The New Jersey Devils will play 11 games in this shortened month, which doesn’t seem too bad, especially when you break those games down. After a road-heavy start to the season, the Devils will get to play nine (yes, nine!) of those 11 games at home. 22 valuable points are up for grabs in a playoff race tighter than skinny jeans. The Devils finished last month with a record of 7-5-2.
However, more home games than road ones could not have come at a worse time. The Devils’ recent play seems to have flip-flopped. They had not lost in regulation to start the season at home; they went 8-0-2 in their first ten and got their first regulation loss against St.Louis on December 9th. Their play on the road was much worse but their last four road games have all been wins. They’re playing much faster, much more completely and competitively on the road now and their play at home has been bad. They are 7-0-1 in their last eight games on the road and finished the month of January on a five-game winning streak on the road. But at home, they are 1-5-1 in their last seven and are on a six-game losing streak at the Prudential Center.
They play two sets of back-to-backs this month beginning with their first two games of the month (2/3 vs Calgary and 2/4 at Columbus) and a home-and-home series against the New York Islanders on 2/18 and 2/19.
New Jersey will also have their league-mandated five-day bye week this month, from February 7th through the 11th. This falls in between a five-game homestand. The Devils just had their All-Star Weekend break but time away could be good but they will have plenty of ground to make up when they get back. If those teams still in the playoff hunt pull too far ahead, the Devils will have a lot of work to do if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
They will play four of those 11 games against divisional opponents: one against Columbus on the road, the series against the Isles, and one against the Rangers at home. New Jersey will face both the Blue Jackets and the Isles for the first time this season. Those two games against New York are very important because both teams are neck-and-neck in the standings. Winning those two games, especially, could give the Devils a chance to pull ahead (or make up some lost ground).
The Devils may also see the return of some defensive help this month in Captain Andy Greene, John Moore, and Yohann Auvitu. While they offer some veteran presence and experience, the young kids are playing well. I would rather not see someone like Steven Santini or Jon Merrill get sent back down to Albany (AHL) if they are playing well. If they make mistakes or do something to warrant being sent down, fine. I can understand that. But if they’re playing well, leave them up. Give them experience. Let them make mistakes and learn from them. They’re helping the team. If and when Greene comes back, I would expect Karl Stollery to get sent back down to Albany.
Barring any other significant injuries, the Devils will be completely healthy. This month could do wonders for the team. If there was any time to get back into the playoff picture, this month would be it. It’s now or never.
As of right now, the Devils have 51 points on the season, five points behind Philadelphia for the last wildcard spot in the East. The two teams have also played 51 games but most of the other teams in the hunt have played fewer. Tampa Bay and Florida have also played 51, Buffalo and Carolina have played 49, and New York and Toronto have played 48. Washington, Columbus, and Pittsburgh still hold the top three spots in the Metropolitan division with 72, 70, and 67 points, respectively.
The 11 games this month will determine whether or not the Devils are a playoff team, or whether they can even be considered a playoff-caliber team. They need to find a way to bring their success on the road to the Prudential Center. If they can continue to play the way they have on the road and find ways to win at home, put together a winning streak or win a few games and lose one and then win a few more games, they still have chance. On paper, they can still make the playoffs. They just need to fight their way there.
2/3 – vs Calgary
2/4 – @ Columbus
2/6 – vs Buffalo
2/12 – vs San Jose
2/14 – vs Colorado
2/16 – vs Ottawa
2/18 – vs New York (Islanders)
2/19 – @ New York (Islanders)
2/21 – vs Ottawa
2/25 – vs New York (Rangers)
2/27 – vs Montreal