The 2015-2016 season is in its infant stages and has produced some mixed outcomes for the New Jersey Devils. The writing staff at Devils Army Blog have assembled for their first regular season edition of Writers Roundtable to discuss New Jersey’s early season success and how far this team could truly wind up going. Alex Chauvancy, Brett Minieri, Nick Papadimas, and Lyle Deixler (making his DAB debut), weigh in on which Devils players need to keep up their strong play the most, how Patrik Elias’ return will impact the team, and more.
After dropping their first three games, the Devils entered an upswing. If their recent success resonates throughout the season and winds up getting them in the postseason, how big of a difference can the early season points they gain now, make in the final stretch of the season?
AC: They could make a huge difference. Look at teams like the Ducks, Blue Jackets, and Flames, who have gotten off to terrible starts and have dug themselves a huge hole to get out of early in the season. Take Anaheim for example. They’re off to a 1-6-2 start. The 8th place team last season (Calgary) finished with 97 points. For Anaheim to make the playoffs, they’ll have to finish the season 43-23-9 to make the playoffs. You certainly can’t win a season in October, but you can certainly lose one.
BM: These early points will ultimately make all the difference. Sadly, despite playing well for 2.5 periods, last night was a perfect example of a wasted opportunity. The Devils can ill afford to leave precious points on the table, especially when they play against a team with the worst goals differential in the league. To find any success, the Devils need to win the games they “should” while competing hard in the ones where matchups aren’t quite in their favor (on paper). Time will tell if they can capitalize.
LD: Gaining points early in the season is crucial to making the playoffs. The Devils started out terribly last year and couldn’t make up the ground they lost early in the season to get them into the playoffs. No team wants to be chasing the final playoff spot once March rolls around.
NP: Having a strong foundation of wins and points from the start of the season will make a gigantic difference in the final stretch if we are in contention for the playoffs. I believe with the talent and speed on this roster, they can achieve this goal by accumulating wins here and there throughout the regular season. Maintaining a streak of more than four consecutive victories has been difficult for the Devils, however, I believe this roster has the potential to succeed and break unfortunate habits on the ice this season with guidance from veterans and our coaching staff.
Every year, there’s always one team that defies expectations and sneaks into the playoffs. As a sort of follow-up to the first question if the Devils are fated to be that team this year, who are three players that could facilitate a push in that direction?
AC: Henrique and Cammalleri have played significant roles and have contributed greatly to the Devils solid start so far, as has Lee Stempniak. But in order for the Devils to make a serious push, they will need Travis Zajac to contribute regularly. He’s off to a solid start with 5 points in 8 games. The Devils will go as far as he takes them as he can provide crucial secondary scoring that the Devils will need after the Henrique line. If Zajac, Henrique, and Cammalleri are the Devils leading scoring towards the final games of the season, the Devils could be in shape to steal a playoff spot.
BM: That’s some wishful thinking, but the Devils (and most other teams) success comes when their best players are consistently their best players over the course of the long season. Cory Schneider will have to have another stellar season and be the bedrock of any success this team has now, or should they find themselves (somehow) in the post season. The others obviously include Cammalleri and will especially need Kyle Palmieri to step up. Goals are still very much an issue, especially 5-on-5.
LD: Jordin Tootoo…He started last season on the fourth line and worked his way up to the first line, playing with Zajac and Cammalleri. And while his numbers weren’t great (10G, 5A) he showed a lot of hard work and determination. Maybe we’ll see a Zajac-Cammalleri-Tootoo line again this season. Mike Cammalleri…A gifted skater and playmaker he led the team in goals last year (27) and was second in points (42) by just one point to Henrique’s 43. Andy Greene…It’s gut-check time for the soon-to-be 33-year old, first-year captain. He’s a solid defenseman with offensive skills and will hopefully show the leadership the team (players, in an unusual move, were given a vote this year on who they wanted as captain) and management gave him.
NP: Three players who instantly come to mind are Cory Schneider, Adam Henrique, and Travis Zajac. Since being acquired from Vancouver, Schneider has been stellar between the pipes for the Devils. Henrique is in the prime of his career, so I have confidence in him scoring at least 25 to 30 goals this season. I have also noticed improvements in Travis Zajac’s performance early in the season as he has stepped up offensively tallying 2 goals and 3 assists in his last 5 games played.
While there currently isn’t a timetable for his return, left wing Patrik Elias is expected to play at some point this season. Where do you see him currently fitting in this offensive lineup?
AC: Tough to say right now. The Devils definitely need more secondary scoring. An Elias/Zajac/Palmieri line would be interesting, and you could easily switch Palmieri with Tlusty. The former line would make most the sense to me, although I certainly wouldn’t doubt Elias playing on a line with Josefson. It all depends if Tlusty/Zajac/Palmieri are producing at a good rate when Elias makes his return to the lineup.
BM: Conditioning aside, Elias has the talent, smarts and ability to play anywhere in the top-6. I think John Hynes will tinker with various line combinations to find some chemistry and see what gels. He can also play center or wing, so if he can stay healthy, I see him spending time on one of the top two lines. Personally, would like to see what kind of impact he could have on Palmieri’s game.
LD: While the veteran has seen his production decline in recent seasons (13 goals last year in 69 games) he can still be an asset to the team, especially on the power play. And if he’s on a line with fellow Czech Jiri Tlusty the two might find good chemistry playing together. And if the Devils are to make the playoffs he’s seen plenty of postseason hockey and can provide a leadership role in the locker room.
NP: When Patrik returns for potentially his final season in New Jersey, I see him fitting on a line with Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique. They have played with each other before and I believe they have the potential to be one of the most exciting lines to watch in the league this season due to past chemistry and Henrique’s and Zajac’s impressive performances as of late.