With a victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Devils finished off 2011 with a big win on home ice. With that win the New Jersey Devils moved to 21-15-1 and sat in 6th place in the Eastern Conference. However, this changed after the Devils lost on the road in overtime against the Ottawa Senators, followed by an embarrassing defeat on Home ice at the hands of the Boston Bruins in a 6-1 tilt that displayed the teams poorest hockey of the season. Leaving the Devils 21-16-2 with 44 points, occupying 8th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
With the Devils firmly in the middle of the East they are in the position to control their own destiny. A win streak can catapult them up the standings while a loosing streak can start their descent into the basement of the Eastern Conference. With the 5th and 10th place teams being separated by only 3 points the standings at the bottom of the playoff race are ever-changing. Even a small win streak of 3 or 4 wins can take a team sitting outside the playoff picture and place them in 5th or possibly 4th place in the Conference.
Even though we are a mere 2 games shy of the half way point of the NHL season the Devils already find themselves in an extremely important situation. While many people feel the playoff race has yet to begin, any wins the Devils or other teams in their position can put up now will make the playoff race easier come the end of the season. Based on the standings, there most likely will be a very competitive race for the last play off positions.
I suggest that the bottom four spots in the east will be up for grabs throughout the end of the season, as there will be at least 7 teams contending for them. In other words, you certainly cannot make the playoffs in the next month or so, but you can certainly miss them if you don’t use the opportunity to pull away or hold your ground.
What do the Devils need to do to be successful in 2012?
- Zach Parise- As fans we all know that anything and everything that ever goes on in the Devils front office whether it involves coaches or players is done behind closed doors. There has been a lot of talk, worry, and speculation about the resigning of Devils Captain Zach Parise. The truth is the only people who know what is going on with Zach and his contract are Zach and Lou. I’d be very surprised if this has been a topic of much discussion between anyone other than the two of them and select members of the organization. In my opinion Parise is not a lock like many people believe he is. I think he is dedicated to staying in New Jersey given he is offered a contract that he is worthy of. It will be difficult for the Devils to try and low-ball him based on his experience and role in New Jersey, especially after the Kovalchuk signing. Therefore I feel if the Devils respectfully give him a competitive offer he will remain in New Jersey.
- Offense- The Forwards have shown good chemistry so far this season. The team had been through a few scoring slumps early on, but the devils are getting good numbers out of players like Clarkson, Zubrus, Elias, and Sykora, aside from the usual providers Parise and Kovalchuk. Both are having decent years so far but are slightly behind where they would like to be. Adam Henrique, a new face on the Devils has shocked everyone quickly becoming a fan favorite with his knack for Game winning goals, and consistency. Henrique has been a huge addition to the team effectively filling the void while Travis Zajac was recovering from an off season injury. The Devils have 7 players with 10 or more goals, a league leading statistic they share with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils have 3 lines that are capable of scoring, however I feel that there are some players who are not playing to their potential or are keeping other players out of the line-up or unknown reasons. In short…Why is Eric Boulton playing over Nick Palmeri!
- Defense- With the veteran defensemen a bit banged up so far this season look for Adam Larsson to escalate his game. He has reached the point in the season where he has had plenty of time to adapt and tweak his game to fit the mold of the NHL. He has made his fair share of rookie mistakes on the ice and seems to have learned from them. It is only a matter of time before Larsson can start to string together flawless games. There have been less and less mistakes on Larsson’s part with each game he plays. Look for Larsson to be a big contributor in the next couple of months as I feel he possesses the ability to come full form any day.
- Powerplay- ENOUGH WITH THE SHORTHANDED GOALS! It is devastating to both the team and the fans to watch the continued trend of shorthanded goals haunt the Devils Powerplay. Previous to the Boston game the Devils in 135 attempts have allowed 12 shorthanded goals. That’s an astonishing 9% that leads the league by very wide margin. The Devils have only scored 18 powerplay goals in 135 attempts and must improve this statistic if they want to win games down the stretch.
- Penalty Kill- With the Devils leading the league in penalty kill allowing only 12 goals in 140 attempts it is hard to say anything other than keep up the good work. The Devils are also currently leading the league with 7 shorthanded goals of their own. HOWEVER!, it takes away from the role their penalty kill plays when they allow just as many shorthanded goals as they do powerplay goals. The Shorthanded goals the team has allowed has destroyed their chances of winning in many games, they have resulted in huge momentum swings during games where the Devils not been able to finish or hold onto a lead. The Devils could be sitting in a much more secure place in the Eastern Conference if they can find a way to eliminate this trend from their game.
- Goaltending- The key to the Devils making a strong run in 2012 and the playoff is to keep both their goaltenders active and fresh. In other words, be sure to rest Marty often, thus giving Hedberg an adequate number of starts so that he is able to keep himself mentally and physically prepared to perform at his greatest ability. What Devils fans have discovered this season, unlike others, is that the difference in level of play between Brodeur and his “back-up”, I prefer to use the term partner at this point, is less and less as the years go on. Hedberg is an incredible goaltender who like Brodeur is certainly past his prime. Both of these goaltenders are extremely effective when they are fresh. Gone are the days of playing not to lose with the back up in the net. The Devils have just as good of a chance of winning with Hedberg as the do with Brodeur. While Brodeur still is the fan favorite with his spectacular saves and game stopping moments. Hedberg is just as effective although Brodeur’s flashiness certainly outshines Hedberg’s confident and positional goaltending, it seems Hedberg is more stable at times letting in less soft goals. The Devils need to take advantage of this tandem of goaltenders as much as they can to ensure that both goaltenders remain healthy and well rested through the rest of the season. A good observation of what a successful goaltender is now a days is a goaltender who gets roughly 60-65 starts during the regular season. Of course less is even better as it will keep your goalie from getting fatigued and burnt out by the time the playoff roll around. In short its time to start sharing time and get both goaltenders used to doing so.