New Jersey Devils Can't Afford Poor Efforts In Back-to-Backs

In most situations, an NHL team can be excused for a bad performance in the second half of a back-to-back, but the New Jersey Devils can't afford it since they have the most such series in the league.
Dec 17, 2023; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Adam Henrique (14)
Dec 17, 2023; Newark, New Jersey, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Adam Henrique (14) / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils have a few games that were really dreadful. Losing to the lowly San Jose Sharks at home still hurts two weeks later. What a terrible way to start the month of December. A loss to the Arizona Coyotes early in the season was a sign of things to come. Then, on Sunday, the Devils lost to an Anaheim Ducks team that had lost 10 of 11 games and established itself as one of the worst in the league.

All those games have one thing in common. The bad performances came on the second half of a back-to-back.

The Devils have been awful on the second half of a back-to-back. There's no other way to say it. The Devils are 1-5-1 on the second half of a back to back. That's already bad, but the quality of opponent makes it worse. They've lost to the Sharks, Ducks, Coyotes, Capitals, Blues, and Oilers. Those are some of the worst teams in the league. Based on record alone, the Devils should have won all of those games if this was truly a serious Stanley Cup contender.

Yet, this team is different in the second half of a back-to-back. In most years, the Devils playing seven back-to-backs would be most of the ones they have all season. Unfortunately, the Devils lead the NHL in back-to-backs. They have 16 instances of this. The Islanders have just 10. The Penguins, Flyers, and Rangers have just 12. Meanwhile, the Devils have 16. What's worse is only four of those 16 are both at home.

It's an insane disadvantage that this team is not reacting well to. It's especially bad when they play the same goalie on the back-to-back. Akira Schmid was forced to play both games this time around. He beat the Blue Jackets on Saturday night. Then, after Vitek Vanecek got an instant illness before Sunday's game, Schmid was forced to play again on Sunday with a recently healthy Nico Daws backing up. Definitely not an ideal situation for the Devils.

So for those who didn't come here to do math, the Devils are 15-7-0 when not playing on a back-to-back. That's a 75% winning percentage. That would give the Devils a better point percentage than the New York Rangers, who are leading the Metropoilitan Division.

We get its not fair to take out the Devils back-to-back record and leave in everyone else's, but it does prove the point. This is an elite team when not playing a back-to-back. They have wins against the Bruins, Islanders (twice), Flyers, and Red Wings when not playing on a back-to-back. Yet, they lose to the likes of the Ducks, Sharks, and Oilers on the second-half of a back-to-back. And they deserved to lose on Sunday night. The Devils came out flat as Florida in the third period down one goal with the Ducks backup goalie taking over for John Gibson. Even those who don't take much stock in advanced stats know losing in xG 1.43 to .05 in one period is awful.

We're not sure what the fix is here. The Devils were dominant in the first period but didn't score. Should they try to ease themselves into the game and try to expand their energy throughout all three periods? Is there a lineup decision the Devils can make? They made all these moves to bring depth into the lineup, and there are interesting players with the Utica Comets. Can they make some moves with the lineup without destroying the salary cap?

It's hard to say what the answer is, but we just know the answer hasn't been found. Lindy Ruff needs to figure it out because the Devils still have nine back-to-backs this season.

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