Coming off of a fantastic season last year, and with the excitement higher than it has been in over a decade, it is important for the New Jersey Devils to get off to a good start this season. With high levels of excitement, and with a team trending upwards, it leads to high levels of expectations for success. And when a team gets off to a slow start after having high expectations, it leads to a lot of angst and frustration amongst the fanbase and could lead to some desperation from the team in their play. You hope things don’t spiral from there, but getting off to a good start alleviates any of those concerns and sets the team up for success moving forward.
The question then becomes, how does the schedule look early on? Is it one that pits the Devils against playoff teams from the year prior, or are there a lot of games against lottery teams? It isn’t always the best to gauge schedule difficulty based on last year’s standings. Just look at the Devils. Last year at this time, anyone seeing NJ on their schedule would’ve seen that as an easy win, but that clearly wasn’t the case. Nonetheless, it gives us a general idea of how difficult the early part of the season might be for the Devils, and what odds they should have of getting off to a good start and preventing that spiral I mentioned above.
Here are the games NJ plays in October, with notes on whether they are home or away, and how well the opponent did last season.
What you see here is the first 8 games of the Devils regular season schedule, what they play before the calendar turns to November. Before getting into the matchups, let’s look at timing. They play two back-to-backs in October and start the season with one of them. At least that back-to-back set has both games at home, so the team doesn’t have to travel. In the other, they will need to fly from Montreal to Washington to be ready for a game the following night, which will not be ideal.
What is ideal, however, is the overall quality of opponents throughout the month. Of the 8 teams they play, only 3 were postseason teams from a year ago, and only one of them scored over 100 points on the season, Minnesota with 103 points. And that still was 9 points fewer than New Jersey ended with, so none of these teams performed nearly as well as the Devils did. Now, that being said, one of those teams is Florida, who went on a pretty spectacular run in the playoffs, so don’t expect all of the games to be easy just based on the final standings from a year ago. But when looking at the standings to gauge a general idea of difficulty, it looks good. They get two opponents who were very poor last year too in Arizona and Montreal, and Arizona comes on the end of a back-to-back, which is an ideal time for that.
Also, the Devils have the benefit of playing the majority of these games at home. Of the 8 games, only 2 are on the road, and one of those is on Long Island, a very short trip. The only real travel for the entire month will be up to Montreal. This is huge in terms of extra time for rest and the advantage of playing at home. This should not be discounted.
Finally, they also have a decent amount of break time between some games. They are playing 8 games over the course of 18 days, but with four of the games coming on back-to-back sets, that leaves time for rest and recuperation. Between the 10/13 game against Arizona and the 10/24 game against Montreal, they play only two games, against Florida and the Isles. If you break it down even more, they have three full days off before the Isles game, and then another 3 full days off after that game, so they play once in a full calendar week. That should be a good time to rest and work out whatever kinks they find in the opening few games.
Overall, the schedule early on looks to be very favorable and lends itself to a good start for the Devils. The majority of the teams they play were not playoff teams last year, none performed as well as the Devils, they play almost all of their games at home or in the New York metropolitan area, and they have a good amount of rest days in the middle of the month. Add it all up, and there are no excuses at this point as to why this Devils team should not start out playing really well. Of course, anything can happen, so I don’t want to say anything with certainty, but If they can enter November with something like a 5-2-1 record, or better, they would be in a good position early on in the season, and that would be perfect to get this team on the footing it needs to find success as the season progresses.