Once again the New Jersey Devils are ending their regular season without a postseason appearance. They are not mathematically out of the playoff picture, but they have been realistically out of it for months now. While players, staff, and management have their own incentives to want to play well down this final stretch of the season, what can motivate the team as a whole to do well? If nothing else, they can be spoilers. Misery loves company and the Devils can help their opponents face an end their season after their 82nd game too.
They have a prime opportunity to do that on Thursday night when the Devils host the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Pressure is on Carolina
On the one hand, the Carolina Hurricanes could be seen as a model for several teams. Since hiring Eric Tulsky full-time in 2015, the Canes have become one of the top 5-on-5 teams in the NHL for the last five seasons. Per Natural Stat Trick, they are arguably the best over the last three seasons. They have been a very difficult opponent to play against. Whereas the Devils fans have many legitimate reasons to complain about their defense, the Hurricanes fans can boast them (or they did until the injuries mounted). Whereas the Devils fans are hopeful for their forwards in the future, the Hurricanes are already enjoying the glories from Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov. Sleeping on the Carolina Hurricanes is ill-advised.
On the other hand, the Canes have fell short more often than not. While Tulsky has moved up in the organization, Carolina has only made the playoffs once in their last five seasons. While they were great in the run of play in 5-on-5, they fell short in other areas. Scoring goals. Goaltending. The power play. The penalty kill. As I recall from the 2013-14 Devils, a team cannot succeed on 5-on-5 CF% alone. The Carolina Hurricanes have proven that season after season. It was different in 2018-19, though. They took a wild card spot in that season. They were the talk of social media with their post-win celebrations and then Boston absolutely smashed them in a 4-0 series sweep. Still, it was seen as a sign that the Canes were going in the right direction. However, instead of going onward and upward, Carolina remains about where they were - and at a real risk of missing the postseason. That would be a failure for Tulsky, management, and the Canes organization to miss out after getting just into the postseason last season. That they are in this position is far from ideal. I do not think it is unfair to say that they have underachieved.
Those of you who follow the weekly Metropolitan Division snapshots knows this to a degree. Even when the teams around them struggle, Carolina has constantly failed to get the results to pull ahead. They currently have an advantage in games played but that will be made up in March. If they do not win those games, then they mean nothing. Therefore, every game the Canes will play this month is meaningful. A win, such as their recent 6-2 thrashing of Pittsburgh, is massive. A loss can be absolutely crushing. All that and they have to hope the out-of-town scoreboard favors them. The pressure is absolutely on Carolina.
But Not for New Jersey
There is no pressure on the Devils whatsoever. They can feel loose as they attempt to take Carolina down a peg. Provided they do not lose a bunch of players to injury and get beaten so bad that several players voluntarily renounce the sport this evening, the Devils have nothing to lose in each of their final 13 games, Thursday’s game included. They have reason to feel good. The Devils have started a potentially hellish month rather well. I do not think many were anticipating the Devils to beat St. Louis and Our Hated Rivals back-to-back. Much less in regulation and while having at least a decent game in the run of play. They did that. The Devils’ goaltending remains rather hot regardless of four goals being allowed on Saturday. Since February 16, the team has the second-highest save percentage in 5-on-5 hockey in the entire NHL, their power play is hot in the same time frame, and the PK remains solid as ever. They may have frustrated their own fans at times, but they have frustrated plenty of opponents on their way to results. They have been playing and performing like a real spoiler would.
Whether you still get irked over 2009, you dislike divisional opponents, you want the Devils to take as many opponents down with them as possible, or you plainly want to see the Devils win because they are your favorite hockey team and that is what you want, then I am here to write to you that is absolutely possible. And so if you can, you should make the effort to attend Thursday’s game be there at the Rock. If the Devils cannot spoil the Canes, then so be it. If they can, then you may be able to say that you saw the Devils help deny an underachieving squad a playoff spot first hand. I assure you, hockey is better to experience live.
Do Be Cautious About Your Health
Given recent news about the Coronavirus / COVID-19, I should inform you that you should put your health first. If you are sick, do not go. If you are at risk and/or could infect others, then do not go.
If you are healthy and not at risk, then I suggest going because you may not be able to make the choice in the near future. There is a non-zero chance that games may be not be public in the future due to the virus. The virus has been spreading throughout the world and lots of large events have either been suspended, postponed, or cancelled. In the world of hockey, the IIHF has already cancelled the 2020 Women’s World Championships in Nova Scotia and other tourneys in March. The fate of the World Under 18 Championships and the Men’s World Championships is up in the air. In a more local story, RPI and Harvard will play their ECAC quarterfinal matchup at the end of this week in an empty arena in Troy, New York. The NHL, NBA, MLS, and MLB released a joint statement yesterday evening that they are closing their locker rooms to only essential staff to limit potential contamination of players, coaches, and team staff. There already has been an escalation that impacts a NHL team. Last night, Maggie Angst in the Mercury News of San Jose reported that Santa Clara County in California issued a ban on all gatherings over 1,000 people in March, including San Jose Sharks games (thanks to Rick Westhead on circulating this on Twitter.) This may lead to a domino effect for other teams to limit or outright bar fans from their home games.
If the decision comes from a disinterested third party such as local, county, state, and/or federal public health officials to ban large events, then it is the right call given the public health situation. For now, that is not the case in New Jersey. But with the news coming out of California, the option is very much on the table. Again, if you’re healthy and thinking about going, then you should consider going to the game on Thursday in case scheduled home games later this month are barred from the public, pushed back, or moved elsewhere I plan to do so.
Should you make the choice to attend Thursday’s game against Carolina, it is still open, and you do not already have tickets, then I suggest checking out the following link. As part of an affiliation deal between Vox Media and Stubhub, you can find tickets on the secondary market for Thursday’s game against the Hurricanes through this link.
This is the fourth and final game “pre-preview” for this season. Hopefully these posts at least got you thinking about the game and perhaps got you to consider going to the game through the affiliation links. In the meantime, I want to know what you think about this match-up ahead of Thursday’s game in the comments.
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