Welcome back, folks!
Last night was the first Devils hockey in the month of February. There was a layoff after almost the entire starting lineup for ended up on the COVID list due to either positive tests, or close contacts. I figured that there are at least few fans who, more or less, stopped paying attention to hockey during the time off — I know a few of my friends have. So I thought it’d be valuable to take a second to remind you guys where we left off, what happened that caused this delay, and where we pick things up. Let’s start off with the COVID situation that caused this.
So, who got COVID?
Just like any other job, employers and members of the media are not supposed to publicize the nature of the spread and who was actually infected as opposed to just a close contact. The players can mention it themselves, though. Given what information has been produced by the team, here is a summary.
According to Corey Masisak; Blackwood, Hughes, Palmieri, Smith, McLeod and Severson all confirmed they were COVID-positive and symptomatic over the past two weeks. As of this writing; Zajac, Gusev, Kulikov, and Hischier remain on the list. The latter 3 are probably slated to come off in the coming days (Gusev may have only narrowly missed playing last night). The concerning one is Travis Zajac who was the 2nd Devil to hit the list, but remains out of practice. Given the spread and the fact that Palmieri said Zajac was “starting to feel a lot better,” and “[h]opefully we can get him back soon,” one would assume he also had it , and a particularly nasty case of it. I’m sure I speak for all of the AAtJ community when I say hope Travis get’s well soon and returns to his leadership role on this team as soon as he’s able.
What happens to those Devils games?
The Devils schedule was thrown in a blender and it came out absolutely freaking brutal.
I could go into the specifics of exactly what happened and how much it sucks for these guys, but the headline is that our original schedule had us playing 40 games over the next 81 days with 6 back-to-backs. We now will be playing 47 games over the next 83 days with an absurd 10 back-to-backs.
Whether or not this is fair is a subject for another article. This is just a summary post. And the summary of this news is that the Devils schedule just got much, much harder.
What’s happened in the NHL?
The last thing I want to touch on is a little bit of current events for any of you who were following NHL-wide storylines before the “break.” We’ll look at a the biggest player performances and team performances. The chart below is the top players in scoring rate before and after the Devils February postponement. I grabbed the top 10 producers of all 3 spans (pre-, post-, total) so you could see them here.
McDavid and Draisaitl continue to be the most productive players in the NHL, but both have cooled off their torrid early-season pace. During the Devils time away, the leagues biggest snipers have started to light the league aflame — Pastrnak, Ovechkin, and Matthews are all among the leagues most productive per game players on the season now. Matthews, in particular, has 13 goals in 15 games and, in addition to being the Rocket Richard favorite, seems like the player most likely to threaten McDavid’s Hart campaign.
Now, with regards to the more Devils-relevant material: the playoff race. Here are the standings as they were when we last left our heroes, and just before last night’s games.
The Rangers have continued to struggle and are currently the bottom-dwellers of the division. And as of the writing of this sentence, the Devils have just driven them further into the basement. Despite two top draft picks on the roster, this team will clearly only go as far as Artemi Panarin takes them, and when he’s injured they’re left completely impotent. Other than that, though, teams like the Penguins and Islanders, who were obviously always good, have overtaken us in the standings as randomness cedes ground to sample size.
Given the schedule news from earlier in this piece, and the standings you see here, it’s difficult to see a clear path for the Devils to the postseason. The Bruins are the class of the division; the Flyers got off to a hot start; and as fun as these feisty kids are, it’s tough to see them competing with the Islanders, Capitals, or Penguins down the stretch. But last night, the Devils came off a two week absence, down 3 defenders and 2 centers, after half the team suffered COVID-19 symptoms, and with just one tune-up practice, beat the rivals in their house by 3 goals.
So that’s what’d you miss in the last few weeks? Plenty. But it’s nothing compared to what you’ll get in the next few months.