After opening the season on a six-game winless streak, the Devils have dashed just about all the good will they had built up with an offseason that looked successful on paper. Instead of carrying the excitement of a positive offseason into the opening month, the Devils have nose-dived out of the gate. Only once in the history of the franchise has the team had a worse opening six games and that worse start came when the franchise was still the Kansas City Scouts. In terms of goal differential, only two versions of the Colorado Rockies were ever worse than the Devils -16. Put short, this team came into the season with high expectations and got off to perhaps the worst start since the team arrived in New Jersey in 1982.
Last night, the Devils finally broke their season-opening streak of futility with a 5-2 win over the Rangers. Whether that has broken the spell of disastrous hockey to open season remains to be seen, but it was a step in the right direction for a team seemingly on the brink of total implosion. The hope will be that the team can now string together some wins to start digging out of this early season hole.
Things feel urgent at this very moment, but I figured I'd take the opportunity after a win to take a step back and look at what has to be done the rest of the way to climb back into the playoff conversation. Despite last night's win, the Devils sit in last in the Metropolitan Division with just four points in seven games (the Rangers also have four points, but they've played three fewer games). The Devils are already four points out of the hypothetical last playoff spot with everyone other than Ottawa to jump over at this point. That is impressively bad for seven games into a season, but four points is also not exactly insurmountable with 75 games to play.
In the modern NHL, the cutoff for the playoffs shifts around from year to year but tends to land somewhere in the 93 to 95 point range. For the Devils to have around a 50/50 shot at the playoffs, let's say they have to get to 95 points. As of today, they have four. That means they have to put up 91 points in the final 75 games to get to that benchmark. Over a full 82 games, that is a roughly 100-point pace. That is a solid season, but 100 points is not the high bar it once was.
The problem, of course, is that we have all watched the brand of hockey the Devils have been playing up to this point. The Devils have been poor in all three phases and, between blown leads and blowouts, have featured about as bad a run of losses as a team can have. They've also picked up some early injuries, including one this week to top center Nico Hischier. Put short, this team has a long way to go to be playing something resembling 100-point hockey.
This is still a talented team, though, and with the special teams finally seemingly finding their footing last night, perhaps the team is turning the corner. Last night also did not necessarily feature a dominant 5v5 effort, though, and the team still clearly has some things to clean up at both ends. The Devils have made their season an uphill climb with the hole they've dug, but if they can shake out of the malaise they've been in, they still seem to have the roster necessary to play the hockey they need to. One continues to wonder if a coaching shakeup beyond sending Tom Fitzgerald to babysit will be required, as the team has bottom-ten 5v5 numbers at this point and some truly awful results on both special teams, but the sample still isn't overly large on those fronts. One way or another, though, this team can't flounder for too much longer or the hill with start to get much steeper than playing 100-point hockey.