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Upstart Devils Will Be Tested in November

The Devils surprised many by having a solid month of October to start their season. We'll get a little closer to finding out whether that start was real in November, as the team has a tough stretch of games on the horizon.

The Devils will have to battle through some tough opponents to keep pace in November.
The Devils will have to battle through some tough opponents to keep pace in November.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

For the 2015-16 New Jersey Devils, expectations were decidedly low heading into the season. Most predictions had the Devils sitting far from the view of the playoff picture and many even had them finishing among the worst two or tree teams in the league. It's hard to say those predictions were unfair, because even the bunch here at AAtJ had the Devils as mostly non-factors in the playoff hunt in our season preview. A solid October in which the Devils went 6-4-1 and found themselves in the playoff picture at month's end has turned a few heads inside and outside the Devils' fanbase. If the Devils want to stick around in the wild card race for any meaningful amount of time they will have to make it through

For their part, it's not as if the Devils have just been fluking into wins to this point in the season. They have played generally decent hockey thus far and appear to be a team that, at the very least, won't embarrass itself at the season progresses. They have leaned on the stout paring of Adam Larsson and Andy Greene on defense and received predictably strong goaltending from Cory Schneider out of the gate. This combination has allowed them to be among the top teams in both shot suppression and goal suppression at even strength. On top of that, despite a generally low-powered offense, they have received timely scoring from the team's top two lines to put them in a good position in second wild card spot in the East at the close of October.

The schedule in November will quickly put that good start to the test, though. The Devils face a month that includes stiff competition in the first two weeks, a week-long west coast swing, and a home-and-home with the NHL's current top team on the final weekend. If the Devils are truly hoping to be competitive in the East this season, they will have to get through this tough section of the schedule without falling into a tailspin like we saw last season.The schedule breakdown for November is below.

NJD November Sched

Standings via and CF% via War-on-Ice

So the Devils have their work cut out for them over the next month of games. If pucks start bouncing against them, we could see a repeat of what happened last November, when the team struggled mightily and then never really recovered. With the Devils already having one tough loss under their belt from last night's game versus the Islanders, things could sour quickly with a particularly tough stretch over the next few weeks. The month basically breaks down into three separate parts divided by the western Canada road trip.

Tough First Two Weeks

The Devils mettle will be fully tested over the next five games, as they will all be against playoff teams from last season and two of them will come against the reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks. The stretch will also include games against the Blues, who are second in the West and a possession powerhouse, and the Penguins, who have now won seven of eight since an 0-3-0 start, so they Devils will need to do their best to scratch out some points from some of the league's best teams. The most winnable game from this stretch is against the Canucks, who are a playoff team in a weak Pacific Division, but have looked shaky at times. The Devils may need to get a win in that early-evening Sunday matchup or they may be at risk for an extended losing streak to start the month.

Western Road Trip

The strength of schedule eases up considerably for the Devils after the first two weeks, but that reduction in quality of opponent coincides with a trip out to western Canada, which is a place that has not been kind to the Devils in the past two seasons. The Oilers and Flames games should be winnable, with both teams struggling a bit and Edmonton now losing Connor McDavid long term, but these trips never seem to work out that way. The western Canadian trips from the first couple months of the last two seasons have been downright disastrous for New Jersey, with the team going 1-4-3 over the combined 8 games. If the team wants this month to go well, they will have to reverse that trend and pick up points against the NHL's shaky western Canada contingent.

Return East and Montreal Back-to-Back

After western Canada, the Devils return back home to the Rock to take on the current cellar dwellers of the East, the Blue Jackets. This would seem a good opportunity to pick up a win but there is always a chance the team is sluggish after a long week on the road. Then after Columbus, the difficulty gets ramped all the way up as the Devils have a home-and-home against the East's top team, Montreal, on back-to-back nights. If the Devils are aching for wins at that point, this could be a tough place to get them. Montreal has looked impressive in the early going, with one of the league's most potent offenses to go along with all-world netminder Carey Price, resulting in an.eye-opening +25 goal differential.

So it certainly won't be easy for the Devils in November, but if they can get through the month in a similar position to where they are now, tied for the second wild card, they may start to convince people that they can hang around. If they can look competitive and pull together wins against some of the league's best, it could be time to reexamine some expectations for the team. At the same time, they run a big risk of falling off the pace if they struggle over the coming weeks. A rough month in which they only muster 3 or 4 wins could put them out of the race with a return to contention very much in doubt. Either way, we are going to find out if this start by New Jersey was a sign of a surprisingly competitive team or a bit of an early-season mirage.