This season, if we fans are going to see a marked improvement in the New Jersey Devils on the standings list, one thing that we need to see more of are winning streaks. When a team wins and loses games in a repeated fashion, they never can really get well above the .500 mark. Two points here and two points there are great, but too many losses in between mean too many lost opportunities, while simultaneously giving those same opportunities to the other teams in the division to pull away.
Just look at the last two seasons: looking back, the Devils had 4 streaks of at least 3 wins. In fact, both years were nearly identical: in 2014 the team had three streaks of exactly 3 wins, and one streak of 4 straight wins, while last season 2 of the streaks were of 3 wins, and 2 were of 4 wins. And considering that neither team ended up very high in the standings, that tells us that we need to see more winning streaks this year, and/or longer streaks. To counterbalance that last bit of information, in 2011-2012, the year of the Stanley Cup run, New Jersey had 8 winning streaks of at least 3 games: 3 streaks of 3 games, 3 streaks of 4 wins, 1 streak of 5 wins and 1 streak of 6 wins. That is considerably better than what we have seen the last two years.
This year, while I doubt we see the success that the 2011-12 Devils saw, success that netted them 102 points in the regular season, what I am looking for are better and more winning streaks than have been seen the last two seasons. More streaks, and streaks of longer length will considerably aid in the push to a 90+ point season, and perhaps even a 95+ point season which would put the team in a strong chance for a postseason berth.
Of course, predicting where the winning streaks can come from is near impossible. The most obvious way is to look in the schedule for stretches against bad teams, but that becomes an issue on a couple of fronts. First off, teams that were bad last season might not be bad this year. A team like Buffalo is continuing to improve its roster as they use their zillion draft picks that they have piled up. One year they will cease to be a bad team. The other issue is that the Devils may perform poorly against bad teams and might do well against better teams. I have heard from many fans and friends who feel that the Devils are excellent at playing to the level of their competition. That would make predicting where the winning streaks could possibly come even harder.
Nonetheless, let’s take a stab at it. Below, I will list areas in the upcoming schedule that seem weaker than other places. While winning streaks may not happen in any of these parts of the schedule this season, what does need to happen is that the Devils take advantage. If not a pure winning streak, then 3 out of 4, 4 out of 6, etc. These need to be areas of the schedule where NJ has the ability to gain ground in the standings. Because if they do not come during these parts of the schedule, then it will need to happen when they are playing better teams, and that of course makes it considerably harder to push for a playoff position.
How I will determine if a portion of the schedule is potentially favorable for a winning streak is if there are at least three games in a row where the Devils play a team last season that did not make the playoffs, with the exception of Boston who I feel is still a strong team despite missing out last year.
11/6/16 – @ Carolina
11/8/16 – vs. Carolina
11/11/16 – @ Buffalo
11/12/16 – vs. Buffalo
1/3/17 – @ Carolina
1/6/17 – vs. Toronto
1/7/17 – vs. Edmonton
1/12/17 – @ Edmonton
1/13/17 – @ Calgary
1/15/17 – @ Vancouver
2/3/17 – vs. Calgary
2/4/17 – @ Columbus
2/6/17 – vs. Buffalo
3/5/17 – vs. Columbus
3/7/17 – @ Columbus
3/9/17 – @ Colorado
3/11/17 – @ Arizona
3/14/17 – vs. Winnipeg
Those stretches listed above are the 5 times when the Devils play at least three straight games against the teams who missed the playoffs last year that weren’t from Boston or, of course, Newark. Three of those stretches are only 3 games long, and one of those is the Western Canadian road trip which is not necessarily easy, but still is against three teams who were quite bad last year. Then one stretch is a double home-and-home in November, and the best stretch is a 5 game stretch in March that has the Devils starting out at home against Columbus before taking a 3 game road trip to Ohio, Colorado and Arizona, finally ending up back home against Winnipeg.
Also, two of those stretches can almost be put together as one big streak. Stretches 2 and 3 are only separated by one game, a home game on 1/9 against Florida. That 7-game section of the schedule will be a vital one for the Devils if they really want to contend. To go 3-3-1 during that stretch will be unacceptable. While a 7 game winning streak would be the ultimate cure for whatever ails the team at that time, it is also probably unreasonable to expect. 7 game winning streaks are extremely tough to generate. Instead, NJ realistically needs to produce at least a 4-2-1 record during that time, if not better. That is because undoubtedly there will be brutal stretches during the year where they go 2-4-1 or worse.
The interesting thing in my opinion is that four of those five streaks come in 2017, which means that it will be very difficult for New Jersey to really gain separation from the other teams in the division until the second half of the schedule. The only way they will really be able to generate quality winning streaks, apart from that four game stretch in November, will be to beat quality teams. That is obviously possible and will happen, but wins against playoff teams will also need to be done alongside wins against poorer teams, which does not always happen.
In the end, while it is clearly difficult to predict where winning streaks may come from in an upcoming season, what is certain is that the Devils need to have winning streaks, regardless of when they come. They especially need to improve on the last two years when they only had 4 winning streaks each year, and none above 4 games in a row. Streaks are the one foolproof way of gaining ground within the division and creating a good foothold for a postseason berth. While the Devils are certainly still rebuilding and may not be true playoff contenders this season, generating long and numerous winning streaks would change that narrative in a hurry. So while none of the stretches mentioned above may see the Devils create actual winning streaks, we do need to see those winning streaks at some point or else resign ourselves to another poor year in the standings.
What do you think about winning streaks? How much importance do you place on them during the season? When you look at the schedule, do you see other stretches where the Devils can pile some wins together? What do you think about the stretches I listed above? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.