If you're looking for the November 2010 Month in Review, then please wait until tomorrow. Today, let's take a look at the upcoming month of December. With the New Jersey Devils having achieved a record of 8-14-2 and sitting fourteenth in the Eastern Conference, I don't think it's fair to say that there are any easy opponents. Especially when the team's last loss in November was a shutout loss to the New York Islanders, the one team the Devils are currently ahead of in the standings.
That said, the primary goal remains the same: get points. While the team will not have the favorable spread of games as they did in November, they will play plenty of home games in December - more than any other month this season.
The New Jersey Devils will play 13 games in December, one more than November. The schedule is more clumped together, with two weeks of 3 games in 4 nights. Five of this month's games are in back-to-back sets. The back-to-back sets are Ottawa-Detroit and Nashville-Atlanta; and both are home-and-away (Ottawa and Atlanta on the road, Detroit and Nashville in Newark) sets, so fatigue will definitely be a factor. The home game against the Thrashers right at the very end of the month (and 2010) is followed by a road game against Carolina and January (and 2011) begins with a road game. If you want to count it as three back-to-back sets, then fine. The point is that it's going to be a busier month.
At least the Devils will not have to travel too far. The team will have a three-game road trip, but there's time for the Devils to return to New Jersey before the end of it. Moreover, all of the road games are within the Eastern Conference and the furthest they'll have to go is down to Atlanta. Here are the road games for this month:
- December 4 at Philadelphia Flyers (1 PM)
- December 6 at Pittsburgh Penguins
- December 10 at Ottawa Senators
- December 18 at Atlanta Thrashers
- December 21 at Washington Capitals
The Flyers and Capitals will definitely want revenge for their last games against New Jersey; not that the Penguins or Thrashers will be any easier. The Senators are the lone road game against a currently-non-playoff opponent. But again, since the Devils are in the same boat as them, they cannot be seen as a weaker opponent.
Here are the home games for December 2010:
- December 2 vs. Montreal Canadiens
- December 11 vs. Detroit Red Wings
- December 15 vs. Phoenix Coyotes
- December 17 vs. Nashville Predators
- December 23 vs. New York Islanders
- December 26 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
- December 29 vs. New York Rangers
- December 31 vs. Atlanta Thrashers (5 PM)
The Devils definitely get the stronger opponents first at home: Montreal and Detroit currently lead their divisions; and the Phoenix Coyotes are definitely in range of taking first in the Pacific Division. From then on, the Devils only have two home games against currently-playoff-bound teams: Our Hated Rivals and Atlanta. This isn't to say that the games against the Predators, Islanders, and Leafs will be a waste of time. Again, given the Devils' position, all of them are important - especially the ones against opponents near them in the standings.
Ultimately, this is a crucial month. You may be tired of reading phrases like "this is a must-win" or "the Devils need points" by now, but they are still true. Truthfully, I don't see how the Devils can go 6-7, 6-6-1 or worse and still have a realistic shot at the playoffs when 2011 comes along. The Devils need to improve their overall record closer to .500 and to do that; they will need to win most of their games in December. I hope Tom is right in that the Devils do go 8-4-1 or 9-3-1, and not just for attendance purposes. That would be a fantastic month.
Even the Devils somehow accomplish that; it'll still likely be an uphill climb for eighth place in the East. But it's going to become incredibly steeper should the Devils struggle for a third straight month. Again: the primary goal is to get points. And it begins on Thursday.
What do you think of the schedule for the upcoming month? How well do you think the Devils will do given what you have seen so far? Do you think the Devils will have a winning record for the month, or do you expect more of the same? Please leave your responses and other thoughts about the schedule in the comments. Thanks for reading.