The frustration of losing is compounded when you dramatically outplay your opponent, as the Devils did Friday night against the visiting Rangers.
But despite having the advantage in shots, faceoffs and hits, the banged-up Devils came up empty again on home ice, falling 3-0 at Prudential Center in front of a sellout crowd.
Try as they did, they couldn't get one by Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 33 shots to deal New Jersey its second shutout in three games. The Devils (4-10-1) slipped to 0-5-1 at the Rock.
Brandon Dubinsky struck twice, including a shorthanded goal in the third period, to send the Devils to a second straight loss against their Hudson River rivals. Brian Boyle added a power-play goal.
"We played hard, we competed, but again, we're not generating enough offense," said head coach John MacLean, who noted that his team isn't getting second and third chances in the offensive zone.
"We're getting some shots," he said. "We're just not able to get the rebounds or the bounce or the ugly goal. That's what we need right now."
Already looking at three months without Zach Parise (knee), the Devils went to battle Friday without Martin Brodeur (bruised elbow) or Colin White (flu). They welcomed back Anton Volchenkov, but in the injury department, the unfortunate trend of one step forward, two steps back, has continued.
Johan Hedberg made 17 saves in his second start of the season, and second straight appearance. He relieved Brodeur in the second period of Wednesday's win in Chicago after Brodeur was hurt by a Patrick Kane shot. "Moose" had hoped for a better result in his second appearance in front of the home crowd.
"I was OK, I wasn't spectacular," Hedberg said. "Sometimes you just need those little breaks. Every puck went off me. If (I'm) an inch too deep or an inch to the side, that's where I have to work. I have to be solid and strong and try to be that."
If there's one that Hedberg would like to have back, it's Dubinsky's shorthanded tally that made it 3-0 at 3:41 of the third. Dubinsky led Todd White on a rush out of Devils territory, and Hedberg turned away White's shot from the right circle. The rebound, however, caromed off the end boards, where Dubinsky retrieved the puck and tucked it inside the right post before Hedberg could recover.
Hedberg said the team just needs to believe in its own talent.
"We have a lot of good hockey players and this team is a proven winner from year to year," he explained. "There's no doubt that the guys in this room know how to win. It's a funny game. Confidence is a huge part of it. You take one step forward and one night you take one step back. We have to take four or five steps forward."
The Devils controlled long stretches of play over the first 40 minutes, often pinning New York in its own zone for entire shifts. At even strength, the Devils snapped passes, got pucks to the front of the net and jammed away, only to be stymied by Lundqvist.
Looking to get on the board in the third, the Devils hurt themselves with penalties. Ilya Kovalchuk was whistled for roughing Ruslan Fedotenko 15 seconds into the frame. Later, David Clarkson took a five-minute major for boarding Boyle at 5:17.
"We shot ourselves in the foot there," MacLean said. "It's unfortunate."
Without Parise, Kovalchuk will be counted on offensively even more. He hasn't scored in six games since the Devils' last meeting with the Rangers on Oct. 24, but MacLean said it's not about one player picking up his game.
"We need more from everybody," MacLean said. "It's not just him. There's other guys that aren't scoring also that have to put the puck in the net."
Dubinsky's ninth of the year gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Alexander Frolov passed in front of the cage for Artem Anisimov, who shanked the shot right to Dubinsky. He buried it from the right circle at 7:35.
The Devils turned up the pressure later in the first, outshooting the Rangers 11-4. A strong shift by Jason Arnott's line with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus pinned New York in its own end until Lundqvist stopped Arnott's backhander with 5:51 to go.
A trio of Zubrus, Rod Pelley and Alexander Vasyunov turned the Rangers' zone into a shooting gallery with two minutes left, but couldn't convert.
Boyle's goal upped the New York lead to 2-0 with 35.5 seconds left in the second. Boyle screened Hedberg and got a piece of Dan Girardi's long-range wrist shot. Seconds before the goal, Hedberg made a terrific stop, sliding out to rob White from the slot.
Lundqvist made his best of the night on Kovalchuk's set-up for Travis Zajac on the doorstep with 7:51 to go in the third. The shutout was his second of the season, fifth of his career against the Devils.
Captain's quote Jamie Langenbrunner: "We're obviously a little frustrated and disappointed. We're trying to work our way out of this. I know it's really not from a lack of effort, so that part's frustrating. If it's lack of effort, at least you can point a finger at yourself and get mad about that. It seems like we can't seem to buy a goal. We did a lot of good things again in that second period. Give them some credit, they blocked some shots. Henrik made some big saves. For whatever reason, we're not finishing."
Gionta makes NHL debut
Fans might have done a double-take seeing a Gionta on the ice wearing a Devils No. 14 jersey on Friday night. It was the NHL debut of Stephen Gionta, younger brother of Brian, the ex-Devil.
"It's a dream come true," said Gionta, who tied three others with a team-high four shots against the Rangers. "You just try to keep it simple. I had a couple of chances tonight, I just wish I could've buried one."
At 27, the younger Gionta's no teenaged rookie seeing the bright lights of the pros for the first time. Still, that doesn't mean he wasn't feeling a little nervous before the game. He was recalled Thursday from Albany (AHL), where he has served as captain.
"It's your first game, it's something that you've been working for your whole life," he said. "You can't help but get a little bit jittery and a little bit anxious. I was anxous to get out there and get it going and get on the ice. It was awesome."
Devils led in shots (33-20), hits (10-8), blocked shots (9-7), and faceoffs (41-18). … Volchenkov brought a physical presence right out of the gate, and finished with three hits and one blocked shot in 22:42 of ice time. He put a heavy hit on Sean Avery with 1:30 left in the first. Volchenkov missed 12 games with a broken nose and stiff neck after taking a Nicklas Backstrom shot in the face on Oct. 9. … Jeff Frazee was recalled under emergency conditions from Albany (AHL) to back up Hedberg. Alexander Urbom was also recalled under emergency conditions and filled in for White. … The three-game homestand continues Wednesday against Buffalo and concludes Friday against Edmonton.