3 X-Factors that will make or break the rest of the Devils season

The Devils haven’t taken the step forward we all expected, but they also haven’t taken so many steps back that the postseason is out of the question.
Feb 17, 2024; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86) skates
Feb 17, 2024; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (86) skates / Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
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The Devils need a lot to happen if they want to make it back to the postseason, as their current play has not been up to par over the last four months. But it’s not because of the coaching or that a step back was needed. Instead, their best players have had a tough time staying healthy, and that will be problematic for any hockey team. 

Their defensive game hasn’t been where it needs to be, and to make things worse, the Devils goaltending has been unable to compensate for so-so play at times in the defensive zone. These issues have broken the Devils season to date, but if they can turn them around, then their 2023-24 campaign is far from over. 

Let’s look at how injuries and bad goaltending have affected them, and how they can turn themselves into at least wild card contenders down the stretch should they fix those two issues. There is one more X-Factor that could also trend the Devils season upward, and one that few may have considered. 

The Devils key players must stay healthy if they want to make a playoff run

A star player like Jack Hughes isn’t just the kind of guy who can transform a mediocre team into a relevant one, but he’s a franchise player who can turn a good team into an elite group. Fortunately for the Devils, they are a good hockey team that is more than capable of playing near or at an elite level with Hughes on the ice. 

Unfortunately, Hughes hasn’t been available all season, appearing in just 38 contests as of February 19th. In those games, he’s scored 50 points and 17 goals, good for 1.31 points per contest. If he were healthy for most if not all games this season, New Jersey would have won a few more of those close contests, and they wouldn’t be on the outside looking in on the wild card race.

Other players like Nico Hischier and Timo Meier have also missed significant time, seeing action in just 43 and 41 games, respectively. If their key players can stay healthy down the stretch, the Devils would more than benefit and likely play more than just 82 games this season.