With the losing streak heading into the All-Star Break, there were a lot of negative thoughts among New Jersey Devils fans. And I don’t disagree with that, there were plenty of reasons to feel like the other shoe was finally dropping on what was a pretty incredible season from a team that was once again expected to compete for a high lottery position in next year’s draft.
However, coming out of the break, the Devils looked considerably better, dismantling Buffalo and pulling out a win against Philly in regulation. With where they are now, the Devils are still in a strong position in the standings. While there still is plenty of regular season hockey left, and anything can happen, it can sometimes be too easy to look at only the here and now and not analyze things from a larger perspective.
But I’m going to do something that many of you will probably hate me for if you’re a strong believer in writers actually being able to change outcomes on the ice based on superstition. The truth of the matter is that given the numbers and how well the Devils have done up until this point, the team simply needs to be mediocre the rest of the way to make the dance. Do we want them to be mediocre? Of course not, that would not bode well for their chances in any playoff series. However, in terms of actually just getting in, the chances are fairly good given what they need to do to maintain a playoff position.
As of now, the team has played an even 50 games, so they have 32 yet to play. Those 50 games have netted them 60 points, which equates to a .600 point percentage (60 out of a potential 100 points). Historically, the magic number to give a team a strong chance to make the postseason has been 95 points. Last year, 95 was the magic number for the Eastern Conference, while 94 was it for the West. Two seasons ago, it was 96 for the Metro, but only 93 for the Atlantic. So 95 is a fairly good number to shoot for as a minimum to get in.
If the Devils maintained the same point pace throughout the remaining 32 games on their schedule, they would end with somewhere around 98-99 points, which is basically a lock for the postseason. So think about that: even with a prolonged losing streak in there, the Devils have played well enough this year and overcome enough adversity to be on a very strong pace. This greatly helps them down the stretch. In 32 games, the Devils really only need to get basically 35 points, which is just over a point per game. That would put them just on the magic number of 95 which would give them a strong likelihood of at least getting a wild card position.
Think about that. Heading into last night’s games, only 8 of the 31 teams in the NHL were on a pace to gain at or less than 82 points in 82 games: Florida, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Arizona. Everyone else is on a higher pace, one that if NJ can stay on, will put them at 95 or better. So for the Devils to end up with less than 95 points this season, they would need to perform as poorly as the bottom 8 teams have done in the NHL so far this year. That would be sub-par play. Mediocre play would be about the average of the NHL, which is above a .500 point percentage pace. That would get New Jersey a first round playoff berth.
Last week, I noted that there were still many positives for us Devils fans to lean on despite a downward turn of events, and the team’s play out of the All-Star Break has really changed a lot of that. Taylor Hall is back, and the team is back to winning ways. Yes 2 games is a small sample size, but it is a start. And considering that NJ simply only needs to be mediocre, not good or even great, the odds of this team playing beyond 82 games is quite good. Depending on where you look, the odds should still definitely be over 70%, if not higher (the odds I linked to were at the All-Star Break, and are certainly higher now with those 2 straight wins. Over 75% easy).
Now, is there a strong chance I have just jinxed everything and this team goes into a downward spiral and I will get forced to stop writing for this site? I mean that is definitely possible. Mike has taken some credit for the team’s recent poor run after his article about high expectations back at the end of December. But given how good the team has played up until this point, how much they have already accomplished, and as a result how little they actually have to do moving forward to break a 5 season playoff drought, the odds of this season going beyond 82 games for New Jersey is quite strong. That should give all fans reading this a smile, regardless of how high your pessimism is.
Is the division tight? Absolutely. Is it smooth sailing for the Devils? Absolutely not, they have a lot of work to do, and no one wants to simply see them limp into the postseason only to be trounced in the first round. They need to continue to play well if they want to make any sort of splash in late April and beyond. But should we be extremely fearful anymore of ending up in a lottery position? I would say no at this point, and that is awesome to think about.