After losing in overtime to the Florida Panthers on Saturday, many Devils fans seem to be hitting the panic button on the 2013 season for New Jersey. Saturday’s loss was the second game in a row that New Jersey blew a one-goal lead in the final minute of regulation; the Devils lost to Tampa Bay on Friday in a shootout. It’s easy to understand why Devils fans are getting increasingly concerned with their team, which despite once leading the Eastern Conference is now barely hanging onto a playoff spot. Despite the recent struggles the team has had recently, Devils fans are pressing the panic button far too quickly – here’s why.
The most important realization right now is that the Devils were winning the two games they managed to lose after regulation. New Jersey had outplayed their opponents for all but a total of 44 seconds in two games, which is even more noteworthy when you remember that they are without their “$100 Million Dollar Man”, Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils have always had issues scoring, but to have two consecutive wins within their grasp without the biggest offensive contributor is a testament to the team’s defensive efforts and goaltending. New Jersey’s frustratingly defensive style coupled with the recent return of Martin Brodeur has given them the boost they need to compete for a playoff spot and they are doing so pretty successfully despite being without two top-six forwards.
On that note, the Devils have the return of those forwards to look forward to in the coming weeks. Dainius Zubrus has been nursing his surgically repaired wrist back to health and should be returning in the near future. The timetable for Ilya Kovalchuk’s recovery from his shoulder injury is estimated to be between 2-4 weeks but one can bet he will return on the earlier side if the Devils need him to make the playoffs. The addition of Matt D’Agostini has also provided a nice element of depth and speed to the depleted offensive unit.
Lastly, as previously mentioned, the defense and goaltending have been steady this past week. Marty may have not looked his best against Tampa Bay but, in fairness to him, the Lightning are one of the most potent offensive teams in the league thanks to Steven Stamkos. Other than the games against the Lightning and Rangers, the Devils have given up only two or fewer goals during regulation in every game since the blowout loss to Carolina on March 9th.
All things considered, I would say the Devils have done a great job keeping themselves in the playoff hunt, currently sitting in 7th place in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey is about as close to moving up in the conference as they are to dropping out of the playoffs, so the next couple weeks will extremely important. Continued defensive success, while the offensive stars heal, is vital for the Devils. It would certainly be a step in the right direction to finally win a game, particularly in regulation, on Monday night against the Islanders who are currently only four points behind the Devils.