Okay, before going any further today, the concession needs to be made that there are some reasons to be worried about the current New Jersey Devils team. We spoke a couple of weeks ago about the goaltending and defense issues, and in some of the team’s recent contests, particularly this past Monday’s against the New York Islanders, those issues haven’t exactly gone away. However, the level of panic raised by some of these games seems a bit out of proportion. The New Jersey Devils right now are still a good team; they’re still having a successful season. Thing is, sometimes teams just have rough stretches and for the Devils, this is one is coming at an inopportune time.
Think about this: if the Devils games against the Florida teams (a particularly bad stretch of the last few weeks) were spread out, would there even be so much concern? Or if the Devils weren’t only two points ahead of Our Hated Rivals (who sadly are playing very well right now) would anyone be expressing the same amount of panic? If Timo Meier and Jack Hughes were pouring in points, would some fans still be fearing a first round exit? It’s a lot of hypotheticals and a lot of questions to be asking of a team who has gotten to 100 points faster than any team in this franchise’s history. I know we all would prefer the Devils to be well above 100 and in control of the division, but we’re still a young team that hasn’t quite reached its full potential.
While some circumstances may seem unfair (seriously, how does anyone schedule the only three games of a season between the same two teams within six days?) there’s always patches of schedules that are easier and tougher every season. As a good team (they are this season), the Devils need to persevere and get back to some of what work prior. Going back to 12F-6D from 11F-7D should be a boost to the team, as the 11-7 didn’t see much success. Perhaps Lindy Ruff brings back the Nico Hischier, Dawson Mercer, Tomas Tatar trio as the top line. While that leaves a lot of other talent to be blended among three more lines, the team should be going with what got them to the dance in the first place. Maybe that means less dumb pinches on defense too...
Again, this is not a season to lament, like we’ve had to for most of the past decade. Jack Hughes hasn’t been as big of a points machine lately, but he’s still a 40 goal scorer and well on pace to top 90 points. Dougie Hamilton now owns the record for most goals by a Devils defenseman in a season. Nico Hischier is having the most successful campaign of his young career so far. Dawson Mercer has avoided the sophomore slump and proven he will be a useful Devils for years to come. There’s more than what I’ve listed, but this is just a small sampling of the positives from 2022-23. If we want to say we’re worried about the team limping into the playoffs, right now that’s a fair assessment. However, it doesn’t tell the full story, and also doesn’t mean there isn’t a next gear for the Devils to find come mid-April.
The real good news here? The Devils are going back to the postseason and there’s still a few weeks of regular season left to figure things out and get ready for round one. Not having home ice for at least the first round would certainly be disappointing, but I would rather the team figure themselves out and find lines and strategies that can have long-term success. We’ve got eight regular season contests left; now is the time to find what it takes to get the Devils into the aforementioned next gear.
What are your thoughts on the Devils recent play; are you one of the people who is extremely concerned? Do you just want to see stronger compete before the playoffs regardless of the result, or do the wins matter more? Are you more on board with the positives and that momentum moving the team in the correct direction for the remaining games? Leave any and all thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!