I genuinely don’t know what to say. Tonight’s game definitely should not have ended the way it did for multiple reasons. The New Jersey Devils (27-35-14) fall in a shootout to the Winnipeg Jets (35-35-7) and get swept in the season series (0-1-1). Patrik Laine went five-hole and scored the lone goal in the shootout, giving him 34 on the season. Cory Schneider stopped 33 shots on 36 against (.917 save percentage); Connor Hellebuyck stopped 20 of 23 (.870 save %).
Time to get a little sciency. The multiverse theory introduces the concept of a multiverse, which consists of a hypothetical set of parallel universes. For every decision that we make, there is another version of ourselves that makes the opposite decision and there exists an infinite number of parallel universes. The reason I bring it up is because tonight’s game could have gone in several directions but did not. Every decision made on the ice affected the outcome.
Let’s start with a simple possibility: the Devils were outshot 36-23. Any time a team manages a measly 23 shots on goal, they probably don’t deserve to win, especially getting outshot by 13 by a team that isn’t that different from their own. The final score could have easily, easily been much more lopsided than it was, especially with the sharp shooters that Winnipeg has. In an alternate universe, the Jets win maybe 5-1, or 5-2, a score along those lines.
Another possibility: the Devils miraculously hold on to a 3-1 lead entering the third period. The Devils got a goal from Beau Bennett (his 6th) to tie things up at 1 in the first, a goal from Taylor Hall (his 19th) to take the lead, and a goal from Stefan Noesen (his 7th) to extend it. Nikolaj Ehlers had the lone Jets goal just 52 seconds into the first. The Devils should have been able to protect a 3-1 lead (and I already made my “the Devils blew a 3-1 lead” joke on Twitter) but could not; this has been a recurring theme this season. In another universe, the Devils actually did protect the lead and won the game 3-1.
A third possibility: the Devils’ main guys actually produce. Hall had a single shot on goal tonight and made it count (and I’ll discuss the big thing later because that honestly needs a post of its own) but he, along with his linemates Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri, didn’t have a great night. They were playing more defensively than offensively, which is fine, but for a line that has produced as much as they have together, I was expecting a little more. They combined for five shots on goal (three were Palmieri’s) and Zajac had the lone assist on Hall’s goal. John Moore actually led the team in SOG with four; John Quenneville and Beau Bennett, along with Palmieri, had three. But someone like Adam Henrique has been practically invisible for weeks and it really showed tonight; he had no shots on goal and the worst plus-minus differential out of the forward corps. He has just four points in his last 15 games and is going to end with the worst (!) season of his career (point-wise). He’s had a disappointing season and it doesn’t show signs of stopping any time soon. So imagine a universe in which the Devils’ main forwards actually produce or is that too unrealistic?
A fourth possibility: the Devils stop taking penalties, they just completely stop taking penalties, which isn’t very likely (or is it?). There’s a universe out there in which New Jersey has the best PIM in the league every season. The Devils did manage to kill all three Jets power play opportunities tonight but those shift the momentum, especially if you then proceed to give up a shorthanded goal on your own power play. The late-period penalties lately certainly haven’t done the team any favors so think of a universe in which the Devils don’t take penalties or have bad ones called against them, which brings me to my next point.
A fifth possibility: Hall rightfully gets awarded a penalty shot. The Devils have been the ones with penalty shots against and should occasionally have a call go their way. Here is the official rule:
Tell me that the rule isn’t applicable in this case. If the refs have something against Hall, they need to make it look less obvious. If they have something against the Devils, well… I think we already know that they do. The refs have been atrocious overall this season but it feels like every call goes against New Jersey, for whatever reason. Hall should have had a penalty shot (he did crash into the boards but he’s okay!) so will the refs ever award Hallsy with a penalty shot? Signs point to no. Whether or not he would’ve scored remains to be seen but if he had, the game would have been over and the Devils would have won in OT and the shootout needn’t have happened.
But we live in the universe in which it did and the Devils have now lost 16 of their last 18 games. They do all the right things to win and keep games close but can’t actually find a way to win. With six games left, it’s hard to see the Devils finishing with any kind of momentum going into the offseason and carrying that into next season.
They’ll have two days off and will be back in action Friday night against the Islanders at Barclays Center; puck drops at 7:30PM.