinders their chances at a playoff spot.
Last night's loss can easily be attributed to two major things in my opinion. One, the Devils didn't have any cohesion to their game. It seems the best thing this team has shown over the last 25 games has been their ability to work together as a five-man unit. Last night, that wasn't really there—at least not to the same extent it has been. The top players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Patrik Elias (despite his goal) seemed to be the biggest culprits here, as they didn't seem to have that same burst they normally have.
Secondly, the Devils missed out on their golden power-play opportunities, having two 5-on-3 chances and three power plays over a span of 4:33 where the Devils simply did not execute enough to get the job done. Despite claims of a disallowed goal by Patrik Elias (because of a Jacob Josefson high stick) or a bad call by the referee being reasons the Devils came up short, they don't change the fact the team didn't play well enough to deserve the victory.
So, it's time to regroup and get things back together to focus on beating Atlanta on Friday night on the road, followed by the Islanders coming to the Rock on Saturday. The party isn't over, and the fat lady has yet to sing, but it won't be long if the Devils don't start piling up a few more wins quickly.
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