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A Soft Start for the Kids?

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When the Devils take the ice in October, they will look very different than they did last year. New, younger faces will dot the lines and pairings, as this team looks to get younger and rebuild. Will the October schedule give them a soft start?

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With the release of Dainius Zubrus, the New Jersey Devils are only intensifying the youth movement that has gripped this team since season's end.  To Ray Shero, John Hynes and company, getting younger and letting the younger players get experience playing this season is the best course of action.  It could be that they believe the youth on this team is also the best talent, and/or they want these skaters to get experience for the years to come.

Regardless, given that the Devils will be rolling out a team with some inexperience at the NHL level, it would be wonderful if the team has a soft start to the schedule this year.  If the first month was a relatively easy one on the schedule, it would allow these players to really get acclimated to the speed of the game at the NHL level, and what is fully expected of them when they are on the ice.  It would also be great to have a soft start so that this team can gel together, and can really get in sync with their head coach.  Most of the lines that will be rolled out in October will be completely new, and they will need some game experience to get used to one another.  They all will also need to get used to how Hynes coaches, and Hynes will also need to get used to coaching at the NHL level as opposed to the AHL.

Given all of this, let's look at the schedule for the month of October, and see what these new Devils will have in store for them when they open the season.  Will it be an ideally soft start, or will this team be thrown right into the fires of the better NHL teams?  Let's see.

The October Schedule

Most of the information on the schedule below comes from the Devils' main website.  Opponents records are courtesy of NHL.com.  Teams in bold made the playoffs last season.

Date

Visiting Team

Home Team

Opponent's ‘14/'15 Record

Friday, 10/9

Winnipeg

Devils

43-26-13, 99 points

Saturday, 10/10

Devils

Washington

45-26-11, 101 points

Tuesday, 10/13

Nashville

Devils

47-25-10, 104 points

Friday, 10/16

San Jose

Devils

40-33-9, 89 points

Sunday, 10/18

Devils

NY Rangers

53-22-7, 113 points

Tuesday, 10/20

Arizona

Devils

24-50-8, 56 points

Thursday, 10/22

Devils

Ottawa

43-26-13, 99 points

Saturday, 10/24

Devils

Buffalo

23-51-8, 54 points

Tuesday, 10/27

Columbus

Devils

42-35-5, 89 points

Thursday, 10/29

Devils

Philadelphia

33-31-18, 84 points

Saturday, 10/31

NY Islanders

Devils

47-28-7, 101 points

The Devils play 11 games in October this year, which is one more than they played last season.  It is a decent amount considering that they do not start playing until the 9th.  11 games in 23 days is nearly a game every other day, which is a pretty good amount.  The biggest gap between games is two offdays, which the Devils have on three separate occasions.  On the reverse side, they start out immediately with a back-to-back set, which is not an easy task at all.  But only having one back-to-back set is quite good for this New Jersey team which is usually hampered with a few of them each month.  Considering the layout of the schedule, therefore, it really works in New Jersey's favor once they can get past those first two games.

In terms of who they play against, it will not be all that easy, especially at the start.  On that back-to-back set, the Devils play in New Jersey against Winnipeg, then travel to Washington.  Both the Jets and Capitals made the playoffs last year.  It will be very tough to start the season out on a positive note given that set.

Over the 9 games after that, four of them are against playoff teams in Nashville, Ottawa, and both New York teams.  Those are then supplemented with potentially tough matchups against San Jose, who generally puts together a strong team, and Philadelphia, as a rivalry matchup is never easy.  The Columbus game could also potentially be a tough one given the upgrades and moves that the Blue Jackets have made this offseason.

That leaves two games which could be considered soft: Arizona and Buffalo.  And I would not be so quick to consider Buffalo a pushover this season given the moves that they have made this offseason as well.  Therefore, one can conservatively say that the one definite soft game on the schedule in October is the home game against Arizona, who may have a very tough year.

To further showcase the potential difficulty of New Jersey's October schedule, the combined records of the Devils' opponents last year was 440-353-109.  That is 989 points in 902 games, which is good for just under 1.1 points per game.  On the surface that may not be exceptional, but that number is dragged down considerably by the records of Arizona and Buffalo.  Remove them, and the new record is 393-252-93, which is 879 points in 738 games.  That would put the Devils' October opponents at just under 1.2 points per game.  That is the mark of a playoff team.

Caveats and Conclusions

In the end, of course, this will be a new season, and old records mean only so much.  I hinted at the fact that I think that Columbus and Buffalo will be much improved this season, which will make last year's records far less relevant for them.  Some of those playoff teams may also not have the same great year that they had last year, which would make their previous records less relevant.  The point of examining those records from last year, however, is just to get a sense of the quality of opponents that the Devils will be facing to open the season this year.  And on the surface, it looks to be a fairly tough crowd.

Given that, however, I do not think that this schedule will be impossible for these Devils to at least make a decent showing.  Given that the layout of the schedule is fairly beneficial after the initial opening set, the Devils may get lucky and be able to use their fresh legs to grind out some points.  However, I would not say that the October schedule for the team is soft.  It definitely is not.  Six playoff teams in 11 games, a very tough back-to-back set to open the season, and games against both rivals.  That is not the mark of a soft schedule.  Much closer to the opposite being true, actually.

Therefore, sadly, these new Devils, the new coach, and the new lines will not have a soft schedule to gel together.  If they are to do it, they need to do so in camp and the preseason, or else they need to do it while playing some of the better teams in the league.  And if it gets to that point, it will be a very tough thing indeed, and losses may begin to rack up.  Let's hope that they figure it all out beforehand, then.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts about the October schedule for this year?  How would you rate the difficulty?  Do you think that there are soft games in there that would be beneficial for this team, or are they jumping into the fire right away?  What does this team need to do to be able to get through the first month of the season with at least a respectable showing?  Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.