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Beware: October Offensive Woes

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While no one expects the New Jersey Devils to all of a sudden be an offensive force, the offseason moves made this year, especially the Taylor Hall trade, have made offensive expectations rise. However, October could still be very tough offensively.

Devils play Tampa--a stout defensive team--3 times in the first 10 games.
Devils play Tampa--a stout defensive team--3 times in the first 10 games.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

I believe any fan of the New Jersey Devils would say that the main goal of this current offseason has been to improve offense.  Or at least, it should have been the main goal for Ray Shero and company.  The team was by far the worst in the league last year in scoring, especially at 5 on 5, and if that continues this upcoming season, then the Devils will be going nowhere but towards another lottery pick.  And I believe that most Devils fans would say that the offense has improved, if for no other reason than because Taylor Hall is now around to (hopefully) drop 65+ points a season for many years to come.

Especially because of the Hall-Adam Larsson trade, many fans and even pundits will be looking for an improved Devils offense right off the bat come October 13th when New Jersey opens its regular season schedule.  If the Devils are at or near the bottom of the league in Goals For per 60 minutes after the end of October, many will question whether this team is really improving at the rate that it needs to.

This is fair logic in my opinion, as any fan, myself included, looks to see immediate gratification from trades such as these, and lack of said gratification will lead to doubts and second guessing.  However, we may need to hit the brakes a little on that thought process this season.  There is a strong chance that we may not see the automatic offensive improvement that we want out of our favorite team right from the get go.  One obvious reason for this is a potential lack of team chemistry, especially from the newcomers.  There will need to be time for new lines to gel together and for players to really get to know one another so that passes become crisp and opportunities can really present themselves on the ice.

That in itself can lead to October offensive woes, there is no doubt about that.  However, that potential lack of chemistry will also be coupled with a schedule that sees the Devils play some really defensively stout teams.  The October schedule for NJ is fairly brutal as it is, but that is especially so when you look at those teams' defensive capabilities.  Below, I have a chart of the Devils' October opponents, listed in chronological order, along with their 2015-16 goals against per 60 minute rate, and their NHL ranking in that statistic.  Information comes from Hockey Analysis.  I added in New Jersey's ranking as well for comparative purposes.

Team

2015-16 GA/60

Rank

@ Florida Panthers

1.92

3rd

@ Tampa Bay Lightning

1.96

7th

Anaheim Ducks

2.02

11th

@ Boston Bruins

2.29

21st

Minnesota Wild

1.94

5th

Arizona Coyotes

2.15

16th

Chicago Blackhawks

2.11

14th

Tampa Bay Lightning

1.96

7th

New Jersey Devils

2.03

12th

Clearly, the Devils play some quality defensive teams to start the season.  Of the 7 teams listed, 5 are in the top half of the league in GA/60, and 3 are in the top 10.  Plus, the Devils have to play Tampa twice, and they were 7th last season in that statistic.  Even from the worse teams on that list, you have Chicago at 14th, but no one thinks that will be an easy game to score, and Boston is the worst team on that list at 21st, but again, does anyone think that game will be easy for the Devils to score goals, especially considering the game is in Boston?  The only game I really look at with some relief is the Arizona game, but one game out of 8 is not a great recipe for a strong offensive start to the season.

Even if you want to stretch the schedule to the first 10 games of the season, as the Devils only play 8 games in October, the teams next two games are once again down in Florida, playing in Sunrise on 11/3 and in Tampa on 11/5, finishing the season series with the Lightning after playing 3 of their first 10 games against them.   That is a brutal start, not just in terms of playing tough teams to beat, but more specifically in terms of playing teams that are tough to score against.

Thankfully, some relief does come after that ten game stretch.  Following the Tampa game on 11/5, the Devils play two straight home-and-homes, the first one against Carolina (2.35 GA/60, 26th in NHL) and the second against Buffalo (2.23 GA/60, 20th in NHL).  That is then followed by a game in Dallas, who was 25th in the league last year in GA/60, with a 2.34 number.  So there could be a time right there, after a month where the offense has had time to gel, to finally showcase some offensive improvement.  Until that point, however, it may be quite difficult, and the offensive woes of last season may continue for a little longer than any of us want to.

Of course, I could be all wrong, and I hope that I am.  The new additions, especially Hall, along with revamped lines could create a dynamic situation where the offense improves despite the tough opening schedule.  That is something that every Devils fan should be hopeful for.  However, the warning signs are also evident, and I would not overly panic if the offensive improvement that we all want is not on full display this October.  It is a tough schedule for an experienced offense that has cohesive lines, never mind an offense looking to improve from its 30th ranking with new players and new lines.  Hope for the best, but be prepared for some early disappointment as well, because the schedule says it is likely.