The New Jersey Devils are officially at the halfway point of the 2016-17 season, having played game 41 Saturday night, a 2-1 overtime loss against the Edmonton Oilers. I’m trying to write this as I watch the New York Giants/Green Bay Packers wild card game but I don’t think I can handle both the Giants and the Devils at the same time. But the Giants are disappointing me just like the Devils usually do.
Like the Giants, the Devils have had ups and downs, and have both positives and negatives. Let’s start with the negatives first so I can finish with the positives and they won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. I won’t even use that many fancy statistics or complicated numbers or complex language.
One of their biggest problems is that they can’t score goals. The Devils just cannot score goals. They have 92 goals up until this point so 92 across 41 games is about 2.24 goals/game. They’re averaging 27.4 shots/game, which is dead last in the league. They have 119 goals against and have allowed more than four goals in a game on numerous occasions (a number that I don’t really feel like looking up because it’s just going to depress me). The Devils traded for Taylor Hall during the offseason and sent Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers in order to boost their offensive production but the offense shouldn’t be just Hall.
The Devils’ defense has been atrocious, even before they lost Andy Greene, John Moore, and now Yohann Auvitu. Their problems include screening their goalie, not winning puck battles or getting the puck out of their zone, and being unable to stay with the players they’re assigned to stay with (Sidney Crosby comes to mind). The goals against average also reflects on both Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid but not entirely. They’ve had bad games and stretches of bad games, and Schneider just hasn’t been the goaltender he was last year. He’s showed glimpses of last season with strong showings in the Devils’ last four games (with the exception of Toronto). He’s had two shutouts within the last month. But the goaltenders are the Devils’ last line of defense. And now with Greene, Moore, and Auvitu all gone, the defense really needs to come together and step up.
The defense also isn’t getting much help from the offense either. P.A. Parenteau leads the Devils in goals with 12 (surprise, surprise!) and Hall and Travis Zajac are tied for the team lead in points with 25 each. Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri haven’t been the 30-goal scorers they were last season but they’ve both been looking better offensively over the last few weeks or so. Hall has nine goals on the season but has also missed 12 games. You can’t really pinpoint one or two or even three guys as the problem because none of them are. This is a team effort. The team has to work together and play together and skate together.
But statistics don’t mean much. They’re the sixth team from the bottom of the NHL standings and seven points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them. Realistically, they’re going to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season. They’re just bad. The team is frustrating to watch and they’ll show glimpses of brilliance from time to time but as soon as they show any sign of turning their season around, it dissipates.
If I had to pick (just) one word to describe this team, it would be inconsistent. The Devils are wholly inconsistent. They have a good game or a stretch of good games and then it’s gone. They started the season 9-3-3 and they held a playoff spot for a while but the season is so long and those standings change more than I’d like them to. The season ain’t over until it’s actually over. They shut out the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 back in December and it looked like their fortunes might change. They defeated the Washington Capitals in a 2-1 shootout before the end of the year. They shut out the Boston Bruins 3-0 to start 2017. Every time it feels like the team might actually start playing consistently and go on a win streak, the momentum shifts. And as a fan, it’s frustrating. You think that all these years of bad seasons might actually be worth it if they could just make the playoffs this year but no, the Devils don’t work like that.
The power play is abysmal. They’ve had problems all season long and have gone on stretches of 30 or so power play opportunities and not scored on a single one. As soon as the power play units look like they’re clicking, the problems start again. They’ve had numerous power plays without any shots on goal and they’ve given up six shorthanded goals so far this year (they gave up eight all of last season). The man advantage has been more of a man disadvantage.
Alright, let’s discuss the positives, shall we? There aren’t many. The highlight of the season so far has been the rookies (the young guns), especially Miles Wood (Sonic the Hedgehog). He has five goals on the season and a pair of assists but man, oh man, the wheels on this kid. He is fast. At least two of his goals have been breakaways and he’s been able to send the puck into the back of the net because of his speed. He’s going to be a very important building block for the Devils going forward. Nick Lappin and Pavel Zacha have been two other forwards who have performed well since they were called up (Lappin) or in Zacha’s case, he made the team straight out of training camp. Although the offensive production and goals scored aren’t there, they’re doing other things right. Their mistakes will be fixed with experience. I also like Steve Santini. He was called up more recently when John Moore was out (and is still out) with a concussion but I like what I’ve seen from him thus far and I hope he stays up with New Jersey. Jon Merrill, who receives more criticism than he deserves, has played stronger and better over the last few weeks as well.
I like how close this team is, on and off the ice. This team is a bunch of misfits (in the best way possible). Every time someone takes a bad hit, someone else is there to fight (or rough up) the opposing player. The locker room has a lot of new faces but the team feels like a Team. It doesn’t feel like there are any locker room problems or underlying issues or problems with teammates not getting along. The veterans and older players are welcoming and it’s nice to see them all getting long and bonding on and off the ice. I hope this team stays intact for the next couple of years (for the most part). Yes, trades will happen and players will sign with other teams but I like where this team is going.
We can’t forget the Devils are still rebuilding; they’re midway through their second year. GM Ray Shero is still fixing up the mess that former GM Lou Lamoriello left. Head Coach John Hynes is still only in his second year as a head coach. They have plenty of time to become a Cup-contending team and I know that they will.
But for now, this season was progress and will continue to progress. They may be taking some steps backward but they’re also taking steps forward. Rebuilding takes time. There’s still 41 games left to be played this season. A lot can happen.