The New Jersey Devils have been miserable in shootouts for two years.
After going 2-7 in the shootout during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, they followed up with an historic mark for shootout failure, going 13 shootouts without a single bonus point. 0-13.
They were 1-5 this season entering play against Tampa Bay.
On Friday night at Prudential Center, they met their match -- the woefully inept Tampa Bay Lightning, who for all their offensive skill can't seem to find success in the shootout, falling to 1-4.
The game followed a familiar script; Tampa got off to a bit of a rough start and put themselves in a bad situation killing a penalty on the road just a few minutes into the game, as Brian Boyle was forced to hack at Andy Greene to stop a scoring chance in front of the net that Evgeni Nabokov still needed a tremendous save to keep out.
The Devils made quick work of the still-floundering Tampa penalty kill, however, as Scott Gomez worked the puck through the center of the slot with ease to Greene for a redirect on Nabokov. Adam Henrique snapped home the rebound from just outside the blue paint for a very early 1-0 New Jersey lead.
The Lightning pushed back at even strength following the Henrique goal, slogging through a tight neutral zone defense, but couldn't find much in the way of dangerous scoring chances. Patrik Elias extended the lead to 2-0 for the Devils with a spinning backhander down the right wing that evaded Evgeni Nabokov.
A tripping call on Eric Gelinas late in the first gave the Lightning a chance to get on the board, but the power play once again failed to muster much on net, instead fumbling around neutral ice and passing around the perimeter without looking for shooting lanes.
The Bolts ratcheted up their 5v5 pressure in the 2nd period, building off a pair of successful penalty kills and some 4v4 play that opened up the tight New Jersey defensive structure, culminating in a dominating shift in New Jersey's end by Cedric Paquette, Alex Killorn, and Brett Connolly. Unfortunately, even as the Bolts had the Devils pinned in their own end while completing a line change, they still struggled to create a lot of good looks in the slot or around the net. They were often forced for long screen shots that were often deflected to the corner.
Finally, the Lightning were able to break through with a goal from the top line. Steven Stamkos collected a loose puck as Keith Kinkaid was trying to cover it and put it into the net off Ryan Callahan's rebound to bring the Lightning within a goal heading into the final period.
The Lightning continued to attack at even strength in the third and were handed a huge opportunity to even the score after a double minor penalty to Michael Ryder for high sticking; unfortunately, the Bolts power play was more of the same and couldn't put a puck behind Kinkaid. With Nabokov pulled for an extra attacker, Nikita Kucherov collected a loose puck in the slot and backhanded it through the Devils goaltender to tie the game with just 40 seconds remaining. That earned the Bolts a point.
Overtime saw a few good scoring chances, mostly for New Jersey, but with no goals scored after 5 minutes of 4v4 play the shootout would be needed. For two teams who have struggled mightily in the skills competition, they didn't exactly embarrass themselves too badly; Scott Gomez had Evgeni Nabokov beat on a backhand that hit the crossbar; Travis Zajac missed just wide on a similar move, and Patrik Elias converted on a quick deke move inside the crease. At the other end, Kinkaid made a nice saves on a wide move by Steven Stamkos and quick shots from Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin to earn his first ever NHL win and the extra point for the Devils.
- To demonstrate just how futile the New Jersey Devils had been overall entering play tonight: backup netminder Keith Kinkaid came into the game with a .942 save percentage but zero wins in five appearances. Friday night marked his first victory of the season backing up Cory Schneider.
- Tyler Johnson sat this one out with "the Gudas", a stomach virus that the team has apparently been passing around. Better than the mumps, I guess.
- Complaining about goaltender interference gets old fast, but how is this a penalty on Alex Killorn?
- Speaking of broken records ... Tampa Bay was 0/5 on the power play. What they're doing? It's not working. But then, you might already know that. 5 power plays. Two total 5v4 scoring chances.
- Good news is, Tampa is still pretty good at evens:
Real ugly game for the Devils at even-strength tonight. Was all Tampa. pic.twitter.com/kd9el4l1Cr— Todd Cordell (@ToddCordell) December 20, 2014
- At first blush, you might think starting Evgeni Nabokov tonight is indication from the coaching staff that, in Ben Bishop's absence, they view him as the "starter". But consider Andrei Vasilevskiy will presumably start tomorrow night on Long Island and get a much tougher opponent and that he will be playing behind a tired team once again? The message is clear as to which goaltender the coaches think gives them the best chance to win right now.