Going into tonight’s game against the New York Islanders, the Devils are four points out of the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. With 24 games left, the Devils need to put together their best run of the season if they want any shot at playing beyond April. A win tonight could tie New Jersey with the Islanders in the standings and (depending on what happens in other games played tonight) bring the Devils within two points of playoff range.
Having gone four consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance, it would be exhilarating to see New Jersey play beyond April. While the Devils probably wouldn’t last long in a seven-game series against the likes of Montreal or Washington, reaching the postseason would be a strong testament to how far along the rebuild has come. If seeing the Devils go on what will likely be a vain playoff run are making you concerned about how this could potentially affect the organization’s long term plans for the future, I wouldn’t start worrying just yet.
The way New Jersey’s schedule is formatted in these final 24 games gives the Devils a very low chance of securing a playoff spot.
Going into tonight, the Devils have struggled mightily against the top-eight teams in the Eastern Conference that have spent the most time in playoff contention- Washington, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, NY Rangers, Toronto. Having played a combined 17 games against this group of teams, the Devils went an abysmal 4-11-2. They’ve gone a combined 2-5-2 against the four teams in their own division (Pittsburgh, Washington, NY Rangers, Columbus), and are a combined 1-4-0 against the Canadiens and Capitals, both of whom would be New Jersey’s most likely opponents if they somehow qualify for the postseason.
In most of the contests mentioned above, the Devils didn’t necessarily bring their A-game with them. They were outscored in these 17 matchups 56 (3.29 goals per game) – 32 (1.88 goals per game), and outshot 557 (32.7 shots per game) – 442 (26 shots per game). The Devils lost ten of those games by at least two goals, and scored no more than two goals in 13 of those 17 contests. If these past numbers are any indication, the Devils aren’t poised to make a very deep run if they even manage to make the playoffs.
Out of their remaining 24 games, 12 of them are against those very eight teams that have remained in playoff contention over the past few months. So even for the Devils to make the playoffs only to get eliminated in the first round, they’ll have to find a way to maintain a record that significantly exceeds their entire season’s winning percentage in their final 24 games; half of which are against the Eastern Conference’s major playoff contenders that the Devils beat just four out of 17 games this season.