Before this season, most Internet hockey prognosticators had already left the NJ Devils for dead (or at least in purgatory), myself included. Even in this forum, we collectively debated what would be an “acceptable” silver lining to a season filled with change and transition. Playoffs? Ha! Hardly. Selecting this years draft prize Austin Matthews with the #1 pick was more likely. But so long as they played competitively, acclimated to their new system and the kids continue developing into the players they’re projected to be would put us on track to be playoff contenders again in the near future. Sign me up.
Yet, here we are a month into the season and the Devils find themselves near the top of their conference—winners of 4 of their last 5 games and 8 of 10 since a 0-3-1 start to the season. As of now, divisional alignment is a detriment for this team who would otherwise find themselves in 2nd place if they were in the Atlantic or Pacific divisions. Seriously.
Coach John Hynes seems to be pushing all the right buttons with his lunch pail mentality, and the players have made the most of their opportunities. The defense has performed admirably as expected while Henrique is finding the back of the net on a regular basis, Zajac has fully regained confidence in his game, NJ native Kyle Palmieri is playing like a top-6 fwd and Lee Stempniak is the early favorite for bargain signing of the year.
Better still, they’ve won 5 straight OT games and have overcome first period deficits in a few of them. All good signs for a team still establishing their identity.
Things won’t get easier this week with games against the always-dangerous Blues, a rematch with the reigning Stanley Cup Champs in Chicago who are no doubt looking for some revenge and a visit from Sidney Crosby and his pals. But the Devils then take off for their longest road trip (another area they’ve excelled) of the season through Western Canada and have some points on the table for the taking against some beatable opponents. They’ll need to show some consistency and perhaps find some offensive contributions from their blue line. The real test will be their home-and-home against the juggernaut Habs on the 27th and 28th of November.
It’s early still, but this has already been a very positive start to the season and the Devils have more often than not answered the bell for a team with so many questions. Here’s hoping that continues.