I guess if you wanted the short story of what's been going on with a Devils' team that would be desperately pounding the panic button like it were a Piñata full of points if not for a 4-game win streak to open the season, the following 37 seconds is about as succinct as symbolism gets...
Of course, Sami Vatanen adding insult to another absolutely awful outing by a goaltender whose team has given him nothing in the way of comfort since returning from injury was just the cherry on top of what was a shit Sunday. Still, what served as the punchline also served as a fitting #FAIL during yet another game that was lost in either the first or the last five minutes.
During a lengthy 82 game season, it's silly to point out one instance in which a team let what could easily prove to be a precious point in the playoff race slip through their grasp. Luckily for premature prognosticators (and unluckily for those invested in the success of a team who, at it's most resilient, snuck into the postseason by the skin of their teeth), the Devils don't have one of those instances. They have about eight...merely 23 games into a season that went from a solid reassurance to a complete shitshow in about as long as it takes for them to leave someone wide open in the slot when Cory Schneider happens to be starting. As evidenced by what was yet another comically tenuous 2-0 score last night, the only multiple goal leads that have been any sort of safe have belonged to the opposition during a time of the year in which padding your point total is at a premium.
And look, I get it. It's inherently a gimmick, so the results of 3-on-3 overtime are bound to be fluky. Unfortunately, if not for a forgiving post, the Devils could have just as easily let the 3-2 3rd period advantage become a 4-3 regulation disaster last night. If not for the reigning MVP of the entire NHL whiffing on a one-timer, Marcus Johansson wouldn't even have gotten the chance to beat the clock in batting the boys into an extra session against the Islanders. Simply put, they drew about even in the "shit happens" department in finding two points that just as easily could have been lost, and that still left two points to be desired in games that sandwiched an unwatchable shellacking.
It's not that there haven't been some positives. Aside from the occasional hiccup (more accurately, coughing fit), Keith Kinkaid has played to the level of an NHL starter that they otherwise don't have right now. For those that aren't still crying over spilled milk that has molded into a rotten testament to retrospect, Pavel Zacha is starting show himself on the scoresheet after providing a palpable boost defensively when called back up. Even in comparison to the 6th round shocker that successfully filled in as first-liner to start his rookie year, Jesper Bratt has been nothing short of a revelation since his return. Damon Severson has been everything asked of him and more in making those that lazily criticize him look increasingly stupid. The whipping boy that is Travis Zajac has been productive in a way that leaves you looking around corners and in closets to see where he's hiding Zach Parise. Blake Coleman has continued an upward trajectory that's matched only by his pickle juice sales. Kyle Palmieri has gotten quieter in remaining on pace for a career year. Nico Hischier has largely avoided a sophomore slump, and Taylor Hall is statistically right on track with a season in which his dominance proved award-worthy.
The undeniably negative, however, can be summed up in the following example: Damon Severson and Andy Greene have played their way into occasional first pairing minutes, which has only been a painful reminder that the latter belongs nowhere near a first pairing. In essence, the roster's select successes have only sustained success in showing its fatal flaws.
Analytically, the Devils are probably due for some positive regression, but the fact of the matter is that the things that have kept those percentages from evening themselves out in the standings are the type of stupid and untimely mental mistakes that can't be solved by any amount of math. I don't think they are bad as their record, especially recently, indicates. However, in a league with so much parity, there's not all that much difference between the bad teams and the reliably unreliable teams, and New Jersey couldn't possibly better fit the description of the latter right now.