New Jersey Devils: Why Tonight’s Game is a Must-Win


It’s not very often that a team faces a “must-win” scenario only 32 games into a season. But given their current situation, the New Jersey Devils could very well be facing that scenario tonight vs. the Ottawa Senators.

The Devils have been trapped in a two month-long slump that they can’t seem to rid themselves of, as they have gone 8-15-6 (or 8-21 for all intensive purposes) since October 14, when they held a record of 3-0-0.

Why a “Must-Win” So Early in the Season for the Devils?

Sitting tied for fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, the Devils’ 28 points also places them tied for 12th place in the Eastern Conference. Losers of eight of their last 10 games, the Devils’ match-up with the Ottawa Senators tonight is indeed a game that New Jersey must win.

Ottawa currently sits directly in front of New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race with 30 points. A win tonight would pull the Devils even with the Senators, for now.

A problem facing New Jersey is that they have played more games than every team in the Metropolitan Division. Washington and Columbus have both only played 30, while the Rangers, whom hold the final divisional playoff spot, have only played 29.  The games-in-hand possessed by other teams put the Devils at a further disadvantage, assuming of course those teams win their games-in-hand.

You could say any game out of the past few have been a “must-win” for the Devils. But returning home for a four-game homestand, their longest of the young season, there is no better time than now to start winning.

“At Least the Devils Got a Point”

“We got one [point], so we’ll start there.”

— Scott Gomez, following Monday’s loss to the Islanders

The “at least we got a point” mentality is getting old at this juncture, especially considering that the teams the Devils are competing with and chasing for a playoff spot are not only earning one point at a time, they’re earning two — and consistently. Columbus has won seven consecutive games. Toronto has won six straight. The Rangers have been victorious in four straight. Florida has even pulled into the final Wild Card spot for the moment, going 6-2-2 over their past 10 games.

The Devils have won five games out of their last 17. Five.

While New Jersey has earned one point in four of their 12 losses during that span, their 14 points during that period have put them dangerously close to falling completely off the map, not even halfway through the season.

Peter DeBoer’s Clock is Ticking

In 2010-11, John MacLean led the Devils to a 9-22-2 record, earning a mere 20 points in 33 games before being fired on December 23, 2010. Jacques Lemaire replaced MacLean on an interim basis, and in turn, led the Devils on one of the greatest stretches of hockey I have ever seen, going 23-3-2 in a 28 game stretch from January 9 through March 15, 2011.

Apr 13, 2014; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils head coach Peter DeBoer watches the action during the first period of their game against the Boston Bruins at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Fast forward to December 17, 2014. The New Jersey Devils are 11-15-6 with a sub-par 28 points through 32 games.

The point here is that the firing of MacLean in 2010 lit a fire under the Devils that sent them rocketing back into the playoff race. And while the Devils this season aren’t nearly as far out of a playoff spot as they were in 2010-11, they are in danger of reaching that point should they continue on this downward spiral that was resulted in an 8-21 record over their last 29 games.

Despite what has been said by the Devils, I have to believe that DeBoer is on the hot seat, considering he is the only coach the Devils have had since the mid-1980s that has led the team to two consecutive playoff-less seasons, and is now leading them toward a third. Should the Devils continue on this path, the team must cut ties with DeBoer to show, at least, that mediocrity is not acceptable.

The Devils can catch fire at any moment, as evidenced by the aforementioned seven-game winning streak Columbus is currently on. But there is no better time than now to do so, and a win tonight against the Senators, a team in which the Devils can beat, would go a long way toward turning their season around.

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