My main mantra with this New Jersey Devils team is being cautiously optimistic.
That holds true more so today, in my opinion, than it did prior to the season.
Despite faltering a bit over the last several games and dropping three straight, New Jersey is within one point of first place in the Metropolitan Division behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins, who stand at 20 points, but the Devils have three games in hand.
After defeating the Ottawa Senators and Arizona Coyotes in back-to-back home matchups on Oct. 27 and 28, the Devils embarked on a Canadian road trip, which many players said would be a true test of where the team stands going forward.
The Devs managed to come home with three out of a potential six points, but realistically could have scraped out one more. On Sunday, Nov. 5, New Jersey dropped a close 5-4 game against the Calgary Flames in the shootout.
Perhaps the most frustrating game, however, was against the Edmonton Oilers who are just 5-8-1 on the season. Edmonton handed New Jersey a 6-3 loss and put five goals past goalie Cory Schneider.
Returning home on Tuesday, Nov. 7, the Devils faced a potent St. Louis Blues team that came into the night with a record of 11-3-1. Since 2010, the Blues have been New Jersey’s Achille’s heel, with a commanding 1-10-1 record against them.
Despite the loss, the Devils held their own against one of the best hockey clubs out there, but if they are going to be contenders and not pretenders this year, they are going to have to clean up certain aspects of their game.
Peaks and Valleys:
While the last three or so games haven’t been the Devils’ best, this is where fans have to be patient with a relatively young group of guys. Coming into the season, there were expectations that this team would finish at the bottom of the league in the standings.
Yes it’s early and things could change, but they have gone out there and fought hard all season long thus far to do whatever they can to secure a win.
Like I had previously mentioned in my first column, it would be foolish to believe this team is a Stanley Cup hopeful. However, with 16 teams making the playoffs and the Metropolitan Division not blowing anyone out of the water as of right now, it’s conceivable this team could at least take a step in the right direction as a franchise and squeeze into the playoff picture.
It’s also important to remember that this team has had its fair share of injuries to key players since the beginning of the season, most recently to Marcus Johansson who has been sidelined with a concussion and Kyle Palmieri who has dealt with nagging injuries all year.
However, there are a few things I have noticed over the last several games that need to be worked on.
The Devils have had a knack for lighting the lamp this season, but have also let through a lot of goals. This was on full display on their most recent road trip when they allowed 11 goals in just two games. When you score four goals, like New Jersey did against the Flames, you have to be able to shut down your opponent and capture the victory. They were unable to do so. If you let up six and five goals, respectively, it’s going to be a hard deficit to surmount.
The team has a lot of positives on defense, such as Will Butcher, who myself and likely every other Devils fan is high on. However, a need the Devils will need to address as they progress this season is adding another defensemen. I think the team has a lot of promising young names like Butcher, as well as Steven Santini and Mirco Mueller. Bringing in some reinforcements if the team is still in the thick of things before the trade deadline will be of utmost importance.
Against St. Louis, the team also gave up 40 shots. When you are giving your opponent that many chances, you are going to be in for a bad time.
Final Thoughts Going Forward:
The team needs to limit their penalties (five against the Blues) and need to capitalize on the power play (0-for-4 against the Blues).
Coach Hynes said the team didn’t play a mature game against St. Louis. I hope to see them regroup and beat the mediocre Oilers tonight.