The New Jersey Devils apparently need to start finishing off victories before games reach shootouts if they’re going to climb into one of the Eastern Conference wild-card spots.
With 10 shootout losses in as many tries this season, including their last two games, the Devils host the Florida Panthers on Monday night with hopes of picking up two points before reaching the tiebreaker. New Jersey has dropped 14 consecutive shootouts, a streak that began last March.
"Even if we were just .500 on those, we’d have an extra four or five points and we wouldn’t be in this situation," forward Patrik Elias said after a 2-1 road defeat to the New York Islanders on Saturday.
The situation the Devils (31-28-15) face is a five-point gap between themselves and the final playoff spot in the East, with three teams to pass in their last eight games.
Adam Henrique’s second-period goal tied Saturday’s contest at 1-all. Despite limiting the Islanders to four shots in the third period and overtime combined, the Devils weren’t able to finish the job for a second straight game.
"We had a chance to actually get ourselves back in the race," said Cory Schneider, who made 19 saves but wasn’t able to stop either New York attempt in the shootout. "We got a point, but if we had gotten two extra points the past two we’d really be making noise. I don’t know if it’s in our heads or what. There is no real point in elaborating. It’s just not good enough."
New Jersey opened a three-game, four-day stretch against the three worst teams in the East. After hosting Florida (27-40-8), the Devils head to Buffalo on Tuesday.
Getting back to the offensive production level that resulted in a 5-2-0 mark in their first seven games after the Olympic break could be key. The Devils averaged 4.0 goals per game in that stretch, but they’re at 1.9 during a 2-4-2 slump since.
The Islanders held them to two first-period shots, and they’ve totaled 18 in that period in their last four games.
"The first period was a disaster, but then we got better," Brunner said.
The Devils have won their last three home matchups with the Panthers but fell 5-3 on the road to them March 14.
Elias had a goal and an assist in that game to start an eight-game stretch in which he has tallied nine points. He has three goals and an assist in two contests against Florida this season.
Brad Boyes and Brian Campbell had a goal and an assist apiece for the Panthers, who got to Schneider for four goals on 21 shots before adding an empty-netter.
More recently, the Panthers have struggled offensively with six goals in a 1-5-0 span. They fell 4-1 at home to Montreal on Saturday, getting only Boyes’ goal despite outshooting the Canadiens 37-19.
"No finish. We generated a lot of shots, a lot of chances … again, a lack of scoring obviously hurt us," Boyes said.
Boyes had gone seven games without a point since his two-point performance against the Devils earlier this month.
Dan Ellis started in goal against Montreal after replacing an injured Roberto Luongo in Thursday’s 3-0 home loss to Carolina. Ellis has gone 0-4-0 with a 4.36 goals-against average in his last five games.
Luongo was suffering from a sore neck after a collision and is day to day. He has won each of his last seven starts against New Jersey with three shutouts and a 1.27 GAA.