In a season that started off strong, the New Jersey Devils have lost their way. The past 2 months have left the fans asking a serious question: is this season worth saving?
Back in the Beginning
It may be hard to think about given the current climate, but there was a point in time in this NHL season that the New Jersey Devils were the only undefeated team. October started off strong for the team, going 4-0. That 4-0 streak included a big 6-0 win over the reigning Stanley Cup champs.
Kyle Palmieri was on fire, scoring 7 goals in the first 4 games. All of the lines were producing shots on goal. Keith Kinkaid was making great, timely saves. It seemed that everything was going right and all the players were clicking.
The November Struggle
In comes November. Out of 15 games in November the New Jersey Devils only won 4. Everything that had worked so well at the start of the season fell apart. One major issue was goaltending. Cory Schneider was given more starts and it appeared that the rest of team imploded around him. All communication and sense of team work ceased to exist, leaving Schneider to take the brunt of the blame. Granted, some saves were beyond his control but some should have been made.
The New Jersey Devils were outscored consistently in a majority of their games. They unfortunately allowed 34 goals against in November, which was tied for 26th in the NHL. The Power Play was another dismal showing for the Devils. They had a 12.20% success rate for November, which was ranked 28th in the league. Another sad part of November was the Devils inability to win in OT. In fact, the Devils lost all 3 of the games that went to OT in November.
The beginning of December started off with back to back loses to the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils went to California for a three game road trip, but only won one of the games, losing one in regulation and one in a shootout. When they came back to The Rock (The Prudential Center), they were finally able to get that elusive OT win, thanks to a great goal by Nico Hischier. After getting that OT win, the Devils would go on to lose their next 3 games.
The Road Ahead
After a great game on Thursday the 27th, the Devils are hoping to build on that momentum and stay consistent. The biggest inconsistency has been in the goal. However, the Devils recalled a goalie up from the AHL affiliate team, Mackenzie Blackwood, and he has been a shining star so far. He has only started two games and made a relief appearance after replacing Keith Kinkaid in a 7-2 loss, but he has made quite the impression. Blackwood has made great saves for being a rookie in the NHL, which has caught the eyes of the fans.
In my humble opinion, the Devils strategy going forward is really 3 simple parts. One: Blackwood needs to start in goal. Kinkaid has been ok, not great. Blackwood was flourishing in the AHL and has seemed to carry that into the big leagues. Two: everyone needs to shoot more. Good things happen when you put the puck to the net. Those bounces that usually go against the Devils might start to go in for them. Three: the defense needs to step up. There have been countless times where players on the opposing team were left wide open and are able to get easy goals. They allow too many 3 on 1 and 2 on 1 chances for the opposing team that they ultimately capitalize on.
The Devils played extremely well against the tough Boston Bruins. Everyone was communicating, the players were shooting the puck, the defense stepped up and Blackwood shut it down in goal. If they can play the same way in the upcoming games, the Devils can start to claw their way back up in the standings and maybe make the playoffs.
Stats from Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com and Hockey-Reference.com