During last night's broadcast of the New Jersey Devils' 3-2 loss to Calgary, there was a graphic highlighting that the Devils have been outscored significantly in the third period. This appeared as the third period just begun. Sure enough, the Devils lost last night's game in the third period. The final scene saw a confused Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador and a killer pass from Sven Baertschi in between four Devils in a makeshift box to a wide-open Sean Monahan for the game winner. It was a bad scene to end a poor third period for the Devils. In light of that and their 0-2-3 record to start the 2013-14 season, the Devils' play in third periods in general deserves a closer look.
It's not much, but it's not pretty. While four of their seven goals allowed game in one game, the Devils have only scored twice and the one in Edmonton was a lucky bounce off Andrew Ference's skate. Not exactly an intentional play. The Devils have been out-shot in three of their five third periods so far and the first one was due to score effects as Pittsburgh held a 2-0 lead going into the third. Admittedly, I winced a little when I put this chart together.
The other one was the third period in Vancouver. I wouldn't even go so far to say the Vancouver game was that much better as the Canucks attempted more shots. Extra Skater's game stats include shooting attempts without blocks - a.k.a. Fenwick - graphed for each team over the course of each game. The last time the Devils finished the third ahead in Fenwick was the Isles game. Edmonton caught up in their crazy third after their second goal. In the two most recent games, Vancouver and Calgary did not relinquish their advantage in attempts. This tells me that the Devils really haven't been the better team in third period play in this past week. Concerns should be placed not only about the defense, but also the offense given they've recently fallen behind in possession and have scored a mere two goals in the third.
It is worth noting that the Devils' third period issues could be alleviated earlier in the game. They've only taken one lead into the third period in this season. Despite their errors in that Oilers game, especially on the fourth goal allowed, I doubt an opposing team is going to rack up four straight goals in less than ten minutes all that often. In the second periods of the games where the Devils didn't get shutout, the Devils have seen their leads get equalized for one reason or another. The three events in question: breakaway starting from a play at the blueline to a team taking advantage of an extra skater on the attack (Aside: Sweet backcheck, Loktionov) to a power play goal after a bad call. Martin Brodeur probably should've had that the two that beat him among these three, but the point of it all is that something happened in the second that put the Devils in a less-than-ideal spot to start the third. Not a bad spot, but not ideal. And if the team couldn't get going, which they haven't done for a week now, then they could have been in trouble.
Making the issue worse is that there isn't an easy target on the team to point to. The lack of shots and goals falls on the offense as a whole. The defensive errors on the seven goals allowed can be spread out through the blueline and the goalies (more on Martin Brodeur than Cory Schneider). Peter DeBoer could certainly stand to make some adjustments within his lines and pairings, but the execution - or lack there of - falls on the players. To me, it's a team issue. It's not going get better (or worse) by just replacing Unpopular Skater X with Popular Player Y. The bulk of the roster has to keep up or provide an actual attack that threatens to score and get their awareness in order in their own end to cut down on the defensive errors. That sounds generic but I think it's a good place to start for improved play in future third periods.
That all said, I would recommend taking all this in with some grains of salt given that the team has played only five games this season. A whole lot can change in a short amount of time. We can only hope that it's just a small slump and games will go better for the Devils very soon. Hopefully starting on Sunday at Winnipeg. Provided they're not behind by a lot, better performances in the final third of the game could be beneficial to turning those hopes into reality. Should they start winning, it'll be good to take a closer look later on in the season to see if the lackluster performances ended or if they're just much better earlier in the game.