Apr 10, 2014; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider (35) in the second period against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

New Jersey Devils: 2014-15 Schedule Analysis

The New Jersey Devils 2014-15 schedule is certainly not the debacle from last season with all of the back-to-back sets of games, but it has a pretty fair balance once they get beyond November. The beginning two months of the season they play just 9 times at home at the Prudential Center. I was reviewing it again today on the team website and decided that I would put out an article similar to one I did last summer on the day of the schedule release.

 

Apr 13, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; The New Jersey Devils salute their fans after their 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The beat writing media covering the team has made a big deal about the Devils having the latest home opener in the NHL in 2014-15. New Jersey will open the season with four straight games on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals before their home opener on October 18th versus the San Jose Sharks.

 

However, what the media did not focus on is that the four game trip to open the season is the longest road trip the Devils will have this season besides a four game trip to Western Canada in November. The team will get their longest road trips out of the way early this season which was similar to their road schedule last season.

 

The fact that the long road trips are early in the season I feel bodes well for the Devils because they will be rested from the offseason and should have all their key players healthy. I also feel that it helps team chemistry, and this season we have some new offensive players which will benefit from those early road trips in getting to spend significant time together on the road.

 

In the first 10 games of the season, New Jersey plays just four games within the Metropolitan Division which means those important divisional matchups are spread out later in the calendar. In my view as a fan, I prefer those games later in the schedule when they take on enhanced significance; especially with the new playoff format placing such high importance on the divisional standings.

 

Breaking It Down

 

The Devils schedule breaks down in an interesting fashion when you look at the home and away splits:

 

Month                       Home                        Away

October                    4 games                    6 games

November                5 games                    9 games

December                7 games                    8 games

January                     7 games                    4 games

February                   9 games                    4 games

March                        7 games                    7 games

April                           2 games                    3 games

 

New Jersey will be on the road more in the first 3 months of the season, they will finally have more home games than road games in a given month in January. The bulk of their home schedule will be in January and February. In the month of March I thought it was interesting that they had an even split of home and away games.

 

I will break down further the important points from the schedule to keep in mind as this season unfolds.

 

Early November

 

Besides the first four games of the season, the next big test for the Devils will come in early November when they start the month at home with the Columbus Blue Jackets who are a tough, playoff caliber team.

 

Then the Devils have a home-and-home series with the very talented St. Louis Blues on November 4th & 6th, that is followed by a trip to the Motor City to play the Detroit Red Wings the following night, November 7th.  This difficult November stretch also has New Jersey in another back-to-back set:

@Boston Bruins – November 10th

Vs. Minnesota Wild – November 11th

 

If the Devils could somehow win 3 of those 6 games, that would be a big momentum booster for the rest of the season. That stretch of games is pivotal and will reveal how this team is going to handle adversity as the meat of their schedule commences in January and February.

 

Back-to-Backs

 

I focused the bulk of my schedule analysis last season for Pucks & Pitchforks on the overwhelming number of back-to-back games the Devils had on their schedule (which was the most in the NHL last season).

 

In the previous section I focused on some of the games the team will have on consecutive nights, and I will not review them all, but I chose to highlight some of them in light of the change in goaltender to Cory Schneider. The Devils offseason has been focused on the unknown variable of how Schneider will perform this season having never been a full time NHL starting goaltender. The back-to-back games become significant because most likely the Devils will chose to use their backup goalie for one of those games each time it falls on their schedule. Here are some notable games on consecutive nights in 2014-15:

@Washington Capitals – November 14th

Vs. Colorado Avalanche- November 15th

@ Edmonton Oilers – November 21st

@ Calgary Flames – November 22nd (part of a 4 game trip to Western Canada)

Vs. Detroit Red Wings – November 28th

@ New York Islanders – November 29th

@ Chicago Blackhawks – February 13th

@ Nashville Predators – February 14th (Valentine’s Day)

Vs. Boston Bruins – February 27th

@ Columbus Blue Jackets – February 28th

 

The amount of solid playoff teams and top tier teams on that list is rather daunting. The Devils will need great goaltending by Schneider and whoever the backup goaltender ends up being to maintain an acceptable record in these games in order to stay in playoff contention.

