It has certainly been an amazing run so far this season for the New Jersey Devils, especially with all the gloom and doom predicted to start the campaign. As we sit here in the midst of the NHL’s Christmas Break, the Devils sit with 45 points, good for 1st in the Metropolitan Division, 2nd in the Eastern Conference, and 6th in the entire league (technically tied for 5th, and with games in hand on the teams in 3rd and 4th while just one point behind them) after 35 games. Christmas has come early for Devils fans: we have a competitive team again.
The true Christmas present, however, is one that has yet to be delivered and may not be delivered this season due to the disgustingly stacked division that is the Metro. The present I speak of, of course, is a return to the promised land: the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sure, there are teams with longer droughts (Carolina and Buffalo), or droughts just as long as ours (Arizona) but none of those franchises are as proud as ours. Devils fans are hungry for a successful team and this is the best product we’ve put on the ice in years. The playoffs at this point in the season are a distinct possibility.
At the same time, nothing in this league is certain; a rash of injuries could storm through the locker room (if they haven’t already done enough damage) and see the team plummet from their lofty position in the standings. The goal scoring could dry up and we could be back to seeing the Devils play close games only to lose due to an inability to get a timely goal. A successful regular season is definitely more attainable right now than any time in the past 5 seasons, but again there’s no guarantee.
Maybe it won’t be injuries that takes the team down; maybe under-performers like Travis Zajac, Drew Stafford and Jimmy Hayes’ lack of contributions wind up hurting the team. Maybe Brian Gibbons and Brian Boyle cool off to their career averages. Maybe the defense falls apart again the same way it has done in seasons past. If there’s one thing to bear in mind in this league, it is to take nothing for granted.
And yet, what if the bubble never bursts as we fear it will? It’s almost like we’ve been conditioned to believe that the Devils will eventually fall, fade and crumble as the season progresses. Even if Zajac is a single digit points player this year, what if everyone else continues to contribute? What if Pavel Zacha wakes up and Stefan Noesen continues playing the way he has lately? What if Taylor Hall puts together an 80 point season as he is on pace to do? I see our negativity as a fan base in our comments sections, on message boards, and even on the Devils’ Facebook page; maybe it’s time we stop nitpicking on individuals and believe that the whole of the New Jersey Devils is indeed greater than the sum of its parts?
Realistically, we probably wind up in between the above scenarios, but I want to believe in that latter scenario; I want to believe that this is OUR year after so many futile ones. I want the young Devils to taste postseason hockey; I want Hall to see meaningful games in April for the first time in his NHL career. I want Greene and Zajac to right the wrongs of 2012 and lead this team back to its former glory.
So New Jersey Devils fans, we’ve seen the team unwrap a lot of presents for us so far this season. It hasn’t been perfect and there’s still some things to fix, but it’s so much fun to watch a competitive team that doesn’t quit. I say on this Christmas Day, that we all leave a couple of presents wrapped under our trees until at least March; let’s wait until after the All Star Break, wait until after our official “bye week” and certainly wait until #26 takes its rightful place in the rafters. When all of that is said and done let’s all open up a couple more presents together, one roughly in March and the other roughly in June.
Let’s go back to the playoffs where the Devils belong...and then heck with it, let’s win it all. No one believed we’d be where we are at this point in the season; who’s to say we can’t be on top of the mountain when the 2018 Playoffs are all said and done?
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all from all of us here at All About the Jersey!