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Thursday Thoughts: Magic Number Edition!

Taking a look today at qualifying for the playoffs, the stumbling blocks the New Jersey Devils are hitting, how to overcome it, and why it’s definitely not time to hit the panic button.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New Jersey Devils Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The season is entering it’s final month, and the New Jersey Devils, while hitting some stumbling blocks, have continued to play strong hockey. There are individuals we’d like to see better performances from, some systemic things that need to change, and a little bad luck that needs to turn around, but overall 2022-23 continues to be successful. Today we look at part of the path to the postseason, as well as a couple of other recent issues regarding Jersey’s team:

The Devils’ Magic Number Currently Sits at 10

To briefly explain a magic number for those unfamiliar, it is the number of points either gained by the Devils or lost by teams sitting outside of the playoffs right now that are needed for the Devils to clinch a playoff berth. With only one playoff appearance in the past decade, Devils fans are impatiently waiting for the team to officially qualify for the dance. Now, for a team that currently still holds the third best record in the entire NHL, that may seem silly. However, with the lack of success since 2012 (excluding the brief respite of 2018) I think more of us would feel comfortable knowing that the team has locked up their spot.

There’s more benefits other than just breathing a sigh of relief if the Devils reach their magic number quickly. Being able to rotate out key players on the team, to either heal up minor injuries or just allow them to rest will allow for more effectiveness in the postseason. In addition, the Devils can give some auditions to prospects who might be able to contribute (*cough* Luke Hughes *cough* Simon Nemec *cough*) both in the postseason or beyond.

Trying Not to Panic

Speaking of things that are silly for teams sitting third in their league, Tuesday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning may have been concerning to some. On the positive side, there were also some good, level-headed takes about it being one game against a team that has had sustained success. Right now, that’s the correct mindset, because as we mentioned above, the team is still third overall. While they may not finish as such due to the remaining strength of schedule, there shouldn’t be so much doubt around the team.

Every team goes through cold slumps, even really good ones. Heck, even the mighty Boston Bruins have even dropped their last two games in a row. One loss to a team that could arguably described as a powerhouse from the past few seasons shouldn’t have anyone thinking the sky is falling. At the same time, another ugly one tonight in what is essentially a replay scenario, could have more people concerned.

In my opinion though, the Devils are due to bounce back from Tuesday’s performance; let’s lower that magic number we were talking about earlier by a couple of points.

Lineup Lament

One way that the Devils can have that aforementioned bounce back would be to tinker with the lines in a way that makes a bit more logical sense. Since the acquisition of Timo Meier, and his insertion into the lineup, the Devils have continued to play over .500 hockey, going 4-2-0, but there have been times where the Top 6 has looked very out of sorts. While Meier, Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt could still gel to form an unbelievably talented line, it hasn’t happened yet, resulting in Lindy Ruff shuffling Hughes to center Dawson Mercer and Tomas Tatar, with Bratt and Meier being joined by Nico Hischier.

The only problem to me there is that flipping the centers, while worth trying, didn’t really address the strengths of the combinations. Hughes and Bratt have played well together this season, as have Hischier and Mercer since they were united. Would it not have made more sense to flip Tatar and Meier? This would give Nico another winger that he could set up, while Tatar’s ability with the puck would aid Hughes and Bratt in spacing out the ice. Not to mention, it would balance the “top-heaviness” of that Bratt-Hughes-Meier line a bit, while hopefully sparking both lines to provide more offense for the team.

Your Take

Now I’d like to hear your thoughts on any or all of the above subjects: how many more games do you think the Devils need to play before they reach their magic number? Are you concerned about how Tuesday’s game went down? Will you be concerned if tonight winds up being more of the same? What are your thoughts on the line combinations with the Top 6? Do you agree with the swap Coach Ruff made, the one I would’ve made, or neither? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!