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Coming on Strong

With the last stretch of the season for our New Jersey Devils starting on Sunday, I look at how certain players have come on strong lately and how their continued play could affect the season’s outcome.

Buffalo Sabres v New Jersey Devils Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

I don’t know where Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri were earlier in this season, but all I can say is man am I glad they’re back as I’m sure our New Jersey Devils are. After scoring 30 goals each last season, Rico and Palms were both chastised for being fairly invisible to start 2016-17; with the addition of Taylor Hall and a better bottom 6, the Devils offense was predicted to be better than 2015-16. Suffice to say, that has not been the case with many of last seasons big contributors either having been traded last season (Lee Stempniak) or being ghosts (the above pair plus Michael Cammalleri) on the ice.

For the most recent stretch, the pair in the introductory sentence have both looked much better; Cam has been picking up points, but it’s almost in spite of his play with the number of boneheaded decisions made per game. Henrique has been excellent in the last 5 games with 7 points (4-3) across those contests; Palmieri hasn’t been as explosive, but has posted 10 points fairly consistently across the last 12 games. It’s certainly been a welcome sight for a team that still as of this writing sits only technically 3 points out of the playoffs.

To make matter even better, the Devils shiny new third line has been clicking; Pavel Zacha, Jacob Josefson and Stefan Noesen all look like they belong together and they have all had a number of strong games since being joined together by Coach John Hynes. Zacha in particular has been spectacular, with 7 points (half his season total) in his last 9 games (less than a fifth of his total games played this season) to go along with some stellar all around play. Not only has this helped the team recently, but it’s all quelled some of the critics of choosing Zacha where we did; maybe he doesn’t wind up as the 1C we hoped he’d be at the draft, but I think he’s starting to put the tools into the toolbox and he will still be an important contributor on this team for years to come.

So what does all of this mean for the Devils going forward? I’d like to think it shows that New Jersey isn’t as far off from being a truly competitive team as many think. Certainly, Henrique and Palmieri may not be 30 goal scorers year in and year out, but 20-25 certainly shouldn’t be out of the question. If they along with Zacha, Hall, and even Travis Zajac can be consistent contributors for the team, and other players start to put up points (Miles Wood, Joseph Blandisi, Josefson and Noesen every so often) then the Devils we have right now could be dangerous down the stretch this season, and will have a solid foundation moving into next season where they could find ways to acquire a few more pieces to move the franchise back towards its glory days. And can you imagine if Cam somehow miraculously remembered how to put the puck in the net this season? With 1 goal in his last 30 games, maybe this week off is the reset that Mike needs to get back in gear.

Defense and goaltending, the usual Devils fortes, have had their gaffes this season, and still haven’t been entirely steady yet. Steven Santini has emerged as another legitimate NHL defender, and while he may only be bottom or middle pairing caliber right now, he’s growing during his rookie season and defensively looks better than a number of others that have been trotted out this season. Ben Lovejoy and Kyle Quincey both still need to be benched or have their minutes reduced in my opinion for this defense to be truly effective. CJ spoke yesterday about how one defender would not be the answer, but maybe you find two quality players (not necessarily superstars) to mix in with Andy Greene, Damon Severson, Santini and one of the Jo(h)ns going forward and suddenly the defense shores up too.

Again, I think with how the Devils have played in the last stretch of games shows that they’re a capable team with the parts they have, and that the future isn’t as bleak as we thought during some earlier months this season. I’d like to hear now what you think about the Devils recent play; do you think Palmieri, Henrique and Zacha can keep up their recent hot streaks? Can Cammalleri turn his scoring slump around? Did this bye week come at literally the worst possible time for us? Leave any and all comments below and thank you as always for reading!