Last week, I discussed some winners and losers from the division realignment for this season. While there were many different winners and losers, there is little doubt that the New Jersey Devils are not winners. They are in a brutally tough division, possibly the tightest in the league this season, and they have a bear of a schedule as a result. They will need to go above and beyond what they accomplished last season if they even want to sniff 5th or 6th place in the division, never mind one of the four playoff positions.
That being said, it is not like the East Division is drastically different from the Metropolitan that the Devils normally inhabit. Of the 8 teams in the East, six are from the Metro. The difference, more than anything else, comes in the schedule. In a normal season, the Devils would only meet the other Metro teams around four times each. This year, they will see each team in division over double that, and they won’t see anyone else. So in other seasons, if the Metro was really good, they could get away with some easy games elsewhere. This season, there is no reprieve.
Because of that fact, it makes who is in the division exponentially more important. So whereas only two teams in the East Division are from outside the Metro, given the schedule, that becomes very important. So, let’s compare how the Devils have done recently against the two teams from the Atlantic versus the two teams from the Metro that they won’t see.
Boston and Buffalo
The two teams that the Devils will see from the Atlantic, a combined 16 times, had significantly different seasons last year. Boston were the President’s Trophy winners, amassing 100 points across 70 games. They only lost 14 times in regulation last season, which was pretty incredible. The playoffs did not go as they wanted, but they were a dominant team overall. Buffalo, on the other hand, ended the season with 68 points in 69 games, exactly where the Devils ended up. So that gives you an idea of just how bad they were.
In terms of head to head, the Devils have really struggled overall against these teams. Last season, they were 0-2 against Buffalo and 1-2 against Boston, the lone win coming in a shootout. They let up a combined 14 goals to Buffalo in those two losses as well, and only managed to score 3 in return. The season prior, the last full 82 game season we have on record, New Jersey was better overall, but not spectacular, going 2-1 against Buffalo and 1-2 against Boston. Given that Buffalo has been basically as bad as the Devils in recent seasons, NJ going 2-3 against them makes sense honestly. I actually think going 2-4 against Boston over that same time frame is more of an accomplishment given how good Boston has been. Nonetheless, the Devils have been a combined 4-7 against these two teams over the past two seasons, a point percentage of .364, and they will see these teams a combined 16 times in the coming months. That does not bode well.
Carolina and Columbus
Because of the realignment, the Devils will not see these teams at all this season. Is that a good thing, have the Devils been worse against these teams over the last two years than they have been against Boston and Buffalo? Let’s find out.
Against Carolina last year, the Devils were 1-1, having only played them twice before the shutdown. Nonetheless, that was better than against either Boston or Buffalo. Against Columbus, they were 1-2, not as good, with the one win coming in a shootout. In 2018-19, the head-to-head stats are similar, with New Jersey going 2-2 against Carolina and 0-3-1 against Columbus. The Devils have just been atrocious against Columbus recently, going 1-5-1 against them over the last two seasons. But somehow, they have been equal to Carolina, going 3-3 over the same time frame. That makes NJ a combined 4-8-1 against these two teams since the start of the 2018 season, a .346 point percentage.
So, when you compare, over the last two seasons, the Devils have actually done worse against Carolina and Columbus combined than they have against Boston and Buffalo. This is basically thanks to the awful record they’ve had against the Jackets, as they have played Carolina well. They have also somehow managed to go 2-4 against Boston these last two seasons despite Boston being the best team of the bunch over that timeframe. So in reality, according to their recent past, the Devils are actually better off playing 16 games against Boston and Buffalo than they are against Carolina and Columbus.
However, I would also take that with a large grain of salt. First, the difference is negligible. A .364 point percentage is still really poor, and when compared to a .346 point percentage, is not drastically better. Both of them have New Jersey losing most of the available points. And second, the sample sizes are not big, only six games against three of the teams, and seven games against Columbus. You can extrapolate that to the eight games against Boston and Buffalo that they will have this season, but it is far from exact.
In the end, what it really comes down to is that losing Carolina and Columbus but gaining Boston and Buffalo does not really help or hurt New Jersey this season, at least in terms of how they have played against these teams over the last two seasons. It still adds up to one thing: they are going to have a brutally tough time winning games this season. That doesn’t change.