Devils Still in Contention After Rough January

Kyle Palmieri has struggled this season, but hopefully a comeback is on the horizon. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Phil Mogg.

Hello, New Jersey Devils fans!

When I left you last semester, New Jersey was flying high and looking down in the standings at the rest of the Metropolitan division.

However, they hit a bit of a skid leading up to the All-Star break due to some questionable calls, the offense going cold and injuries.

Myself and news editor, Matt Ferremi, met up at The Rock on Wednesday, Dec. 27 to see the Devils face off against the Detroit Red Wings.

New Jersey pulled away with a 3-1 victory on the strength of this past year’s No. 1 overall pick, Nico Hischier, who notched two goals in the contest.

Unfortunately, after that game the Devils didn’t register a win until Jan. 16 in Brooklyn against the Isles. However, they did take away three points before that game at the very least. Overall though, they went just 3-6-2 in games this past month.

While it was frustrating to see the team stumble into All-Star weekend, New Jersey came out of the gates hot as they defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Tuesday, Jan. 30.

That gave the team 58 points in 49 games, good for third in the Metropolitan. Even after their rough stretch, New Jersey was able to tread water and stay within striking distance.

As we get closer to the trade deadline, I expect them to make at least one move to bolster the roster for the homestretch, but we’ll touch upon at a later time.

Here are some things I’ve noticed over the last several weeks and some keys to success going forward as they face some tough rivalry contests.

The importance of Taylor Hall

It’s interesting how one player can have such a profound impact on a team. That was apparent in Tuesday night’s game at Buffalo. Hall went down with a thumb injury prior to the All-Star break and New Jersey suffered.

But he came back into the lineup with thunder and got New Jersey back on the right track. Apart from logging one goal in the victory, just the presence of the 26-year-old in the lineup injects the team with adrenaline.

It’s funny to think that he’s been in the league for nearly a decade and he’s so young, so it feels weird calling him a veteran. However, with a relatively young core of players, his time in the league and his dynamite play style has really done wonders for the team since they acquired him from Edmonton.

It was also nice seeing how well him, Hischier and Jesper Bratt jived on the top line again. Hall’s goal extended his point streak to eight games (six goals and seven assists over that time).

Head coach John Hynes says it all about the young winger.

“You can see on the scoresheet how big the second goal was. In general he brings the identity we want to play with,” Hynes told media after the game. “He’s a difficult player to play against. He’s a very driven player this year. He’s really on task, focused, just being in the locker room, how he prepares for the game. You need that this time of year and it’s nice to have him back.”

He will take his 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) into Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. New Jersey will be seeking redemption after dropping two contests to their I-95 rivals last month.

Where’s Kyle Palmieri?

While Palmieri put the final nail in the coffin Tuesday night by registering an empty net goal in the final minute of the game, he will need to step up the second leg of the year if this team wants to go to new heights.

Palmieri has been marred by injuries this season already, missing 19 games, but still has just 18 points total on the year.

I don’t expect him to be elite like Hall, but he has recorded 56 goals over the last two seasons, respectively, so that kind of production would be nice to see again.

Not all of this is necessarily his fault. For example, he was robbed on a goalie interference call against the Islanders that if upheld would have given the team a much needed win.

However, Palmieri has seemed to disappear in crucial moments this year. In seasons past, he would always give the team a boost in a tough situation. Maybe it’s just bad luck, as he has rang countless shots off the post in recent memory this year, so hopefully there’s some correction.

As Pucks and Pitchforks points out as well, he has been god awful in 5-on-5 play. You have to go back all the way to October before his first injury to when he scored his last even strength goal. Even I didn’t realize it had been that long.

You can probably chalk up his lack of production to a certain degree to not being coupled with Taylor Hall, but he still has the skill set in my opinion to thrive. He has over 30 games to prove he can.

Be resilient

The Devils are still ailing, as Marcus Johansson, Brian Gibbons and netminder Cory Schneider are sidelined so it will require other players to step up.

Going off the latter, it’s been great to see Ken Appleby get a chance to get some time in goal and I’ve liked what I’ve seen, but this is especially important for Keith Kinkaid who the Devils will rely on as they try to return to the playoffs for their first time since their Stanley Cup appearance in 2011-12.

Only time will tell, but I believe the following adage: “You are never as bad as you look when you’re not doing well.” Let’s hope that is true.

Until next time, Devils fans!