I’m not a fairweather fan in any sport I follow. If being a Mets fan has taught me anything, it’s that you need to have patience, otherwise you are going to go crazy.
For decades, the New Jersey Devils were a force to be reckoned with in the league, but unfortunately, the last few seasons have been quite the opposite.
So far this year, hope has reared its head. Though seemingly prematurely, this team has shown that it can be relentless and won’t lie down in the face of adversity, something that has continued to hold true throughout the season.
The team is currently missing Marcus Johansson, who is working his way back from a concussion and Kyle Palmieri who is sidelined with a broken foot for the next four to six weeks. Adam Henrique, who has been a mainstay offensively the last half decade or so, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire so far this season.
However, the team has gotten contributions from unlikely heroes, such as Brian Gibbons who leads the team in 11 goals paired with four assists and a +12 rating in 24 games. Gibbons spent the entirety of last season with the team’s then-AHL affiliate up in Albany. When he made the team out of camp, I won’t lie and say I was excited because I wasn’t. At the very least, I thought of Gibbons as a warm body to fill out the bottom lines, but he has proven to be much more than that. Needless to say, I have a mouthful of crow, at least up to this point.
Gibbons has jived extremely well with the young center Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen. This has made for a very strong line. Noesen has registered just two points in 17 contests and I’ve heard people say he needs to be scratched in favor of Johansson when he returns. However, I would really hate to see them break up that line, especially with how smooth they’ve looked creating plays out there.
Apart from Gibbons, it’s always a pleasure to see Taylor Hall out there, who currently leads the team with 26 points. For a point of reference, the next closest players on the team in the points department are Nico Hischier and Will Butcher each with 18. They have been great in their own respect, which I have not strayed away from raving about.
However, I have pinpointed three things I think are worth mentioning that have stuck out to me in recent games.
I have seen several people talk about how Brian Boyle’s style of play doesn’t particularly fit in this young, fast squad. I am going to have to disagree.
Boyle is a great example for this youthful team for a couple reasons. For one, his resilience and positivity in the face of fighting cancer is second to none. The support he has received from around the league shows just how special of a person he is on and off the ice.
Secondly, you need to have a player like Boyle. He’s a big bodied guy in the corners and in front and makes his presence known when he’s in there. He’s also been solid on the penalty kill and during face-offs. He may not be the fastest player out there, but the team needs a guy like him. I couldn’t root for him when he was on the Rangers, but love him as a Devil.
Plus, I would be lying if I said I didn’t get choked up when he lit the lamp this past weekend on Hockey Fights Cancer night against Vancouver.
While he’s only been on the team this year, it feels like he’s been in red and black for a decade. I really love this pick up from general manager Ray Shero and expect Boyle to keep the locker room loose and act as a model for guys like the aforementioned Hischier and even Pavel Zacha.
The main thing New Jersey needs to shore up as this season progresses is the defense. The offense has been fantastic, but our goal differential is only +4 on the season. That is an unsustainable model to follow, especially considering the Columbus Blue Jackets who just leapfrogged us in the standings and the New York Islanders who have the same points as us (32) have differentials of 12 and 13, respectively.
There are a lot of young defenseman we will build around for the future, but patching it up a bit can really pull things together.
I just worry that if the offense collectively goes cold, the team is not going to be able to rebound from letting in a bunch of goals.
Plus, Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid aren’t infallible and if they have to defend four dozen shots on goal each night, a few are going to sneak their way in.
I just want to reiterate that I detest the type of people who are ready to give up on this team when they have a tough game or a bad loss. No one even expected this group of guys to be anywhere near the top of the Metropolitan this year. They have exceeded expectations tenfold and are still learning and finding their way for the most part. There will be great games and there will be stinkers, but you have to stick with them through and through.
Once Johansson returns and Palmieri later on down the line, our offense is going to be stacked from top to bottom.
Losing Mirco Mueller to injury hurt, but if we bring in a couple new players into the fold defensively, there’s no reason why we can’t hang with the best of them.
As Mets shortstop Amed Rosario would say, “Don’t be surprised. Be ready.”