As a Metropolitan team with very short travel time when compared to other teams in the league, especially teams in the Western Conference, the New Jersey Devils often get saddled with more than their fair share of back-to-back sets. It means that the team needs to be competent in these games if they really want to make a push for the postseason, as a decent chunk of their season will come via the back-to-back.
Last season, the team had 15 of them in fact, good for 30 out of the team’s 82 regular season games. That equates to over a third of the season (36.5%) being played in back-to-backs. You cannot just chalk them up to a gimmick here and there that doesn’t mean much in the larger scheme of things. If the Devils play poorly in these games, they won’t make it to the playoffs, it really is that simple.
And as a prime example, last season the team was very poor in their 15 back-to-back sets. Overall, across those 30 games, they were 7-18-5, good for 19 points in 30 games. That would come out to 52 points over the course of a full season. 52 points would’ve placed the Devils dead last in the NHL last year, 3 points behind Montreal. That is how bad they were on back-to-backs.
If you break it down further, they were slightly worse in the second game, but only slightly, there is not a major difference between the two. In the first game, their record was 4-8-3, while in the second game, they were 3-10-2. There is a definitely dip in performance in the second game, but not a major one. 11 points in the first games versus 8 in the second. You would expect a slight dip in the second game when the team is tired after having just played the night prior. This is doubled if the opponent did not play a game the night before, which does happen. But in reality, there was not a major drop, just a minor one. In that, the one small silver lining can be had. The team was able to bring out a similar compete level on night two as they did on night one, even if that level was bad both times.
This season, the Devils will once again be saddled with a decent amount of back-to-backs, and they are going to break down as such:
So this year, they will have 12 back-to-back sets. Not as bad as last year by far, with 24 games only equating to just under 30% of the season, as opposed to over 36% last year. It will be especially grueling in January and March when they have 3 each. Those months will be especially vital to stay above water and eke out wins and stay in the race. If the team falls behind there because of fatigue or whatever else, it will spell doom for the playoffs.
Also, and of important note, of the 24 games next season that will take place in a back-to-back, 6 are going to take place within the division. They will play Washington and Carolina twice during these sets, as well as the Rangers and Pittsburgh once each. That is not ideal obviously, as those are four-point games that carry extra meaning. But considering that only 25% of these games are taking place in the division, that is not too bad of a number overall. It could easily be higher, that’s for sure.
As the season progresses this year, just keep an eye on team performance during back-to-back sets. How are they doing relative to their overall record? If it is like last year, and the team performs worse overall, then it could lead to more disappointment, as it would take a very strong record outside of these games to breach 95 points and have a shot as a postseason berth. It would still be possible, for sure, just a lot less likely. If they can manage to pick up their game in these sets, however, and do better than the 7-18-5 they put up last year, then you have to like the progress the team would be showing and what it could mean for this team’s prospects.