USA TODAY Sports
The New Jersey Devils can't get out of their own way right now and Wednesday night was just another example of that. New Jersey has now lost five consecutive games after their 2-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators and 11 of their last 13 games overall. They're currently six points out of a playoff spot but have played four more games than the team they are chasing. Head coach Peter Deboer continues to draw the ire of many fans but he really doesn't have all too much to work with right now. Patrik Elias looks like a shell of his former self and has really gotten old quickly this season. Jaromir Jagr might be the best offensive player on this club and he's currently 42 years old. In a desperate attempt to help the injury plagued roster they called up longtime Devil Scott Gomez and to the surprise of many he's played extremely well. There still isn't enough there on the offensive side of the puck to be good in that end of the ice consistently. When you factor in the struggles that their defense has in its own zone it's a recipe for disaster. Marek Zidlicky has really struggled this season, Bryce Salvador was abysmal when he was in the lineup, and right now the young players on the blue line are the only ones on this club worth watching. Cory Schneider hasn't be great either but it's hard to say just how much of that can be contributed to the lousy team playing in front of him. Against the Senators the club dominated play for virtually the entire game. It was an early failed penalty kill that ultimately cost them despite allowing just 15 total shots on the night. New Jersey is 27th in the league with a 76.7% penalty kill rate and while their power play has been very good it let them down on Wednesday night with an 0-for-5. If this club doesn't start to get more production from key players like Elias, Travis Zajac, and Adam Henrique, it won't matter what they do because they'll be out of the playoff race by the middle of January. Right now the Devils have three more games on this four game home stand and they better make use of that because things can get even uglier quickly.
Unlike in New Jersey things have been going much smoother for the Tampa Bay Lightning. At 20-10-3 the Lightning lead the Atlantic Division despite the fact that they've lost five of their last eight contests. After two straight defeats the Lightning got back into the win column on Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Steven Stamkos scored his 18th goal of the season early in the second period to even the game at 1-1 and Tyler Johnson's 10th of the year gave the Lightning the lead for good. Valtteri Filppula finished the scoring with an empty net goal. We all know what Stamkos is capable of and he's really clicked with Ryan Callahan skating alongside of him. What has been impressive has been the growth of young players like Johnson and Ondrej Palat and Brett Connolly. This is a team that has a ton of talent up front but a lot of it is very young and still they've been able to do what they need to do in order to be successful. Add in a netminder like Ben Bishop and this is a club that has all the makings of a Stanley Cup contender. The high octane offense we saw earlier in the year has hit a bit of a rut and that has coincided with some losses, but overall it should be a good learning experience for a club that needs to know how to win close, low scoring hockey games come playoff time.
Despite Tampa Bay's struggles of late the Devils have been even worse. This is one of those games where you expect to see absolute desperation from New Jersey and although they aren't a good team overall this seems like one of those games they might find a way to surprise some people.