The New Jersey Devils of 2013-2014 were notorious (at least among our fan base) for their lack of winning streaks last season. As I and many others do not count winning two games in a row as a "streak," we will establish at least for the sake of this article that a winning streak is three or more victories in a row. By this definition, the Devils had one paltry winning streak last season; from November 16th through November 21st, they managed to win three straight games. The first was a home game against Pittsburgh, won by a convincing score of 4-1. The second was on the 20th in Anaheim, and was won in overtime 4-3 on this wacky play.
The final game was the next night in Los Angeles that saw a sleepwalking Devils team escape with another overtime victory, this time 2-1; however that would be it for winning streaks for the 2013-14 team. That's right from November 21, 2013 all the way to the end of the Devils' season on April 13, 2014, the Devils could not win more than two games in a row. That's a span of almost six months, and though it's probably closer to five once we cut out the Olympic Break, either way you look at it, it's a staggering amount of time. How could this be? Did the lack of winning streaks factor into the Devils missing the playoffs? Is it still possible to be a playoff team without winning streaks? Let's take a deeper look.
The First Problem
The first problem to look at is that without winning streaks, that means you're losing a lot of games. If for every two games a team wins, they lose two games as well, all that results in is that team essentially trading points. If a team won half of their games and lost the other half, they would finish with 82 points, which this past season would put them out of the playoffs by 9 points in the West and 11 points in the East. The "Bettman Point" tosses a bit of complication into this idea, as it is possible for a team to lose in overtime and still get a point, which of course would skew the above number.
The other side of this is of course losing streaks; let's face it, there's not going to be a team that wins two games then loses one in that pattern for an entire season. If you're not putting up winning streaks, then you're probably losing a few in a row here and there. Losing streaks of course put you out of playoff contention even faster than not accruing winning streaks.
The Second & Third Problems
Growing on the point of losing streaks comes our next issue. If a team truly is a good hockey team, they will be able to beat lesser teams with regularity. Last season, the Devils lost nine games either in regulation or overtime to the five worst teams in the league:
Of course the notables here are blowing a 3-0 lead to Edmonton in the third period and having to tie that game in the final minute, and the four shootout losses. If the Devils had won these games (regulation or overtime) it would have given them an additional 13 points, putting them well into playoff contention, as well as giving them a few more winning streaks.
The final problem for a lack of winning streak could be the fact that the Devils were splitting starts between Cory Schneider and Martin Brodeur last season; the possibility exists that a rhythm could not be established due to infrequent starts at times in the season. It doesn't explain the lack of winning streaks during periods where one was starting a majority of the games, but during the time that Peter DeBoer was flip-flopping them, the disruption of goaltender rhythm could be argued.
Why Are Winning Streaks So Important?
So far in this article, all I've really done is tell you what you already probably know; the Devils had one winning streak all season and they lost a lot of games, including quite a few that they probably should have won. Being able to string together more than two wins in a row is important because it gives the team confidence. There were games last season where I would watch or read the post-game interviews, and players would just look and talk as though they were defeated. Sure, some of them would give all the answers that a coach and an organization want to here, but you could tell (sometimes more obviously than others) that there was frustration.
If a team doesn't have confidence, they're not going to win very many games even with a talented roster. Players will start to play detrimentally or won't play as hard. Team chemistry can be affected as productive lines might get broken up to try and generate more productivity. If the experiment doesn't work, teams can find themselves playing worse and scoring fewer goals this way; even reuniting a line could see one member's production fall off a cliff. Winning streaks bring consistency and vice-versa.
As I said earlier as well, without winning streaks, you're either trading wins and losses or tallying losing streaks. Perhaps they're just a bi-product of a team playing well, but without them it's almost impossible to be a playoff team anymore. The Devils finished only 5 points out of a playoff spot, and blame can certainly be placed in other areas (read: shootout) but their inability to string together a few wins a row certainly didn't help/
Generating Some Conversation
I'd like to hear what you think about winning streaks; are they simply a bi-product of a team playing well? Do they truly matter to a player's/team's confidence? Does it affect team chemistry? Am I attempting to make something out of nothing? Any and all feedback is appreciated!
The Next Throwback Thursday
And another poll for next week's article! Changed up the options a bit this week; suggestions for future polls welcome as well!