Early in the 2016-17 season, the Devils have been playing some encouraging hockey, overall. There have been some frustrations but, through 9 games, they have rarely looked overmatched and they’ve even looked, dare I say, good for some stretches. There are certainly concerns in some areas, with some individuals underperforming and the lack of secondary scoring still being an issue, but with a 4-2-3 record, it’s been a fairly successful first month of regular season hockey for New Jersey. Now, 4-2-3 may not look super impressive at first glance, but it is a .611 points percentage, which works out to a 100-point pace. From that record over the first few weeks, an interesting trend has appeared, though. The Devils have been great at home and, well, not-so-great on the road. With the Devils heading into two months of hockey dominated by away games, it could spell trouble for them if this trend continues.
So far this season, the split between home games and road has been stark, particularly in the results department. At the Rock, the Devils have yet to lose in regulation, racking up wins and points each night to the tune of a 4-0-1 record. On the road, it’s been a very different story. The Devils went without a road win in October and started November with another road loss (albeit in overtime) in Sunrise against the Panthers last night. That loss puts their current record away from Newark at 0-2-2. So with no regulation losses at home and no wins on the road, the Devils have seemed to be two different teams so far this season. With the next two months (and November in particular) being played largely on the road, the Devils will have to right the ship when they are outside of New Jersey if they hope to be in the playoff picture by the New Year.
Yes, the Devils will be racking up lots of frequent flyer miles in the next two months and their mettle as a team is likely to be tested. The home/road breakdowns in November and December are 4/10 and 6/9, and some pretty substantial road trips are built into it. So 19 of the 29 games over the next two months (or 65%) are away from home and the travel will be significant. The Devils are currently on their second swing through the southeast of the season which concludes with a road back-to-back in Tampa and Carolina this weekend. They have the yearly California road trip (with Dallas tacked on, to boot) coming up in a couple weeks and another Western Conference swing through the Central Division just a week after. The stretch is particularly brutal from now until December 18th, as the Devils have a stretch of 23 games with just 6(!) at the Rock. If the Devils are in the thick of the playoff race after that run, that could be a very good sign for their outlook this season.
With less than a month of hockey in the books, we’re obviously dealing with small sample sizes with these splits. The Devils will lose home games in regulation and the Devils will win games on the road, but how much of the results so far can we chalk up to bad bounces and how much can be attributed to poorer play? The Devils have lost all four away games thus far, but they did have a chance in each of them, with every one decided by just one goal. But while the bounces are going against them to an extent, the underlying numbers (at least to this point) do seem to point to some poorer play overall.
At home, the Devils have put up a respectable 49.11% of all attempts and a very good 53.60% of shots with an xGF% (expected goals for) of 51.94. Conversely, on the road, the Devils have put up much worse numbers in all three categories with a 45.32 CF%, 48.26 SF%, and 43.48 xGF% (all possession stats via Corsica.hockey). Even if some better luck would have produced a win or two thus far, the Devils should definitely be a bit worried about the overall quality of their play on the road. A pretty good comeback performance despite the loss in last night’s game against Florida is an encouraging sign, but the Devils will have to continue that through a fairly brutal stretch of schedule.
Any team would be prone to have some troubles through the type of schedule the Devils will endure over the next six-plus weeks, but the Devils’ early troubles on the road make this stretch doubly scary. To survive this run and stay in the playoff picture when the pressure eases off in mid-December, the Devils will have to play some better hockey on the road. There is some reason to be optimistic, though, with the Devils playing pretty strong hockey of late and outshooting their opponents in four of the last five games, including last night in Sunrise. Part of that could be the four-game homestand and aforementioned home/away discrepancy, but it could also be a sign of the team starting to gel. With Cory Schneider in net, the team should at least be in a lot of these games, so if they can start to reverse some of their early road struggles, some wins should be there for the taking. If the Devils can make it through this stretch mostly intact, that could bode very well for their chances the rest of the way. With them playing over half of their road games before Christmas Day, the schedule will be much kinder to New Jersey over the remainder of the season.