For any team looking to do well this season, starting out on the right foot should not be overlooked. October brings with it a decent chunk of games, and if by November 1st, your team is already in 7th place in the division and 8 points back of the lead, it becomes a struggle for the rest of the year trying to play catch up. A strong start to the year, however, and you create some leeway for any potential bad stretches during the season.
Last season, the New Jersey Devils went 8-2-0 in October. That was absolutely outstanding. For a team that was predicted by many, including at this site, to finish dead last in the Metro, it was a statement that they were for real and not to be overlooked. And that start was desperately needed. If they did not create that cushion early, their mediocre records in February and March, where they essentially played near .500 hockey, would have doomed them.
This year, New Jersey plays 9 games in October. Let’s check out the schedule and see how easy or difficult it might be for this team to come out strongly again this year:
10/6 vs. Edmonton (in SWE). 2017-18 Record: 26-40-6, 78 points, 6th Pacific
10/11 vs. Washington. 2017-18 Record: 49-26-7, 105 points, 1st Metropolitan
10/14 vs. San Jose. 2017-18 Record: 45-27-10, 100 points, 3rd Pacific
10/16 vs. Dallas. 2017-18 Record: 42-32-8, 92 points, 6th Central
10/18 vs. Colorado. 2017-18 Record: 43-30-9, 95 points, 4th Central
10/20 @ Philadelphia. 2017-18 Record: 42-26-14, 98 points, 3rd Metropolitan
10/25 vs Nashville. 2017-18 Record: 53-18-11, 117 points, 1st Central
10/27 vs. Florida. 2017-18 Record: 44-30-8, 96 points, 4th Atlantic
10/30 @ Tampa Bay. 2017-18 Record: 54-23-5, 113 points, 1st Atlantic
So the first thing I noticed is that the schedule is heavily skewed towards home games. Of the 9 games, only three are on the road, and one of those road games is only a short drive down to Philadelphia. This is a month dominated with home games, which should keep the team fairly fresh. Of course, a European trip to start the season is a strike against that; however, they do get a long break in between the Edmonton game in Sweden and their next game, so that helps.
Also, speaking of being fresh, there are no back-to-backs this month. In fact, they get a decent break in there too, not just the one for the return flight from Europe. After Philly on the 20th, they get a good-sized break, not playing again until the 25th. That might seem like a lot of rest early, and it frankly is. NJ usually gets slammed with back-to-backs given their lack of travel distance as compared to other teams, especially those out west. This year, however, there are no excuses in October in terms of scheduling. The league was very generous to the Devils with respect to scheduling games in October. I guess playing your opening game in Sweden will do that.
Also interesting is that the majority of the games they play are against Western Conference teams. They only play two division games, home against Washington and in Philly. They also only play the Atlantic twice, playing both Florida teams once. The rest are against the West. This also helps to a degree with the notion of a softer start. Division games are four point games, as a loss to one of them hurts doubly in the standings. Against teams in the Central and Pacific, however, that is not the case. A loss is only a two point loss, not a four point one. That is huge if NJ happens to get off to a sluggish start. It won’t kill them perhaps as badly as it would have in other years.
However, the actual slate of teams they play is no joke. They play the 2018 winners of the Atlantic, Metro, and Central. One of those teams, of course, won the Cup, another won the President’s Trophy, and the third ended with the most points in the East and took care of the Devils in the first round of the playoffs. 8 of the 9 teams they face scored at least 90 points last year, which is crazy good. And the only team that did not, Edmonton, still has Connor McDavid, so you never know. So while the schedule benefits NJ in a lot of ways, like lots of home games, no back-to-backs, and lots of Western teams, in the end you might claim that the schedule is a rough one from the start given the tough teams they have to play.
In reality, while the teams are tough, in the end the Devils need to get out to another good start this year. A lot of pundits are down on this team’s chances of making the playoffs once again, and just like last year, this team has something to prove. Starting out on a high note would make a lot of believers out of people, and even more importantly, would provide the Devils with a valuable cushion in case they hit some prolonged low points later on in the year.
Last year they went 8-2-0 in October. If you told me now that this year they could go 5-2-2, I would sign up for that no problem. In reality, we really need to see at least 10 points at a minimum for them to be in a competitive position come November, and you could maybe argue 12 or more. Let’s hope they can do it!