The NHL’s Olympic break provides a good chance to reflect on the Devils’ season leading up to this point and what is waiting for them, following the break. The team is more than halfway through the season (59 games to be exact), and the break arrived off of a disappointing away loss to the Washington Capitals this past Saturday.
Following a theme that has haunted the Devils all season, they failed to score a goal. The final score of 3-0 was not a reflection on goalie Cory Schneider, as the Capitals put in two empty net goals to seal the game. Schneider had stopped 23/24 shots before the Devils relieved him of his duties with two and a half minutes to go in the third, but that move did nothing but beef up the Capitol’s margin of victory. The loss left the Devils two points behind the Capitals and three behind Detroit in the race for the final wild card spot.
To say the Devils are completely out of it is misleading. New Jersey’s current 24-22-13 record is good for seventh in the Metropolitan Division, five points behind the Philadelphia Flyers, the present occupiers of the last divisional playoff spot. In fact, the Devils being only five behind Philly— and three behind Detroit—is more than some would have hoped for after losing their best player (Ilya Kovalchuk) in the beginning of the season.
There’s no doubt that Schneider has come into his own as the Devils goalie of the present and future, featuring in 32 games this year (starting 31), which is three more this season than long-time net fixture Martin Brodeur. Schneider has a stellar 1.85 goals against average, but his so-so 11-11-9 record for the season stems from the Devils lack of goal scoring. The team sits 26th in the NHL with only 135 goals scored for the whole season; only three goals separate them from 29th team in the league, where the Florida Panthers sit with 132. Schneider’s terrific play and the Devils’ good defense are the reason they rank sixth best in the league with only 138 goals conceded.
Stats don’t lie and neither do the results —the Devils need to find a way to score more and finish out games. In their final 23 games, 11 are against teams that are six points or less ahead of the Devils, and 14 of their remaining games are at home. The Devils also have six games against teams with fewer points than they do, so the opportunity is there for the taking. If the Devils can find a way to put a solid winning streak together, they can get into the playoffs.
When NHL play resumes, be on the lookout for Jaromir Jagr, who’s still chasing career goal number 700. If Jagr, Patrik Elias, Michael Ryder, and Ryane Clowe can get it going, there is no telling how far the Devils can go.