With the 82nd game of the season taking place tonight, the season is literally down to its final game for the New Jersey Devils. That being so, there have been those who have written this season off as a lost year. The team was terrible, their play on the ice was not good, and therefore there were really not many positives to take away. If anything, it is more doom and gloom than anything else, because who knows how long it will take to build and ice a competitive roster again. I can admit that at times, I have allowed myself to fall into this train of thought as well. Heck, it really is hard not to at times if you really care about this team.
Despite this, however, I want to spend today highlighting some of the positives that we as Devils fans can take away from this season. While on the surface it seems like there really cannot be much that was positive, when we dig a little deeper we can find some things that can make us smile, at least a little. I don't plan on digging too deeply into any one specific topic here. That can be for another day and another article. Today, however, let's just mention some of the good things, to at least give us something to smile about.
I think that this one was the most obvious of all, so let's start with it. Schneider has, to me at least, been the most obvious positive of this season. He has been excellent between the pipes. His .926 save percentage matches his career average, and it is a fine number. That percentage is 2nd best in the NHL for goalies with at least 60 starts, and is 4th for goalies with at least 40 starts. That ranks him as one of the best in the NHL this year, despite playing for a bad team.
Before the season, there were questions about whether or not he could maintain such a high save percentage when given the full workload of a true number one goalie. Well, he matched it perfectly. He can certainly handle 65+ starts in a year and still produce all-star numbers. With him in net for New Jersey over the next several years, fans can always know that a turnaround back to relevancy is always just a few skaters away as long as he is stopping pucks on a nightly basis.
While on the subject of goalies, I believe that Kinkaid also needs to be noted as a strong positive for this team this season. Before the season started, the Devils went out and signed Scott Clemmensen to realistically be Schneider's backup. Kinkaid was a huge question mark, and there was a strong belief amongst many that he would probably spend the majority of the season with Albany. However, he put that notion to rest fairly quickly.
With the big club, he has produced a .915 save percentage in 12 starts. He also has a record above NHL .500 for the season, going 6-5-4 in games where he was given a decision. Those are really quality numbers for a backup in this league, and especially so for a 25 year old who is just breaking into the NHL. He has real potential to improve into a regular starter in this league, and that is wonderful to see. I hope that he continues to produce excellent numbers in net for as long as he is with the Devils.
Interestingly enough, the power play for the Devils, and not the penalty kill, was the positive to take away from special teams. Whereas the Devils were only ranked 19th for the PK, they were ranked 10th for the PP. That is really good for a team that traditionally has an amazing kill and a terrible power play.
In 81 games, the Devils converted on 19.4% of their power plays. In 211 opportunities, the Devils scored 41 times. That is not bad at all. Granted, the eye test many times showed a Devils' special teams that looked lost and unable to control the puck in the offensive zone. They would waste too much time attempting to dump the puck in, only to not be fast enough to reach the puck before it was cleared down ice. Nonetheless, they worked well enough to breach the top 10 in the NHL, so it is worth mentioning as a positive.
Attempts and Goal Prevention
One positive that I cannot mention this year is possession. The once great possession team that was the New Jersey Devils is no more. Instead, this team got regularly out-possessed and out-played. Despite this sad fact, however, the Devils were still not bad this year at preventing shot attempts and goals. The goal prevention is obvious, given that I already brought up Schneider and Kinkaid. The Devils have only given up 119 goals at 5 on 5 play, which is ranked 2nd in the league, behind only Montreal. That is really good.
What gives the skaters some of the credit, however, also has to do with attempts prevention. At 5 on 5 play, the Devils allowed only 50.5 Corsi events per 60 minutes. That is good for 6th best in the league. The problem for NJ was not preventing attempts, of course, it was generating attempts. The Devils only created 44.9 Corsi attempts per 60 minutes, which is awful. But again, they were good at preventing attempts against, which is a good sign for a team that wants to remain defensively sound (which Lou Lamoriello has said that he wants for this club).
That is the percentage that the Devils will have of winning the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. While this is really not a positive takeaway of the season, I felt that it had to be mentioned. 7.5% chance that NJ gets one of the most highly touted prospects to come to the NHL in a while. That is not terrible. And even if they do not win the lottery, and Buffalo or someone else gets him, the 6th pick is a nice spot to be drafting. ILWT will be doing draft prospect articles leading up to the draft, and we will showcase some of the potential skaters that the Devils could take with that pick. There will be some nice options for sure, skaters that could develop into quality top 6 talent.
Again, while this is not really a positive on the season itself, it is the one positive relief from having a terrible season. The hope for a good, franchise player who can raise this team back up to glory over the next decade. We just have to put our faith in Lou and the scouting team...
That was 5 positives that I could think of that we as Devils fans can take away from this season. Now, I want you to come up with some more. What are other positives that Devils fans can be happy about from the 2014-15 season? What can we hang our hats on as something that can help our team become better sooner rather than later? Please leave your comments and ideas in the section below, and thank you for reading.