The New Jersey Devils 3-2 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Sunday night marked the seventh time this year that they have failed to win a game that was decided by a shootout. The 0-7 shootout record is bad enough, but what is most appalling is that the Devils as a team are a combined 1-23 shooting so far this season. With both the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan division being so tightly contested this season, the team’s lack of success is costing them valuable points in the standings.
The struggles in the shootout are yet another example of the poor offensive production that New Jersey has gotten this season. They are ranked 27th in the league in goals per game at 2.30/g, and it has been cited numerous times how this team is able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone but not put the puck into the net. That exact same issue has plagued the Devils’ top shooters in the tiebreaker as well. This is how the Devils shooters have performed so far this year:
- Ryane Clowe- 0/4
- Travis Zajac- 0/4
- Patrik Elias- 0/4
- Jaromir Jagr- 0/3
- Reid Boucher- 1/2
- Adam Henrique- 0/2
- Michael Ryder- 0/2
- Damien Brunner- 0/2
Reid Boucher (who ironically has the team’s only shootout goal), is the only player to participate in the shootout who does not play on one of the top two lines every night. The Devils are using their best offensive talent on the roster, but are still failing to find the back of the net. To compound the problem, the shooters aren’t even giving themselves a chance to score at times. Of the 22 missed attempts this year, seven attempts have either been shot wide of the net or hit the post. That is way too high of a number, and it could be a result of a team that is pressing to find some shootout success. Even more concerning is the quality of goaltenders that the Devils have faced in shootouts this year. The have gone up against Evgeni Nabokov, Jason Labarbera, Roberto Luongo, Jonathan Bernier (twice), Peter Budaj, and Curtis McElhinney. Luongo and Bernier are the only starting caliber goalies of that group.
As for the New Jersey’s goaltending, it is really hard to fault them when the team has only scored one shootout goal all season. Cory Schneider has been in net during four shootouts, allowing five goals, and Martin Brodeur has played in three shootouts, allowing a single goal each time. The only way for the record to be improved is if either Brodeur or Schneider could be perfect, and that is not a realistic expectation for any goaltender in the NHL.
So how does coach Pete DeBoer go about fixing this problem? The first step might be getting Damien Brunner back in the lineup. Despite being 0/2 so far this season, both of his attempts displayed a great deal of skill and have been inches from going into the net. He has been the closest of all of the veteran forwards to scoring. Another option might be to try giving some of the offensive defensemen, such as Zidlicky, Greene, or Gelinas, a chance to have an attempt in the shootout. Trying other shooting options is really the only other course of action that can be taken to change the shootout results.
In reality the Devils shootout failures are just the end result of players still not being able to find the back of the net. Watching important points being lost in the shootout can be extremely frustrating, but it’s a part of the game that teams and fans are just going to have to deal with. I’m not one of the fans whose opinion is along the lines of, “I hate the shootout, it’s so stupid!” While I don’t really care very much for the shootout, I do also remember back to the 2011-12 season when the Devils were 12-4 in shootouts (the main reason being Ilya Kovalchuk was 11/16 on the year), and that was a major factor in why the team made the playoffs and eventually went on a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Fans can’t have it both ways, and this year’s shootout results are unfortunately just abysmal.
In a perfect world, I would like to see the NHL adopt another five minute overtime session, but have it be of the 3-on-3 variety. That way the shootout still remains to have a winner in each game, but the extra overtime session I believe will lead to an increase in goals scored prior to the shootout. The amount of open ice that is available during 3-on-3 play offers the opportunity for incredible displays of skill. Imagine seeing the likes of Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, and Marek Zidlicky up against Crosby, Malkin, and Letang with a point in the standings on the line? It would lead to some of the most exciting and entertaining hockey the NHL has ever seen. But until then, Devils fans will just have to watch and hope that the team will be able to find a way to find some of that 2011-12 shootout magic. A playoff spot may very well depend on it.