It's not just that the Devils are in the midst of a three game losing streak as they desperately try to stay in the mix for a playoff spot. That's nothing new. There have been moments over the course of this season where the losses have mounted and they have somehow managed to weather the storm. What makes this current string of defeats so concerning is that they have come in ways this team -to their credit- has avoided all year. Other than a rather nauseating perfomance against the rival Flyers, the Devils have actually done what they have needed to do to win over the last week. The only problem is that they haven't won. There have been a few things that have allowed this Devils team to so far exceeded expectations. Their tendency to reign victorious when they outplay their opponent is one of them. That changed Friday against the Islanders when they lost a 1-0 game in which their play undoubtedly warranted a more desirable outcome. The most obvious keys to the Devils success have been their ability to win almost every time they score first, and as crazy as it seems, win almost every time they score at least twice. That's what made a 4-3 loss -in a game where they held three separate leads- against the Capitals yesterday so demoralizing.
It would be easy to say that they have deserved better as of late, but you can't do so while ignoring the fact that the Devils have made a habit out of stealing points from teams that have deserved better against them. All things being equal, this team's defense and goaltending allow them to play with anyone. However, things aren't always equal. Sometimes bad bounces go against you, and the Devils have been exorbitantly lucky to avoid those bad bounces to this point in the season. The following plays from this past weekend? The absence of them is what has allowed to the Devils to remain in the playoff hunt, but the regular season is far too long and far too unpredictable for them not to rear their ugly head eventually. It may seem like the Devils have suffered some cruel fates recently, but in reality it's just the hockey Gods balancing things out, because Cory Schneider has left many a team feeling like they were done a grave injustice as well.
I think the most common narrative surrounding the Devils is that they don't have the top end talent to keep pace, but I'm starting to think that's a bit of a myth. The Devils stinginess on the defense end is enough to make up for their lack of a true superstar. Unfortunately, it isn't enough to make up for a bottom six that is likely better suited for the AHL. The Devils problem isn't that their top isn't heavy enough, it's that their bottom is too light. I love the work ethic that players like Stephen Gionta, Jordin Tootoo, and Tyler Kennedy bring, but when the day comes that those players are forced out of the lineup the Devils will unquestionably be a better hockey club. Seeing them out there late, with the game on the line, against the likes of Oshie, Kuznetsov, and Ovechkin really puts things in perspective. The Devils structure allows them to overcome their talent deficiency, but it doesn't allow them to overcome their depth deficiency. So while it sucks to see them lose a couple of games that they probably should have won, the truth of the matter is that Devils fans have been the beneficiary of celebrating a lot more wins in games they probably should have lost. As Gordon Bombay would say, sometimes a quarter of an inch makes all the difference, and I think we are starting to see what happens when the New Jersey Devils don't get that quarter of an inch...