For any fan of a team, they know that starting out the regular season strong is near vital when it comes to producing a good season. Remaining at or near the top of a division is a lot easier than moving up the ranks. If a team starts the season 2-8-2, if they go 7-3 over the next ten games, a great record, that team is still only 9-11-2. That is not a stellar record despite the strong 10-game stretch. It just really drives home the fact that a strong start to the season is imperative if a team wants to have a good chance at breaking the top 4 spots of a division. Can it happen with a bad start? Sure. But the odds drop considerably.
Enter the New Jersey Devils. Of course, almost no one expects them to finish the season in the top 4 of the Metropolitan. Heck, I don’t think most anyone expects them to finish in the top 6. However, if they want to defy expectations, a strong start will be essential. The Devils have not been able to really string together prolonged winning streaks, or win something like 4 out of 5 games, over the last several seasons. Therefore, you can probably extrapolate that if this team falls behind, it will most likely have an extremely difficult time doing anything but perhaps digging the hole further down.
While wins may be hard to come by this year, can the Devils start the first month with anything near a 500 record? I mean hey, anything is possible! Let’s take a look at the team’s October schedule to see how difficult it will be to string together some wins in the first month of the season. I threw in each team’s record last year, and I also starred any team that made the playoffs last year, and I also starred any night that was the 2nd night of a back-to-back set.
10/7 – vs. Colorado. 2016-17 Record: 22-56-4, 48 points, 7th Central
10/9 – at Buffalo. 2016-17 Record: 33-37-12, 78 points, 8th Atlantic
10/11 – at Toronto*. 2016-17 Record: 40-27-15, 95 points, 4th Atlantic
10/13 – vs. Washington*. 2016-17 Record: 55-19-8, 118 points, 1st Metro
10/14* – at. New York R*. 2016-17 Record: 48-28-6, 102 points, 4th Metro
10/17 – vs. Tampa Bay. 2016-17 Record: 42-30-10, 94 points, 5th Atlantic
10/19 – at. Ottawa*. 2016-17 Record: 44-28-10, 98 points, 2nd Atlantic
10/20* – vs. San Jose*. 2016-17 Record: 46-29-7, 99 points, 3rd Pacific
10/27 – vs. Ottawa*.
10/28* – vs. Arizona. 2016-17 Record: 30-42-10, 70 points, 6th Pacific
In October, New Jersey plays 10 games. Of those, six are against playoff teams from last season. First, let’s look at the other four. The Devils open the season against two teams who were not playoff bound last season: Colorado and Buffalo. Colorado was the worst team in hockey last season by a large margin, and this game also doubles as the Devils’ home opener. It is on a Saturday afternoon, and you would expect the Prudential Center to be more packed than you may see on your regular Tuesday night game this year. I would say of all the games on the October schedule, and perhaps the entire schedule, the Devils have the strongest chance to win this one. A 1-0 start is a very real possibility. From there, they go to Buffalo. While they ended with a poor sub-500 record, Buffalo does have promising young talent, and most likely is much closer to breaking out of their rebuild than the Devils are. I think the Devils certainly can win this game, and if they want to start out the season strong, they need to win. However, you would have to describe the game as more of a toss-up. Let’s say between the two they go 1-0-1.
The other two non-playoff teams from a year ago that NJ plays are Tampa and Arizona. Tampa just missed out on a playoff spot by one point in the standings last year. They are a solid, well-built team. Arizona, on the other hand, was about as close to a playoff berth as the Devils were. That game is in Newark too, which is a good sign. At the worst, the Devils need to go 1-1 in those games. 1-0-1 would be even better, and not entirely unreasonable to hope for. If they get lucky and go 1-0-1, you’re looking at 2-0-2 against the 4 non-playoff teams, or more likely 2-1-1 if they go 1-1 against Tampa and Arizona. Even still, that would be a quality record there.
The hard part is finding wins against the playoff teams from last year. The Devils play Washington, San Jose, and Ottawa at home, and Toronto, New York, and Ottawa on the road. Last year the Devils were 0-3 against Ottawa, so 0-2 would be the likely expectation there, but you could potentially see the Devils managing to go 0-1-1 there. If Cory Schneider can get back on his game, the Devils can get back to forcing many games to go beyond regulation which can be a positive in the standings. The Devils also went 0-2 against San Jose, and got beat badly twice. Peter DeBoer has done quite well against his former employer, and I don’t see that changing at all this year. That’s most likely a loss.
The final two teams are Metropolitan foes, Washington and the Rangers. The Devils went 1-3 against the Caps in 2016-17, but one of those losses was a 0-1 loss in March, which showed that NJ could hang at times with the best team in the division. They then went 1-1-2 against New York, which was an even better record than against Washington. The Devils can usually play the Rangers strong, even if one team is better than the other. This can come from the rivalry and from each team knowing the other real well. So of those 2 games, while a 0-2 record is most likely, you could maybe see them go 0-1-1 if they’re keeping games close. Of those 4 games last year against NY, 3 went past regulation, so it is possible there.
So where does that have my estimates at the end of October? I gave a range for a couple, but you’re looking at anywhere around 2-4-2, 6 points in 10 games. Sadly, I just cannot find more wins and more points for the Devils in October. The games against the non-playoff teams from last year look fairly favorable, and wins against Colorado and Arizona are likely. Again, 2-1-1 is quite possible in those four games. It is just the six games against the playoff teams that make October tough. The Devils do not start with all that favorable of a schedule for the first month. When over half of your games are against quality, playoff caliber teams, and you yourself are not a quality, playoff caliber team in all likelihood, the wins become hard to find. I want to hope that the Devils will come out of the gate strong, and I really do hope that they defy preseason expectations, but as of now, it is really difficult to envision a great start. Let’s all hope that I am wrong come November 1st.
Do you agree with my assessment of how this team can do in October? Am I being too generous to New Jersey, or am I being too stingy? Should I be more optimistic or more realistic? Given the schedule in October, what do you think the Devils can do? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.