Hi everyone, nice to see you again. Turns out starting a new job is very taxing on the average blogging schedule, especially when said job gets me home between 2-3AM most days.
A lot has changed since we last spoke. Our beloved Devils are no longer a great team in the Eastern Conference; I would like to say that they are the worst team in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire National Hockey League, but they aren’t that either. No, the Devils seem to be a pretty good team that has hit the bottom. The optimism has waned, and fans have come to accept that the Devils, despite their best effort, will not likely break through and get the goal or two necessary to win. They have only been shut out once, last week at Boston, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it.
There are a lot of things to examine that have been written on this site already. There are a number of reasons why the Devils are where they are at this point in the short season, but I’m going to let these last eight games play out first. My primary concern is what happens if the Devils, who are very lucky to have an advantageous schedule through the end of the regular season, manage to put it together after hitting rock bottom at the Rock and make the playoffs.
The Devils can still (really!) reach as high as the 6 seed, at four points behind the current 6, 7 and 8 seeds Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders and New York Rangers. Because the Atlantic is the only division currently locked up, that leaves 5 realistic opponents for a Devils playoff team: Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, Montreal & Winnipeg.
The Penguins are, like the Devils, a very different team than the one that lost a home-and-home to New Jersey earlier this season. Additions of Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow and Jussi Jokinen have been met by the loss of Sidney Crosby, if only temporarily. Still, Pittsburgh is the favorite in the East, and few people would believe the Devils could hang with the Penguins in a seven game series.
A team that the Devils are very used to seeing, the Bruins brought Jaromir Jagr onboard, and have beaten the Devils both 1-0 and 5-4, proving they can handle whatever the Devils throw at them. The games could be close, and the Devils could find an opening, but 4 wins in 7 games may be a bit much to ask.
The Captials are incredible hot coming into the final stretch of the season. Alex Ovechkin has picked up and out of his scoring slump, and is leading the Caps into the playoffs. While I believe the Devils could hang and possibly beat the Caps, I want no part of them.
Montreal is a curious case, in that they seem better than they appear. I don’t see anything particularly spectacular coming from Montreal; rather, they are a sum of their parts. Devils fans know what kind of a leader Brian Gionta is, and he has commanded a Habs team that will finish the season in the top 4, as they make a push for the Northeast Division crown, and the 2 seed. They are a dangerous out, and while Martin Brodeur loves playing in Montreal, the rest of the team may have an issue overcoming the dearth in overall capability.
The Jets were a bane to the Devils existence during Johan Hedberg’s mid-season tenure as the starting goaltender. Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd took advantage of the Devils weaknesses in beating them twice in that stretch. The Devils are healthier now, and could certainly match up to Winnipeg’s best.
Of course, none of this is as tough an opponent as the Devils most dangerous for these last few weeks: The Devils. Yes, NJ will get Ilya Kovalchuk back soon. Yes, they will finally be healthy for the first time all season. But the Devils have been doing a lot of things right without anything to show for it. For them to consider making the playoffs, let alone advancing, they need to find the missing link, the piece that they have lacked since beating the Pens twice in one weekend.