Over the past half decade, the New Jersey Devils have sadly been bottom dwellers in the Metropolitan Division. On the other hand, the Washington Capitals have been like the Devils used to be in the old Atlantic Division when it was the New York teams, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia joining New Jersey, usually placing well and gaining yearly playoff berths.
Since the divisions switched, and Washington and New Jersey both entered into the Metro starting with the 2013-2014 season, it has been mostly a one-sided affair between the two. In those full six seasons and the half of this season, the Devils are 7-16-3 against Washington. If you start that count a year later, the Devils are considerably worse, sitting at 4-15-3. They were 3-1-0 against Washington in 2013-14, a year neither team made the postseason and finished within two points of each other. That really was the last year the Devils were able to play well against the Caps.
The change from the ‘13-’14 season and what happened before the ‘14-’15 and what happened after is pretty stark. If you count the three seasons before, from the 2011-12 season and the Cup run through the ‘13-’14 season, the Devils were 8-3-0 against the former Southeast Division team. So you have an amazing record of 8-3-0 from 2011-2014, and then an abysmal 4-15-3 record from 2014 through today. New Jersey had more wins in the three seasons from 2011-2014 against Washington than they have had since. 8 wins in 11 games versus 4 wins in 22 games.
What is the difference? The Devils were a non-playoff team in two of those three seasons from 2011-14, so it is not like they were a dominant team for the first bit, and then a bad team after. They were indeed a good team for one season, a Cup Finals team in 2011-12, but after that they have been mostly bad since, so what is it?
For one, Washington has been a pretty dominant regular season team since the start of the 2014-15 season. They have made the playoffs every season since then, won the President’s Trophy more than once, and of course won the Stanley Cup a couple years ago. Coupled with the fact that the Devils have been an outright bad team in most of those years, it makes sense that this competition has been really one-sided.
Beyond that, even though the Devils were not a playoff team in 2013 and 2013-14, they had one thing going for them: possession. New Jersey finished the 2013-14 season with only 88 points, but they ranked third in the league in Corsi that season with a 54.4 CF%. That is an incredibly good number. They were even better in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, ranking 2nd in the league in Corsi with a 55.92 CF%. Those numbers absolutely tanked for the 2014-15 season, with the Devils dropping to 26th in the league with a 47.18 CF%. New Jersey has not been a good possession team since then, never breaking 48.6% (and only passing 48% one year, the playoff season of 2017-18). That fall in possession really was in lockstep with the Devils’ performance against Washington. It is obviously not the only reason for going from an 8-3 record against them to a 4-15-3 record, but it cannot be discounted altogether either.
Sadly for our favorite team, this competition has really been a one-sided affair since the division reorganization. The Caps have been a good team, and one of the hallmarks of good teams is the ability to beat bad teams consistently. Washington has been able to do that to New Jersey, and has reaped the rewards. Can this change anytime soon? The odds of that seem longer than they did at the start of the season. The Devils have definitely improved since the trading of Taylor Hall of course, with greatly improved goaltending play from Mackenzie Blackwood.
However, despite the improvement, I am not sure I would automatically say that they are a good team. They are now more adequate and competitive than they were for most of the 2019 portion of the schedule. But Washington is still a good team, if not very good, once again topping the Metropolitan Division. They have made things easy for themselves in the past by beating teams like NJ, and I don’t see that changing for this season. Can the Devils win tonight? Absolutely, anything is possible. They do have four wins against the Caps dating back to the middle of last decade. But are the odds good? Not really. Let’s hope to see a high compete level from the Devils, see a strong outing, and hope for the best.