New Jersey Devils: How Trailing Early Killed Their Season

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - APRIL 18: Vitali Kravtsov #74 of the New York Rangers celebrates his first NHL goal against Mackenzie Blackwood #29 of the New Jersey Devils as he is joined by Kevin Rooney #17 during the first period at the Prudential Center on April 18, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - APRIL 18: Vitali Kravtsov #74 of the New York Rangers celebrates his first NHL goal against Mackenzie Blackwood #29 of the New Jersey Devils as he is joined by Kevin Rooney #17 during the first period at the Prudential Center on April 18, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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There really isn’t much to say about the New Jersey Devils right now, aside from how merciful it would be to have this season wrap up for them sooner than later. New Jersey has many issues that facilitated this awful year, most of which have been on full display during this soul-sucking 10-game winless streak.

Their record when trailing first is downright abysmal. They are 3-17-5 going into Tuesday night’s matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers when the other team scores first. This translates to a .120 win percentage, which is third-worst in the league. Their total games where they’ve been scored on first (25) ties for 11th-highest and is also tied for fifth-most out of teams with the 10-worst win percentages. Eight of 10 teams in this aforementioned group are either already mathematically eliminated from making the playoffs or are at least six points out their division’s fourth seed. If this is any indication, it appears trailing first in games continues to be a recurring trait among the league’s weakest teams.

The Devils are currently the league’s youngest team in the NHL (average age of 24.38). It’s worth pointing out four of ten teams with the NHL’s lowest win percentages when trailing first are also among the 10 youngest (Los Angeles, Columbus, Buffalo, New Jersey). Incidentally, four of the teams on this list are among the league’s 10-oldest teams (Montreal, Dallas, Detroit). While the abundance of inexperienced youth in the Devil’s lineup definitely accounts for these situational struggles to some degree, there isn’t a distinct correlation between a team’s average age and their track record when trailing first.

To delve deeper into how the team’s recent youth injection potentially coincides with their ineptitude when being scored on first, their performance in this scenario before and after the trade deadline may offer some insight. Before that date, they had a 3-10-5 record (.167 win percentage) in contests when trailing first, which occurred in 18 of 40 games played at that time (45 percent). Since April 12 (keep in mind they’re already two matches into their current winless streak), the Devils are one of 10 teams that haven’t won a single contest when trailing first. The aggregated average of games when trailing first among this group, however, is just 3.2. The Devils have been scored on first seven times (out of eight games played) over that span. Although this recent trend aligns with the lineup’s recent youth injection, the New Jersey Devils weren’t faring much better in this category before the trade deadline.

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Since returning from their February hiatus, the Devils have played the majority of their season’s games (39), and have gone 10-24-5. New Jersey trailed first in 21 of those contests (tied for fourth-most in the league since February 15) and went 3-15-3. Their .143 win percentage is the sixth-lowest among NHL teams since they resumed play in mid-February. Ironically, even when New Jersey was 4-3-2 (before their pause), they went 0-2-2 in four games when trailing first, being one of only two teams to not win a game when trailing first through the season’s first month. While the sample size is comparatively small to their play since mid-February, it does provide some indication that their performance in games when going down first has been a consistent shortcoming for the Devils all season, and played a much bigger role in their disastrous campaign than many might realize.