A decent amount of times this year, I have been writing Saturday posts only a couple of hours before the New Jersey Devils played a hockey game. I feel like the amount of Saturday afternoon games they have had has increased this season, for better or worse. Over the last couple, I have tried to incorporate that matchup in some way to the article I wrote. I had an article about the Henrique-Vatanen trade when they played Anaheim a couple Saturdays ago, and had a piece about Carolina being similar to the 13-14 Devils when that game happened in December. Today, I want to do the same before the Devils go up against a quality Montreal team solidly in a playoff position at the moment.
For this, I want to look at Montreal as a team the Devils should be hoping to imitate. Last year, Montreal was bad, with 71 points on the season. Only three teams were worse. They managed to produce a fair amount of offense, generating the 9th best Corsi For in the league, but also gave up the 11th most Corsi attempts against, which led them to allow 264 goals against, 6th worst in the NHL.
This season, however, the turnaround has been stark. Instead of being 6th worst at giving up goals, so far they are actually 12th best in that category, thanks to now being the 10th best when it comes to Corsi attempts against. They’ve also managed to increase their offensive output as well, currently sitting 4th in Corsi attempts For.
Of course, their lineup has changed a good deal. Alex Galchenyuk now is in Arizona, being sent there for Max Domi. The change of scenery hasn’t made Galchenyuk into a point per game player, as he sits at 25 points in 40 games in the desert, while Domi is at 44 points in 51 games for Montreal, which leads the team. Former team captain Max Pacioretty was also traded before this season, to Vegas this time for Tomas Tatar and others. Pacioretty has been solid in Vegas if not dominant, with 28 points in 40 games. Tatar, meanwhile, has 38 points in 51 games, second on the Habs behind the aforementioned Domi.
While there have been other changes, those were the big ones, and they are paying dividends for Claude Julien. Another help has been the resurgence of Carey Price. Last season was Price’s worst as a professional, posting a career-low .900 save percentage in 48 starts. This year he is still slightly below his career average, but his .915 save percentage in 37 starts is still a marked improvement over last year, and has certainly given Montreal a better chance to win more games.
For the Devils, we need to hope that they can turn it around like Montreal has, and as quickly. Last year, the Devils made the playoffs. In 2015-16, so did Montreal. This year, the Devils are a bottom 5 team. Last year, Montreal was too. This year, they are back in the mix. If they can do it, New Jersey can too. It took a couple shrewd moves from GM Marc Bergevin, and a resurgence of quality goaltending. Ray Shero will certainly need to make a couple of moves this offseason, and we will almost certainly need to see improved goaltending next year, be it from an improved and getting better Mackenzie Blackwood or from elsewhere.
Of course, those moves will need to manifest themselves more strongly in some areas. The Devils are 6th worst this year at generating Corsi attempts For. Montreal was never that bad. It’s led to a miserable 48.3 CF%, just cracking the bottom 10 of the NHL right now. That will need to change drastically next season. Yes some of that will come almost certainly from having a fully healthy Taylor Hall, if we can be so lucky, but he will not be enough. Improved defense will also need to be found one way or another.
However, the goal of writing all of this today is that even when it looks like the Devils have fallen back off of a cliff into irrelevancy after a one-year respite, we can look elsewhere to see that hope can still be had for the near future, and perhaps there is nowhere better to look than at the team the Devils will be playing in a few hours. They were a playoff team that fell into misery for a year, only to make some tweaks and get right back into a strong position. Given the core of New Jersey, I see no reason that cannot happen here either with some shrewd moves and tweaks to the team come next year. Is it insane to be talking about next year at the start of February? Yeah probably. But in reality, we need some positivity about the future, and today’s opponent shows us that we can be positive.
Ray Shero has a few weeks until the trade deadline, so truly, the start of building up again for next year is starting now. He might make some deals to acquire draft picks or young players that could build for next year and beyond. Add that to whatever he does in the offseason, and we can only hope a return to playoff form next season. Does that mean that today’s game should be ignored, or the rest of the season? Of course not. Any Devils game is a good game to watch for the most part, even if they are a bottom 5 squad. But as you watch, perhaps you will now have some added perspective to the game, and maybe some added hope for the near future.