Coming off a fourth consecutive win to start the season, fans of the New Jersey Devils are feeling extremely confident about their team. Aside from their 4-0-0 start being their first in over 20 seasons, the Devils defeated some formidable foes in Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers—which was played overseas, the Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, and Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
While there’s nothing wrong with being excited about your team’s early success after waiting a whole summer for hockey to return, the undefeated streak inevitably won’t last forever. Having said that, it’s not to say this early sample of Devils hockey can’t be foretelling of the team’s and certain player’s future successes this season. Over the last four games, I noticed these three takeaways that could paint a bigger picture of what to ultimately expect from this team in 2018-2019.
Their schedule has been convenient…Environment-wise, perhaps New Jersey’s most challenging matchup was their bout with the Edmonton Oilers in Sweden—a game they won 5-2. While there’s no taking away the degree of skill exhibited by New Jersey over the past couple of weeks, you can’t deny the convenient circumstances surrounding each game.
The Devils came into their official home opener against the Capitals very well-rested from their trip to Europe, having five days off. Washington on the other hand, was playing the second of back-to-backs. The Sharks—although they had two prior days off—were in the midst of a five-game road trip, while last night’s game was also the second of a back-to-back for Dallas. To reiterate, this isn’t taking anything away from the skill and dominance New Jersey has exhibited thus far, but it’s worth acknowledging these successive and redundant circumstances.
Hall and Hischier being goal-less…My guess is either not as many people notice or it’s not as big a worry, especially with Kyle Palmieri averaging almost two goals per game since the season started. Even so, there really shouldn’t be too much cause for concern that the Devil’s best player and their top center have yet to score goals this year. On a lighter note, Hall and Hischier respectively have four and two assists so far this season.
It’s worth noting Hall needed four games to get his first goal last season, and scored just three in his first 11 contests of 2017-2018. As we all know, he went on to score 36 times in his next 65 games. Hischier on the other hand, had a significantly slower start last season, needing eight games to score his first goal. He had just five tallies in his first 35 games, after which the former first overall pick netted 15 goals in his next 47 games. It’s a long season, and some players either need more time to get going or the bounces don’t start going their way a lot longer than other players.
Recent trends with undefeated teams…Since the 2013-2014 season, there have been five teams that went at least 4-0-0 to start off their campaigns, three of which would make the playoffs. In 2013-2014, the Sharks and Avalanche both won their first six games of the season, and each went on to make the playoffs. The following season, the New York Islanders won their first four contests, and would play beyond 82 regular season games.
Despite winning their first nine in 2015-2016, the Montreal Canadiens—mainly due to injury to key players—collapsed as the season progressed, and missed the playoffs by 14 points. The Vancouver Canucks won their first four in 2016-2017, but finished with the second-worst record that year. It’s also worth noting the aforementioned three teams who made the playoffs—Avalanche, Sharks, Islanders—didn’t get past the first round. To summarize, no team who’s gone at least 4-0-0 to start the season has made the playoffs since 2015, however three out of the last five teams to achieve that feat from 2013-2015 were successful.
For the most part, it’s not worth putting much merit in a team’s early season performance. While these points could certainly come in handy toward the end of the season—look at how the Devils made the playoffs last year by one point for example—this mere sample of hockey isn’t enough to dramatically heighten expectations or buy into any early forming trends among the team or players.