Many of the articles coming from All About the Jersey and other commenters in other places have not been all that positive recently, and rightly so. After playing some great hockey and giving themselves a decent cushion from a lottery pick, the New Jersey Devils have taken a sharp turn sideways, going 2-6-2 in their last 10 games. This extended skid has really caused a plummet in the standings, with the team now sitting in a wild card position in the Eastern Conference as opposed to a much more comfortable divisional seed. If the team goes 2-6-2 following the All-Star Break, they will undoubtedly be near the bottom of the Metropolitan and in a lottery position.
However, I think what we need today is a little breath of optimism to lighten up the mood around here! Are things looking a lot more dire than they were a few weeks ago? No question at all. There are solid reasons to feel nervous, no one can deny that. But not everything should be doom and gloom around here. Here are some reasons why the Devils could bounce back sooner rather than later.
Coming out of the break next week, the Devils will have some winnable games to help right the ship. Their first four games have them playing Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Ottawa. Two of those teams, Buffalo and Ottawa, are at the bottom of the Atlantic and are hopelessly out of playoff contention at this point. In fact, only Arizona has a worse record than these two teams. Philadelphia, while playing really well recently with an 8-2 record in their last 10 games, is still underneath NJ in the standings, and if the Devils can play well like they did against Boston the other night, they can certainly get points out of that game. The Pittsburgh game is perhaps the toughest of them all, but it is in Newark, and that alone gives the team a chance to come away with a victory.
Given that schedule, If the Devils can go 2-1-1 out of the gate, or 3-1-0, that would help to get them out of the rut that they currently reside, and would give them a nice confidence boost moving forward.
Games In Hand
Yes the Devils are only one point away from missing the playoffs, but they still have games in hand on basically everyone. At the All-Star Break, New Jersey has played 48 games. Pitt, who is above NJ in the standings for 3rd in the Metro, has played 51 games! That is a potential 6 extra points for the Devils that Pitt cannot get. Even if the Devils only get 2 or 3 of those potential 6 points, that puts them back into third place and that is a much more comfortable position to be in in the standings. They do also have at least one game in hand on everyone else in the division as well, so their record can look at little better if those games turn into points.
Expected Goal Differential
Over the course of the season, the Devils have generally improved in expected goal differential. By Thanksgiving, NJ had quite a poor expected goal differential, and you would have expected them to lose more games than they were. Since about the first week of December, however, the team has been in the positives in that statistic, which means that in most games, the advanced stats say they should be expected to score more than they give up. This would obviously lead to more wins.
This has remained true even during this drought. For the majority of time since 2018 hit, the Devils have been in the positive ranges of expected goal differential. This should generally dictate that the Devils will do fairly well, at least well enough to not continue a prolonged losing streak. Do teams win and lose despite what the numbers say? Absolutely, it happens. But that also does not generally happen over long stretches of time. So if expected goal differential can turn out to be right sooner than later, the Devils should start winning more games if they can keep that stat in the positive ranges like they have been over the last nearly 2 months.
John recently wrote about how amazing Taylor Hall has been, and I mentioned it as well several weeks back. He is a pure stud, and without him in the lineup, getting wins and points will be much more difficult. However, when he does return, it should provide a nice boost which could bring with it some wins and points in the standings. I know he was healthy for most of this prolonged losing, but with him in the lineup the odds of success go up dramatically. We all want and need #9 back out there ASAP.
In the end, these are just several reasons to still be optimistic about this New Jersey Devils squad. They may have hit a big bump in the road, but they are still very much alive, and depending on how you look at it, they are still in pretty good shape. Let’s hope that the All-Star Break will give the team a much needed breather, and it will come back swinging to finish out the year strong!
What are some other ways that fans should be optimistic about this team despite the recent losing ways? Or, do you believe this is all nonsense and everyone should be extremely worried? If so, why do you feel that way? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading!