The New Jersey Devils’ line in the NHL standings may be the saddest thing in the hockey world.
They sit at 34-29-16, good for 84 points in 79 games, which leaves them three points behind Columbus for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Despite a late surge, time is running out, and the Devils will almost certainly fall just short of the playoffs.
But that’s not the sad part. Keep scanning the row of numbers and you hit one that has literally never been seen before: 0-11. It shows up in the shootout column, and it represents 11 consecutive losses in the NHL’s tiebreaking sideshow. If the Devils end up going winless in shootouts this season, it will be the worst performance in league history. Only one other team, the 2006-07 Hurricanes, went an entire season without winning a shootout, and they only lost five.
In the nine seasons the NHL has featured shootouts, we’ve come to learn they’re basically all luck, in the sense that teams that are especially good or bad at them one year are no more likely to repeat the status than anyone else. There’s individual skill involved, sure, but at the team level, we’re essentially flipping coins. Do you know how hard it is to have a coin come up tails 11 times in a row? Go ahead and try it; I’ll wait here until you give up.
If the Devils had managed to just be bad in the shootout — let’s say four wins and seven losses — they’d be in great shape right now. But the Devils are 0-for-11, and they’re probably going to miss the playoffs because of it.
And, as broken down in detail here, they’re doing it despite a roster full of players who’ve historically had decent shootout success. Yet in a league in which shooters typically convert on about one-third of their shootout chances, the Devils have somehow managed to go just 3-for-39. Their team shooting percentage in the shootout is significantly worse than their shooting percentage during the actual games, which, when you really think about it, should probably be impossible.
And it’s not like they’re some expansion-level roster full of cast-offs — they have the league’s active leading scorer and all-time winningest goaltender. But none of it matters.
It almost defies belief. So just to make sure this hasn’t all been a bad dream, I went back and rewatched every shot of every Devils shootout from this season. And since I don’t like to suffer alone, now I’m going to make you relive it all with me.
October 4: Islanders 4, Devils 3
What Devils fans were thinking: Oh yay, a shootout, these are fun!
The goalie: Martin Brodeur
The shooters: Damien Brunner, Ryane Clowe, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Michael Ryder, Jaromir Jagr
Did anyone score? No.
Highlights: The very first round gives you a hint as to how the rest of the year is going to go, as Brunner dekes past Evgeni Nabokov’s pokecheck attempt and then shoots it directly into his pad, followed by Brodeur stopping Frans Nielsen but appearing to hurt himself in the process. Clowe’s appearance briefly makes everyone wonder if they blacked out for 10 rounds. Pierre-Marc Bouchard tries Jason Allison’s patented “skate in slowly enough that the goalie might die of old age” move, but Brodeur stops him. Brodeur also stops John Tavares, then has to make a second save when the puck defies the laws of physics by trying to bounce directly into the net on the rebound because the hockey gods are sending a message.
New York’s Matt Moulson eventually wins it in Round 6, then vows to be traded at least twice before the Devils mange to win one of these.
How cruel was it in hindsight? Watching six guys fail to score couldn’t have been fun, though Brodeur looked sharp. Ah well. Get ’em next time, right?
October 7: Oilers 5, Devils 4
What Devils fans were thinking: Oh yay, a shootout, these are fun (except for that last one).
The goalie: Brodeur
The shooters: Brunner, Clowe
Did anyone score? No.
Highlights: Brunner tries the Forsberg move, but puts it wide. Jordan Eberle and David Perron both beat Brodeur with essentially the same move, and this one is done after just two rounds.
How cruel was it in hindsight? Pretty cruel, since the Devils had blown a 3-0 lead in regulation. And also, it was a loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Probably more that second part, actually.