The New Jersey Devils have enjoyed a successful stretch that has seen the team go 5-2-3 in their last 10 games, including 3-0-2 in their last 5 games (www.nhl.com). The team continues their road trip in Denver this evening with a game against the surging Colorado Avalanche which was previewed earlier today here on Pucks & Pitchforks by my colleague, David Garrison.
The Devils have improved their play all the way around, in all phases of the game, and are riding high after a big win in Montreal in their most recent game. New Jersey has also increased their physicality in this stretch of games against the Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Florida Panthers.
The third period of the game against the Canadiens was particularly ferocious with the Devils aggressively checking Montreal to the point where they could not penetrate the Devils defensive end of the ice. It was reminiscent of the New Jersey teams in the glory days in the mid-1990s where the defense dictated and set the tone for the opposition.
The Devils will have their hands full this evening with the Avalanche which enters tonight’s game with a 6-2-2 record in their past 10 games (www.nhl.com). New Jersey will have to compete with the speed of the Colorado offensive players, but they certainly handled the very fast Canadiens team, so they should be confident with a similar blueprint in this game.
New Jersey has been collapsing the net on defense in the recent games on this road trip, which has limited the quality scoring chances of their opposition. This is a vastly different approach from this team defensively than earlier in this season. In order to limit the opportunities by Colorado’s best two offensive players, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene, the Devils will have to incorporate that method and the physicality they have exhibited on defense as well.
The local media rumor mill is churning that Patrik Elias will return to the lineup tonight in Colorado. His potential return will definitely boost this team offensively.
The last stop of the Devils multi-country road trip will end with a game in the desert against the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes come into the game with exactly the opposite record of Colorado in their past 10 games, 2-6-2, and are struggling in all phases of their game at this point.
However, New Jersey cannot take that game, or any game for that matter, for granted with points being such a premium in a very compact Eastern Conference. The Coyotes are a tough team to play on their home ice, and the Devils will have to bring their “A- game” to earn a victory there.
The Devils have made several adjustments that have produced this improvement in their performance level in this stretch of games. The team has passed the puck much better than at other points this season, they have been a volume shooting team, and the team has been more creative in the offensive zone in creating scoring chances. New Jersey Head Coach Pete DeBoer has changed the points on the power play units, which has produced goals from Eric Gelinas and Travis Zajac in those scenarios.
I have written previously about the importance of the Devils implementing all of these changes and for the need for Adam Henrique to step up his level of play, which he has done in this recent stretch. In my view, Henrique really has not done much differently, he has used the same approach but has had what they call “puck luck” recently in scoring these goals. I have also mentioned the patience with Ryane Clowe during his stint on injured reserve would pay off, and he has been on a hot streak since his return to the lineup.
The Devils are firing on all cylinders at this point, and the rest of this road trip should be fun to watch. The team is starting to hit their stride, and they have made several changes to their approach which have produced very good results. Enjoy the game tonight and over the weekend, Devils Army, and let me know what you think about how the team is playing at this point.