Well, that didn’t go very well.
New Jersey outlasted the Washington Capitals, 3-2, on Thursday on an Ilya Kovalchuk goal, but since then, has dropped two straight contests after falling by a 5-1 count to the Capitals on Saturday, and then 4-2 at home to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. Coupled with a 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Feb. 16, and a 2-1 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 18, the Devils are now 1-3-1 in their last five outings, and have been outscored by a 17-8 margin in that span.
Maybe now it's time to worry.
Backup goaltender Johan Hedberg has been in goal for three of those defeats—to the Isles, Caps and Jets—and although the Moose can’t do it all by himself, he’s been tagged for 14 goals in those losses while his teammates have scored four times in his support. Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur exited the game against Winnipeg in warmups due to soreness, but he can't play every game (even if past history shows he'd like to).
It's not even that the Devils (10-5-4 overall) have played badly throughout their recent setbacks—but they have faded somewhat as games have gone on. They surrendered three goals in less than three minutes on Long Island in what had been a scoreless tie, and couldn't protect an admittedly thin 1-0 lead against Ottawa. They gave up four third-period goals in Saturday's loss to the Capitals in what had been a tie game, with Alex Ovechkin ultimately notching a hat trick, and saw a 2-1 lead against Winnipeg disintegrate as well.
Besides giving up goals recently, the Devils are simply not scoring after tallying 41 goals in their first 14 games this abbreviated season. Patrik Elias has a goal and three assists in the last five games, while Kovalchuk has two goals and an assist. Top goal scorer David Clarkson has just one assist in the last five outings, an assist against Winnipeg, and Adam Henrique has had the same total output in that span. On the blueline, Marek Zidlicky has a goal and an assist in the last five contests, while Andy Greene hasn't dented the scoresheet in that time.
Ryan Carter has missed the last three games due to an upper body injury, and was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Feb. 19. A member of the Devils' fourth line with Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier that rose to prominence in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the unit is counted on for checking more than scoring, but has had the ability to chip in with timely goals. Bernier, who has four goals so far this year, was also unsuccessful on a penalty shot in the loss at Washington with the Devils down by a goal at the time. New Jersey also likely misses the big presence of Dainius Zubrus up front—but he's been out since Feb. 7 with wrist problems, before the current slump began.
The Devils power play (18.2 percent) has been middling so far this season, and is holding at 11th place in the NHL stats chart—but the penalty kill (76.5 percent) has been abysmal and is situated fifth from the bottom of the league rankings.
The Devils, who have now given up more goals than they've scored this season, have until Thursday in Manitoba, when they face the Jets again to figure out how to pick up the pieces.
''When you're losing, you're not comfortable with the entire group," said Devils head coach Pete DeBoer to the Associated Press following the Winnipeg game. "I'd say we're not as bad as we've been over the last six games and perhaps we weren't as good as we were in the first seven.''
They haven't been totally bad the last six games, but they haven't been good enough to pull those games out, either. That's a trend that has to end for the Devils.