The 50 game mark has come and passed and our New Jersey Devils head into the All-Star break with a much better record than most thought we would have at this point of the year; instead of battling for the most lottery balls, the team is battling for a playoff spot in what is right now a very competitive Metropolitan Division. While the team currently sits just outside of the postseason cutoff (due to both the Pittsburgh Penguins having games in hand and our loss to them the other night) the hope for hockey through April and beyond is alive and well.
For that hope to become reality, the Devils will need to come out of the break with the same fire they showed during their recent 4 game winning, and not play games like they did against Pittsburgh. The shortest month of the year sees the team in action 13 times, and today I want to break down both how I expect the team to perform, and estimate how many points they need to take from each week to ensure they stay in the playoff race.
Week 1: 3 Games: NYR, @ TOR, WSH
The Devils do not have an easy week coming back, as they will be in action 2 days after the break to face a well-rested squad of Our Hated Rivals, whose goalie will have a nice, long weekend to recover. The Devils need to steal this first game back to start not only the week off correctly, but the entire month.
The Devils will be travelling north of the border for a Thursday night match-up against the Tornoto Maple Leafs; New Jersey needs to win this one in convincing fashion to prove that they're for real in the postseason hunt. Saturday sees the Devils back in Jersey to play the Metro leading Washington Capitals. While I can see the team playing a competitive game against the Caps, I just don't see a W on the horizon.
Minimum Points Needed: 4 out of 6
Week 2: 3 Games: @ NYR, EDM, @PHI
Week 2 won't be easier than week 1, especially if Connor McDavid is ready to go for the Edmonton Oilers by then. The Devils need to win at least one of the first two games of the week, and it will probably require both goaltenders to play a strong game, as the games against OHR and Edmonton are back to back. The Oilers game will be special for another reason, so the Devils had better take home 2 points on February 9th.
The most important game of the week (at least in terms of the schedule) comes after 3 days of rest on Saturday the 13th; New Jersey heads south to face the Second Rate Rivals aka the Philadelphia Flyers. The SRR are in a similar situation to us in the standings, so it is essentially a 4 point game here; if the Devils don't win the first two games of the week and suffer a loss here, it may spell trouble as the schedule rolls on.
Minimum Points Needed: 4 out of 6
Week 3: 4 Games: LAK, PHI, NYI, @WSH
The most games in one week for the team sees the Los Angeles Kings come to The Rock early on Sunday (12:30 start time here, which means it's a 9:30 AM game in California!) as the second half of another back to back. The Kings are on top of the Pacific Division right now, but I believe if the Devils play them hard, they can win. Stellar goaltending will be imperative this week.
Philadelphia comes up next in New Jersey and I'll flat out say the Devils need this one; again, it is a 4 point divisional game and games like this will make or break a season. Let's hope it makes ours and breaks theirs. The other New York team comes to visit two days after Philly leaves, and I expect this one to be a bitter fight to the finish. I honestly feel the Islanders are the best of the three New York teams this year (not forgetting about you Buffalo!) and would be okay if the Devils dropped this game.
The only way I would truly be okay with the Devils losing to the Islanders is if they somehow miraculously knock off the Caps in Washington the next night. We might see Cory Schneider play both games of a back to back here, as I'm not sure I'd trust Keith Kinkaid against either of these teams. Devils need to win one of the games in this, their third back to back of the month, to call their week successful.
Minimum Points Needed: 6 out of 8
Week 4: 3 Games: NYR, @CLB, TBL
Wow, anyone else getting sick of seeing games against OHR in February? Someone really should have double checked the scheduling before this season started. Anyways, the Devils need to knock off New York here to continue their push towards the playoffs. Maybe I'm being unrealistic, but if the Devils beat OHR once, why can't they do it 2-3 more times and win or sweep the season series to put ourselves in good playoff contention?
The rest of the week is important as well; while the Devils haven't had much luck against the Columbus Blue Jackets this season (losing the two games they've played so far) I do believe they can win this game, as the Blue Jackets are currently the NHL's last place team. Maybe since the game is in Columbus and not New Jersey, the Devils can take it.
The final game of February is against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that while not in our division, is fighting a similar battle to win a spot in the East. I was originally going to state that the team needed to take 4 out of 6 points here, but I think the Devils can do a bit better, and at least get to overtime/a shootout if they don't win them all.
Minimum Points Needed: 5 out of 6
Total Points Needed for February: 19 out of 26
Into the Last 19 Games
A strong February such as this would give the team 74 points with 19 games remaining; if the Devils could produce at a similar points pace down the stretch, they would more than likely qualify for the postseason. The major things the team needs to be aware of are being sharp in divisional games (because again they're basically a 4 point swing) and making sure they beat teams they're supposed to beat. The NHL is a funny league though, and any team can seemingly beat any other team on any given night; hopefully, it's our Devils beating other teams on given nights.
Now I'd like to hear from you about the Devils upcoming schedule; which games do you think will be important in the standings? Am I being unrealistic in my expectations? What do you expect from New Jersey in February? Will the team continue their push towards the playoffs? Leave any and all comments below and as always, thank you for reading.