Promising starts for two Eastern Conference teams have been rendered moot by goaltending issues ranging from poor play to a lack of durability.
That theme was on display Monday night in both cases. The New Jersey Devils extended their winless streak to five games (0-4-1) in a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Tampa Bay Lightning were edged 4-3 in Pittsburgh by the Penguins.
Johan Hedberg has been in goal for all five games during the Devils’ current slide as the winningest goaltender of all time, Martin Brodeur, recuperates from a back injury. This isn’t all on Hedberg, a stand-up guy if there ever was one, but the numbers speak for themselves. The Devils have been outscored 19-9 (not counting shootout goals) during the five-game stretch. And while the goaltending hasn’t been strong, the power play has gone dry, going 0-for-17 in the past five games, putting even more pressure on the defense and goaltending. At one point the Devils led the Atlantic Division and were in the hunt for the top spot in the conference. As of Tuesday morning, New Jersey had sunk to seventh place in the conference and is now looking over its shoulders at division rivals Philadelphia and the New York Rangers. Brodeur did not accompany the team to Toronto, and there is no definite timetable for his return, which can’t come soon enough for a team that advanced to the Stanley Cup finals last June.
Meanwhile, the Lightning began the season 6-1-0 and since then have gone 3-11-1, including Monday’s loss, their fifth in a row. The defeat was further marred by the loss of netminder Mathieu Garon, who left the game early in the second period. Garon was expected to be the backup to Anders Lindback, who was obtained by the Lightning in the offseason from Nashville, but has actually been the steadier of the two and had recently assumed the starting role. Now it will be up to Lindback, who allowed two goals on 18 shots to take the loss Monday, to try to turn the tide. Lindback has an unhealthy 3.27 GAA and .890 save percentage for the Lightning, who rank 27th in the NHL in goals allowed per game. (They also called up netminder Cedrick Desjardins from their AHL affiliate to serve as backup.) The Lightning began Tuesday in 13th place in the Eastern Conference but just four points out of eighth and six points out of first in the weak Southeast Division. Oddly enough, they play Tuesday night in Newark against the Devils.