New Jersey Devils Need To Hit The Ground Running

Jan 3, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; The New Jersey Devils mascot skates around the ice after the New Jersey Devils defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2015; Newark, NJ, USA; The New Jersey Devils mascot skates around the ice after the New Jersey Devils defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Jersey Devils open the 2016-17 season with a challenging 10 game stretch. Hanging around .500 into early November would be a significant accomplishment.

There will be some tough sledding for the New Jersey Devils as they kick off the 2016-17 campaign.

We all understand the importance of getting off on the right foot. Every coach in the world wants their team to get off to a “good start”. That first shot, first goal and first win, they are all noteworthy. Sure, there is the rare athlete — think perhaps Usain Bolt – who has the ability to overcome a bad start. But for the most part, avoiding a spot behind the proverbial 8-ball is a strongly recommended practice.

Looking at projects or processes using some sort of segmentation strategy is often useful in the sporting world. Teams usually push to hold the lead at halftime, there is believed to be a bit of a physiological benefit in doing so. College basketball coaches sometimes instruct their players to think of games as ten four-minute mini-games contested between TV timeouts. And Major League Baseball clubs do something similar with their seasons, setting a goal in April of being in first place at the All-Star Break.  Working towards short-term milestones is generally thought to be a good idea.

Applying these concepts to the New Jersey Devils’ 2016-17 season, a quick perusal of the first ten games on their slate presents a steep hill to climb. Can the Devils immediately get things into gear and earn the points required in this segment of the schedule to keep within striking distance of the league leaders?

Given these fast facts which encapsulate this stretch, it looks to be a daunting challenge.

  • Two trips to Florida. The Panthers and Lightning averaged 100 points last season. That excursion is no longer just a great chance to pick up some citrus fruit and work on one’s tan.
  • Eight of the ten match-ups are against 2015-16 playoff teams.
  • A trip to Boston, a city where the Devils never seem to do well. That’s one of the two “non-playoff teams” in the first ten opponents.
  • The only “this is a lock” tussle is probably Arizona at the Rock on Tuesday October 25th. Of course, the Coyotes are being hailed as the club with the best young talent in the league on NHL Radio these days, so that might not be as easy as one thinks.
  • Visits to Prudential Center by perennial Western Conference powers Anaheim and Chicago, both of whom also accumulated 100+ points in 2015-16.

The presence of stars like Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane and Corey Perry on the docket makes for a tough first ten games.

Sounds impossible, right. Let’s not be too hasty. As all Devils fans know, the club did remarkably well against many of the NHL’s most outstanding teams in 2015-16. Two wins against Chicago and Los Angeles. A great victory at home against the Stars. Two victories over the Stanley Cup Champions. The Devils proved they are more than capable of competing against the best.

Of course, one must not forget the converse. As evidenced by their unimpressive results against non-playoff teams Columbus, Toronto and Carolina, Jersey’s Team laid an egg at unexpected times with alarming regularity last year.

"The first ten games of the 2016-17 season, although very difficult, also offer one interesting anomaly. There are no Metropolitan Division foes included in this initial stretch."

The 1980’s New Wave group Split Enz famously sang “History Never Repeats”. Might that be the case for the Devils and, if so, will they struggle against strong competition leading to something in the area of a disastrous 2-7-1 or so start?

Personally, I have great faith that the 2016-17 edition of the Red and Black will elude such fate. They have an outstanding coach in John Hynes, who surely will have his charges ready to burst out of the starting blocks on Day 1. Their all-world goaltender should keep them in every game. The addition of Taylor Hall and return of Mike Cammalleri should make a power play unit which was 9th overall at 19.9% in 2015-16 even more potent. And the bottom six group of forwards looks so much deeper and better than last year.

Also, I’m cautiously optimistic that some of these high powered teams and players might be suffering from a bit of a hangover from the World Cup Of Hockey. Let’s hope so.

It’s tough to make up points in the NHL. In my view, as the Devils board the plane in Tampa during the wee hours of the morning on November 5th to head back to New Jersey, it seems imperative that they have earned double digits in points.

Next: Goal Difference

Anything less, and the Devils will have a long and arduous road to hoe. Having to claw one’s way back into the hunt against some of the true Big Boys of the NHL is not an enviable position, a position in the standings the New Jersey wants to avoid. But I think they can do it!