At this point, I think New Jersey Devils fans would sign up for a 9-8 win if it meant two points. They have not won a professional ice hockey game since last Thursday. That win was mostly thanks to five straight power plays in the third period. Was last night rock bottom? And if it wasn’t, when the HELL are they going to hit rock bottom? Yes, it’s another loss, but this team played worthy of two points last night.
No doubt, the first goal stunk. They got a nice bounce and Andrew Ladd put it home. NJ settled down after that and actually played strong hockey towards the end of the first, through the second and most of the third period. We saw the forecheck finally gets its swagger back and create the takeaways it got so often last year. That’s what is really lacking the most. If the forecheck is on its game, that’s less time the team’s unreliable defensemen have to run around in their own zone. The more time they spend forechecking in the offensive end, the more they wear out the other team and force them to change lines. That’s less time the opposition can spend chasing after a dumped puck at the other end of the ice. That’s the recipe of success for the Devils.
We really started to see that in the second and third periods last night, for the first time in a really, really long time to be honest. The pressures and effectiveness of the forecheck felt like last season. They are going to come out of this funk, thanks to that. They’ve had 20 games under their belts. I think they’ve got a grasp on what needed to be fixed, what is working and what still may need some tweaks. They will be fine.
Which makes the game in Buffalo all that more intriguing. The Sabres are 14th in the conference with a interim head coach. HAVE to win this game, right? Well, nothing would surprise me because that’s the beauty of hockey. There’s no telling what will happen; that’s why we will watch. They SHOULD beat the Sabres. Key word….should.
Can they build on tonight’s performance? Or will they play down to their opponent? It’s very plausible that the latter happens. Also, consider it’s a Saturday afternoon game. Over the last several seasons, it feels like more often than not, they have trouble putting together solid performances on the weekend in games before 7 p.m.
Let’s be honest, where they are right now is where most of us thought they would be. Not many believed they were a top-of-the-conference talent, but very few fans agreed with the media “experts” who thought this squad was going to undoubtedly miss the playoffs. I think it’s fair to say that where they are right now, is very likely where they finish the season; as a No. 6-8 seed in the postseason. I think that’s more than fair expectations when you lose one of the premiere goal scorers in the game, especially considering that the East was tough enough last year that the Devils earned over 100 points and were still a six seed in the postseason tournament.
I am trying to be as relaxed as possible and to stay away from fretting. I am looking for the positives in the effort, performance, etc. The loss to Winnipeg was a step in the right direction in terms of finding the team’s game, but it was another loss. On Saturday, while I would like to see another foot in the same path as Thursday’s effort and performance, I’ll gladly see it take a step back if it means a win and two points. I think once this team gets the monkey off their back, they will start to play a more consistent brand of Devils hockey. It’s all about getting that ugly first win after so much frustration.
I am concerned, but I am not panicking. My tune will likely change quite a bit if this team is not two points richer in the standings come early evening on Saturday.