The New Jersey Devils are a classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and either face can show up on any given week, month, game or period. The Devils are a team who have historically always had a strong defensive identity with skilled players that can tilt the ice and cycle the puck down low on the boards, tiring teams out. This team is no different. The Devils made a power move when they swapped Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall, as the Devils gave up a massive piece of what looked like their future identity. This trade is not a loss, though, as the Devils DESPERATELY needed offense anywhere they could get it and it isn’t so often you come across a player with Taylor Hall’s game-breaking ability. Since the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, the team has not been the same offensively, understandably so with those two players being franchise-altering talents. Through the first half of the season the Devils have had games where they look like a playoff team and an equal amount of games where they look like they belong at the bottom of the standings. As of January 19, they are somehow 3 points out of the second wildcard spot.
Cory Schneider, the Massachusetts native and former Canuck, is an elite goaltender who has proven himself both in the NHL and on the international stage. However, like any other goalie, Schneider has had his ups and downs this season. In a stretch that ran from the middle of November to the middle of December, Schneider was undoubtedly one of the worst goalies in the league, giving up four goals or more in 9 of 13 games in that stretch. The blame cannot all be put on him as the defense certainly wasn’t helping out. In that stretch though, it seemed like he was missing something. That absolute game-breaking steadiness that Devils fans have come to know and love with Schneider following in the footsteps of the greatest goaltender of all time in Marty Brodeur. In the month since, Schneider has settled back in and returned to consistent form. He needs to keep this up and be the Devils’ best player game in and game out for them to have a chance to make the playoffs.
Consistent production is a common characteristic in any great team and this team is the exact opposite of the word consistent. In a November game against Toronto, the Devils had gone down 3-0 after the first period only to dominate the Maple Leafs in the second and third periods to send the game into overtime at 4-4. Even though they eventually won in the shootout, it’s games like these that show the extreme lack in consistency coming out of the boys from Jersey. In order to make the playoffs, the Devils need to start showing more consistency in their game, especially on the road. In a recent four-game road trip, New Jersey went 3-0-1 and had an impressive come from behind win against the west leading Minnesota Wild, showing some promise in carving out consistent performances. Coming off of this road trip, however, the Devils flopped against the Canadiens and got completely dominated in the first half of a back to back. The next night against the arch-rival Flyers, they controlled play for a majority of the game and saw one of their rising rookies in Miles Wood shine. Wood netted 2 goals and energized his team in a fight against Wayne Simmonds.
Offense is a facet of the game that the Devils have lacked since Parise and Kovalchuk left. They have struggled to stay out of the bottom five in the league in goals for per game and total goals in the last few seasons. The desperate need for offense was shown when the devils traded for Taylor Hall. Hall is the dynamic, game-breaking, playmaking left wing that the Devils have longed for since their Stanley Cup Final loss against the LA Kings. He led the league in even strength points coming into the season, since the 2013 season. Even with the addition of Hall, emerging youngster Kyle Palmieri, prized rookie Pavel Zacha and veteran sniper Michael Cammaleri, the Devils offense still sputter. The Devils need to work on their net-front presence, second chance opportunities and deflections to create more offense. The Devils are 28th in the league in Goals and Goals for per game, which is not acceptable. Look for them to try to improve that number in the latter half of the season
The Devils could potentially make a splash before the trade deadline and trade some of their draft picks for a quality forward, not only for this year but as a piece for the future. Over the next two drafts, within the first three rounds the Devils have a total of 10 picks to find a top-end player or trade for some offensive help. The team also has an influx of prospects that they can trade to help up front. In a perfect world, the Devils trade wildly inconsistent Jon Merrill while he is actually playing well for depth players that can score.
The Devils need to start taking advantage of their Prudential Center and start grinding out wins at home. To open the season, the Devils were 7-0-2 and were extremely tough to play against at home. On a recent home-stand, they plummeted to 0-2-1. The Devils will play 12 of their next 16 games at home and will need to take advantage of this valuable home-ice advantage to make up for some points. Straying away from complacency while the team is riding this winning streak is extremely important in order to maintain the streak. They need to keep up the intensity and keep playing in desperation. Recently, the Devils lost against the Canadiens by a score of 3-1 at home to start this home game stretch off.
The team has a long second half of the season in front of them and they most likely will not make the playoffs, but if they hope to have a chance, they need to stay persistent. The team is not as bad as their record and has the identity of a team that is downright tough to play against. Look for a surge from Jersey’s team in the next few months. The hope is that they make the playoffs for the first time since the 2012 Stanley Cup against the Kings and ride an underdog story throughout, but how it will play out still remains to be seen.