Devils' shootout futility remains improbable and amazing

PITTSBURGH — "Mustache Boy" may be dead.

When Dan Bylsma coached the Penguins, he held a month-end shootout competition with the entire roster. Whoever was the last without a goal had to pass on shaving his lip for the following 30 days or so — hello, "Mustache Boy."

New coach Mike Johnston, though, has a different method. You're not going to see full-team shootout drills all that often — certainly not as often as with Bylsma.

"It's something that I'd like to be able to do once a week — to be able to get not everybody into a shootout, but get your core guys, and get your goaltenders focused on those core shooters shooting against them," Johnston said on Tuesday.

"(Pittsburgh's goalies have) got five or six shooters, they know they've got to play it as a shootout — so that's what we'd like to simulate."

It's all worth mentioning because the team down the hallway on Tuesday is, in the face of logic, is a post-overtime disaster. At least, the Devils were last season; they managed to go 0-13 in the shootout, leaving 13 theoretical points on the table. Given that they missed the playoffs by five points, that was reeeeeally something.

And really, despite the fact that they're already 0-1 this season and are zero for their last 18, the Devils' shootout performance should be treated as nothing more than a statistical oddity. Losing Ilya Kovalchuk, who was one of the best in the league, didn't help anything, but 40-ish team attempts isn't nearly enough to base any conclusions upon.

Some players are better than others in shootouts, as Michael Lopez wrote last season. That should stop people from referring to shootout performance as truly random. That said, it's tough to say which guys are actually better — as Eric Tulsky wrote, "(in) other words, if the dice are loaded, we can't tell." Both pieces, if the topic interests you, are worth a read.

Still, the Devils' futility is impressive; they were nearly twice as bad last season (8.9 shooting percentage) as the next-worst NHL team (16.0 percent), They had the worst save percentage (.533) by 52 points. It's possible to intellectually understand that such performance is unsustainably bad and still marvel at the next-level ugliness of it all.

And really, things should get better; Martin Brodeur allowed eight goals on 16 shots; he's gone. Patrik Elias seemed one of the best shootout guys in the league until last season, and that probably didn't disappear. Having Tuomo Ruutu (39.1 percent on 23 attempts) and Ryane Clowe (34.8 on 46 attempts) around for the entire season would help. Marek Zidlicky, Mike Cammalleri, Jaromir Jagr — all are better than 20 percent with at least 24 attempts.

It's bad luck, to a comical degree. It almost can't continue. All that makes last season all the more amazing, though. A second act isn't probable — but it's possible. And that'll be fascinating to watch.