Live by the shootout, die by the shootout. That could be the fate of the New Jersey Devils this season.
The Devils finished sixth in the Eastern Conference last season with 102 points, and a major part of their success was their ability to win post-overtime tiebreakers. New Jersey went to the shootout 16 times last season and won a League-high 12 of them. Ilya Kovalchuk set single-season records with 11 goals and seven game-deciding shootout goals, Zach Parise was 8-for-16 and the Devils led the NHL by scoring on 57.1 percent of their attempts.
But the Devils enter the weekend on the outside looking in at the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and their lack of success in the shootout is a big reason.
New Jersey has gone from scoring on more than half of its attempts to succeeding on less than one-quarter of them -- the Devils are just 6-for-26 (23.1 percent) this season. Kovalchuk, prior to leaving the lineup with a shoulder injury, was 2-for-6; his 33.3 percentage is just about the League average since the shootout was instituted in 2005.
More puzzling has been the struggles of goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg, who entered the season as two of the most successful goaltenders in shootout history. Hedberg, among the all-time leaders in shootout save percentage, is 2-3 and has a save percentage of .625, the lowest of his career. Even more shocking is the performance of Brodeur, who entered the season with 42 shootout wins, the most of any goaltender. Brodeur has lost all three tiebreakers he's played this season and has allowed five goals on the eight shots he's faced.
With the Devils going to the shootout in roughly one of every five games this season (about the same ratio as in 2011-12), and the 48-game schedule, the points they didn't get could be ones the Devils will rue having let get away.
Hasn't lost his touch -- Parise signed with the Minnesota Wild during the offseason and brought his scoring touch in the tiebreaker with him. He's scored three times in five attempts, matching the performance of captain Mikko Koivu. Add in Matt Cullen's 3-for-3 showing and the Wild have scored nine times on just 13 chances -- enabling them to win four of five tiebreakers despite goaltender Niklas Backstrom's.538 save percentage.
Added benefit -- The Tampa Bay Lightning have to like what they saw of their newest acquisition, goaltender Ben Bishop, who came in a deadline-day deal with the Ottawa Senators. Bishop stopped 45 shots in his first game with the Lightning, a 5-0 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.
The perfect night improved Bishop's save percentage to .930 -- none of the other three goaltenders Tampa Bay has used this season has a percentage better than .903. Bishop also could give Tampa Bay an extra weapon in shootouts -- he's 4-0 this season, and his .842 save percentage is the best of any goaltender who has been in more than three tiebreakers.
Andrei Markov has meant to the Montreal Canadiens.
The 34-year-old defenseman missed most of the past three seasons while recovering from an assortment of knee surgeries; he played only 13 games last season -- all of them in the final weeks, when Montreal's playoff hopes were gone. He didn't score a goal and managed only three assists; the Canadiens finished last in the Eastern Conference partly because they were just 28th on the power play.
Fast-forward to 2012-13. Markov has been able to play every game, and the Canadiens are battling for first place in the Northeast Division. Part of the reason for this season's surprise success has been their Markov-led power play. He's tied for the lead among all NHL players with 20 power-play points (seven goals, 13 assists), and the Canadiens are seventh in the NHL with the extra man at 21.9 percent. Montreal's League-high 34 power-play goals in 37 games this season are nine fewer than the Canadiens scored in 82 games last season.
Firing line -- The Boston Bruins became only the second team to reach the 50-shot mark in a game when they put 50 on goaltender Robin Lehner in their 3-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. But Boston goaltender Anton Khudobin didn't exactly have the night off -- he faced 47 shots and finished with a career-best 45 saves.