After an opening night against a team that had a disastrous offseason in Philadelphia, a team that is being predicted by many to finish in the basement of the Metropolitan, the New Jersey Devils started off by wasting what fans were hoping would be a great start to a better season. And some of the analytics showed that the Devils were the better team, including an amazing 77.42% CF% in the third period, and a 69.57% CF% overall for the game. It led to a 61.1% on the Deserve to Win O’Meter on MoneyPuck. Nonetheless, a loss is a loss, and it was a missed opportunity to start the year strong.
In fact, the Devils still have a great opportunity to start the year strong, even with a disappointing opening night. The majority of the October schedule for this team is very gettable, and if they want to compete in this division, they are going to need to capitalize. Here is the October schedule for NJ, along with their opponent’s record and standings from last season.
As you can see, of the 9 games in October, 7 are against teams that did not make the playoffs, and 6 are against teams that finished in the bottom 3 of their respective divisions. That is a very gettable start to the year. Yes, they have a game against Colorado, and Washington is still a good team, but two tough games out of 9 is nothing. Plus, 6 of the 9 games are at home, another big advantage of the schedule this month.
This just all means that this month, it is absolutely imperative that the Devils get off to a strong start, despite what happened on Thursday. The schedule is not always going to be this easy. In fact, this might be the easiest month in terms of the schedule, although we will see how that plays out. It won’t be often that they get 2 games against a beatable team like Detroit, or that they will play two home games against beatable Pacific Division teams in Anaheim and San Jose. In other months, that will turn into two games against much tougher Atlantic Division opposition (for example, two against Toronto next month), or it will be road games out west against better teams (for example, a trip out to Colorado and then Vegas at the start of March). Those will be tough to win and get points, and as a result, this team needs to get these easier wins now so that they have a cushion to potentially only take 1 point out of 4 against Toronto or during that early March trip.
That, honestly, is what makes that loss on opening night all the more difficult to swallow. Yes, it was only game 1 of 82, and yes, there is a ton of time for this team, and yes, they were the better team on the ice for most of the night. But it wasn’t a win, and it led to zero points. And it comes in a month where the Devils need to get out to a fast start and capitalize on a soft schedule so that they have a cushion later on. If they don’t give themselves at least somewhat of a cushion this month, they will need to pull off some upset wins against tougher teams in tougher situations. And if they don’t, then they’re in trouble.
Now, what could that cushion look like? Well, let’s say they lose the games to Colorado and Washington, not a guarantee at all, but just for argument’s sake. That would be 3 losses in this month. If they lose one other and win the rest, that would put them at 5-4-0 to start the year. It would be acceptable enough to keep them in the mix come November, but seeing that October schedule, how good are you feeling about that record after this month? I would feel all right I guess, but definitely not excited. And there’s no guarantee that they win 5 games either, especially with the way goaltending looked last night already like not much has improved at all.
The pessimistic take is that they are already digging a hole. The optimistic take is that this month still has loads of winnable games, and if they keep putting out near-70% Corsi in each game, the wins will come. In the end, we will get another chance to modify those takes today with the game against Detroit, the home opener, and one they really need to win already. Is it too early to call this a must win? Probably, but man, an 0-2-0 hole against two lesser teams in the Eastern Conference would be a brutal way to start this year, especially with the expectations calling for improvement.