 

I highlighted the game in Nashville on Valentine’s Day because I am sure my fellow Devils fans remember the game in the Music City last season where the Devils blew a lead in the final seconds of regulation and lost the game in overtime.

 

It should be noted that the Devils have a difficult road trip in March going to Minnesota, Colorado, and to Phoenix to play the Arizona Coyotes.

 

Rangers Rivalry Games

 

The games that I always look for as a fan when the schedule is released are the games against the rival New York Rangers and I circle them as part of the “must watch” games for the season. I do not like how the NHL scheduled these games for the upcoming season:

October 21 at Prudential Center

December 27 at Madison Square Garden

April 4th at Madison Square Garden

April 7th at Prudential Center

 

First, these two teams play early in the season which I never like, I would rather see them play later in the calendar when they both have worked through some of the kinks and are playing at a higher level.

 

Next, they do not meet again until right after Christmas, which most people have other plans that week with their families or are away from home visiting relatives, so that is bad scheduling by the NHL.

 

Finally, they do not play again until the final games of the regular season in April, which is too long a time period between games in this rivalry. I did note that at least the MSG game on the 4th is a Saturday night, but the Devils get them on a weeknight, a Tuesday, the 7th of April, that game should be on a weekend day or a Friday night in February or March. I do not like the scheduling of those games in April, I could understand one game between these rivals at the end of the season, but not two.

 

Some fans wait and look forward to the games against the Rangers and we will have to wait until April to see half of them this season.

 

Notable Games

The other team I circle on the schedule each season are the games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and this season those games are fairly well distributed:

October 28th – at Pittsburgh

December 2nd – at Pittsburgh

December 29th – at Prudential Center

March 17th – at Prudential Center (St. Patrick’s Day)

 

I like the scheduling overall of these games, they are a division rival, and the two teams always seem to deliver very spirited performances. I like the late October meeting and the space between that and the game in early December is reasonable. The December 29th game is a bit of an issue for the reasons I stated before around the holidays but I can understand scheduling them around New Year’s. The St. Patrick’s Day matchup is a great piece of scheduling work, and I have seen those two teams clash on that date in the past, and it is a lot of fun.

 

Some other notable games are:

 

December 9th vs. Chicago Blackhawks

January 2nd vs. Montreal Canadiens (top tier team & first game after New Year’s break)

January 14th @ Los Angeles Kings (rematch of 2012 Stanley Cup Final)

January 16th @ Anaheim Ducks (top team out West)

February 17th vs. Buffalo Sabres (only game NJ will have on NBC Sports Network this season)

March 23rd vs. Los Angeles Kings (the home meeting between these teams from the 2012 Cup Final which has become an interesting interconference rivalry)

April 11th @ Florida Panthers (final game of regular season)

 

Looking Ahead

 

I look ahead with excitement for the Devils upcoming 2014-15 season because I think the schedule is difficult at points but fair overall. I think that this team having some many divisional games in the back end of the schedule will help in their chase for a playoff spot.

 

The six game home stand in February could be a “mover” in the schedule, meaning that the Devils could win some games there since they play so well at home, and move up the standings significantly.

 

The fact that the Devils only play once on NBC national telecasts really surprised me. It is a telling sign that the network executives do not think the Devils will be a top contender in the East next season, but I think the Devils will prove them and others in the media to be wrong. I think this version of the Devils is a very talented team capable of matching up well with the top teams in the NHL.

 

I look forward to opening night in Philadelphia on October 9th and I would enjoy gaining your feedback on some of the aspects of the schedule I shared. Please keep checking back with Pucks & Pitchforks for the latest news for the New Jersey Devils this summer.

 

(Schedule information courtesy of NHL.com)

 

 

 

 

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