I do not know if you heard, but today is Thanksgiving here in the United States of America. It is a day of family, feast, and, for many, football. It is also a day of thanks. A time to be grateful. To count the many blessings that you have. And you do have them. Such as being able to read a hockey blog about Our Favorite Team, the New Jersey Devils. After all, who knows if it would ever go away? Or if it was at risk of going away? More importantly, being able to spend a little bit of your day reading any of our words about the Devils is something to be thankful. We at All About the Jersey certainly are thankful for your attention. You are indeed the People Who Matter.
I do not know if you heard, but the New Jersey Devils were on the hottest of hot streaks. It ended yesterday. It was still an amazing run of glory. They tied a franchise record of 13 wins in a row. Winning 13 in a row puts the 2022-23 Devils in rare company in terms of league history as only a handful of teams have ever won 14+ (and the league record is 17). Moreover, all 13 wins have either been in regulation or overtime. No shootouts have been involved. Additionally, the run has featured a franchise record being set in terms of fastest pair of goals scored in Edmonton (7 seconds between Ryan Graves and Jesper Bratt), a 1-0 defensive special over Colorado, two overtime wins through power plays, and the incredibly rare feat of sweeping Western and Eastern Canada on separate trips. Jack Hughes, The Big Deal, called it a heater. Others have called the team a wagon with how they have been crushing the run of play with all of these wins. Other terms apply: the Devils are a juggernaut, the Devils are steamrolling teams, the Devils are a force of nature, and so forth. As this is a franchise-record setting run, it is something that all Devils fans all around the world should be thankful for.
It is also something that the Devils themselves should be thankful for as the 2022-23 season progresses. Maybe they know this, maybe they do not, but this long run of victories has put the Devils in a fantastic position for making the postseason.
Sure, it is just November 24, 2022. There are 62 games left to play. However, it is not an accident that sites such as Moneypuck have the Devils as a near-mortal lock for a playoff spot already. Why?
For one thing, the Devils banking so many points now sets them up to not have to be as amazing in the next three-quarters (or so) of the season. As of this writing, the Devils have earned 32 points in 20 games. That is a points percentage earned of 80%, which is remarkable. Last season, the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference was taken by Washington with 100 points earned. I would hope that all eight playoff teams do not need to get to triple-digits in points to qualify for a second straight season, but let us go with that as a worst-case scenario. With 62 games left in the season, there is a potential 124 points left to be earned. The Devils only need 68 more points to get to 100 points. 68 (what needs to be earned) over 124 (the maximum to be earned) will yield the point percentage earned to get to 100 points. That is 54.8%. With every game potentially being a three-point game, the average point percentage is around 55%.
In other words, the 2022-23 Devils just need to be average to make the playoffs this season. They do not need to maintain this winning streak and strive for 79-3-0, as nice as that would be. They do not need to be dominating opponents like some of those simulated EHM teams I ran during the pandemic. They can afford to lose some games. Even a couple in a row. They can have a short to medium long slump and be ultimately fine. As long as the Devils do not have a 13-game losing streak to negate their winning streak, the Devils can just win a bit more often than they lose and they can still be in the mix by March. For the first time since 2017, the Devils’ season is not going to be effectively over by New Year’s short of a catastrophic losing streak that would also set some records.
I do not believe that will happen. My confidence is driven by how the Devils have won these games. Sure, the Devils were shooting hot (10.14%!) and the goaltending (95.17%) has been fantastic in 5-on-5 play during their winning streak. They are also legitimately one of the best 5-on-5 teams in the NHL this season. The Devils’ power play may be succeeding around the league median. That is an upgrade over last season’s debacle of a man advantage. At the team level, the Devils have made more gains than just getting decent goaltending. In fact, they have been getting great goaltending in the bigger picture from Vitek Vanecek, Akira Schmid, and (for a little bit before his injury) Mackenzie Blackwood.
This is not a team led by one line or a top-six or one defensive pairing. Just about everyone has contributed throughout this torrid streak of wins. You would have to struggle to identify anyone who has been actually bad on this roster. Brendan Smith? Certainly not bad given his on ice xGF% of 62.42 - a result of an on-ice xGF/60 of 3.11 and a xGA/60 of 1.87, which are both fantastic rates (and per Natural Stat Trick). Jesper Boqvist? He is not the worst in 5-on-5 play among Devils forwards and has put in a couple of goals already. Any of the fourth liners? They have been rather productive and if the lowest xGF% on the team in 5-on-5 play is at 54.26% (Michael McLeod), then the team is crushing it in 5-on-5. Everyone has played a role in this run save for the injured Ondrej Palat (injured right before the streak began), Kevin Bahl (scratched and recently demoted), and Alexander Holtz (also scratched and recently demoted). No one player has been supremely awful or held the team back across this winning streak. How can they as they won 13 wins.
This is all to point out this 2022-23 team is not likely going to crash to Earth and fail to stand back up. This is a team that is capable of scoring a lot of goals, preventing many in response, and more than handle their business in all three zones. This is a team that has been playing much better than an average NHL team. This means the Devils have a real good chance of earning more than 100 points this season. They have their 13-game winning streak to thank for putting them on a path to do just that.
Again, I know the loss yesterday was close, harsh, and controversial. I ask you to look past it on this day. Instead, appreciate and be grateful for the streak that just ended. As a result of that heater, the Devils have put themselves in a great position to succeed - something they have not really done in recent seasons. They have effectively made the remainder of their season easier in that they do not need to be excellent for all 82 games. I want them to be. You surely want them to be. It is not a requirement for the Devils to play meaningful games in March or the higher, more desired aspiration of making the playoffs for the first time since 2018. There can be less pressure to do so because they have put themselves in this position. And they are likely to achieve it based on how they have played in these first 20 games this season. If nothing else, the Devils ensured that this season will not be a repeat of the last two - something I admittedly was worried about after the first and second games of the season. Instead, they can realistically go for it.
Thank you, 2022-23 Devils. Now go forth and win more games to continue reaching for the second season in April. I suggest starting in Buffalo tomorrow.