New Jersey Devils Move Into A Tough Stretch Of Games


The New Jersey Devils held on last night despite a fever-pitched late rally by the Carolina Hurricanes for a much needed victory. Now the team will enter a tough stretch of games against mostly top-tier opposition beginning tonight with the Chicago Blackhawks (7 PM EST – TV: MSG+) when the teams meet for the first of two meetings this season at Prudential Center in Newark.

The Devils will need the home ice advantage against a Blackhawks team that will present them with many challenges. Chicago puts pressure on their opponents to keep pace with their fast and talented forwards which often leads to penalties being issued which put the Blackhawks on the power play.

However the Devils should be able to mitigate that man-advantage through their penalty killing which has been very good over their most recent stretch of games. The penalty that the Devils killed late in the third period of last night’s game against Carolina was huge and I felt that unit played very disciplined hockey.

The Devils need to replicate most of what they did last night against Carolina but without yielding as many shots from so many odd angles, if Chicago is able to do that tonight they will most likely win the game. New Jersey has to stay in their shape and not over pursue the puck against the Blackhawks. The best way for them to convert on goal scoring opportunities is to crash the net and focus on very clean zone entry passes. Chicago likes to jump on errant entry passes and catch the opposition in short-handed scenarios.

Tough Progression

The schedule after tonight does not get much easier when the Devils depart on a road trip:

@ Philadelphia Flyers

@ Dallas Stars

@ New York Islanders

None of those games will be easy especially with the Islanders jumping out to the hot start that they have had. We will preview each of those games here on Pucks & Pitchforks in the days ahead.

Then the Devils return home for a four game stretch against two very good teams and two teams that are struggling a bit right now:

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington Capitals

Carolina Hurricanes


The rest of the month of December shapes up with these 3 games against difficult opponents:

@ New York Rangers

Pittsburgh Penguins (home)

@ Detroit Red Wings

The rivalry game against the Rangers on the Saturday after Christmas is one of the most highly anticipated games of the season. This stretch is going to be difficult for the Devils though especially if they do not get some players back from injury before that point.

Fixing the Problems

It seems to me that some Devils fans and some in the media covering the team on a daily basis want to assign the blame for the issues that this team has either on the players, on Pete DeBoer, or on Lou Lamoriello.

The fact remains that I think the focus should be on fixing the problems of this team and not fixing the blame to any individual or group. I know some fans feel that the team does not have enough talent, which they blame Lou for that scenario, but they have also had a number of injuries that have led to the need for certain players to step into roles they were unprepared to undertake.

More from Pucks and Pitchforks

Others want to blame the head coach, Pete DeBoer, and want him fired. I am not the biggest fan of Coach DeBoer either (read my articles from last season) but the fact is that until the key players of the team go to upper management and say that Pete has “lost” the team, he is not going to be fired. He has a system of forechecking and backchecking and putting incredible pressure on the puck possession which could work for a team constituted such as the Devils who lack a true goal scoring sniper type forward.

Finally, others want to blame the players, and I have never been a proponent of that because as a fan I think we need to support the players who wear the red and black sweater regardless of the situation. New Jersey has some talented young players and some veterans who are very skilled and capable of carrying a playoff type roster.

The problems need to be fixed and those lie on multiple levels. In recent games, especially since the Pittsburgh game, the Devils have fixed some issues they had with defensive intensity. The penalty kill, as I mentioned earlier has been very good recently. The biggest issue is in scoring goals, particularly in a lineup that is missing some key offensive pieces right now. We saw glimpses of them snapping out of some of that slump last night in the excellent pass by Jaromir Jagr which led to a goal, and on the slap shot that Jagr employed to open the scoring last night.

New Jersey can fix these offensive issues by tightening up the passing and being more efficient with transitioning the puck through the neutral zone, which are both important aspects of the Pete DeBoer system. This team also plays much better overall when they forecheck and backcheck the puck with intensity and create turnovers which catch the opponent out of position. Those are the components that this team needs to return to in this next stretch of games.

The media has made a big story about the future of this group of players should they miss the playoffs again this season, I think the emphasis should instead be placed on the fact that if the Devils can win some games here in the next 3 or 4 weeks they can remain very much in the hunt for a playoff berth.