Do or Die: The Week of the Season

Twitter: @_MikeLuci_

 

The Devils essentially undid any progress gained from the three-game winning streak they strung together over a week ago. Going into Tuesday’s game against the Rangers, New Jersey is three points out of the second wildcard spot with a quarter of the season left. All teams within five points above or below the Devils have a combined eight games in hand. It goes without saying that a poor showing this week could spell disaster on what has otherwise been an unexpectedly impressive season for the Devils. With the trade deadline less than a week away, New Jersey plays three games between now and February 29th. How they perform will weigh heavily on what general manager Ray Shero decides to do with his tradable players (e.g. Stempniak, Schlemko) that have been key assets in the Devils’ season.

Can the Devils reverse their fortunes against their upcoming opponents this week? -Getty Images

Can the Devils reverse their fortunes against their upcoming opponents this week? -Getty Images

The Devils have a tough three games coming up, two of which are against divisional rivals. They’ll wrap their season series up with the Rangers, face the Blue Jackets, and end the week with their first season matchup against the Tampa Bay Lighting. The four teams below the Devils within four points of them (Carolina, Philadelphia, Ottawa, Montreal), all play three games apiece this week, while the five teams above the Devils by at least five points (Pittsburgh, Detroit, Boston, Tampa Bay, NY Islanders), play a combined 11 contests this week. It goes without saying the Devil’s place in the standings can shift drastically if they don’t turn things around.

Looking at the week ahead, how the Devils and the aforementioned teams above have fared against their upcoming opponents in previous matchups this season could shed some light on how the standings pan out.

 

Editor’s Note: Graph stats are as of Tuesday 2/23

Italicized– Have not played yet in 2015-2016

Team

Games Points Games in Hand Opponents Prev. Record

Tampa Bay

2 70 1 New Jersey, Arizona

0-0-0

Boston

2 70 0 Pittsburgh, Carolina 2-0-0

NY Islanders

2 69 3 Minnesota, Calgary

2-0-0

Detroit

2 69 0 Columbus, Colorado 0-0-1
Pittsburgh 2 68 2 Boston, Winnipeg

0-3-0

New Jersey 1

65

Columbus, NY Rangers, Tampa Bay

2-3-0

Carolina

3 64 0 Philadelphia, Toronto, Boston 1-0-4
Philadelphia 3 63 2 Carolina, Minnesota, Arizona

4-0-0

Ottawa

3

62 0 Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton

2-1-0

Montreal 2 61 0 Washington, Toronto

3-2-0

 

According to the chart above, New Jersey’s biggest concern this week should be the Flyers, who are two points behind the Devils, and won four previous matchups against the Hurricanes and Wild this season. The Devils however, do have a strong chance to catch up with the Penguins who lost three previous matchups against the Bruins and Jets. Having said that, it’d be foolish to solely rely on this chart to speculate what position the Devils will be in less than a week from now. The Bruins for example, lost to the Blue Jackets 6-4 on Monday night (2/22), after defeating them in their first two matchups this season. As I said before, the chart above can merely shed some light on the Devils’ situation, but is just one of several other factors to consider.

New Jersey's playoff hopes lie largely on how they play this week. -Getty Images

New Jersey’s playoff hopes lie largely on how they play this week. -Getty Images

As I mentioned earlier, the Devils’ upcoming competition isn’t necessarily a cakewalk. Despite being 27th overall, the Blue Jackets have had the Devils’ number all season, besting New Jersey on two previous matchups this season. The Devils failed to score more than a goal against the Jackets on either occasion, which is characteristic of how they’ve played as of late. The Devils haven’t lost to the Rangers at the Prudential Center this year, and are coming off a losing effort every time they’ve faced their cross-river rivals. The Devils played the Rangers twice since the all-star break (1-1-0), and were able to score four times against them (2.0 goals/game). That output against the Rangers is just .01 goals above what the Devils have averaged a game (1.9), in their ten contests since the all-star break. Aside from scoring, the Devils match up relatively well against the Lightning, who they’ve yet to play this season. Despite the five-point margin between Tampa, the Devils have performed relatively well against teams with better records than them, and could be battling against the Lightning for one of the wildcard spots depending on how the standings work themselves out in the coming weeks.

Getting back into the playoff race will be a tall order for the Devils this week. On the contrary, New Jersey has exhibited some strong instances of resilience throughout the season. While it’s discouraging to see them sitting three points out with an uneasy situation surrounding them in the standings, we should get a more accurate indication on the direction this team is headed coming out of this weekend.

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