Last season, there was no better team in the NHL in erasing a deficit and winning a hockey game than the New Jersey Devils. Last season, the team was first in the entire league with 26 come-from-behind victories. They won 17 games when trailing by 1 goal, 8 games when trailing by 2 goals, and 1 game when trailing by more than that. Only two other teams had at least 20 come-from-behind victories, but none had as many as New Jersey, and it was a key trait for the success of the team and a main reason as to why they were able to get to the second round of the playoffs.
This year, it seems like the Devils want to continue to employ this tactic, and they are mildly successful with it. So far, the Devils have managed to come from behind and win 7 games this season, which is tied for 2nd in the NHL. Colorado leads with 8 come from behind wins, and the Devils are tied with Toronto, Florida, and Dallas with 7. However, that does not tell the whole story. Last season, the Devils were much more dominant during games. On average, they led for just under 22 minutes per game and were only losing for around 16 and a half minutes per game. This year, those numbers are mostly reversed. They have been leading for just under 17 minutes on average, but are trailing for a little over 20 minutes per game.
So while last year, the Devils were able to come from behind more successfully than anyone else, they also did not need it as much as they were trailing for a lot less per game than they were winning. This year, they are trailing a lot more often, and therefore they need to come from behind a whole lot more often. And it just doesn’t happen at the same rate. Yesterday proved it, where they can put up 22 shots in the third period after being largely invisible for the first two periods, but can’t manage to find the back of the net.
Also, the Devils have yet to win a game when they are trailing by more than 1 goal. All 7 of their come-from-behind wins in 2023-24 have come when they were down only 1 goal. Only 11 of the 32 NHL teams so far this season have not managed to come from behind from more than 1 goal at all this year, and the Devils are one of those teams. So while they do have 7 strikeback wins, once they go down by more than 1 goal, they have yet to manage a win.
The crux of the matter is the slow starts that this team manages time and time again. The Devils really struggle to show up to games right from the opening faceoff, and that creates constant pressure to come back and tie games and erase deficits. And clearly, they have not been nearly as good at that this year as they were last year. Just the vibes around this team will tell you that. I know last year, I was rarely ever phased by a deficit. I felt generally confident that the Devils would tie a game when they were losing, and they often proved me correct. This year, I feel way less confident of that whenever I watch a game. I fully expect the opposing team to score first, whether it be on a defensive breakdown or just poor goaltending, and I expect to have to watch the Devils fight to just tie games. It is not a winning formula, and it leaves NJ not only out of a playoff spot come Thanksgiving weekend, but not even at NHL .500 and a -8 goal differential.
If they want to start to turn things around, they need to find ways to play better in the first period and early on in games. They cannot continually fall behind in games and play over a third of each game trailing. It is not a recipe for success, as we have seen so far this season. They need to play more from ahead, where they can protect and expand upon leads instead of chasing to get back into it. Whether that takes different strategies early on in games, or whether it just takes more effort and desire in the first 20 minutes, it has to be done. Otherwise, don’t expect this team to be in a much better position come Christmas.