You want to know a fun fact? Despite how bad the New Jersey Devils ended up last year, you know what their October record was? 5-3-1. Thanks to their lone four game win streak last year, the first four games of the season, by Halloween the Devils looked to be in ok shape. Not quite the 8-2-0 they were the year prior, but 5-3-1 out of the gate is not bad at all. It is over 500 and definitely keeps a team in contention. Of course, they did go 1-3-1 after that 4-0 start, and that was obviously how the team would look from there on out.
Despite last year showing us that a good October can be smoke and mirrors, it is still important for a team to get out of the gate fast and develop any kind of cushion within the division. Among other reasons, because while a good start can quickly evaporate, a bad start is much harder to come back from. The Devils have 10 games in October this season. If they go 3-6-1, that will be quite difficult to come back from in a tight Metropolitan division. But if they start 6-3-1, they could have a slump of sorts at some point later on and still be in the race.
This year, jumping out to a good start is perhaps even a little more imperative than other years. October provides a home-intense schedule for New Jersey, and it was at home where they were particularly effective last season, going 20-14-7. If they can keep that home ice advantage this year, with a much better lineup, that could lead to a great home record. Well, who do they play in October? Any back to backs? What does the schedule look like? Here it is:
10/4 vs. Winnipeg. Record last year: 47-30-5, 99 pts.
10/5 @ Buffalo. Record last year: 33-39-10, 76 pts.
10/9 @ Philadelphia. Record last year: 37-37-8, 82 pts.
10/10 vs. Edmonton. Record last year: 35-38-9, 79 pts.
10/12 @ Boston. Record last year: 49-24-9, 107 pts.
10/14 vs. Florida. Record last year: 36-32-14, 86 pts.
10/17 vs. New York R. Record last year: 32-36-14, 78 pts.
10/19 vs. Vancouver. Record last year: 35-36-11, 81 pts.
10/25 vs. Arizona. Record last year: 39-35-8, 86 pts.
10/30 vs. Tampa Bay. Record last year: 62-16-4, 128 pts.
So the beginning part of the month is a tough stretch mainly for the two back-to-backs. They start the year with two of them, and neither of them are both home games. They start at home against Winnipeg, then have to go up to Buffalo for a game the next night. Four days later, they are in Philadelphia, then have to travel back up the Turnpike to play the next night against Edmonton. Now, the teams in that four game stretch are not particularly brutal. Winnipeg was a playoff team last year and very good, but none of the others made it.
After that, they do play a game in Boston that will be very difficult. For the remainder of the month, however, it is one long home stand, with like a bye week in there as well. They get Florida, the Rags and Vancouver over a five day stretch, none of which made the playoffs last season. Then, the Devils have five days off before playing Arizona at home, and then another four days off before playing the brutally tough home game against Tampa. Two games in the final twelve days of the month. That will keep them well-rested heading into November, so hopefully we do not see another fall off like last season.
So again, you have ten games in October, only four of which are against playoff teams from last season. NJ does have two back-to-backs, and they both require road trips, but they do get a lot of time off in the final week and a half of the month. And perhaps most importantly for a team that was considerably better at home than on the road last year, seven of those ten games are at the Rock. The fans can come early and often to see the new talent of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev and others. And if they are winning early too? You can expect fans to be hyped and the Rock to be rockin’ from the get go. That could potentially be a big momentum factor heading into tougher parts of the schedule, like the Western Canadian road trip in early November.
Remember, as I said earlier, the playoff iteration of the Devils from two seasons ago went 8-2-0 in October. That would be amazing if they could do that again this year too, but honestly, that 6-3-1 I brought up before would be excellent too. Anything to get ahead in a potentially very tight Metro. October should be a fun month to be a Devils fan, and I am definitely looking forward to it.