A week ago, the New Jersey Devils were in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and slowly creeping up on the final playoff spot.
Now, saddled with a four-game losing streak, heading into Toronto tonight on the final game of a four-game road trip, the Devils were in 12th place—four points out of a playoff position, and just one point ahead of 13th place Tampa Bay.
What's gone wrong with New Jersey? And what can it do to stop this tailspin before this season starts to turn out like last season?
Scoring more goals, long a problem for the franchise, would be a good start. The Devils have been outscored 72-62 so far through their first 25 games. Patrik Elias leads the Devils with nine goals, and Zach Parise has seven—but big-money free agent Ilya Kovalchuk has only contributed six scores, and almost as many costly defensive gaffes in registering a minus-11 figure to date.
Adam Henrique has been a very bright spot for the Devils, with six goals and 17 points so far in his rookie campaign, and veteran Petr Sykora has five goals and 11 points in his return to the Garden State. Losing Jacob Josefson to injury hasn't helped, and Travis Zajac is still expected to be out of the lineup until Christmas.
The Devils haven't gotten a lot of scoring from their blueline. Defenseman Adam Larsson had contributed nine points, but also held a minus-5 rating. In fact, at least a dozen Devils regulars were minus-players so far this season.
New Jersey has also thrown away points in the standings by not protecting leads. A 3-0 first-period advantage at Florida on Nov. 21 soured into a 4-3 defeat. That's two points that should have been locked up. A disallowed goal against the Islanders on Nov. 26 would have been good for at least a point they may need later on.
Conversely, the Devils also have to avoid slow starts like the one last week at Colorado. They were down by three goals after just 20 minutes of play and couldn't climb back into the contest against the opportunistic Avalanche.
A power play ranked 26th in the NHL hasn't been helping, either. The Devils had converted just 11 of their first 91 power plays this fall, a paltry 12.1 percent. The man-advantage unit had also given up a league-high seven shorthanded goals, including four in the last seven outings alone.
The Devils' saving grace has perhaps been their penalty kill, which was operating at 94.6 percent efficiency in allowing just five goals so far in 93 opponent opportunities.
In goal, Martin Brodeur has suffered seven losses this year, and was pulled from last week's defeat at Minnesota, while Johan Hedberg has seven of the Devils' dozen wins to date. Brodeur may still be shaking off the effects of an earlier shoulder injury—but having both goaltenders going well can only help New Jersey, especially with their dearth of offense.
A tough game awaits tonight in Toronto, with home games against Ottawa and Montreal looming, plus a return trip to Florida next week and both the Rangers and Capitals on the far horizon. Time for the Devils to get things going.